O Go You Onward

O go you onward; where you are
Shall honour and laughter be,
Past purple forest and pearled foam,
God's winged pavilion free to roam,
Your face, that is a wandering home,
A flying home for me.
The Ballad of the White Horse, G.K. Chesterton

Travel has been on my mind.  In a series of events connected only by John Carterian leaps I've been thinking about travel, about places I've been and places I'm slotted to be at some point in the future.  I'm not a great traveller; I'm very easily cowed by the hugeness of the world, the noise of it, the emptiness of it.  The taste of our time's air is the taste of frantic despair.  I don't like it.  I would rather not go out in it.

Turning together, they looked up beyond the wharf to the rising buildings and cold winter sky, their eyes narrowed against the driving rain.  Everything was foreign.  They did not even have Rhodri there to make them feel safe.
"I wish I could kill it all,"  rasped Eikin.
Adamant clung to his arm.  "I - I know what you mean."

But I have always been a sort of traveller.   When people read my writing, they frequently tell me, "It's as if I was there!"  If you are a writer yourself you can imagine the magnitude of this compliment.  People often want to know how I manage to do that, and I suppose a simple answer (it isn't as if I actually know what I am doing) is that I've travelled extensively myself.  I have the ninth century and Wessex sitting next to me at this very moment.  I've seen Rome during years of her eternal reign.  I've rambled expansively through northwest India.  I've swished my feet in the Nile (which is not exactly advisable due to Lord Crocodile).  I've yanked an oar through the North Sea.  I've seen France under English rule.  I've wiggled bare toes among the primroses of a Kentish meadow.  I've been to Wales.  I've been to the Baltic.  Somewhere along the way I got lost in the Scandinavia of The Snow Queen.  I've been to Mercury.  I've been to Venus.  I've been to Mars.  I've taken up residence on the Moon.  I've even seen Saturn from a distance.  "You've been to England, haven't you?" someone asked me after reading a piece of my work.  Not strictly speaking.  I just read a lot. 

And there's the rub.  I'm a poor little pygmy that doesn't like to stray from her fire.  I'll gladly sail the frigate of a book, which costs far less and doesn't make me sea-sick; the worlds are all but just as vivid in their pages, the possibilities of adventure far greater.  I can pop into the kitchen any time I want for a cup of tea or a snack, which one can't do some thousand feet in the air on a jet that probably has never heard of "Twinings" and would confiscate all my tea thinking it was a type of drug.  I'm the policeman on the beat on the Path of Least Resistance.  I have shelves of doors into other times and places.  I have the key to each of them.  I don't have to pay fare to pass through any of them.  The white feather in me asks in very eloquent prose why I should be made to pay, to fly, to endure jet-lag and culture-shock to go to foreign places.  Apparently some people don't mind it.  I'm reading a book by the world-renowned Ravi Zacharias: anyone remotely acquainted with him knows that he has travelled extensively for years and, I think, enjoys it.  I can only sit in a blank sort of awe and wonder, respectfully, why.  Beyond the monologue-ing white feather is an even whiter feather adding background vocals that sound a lot like agonized screaming.

This is the place to which I have come in my ponderings on travel.  Despot-like, I don't feel particularly inclined to stir from my couch if all other places and peoples can come to me.   I am perfectly aware that this is smooth, gilt, self-possessed cowardice.  I am perfectly aware that I'll have to get over it and enjoy myself.  I have a friend on Mercury who somehow managed to combine both...

And you?  Where have you been, and do you like travel?  Have we been to the same places, you and I?  We may have passed like two ships in the night.

7 ripostes:

  1. This was a beautiful post, your choice of words is inspired. I would love to travel, and books are a wonderful way to quench that desire for now. I mean I would need a time machine at best to visit the places I want to see. Yes books are truly the keys to this kind of travel. I hope someday someone will read my work and feel as if they are there, its something with which I must try harder.
    How did you like mars ? I enjoyed it thoroughly on my visit, but it went by another name there. :)))
    blessings to you
    Rachel Hope >>http://hopespuntreasures.blogspot.com

  2. How did I like Mars? Oh, I liked it! I was always haunted by the presence of Space looming over my shoulder, which I don't have here, which I didn't have on Venus or Mercury; but the peoples and the places, vivid and all their own, were worth going to visit.

    On the matter of writing so that people feel as if they are in the place you are writing about, I would like to offer some confused advice. I know everyone sees things and writes things differently, but don't try harder. I know that the harder I try, the worse my writing is. Just see, and write what you see. Smell, and write what you smell. Feel, and write what you feel. I think you and I and others only feel we are in the moment when the author can play upon our senses with all the sights and scents and sounds of his writing, rather than bombarding us with words as though somehow, thereby, to drive the images into our heads. I know this isn't easy to explain, but essentially you are infusing into your writing all that makes a person and place real: dimension, psyche, response, cognizance, ethics, etc.

    Not to let authors' heads grow too big, it's true that we depend strongly on our readership. We have to trust that people are going to be able to, as in Inception, build the world they are in around the words we give them. I can come down through the meads of Krothering and see, not just the thick grasses and lush trees described, but the hills, the pale sky, the scent of wild flowers heavy under a lazy, hot, noonday sun; I can feel the wind, just a little cool and smelling just a little of salt. Maybe all that wasn't said, but I implied it by what I know. You and I depend on the readership to know a little as they are going in to our work.

    So don't try too hard. This isn't rocket science. Don't fret too much and try to enjoy yourself. Judging from the movies, no one enjoyed rocket science.

  3. I wish I had the art, as you seem to have, of writing about places as if I have been to them, even when I haven't. Perhaps my family would disagree with me, but I have always felt that I was only able to see imagined places (real or fantasy) as if through a mist and from a very long distance--which is probably why a great many of even my fantasy stories have the distinct flavor of rural New England in them! (It's the only place I really know!) I have been to Bermuda, around the turn of the first decade of my life, and my memories are still haunted with elusive glimpses of flame-colored acacia blossoms above a tangle of monstrous dark roots; a warm turquoise sea that lightens to pale green near the shore; patches of deep emerald foliage broken by square, white houses; steaming rains that arrive suddenly and dissolve just as quickly; hillside grass burnt to a crisp by the tropical sun; and the salt and the sweet mingling on the breeze.

    I agree that we can overdo things in our attempt to create the scene for readers. I tend to take a very light approach to description, let the story sit for 6 months, review it, and add in whatever seems to be missing. Usually, however, the story tends to do just fine with what might seem as a sparse amount of description. After all, place description is a backdrop, not a story in itself!

  4. Excellent post, Jenny. :)I think we have traveled many of the same places, you and I, though you seem to have traveled even farther abroad...I don't know that I have had much of a trip down the Nile--I don't favor the Ancients. :)

  5. This was a really enjoyable post to read, Jenny! If you're talking about my writing world, I have traveled to Israel and Italy through my research and writing.... I wish, I wish so badly that if someone read my novel, they'd think I had actually seen those places first hand... but I don't know, at times it can be hard to imagine the ancient world in a really compelling and realistic way! And of course in the scope of what I've read, I've traveled all around the world :). Still, in many ways all this travel reading just makes me more eager to travel in real life... :).

    When I read The Shadow Things, I immediately felt I was in Ancient Britain!

  6. Oh, lovely, lovely post. I love to meander through the Shire; but the Battle of Thermopylae was too bloody.
    I found your blog today and it's one of the lovelier ones I've come across. It is nice to find a fellow lover of Chesterton. We are a rather rare race, for some reason. Which of his books have you read?
    In Christ,
    Rosamund Gregory at merelyamaiden.blogspot.com

  7. I confess I have only recently been introduced to Chesterton, Rosamund. You have probably read more than I. To date, I have read Manalive and The Man Who Was Thursday, The Everlasting Man, Tremendous Trifles, and The Ballad of the White Horse. The last is certainly my favourite.

    I dare say the Battle of Thermopylae was too bloody. What a wretched day. Those are the two drawbacks to studying history: history is full of wicked men and wretched days.