For the last few days I've been having a very interesting discussion with Luthienofold on LiveJournal, which echoes some of the thoughts I wrote in an unfinished article on Christianity, paganism and literature.
We were discussing what it was that made good fantasy literature, and what was so attractive about Beat generation authors, and I think we agreed that it was that the heroes were on a human scale. I had a vague recollection of Chesterton having said that fairy tales were appealing not because they were about extraordinary people, but because they were about ordinary people having extraordinary adventures. I have since looked it up, and here it is:
... oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure for ever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of to-day discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.
And in another post in this blog, Notes from underground: Jack Kerouac I noted that the Beats usually write not only about ordinary people, but even their adventures are quite ordinary -- a mountain-climbing expedition where they fail to reach the top of the mountain, boozy parties, a hiking expedition -- but they manage to see them as imbued with extraordinary significance. They help use to see the ordinary things with new eyes.
So I'm posting this mainly to try to draw some of the threads together, and to invite people to perhaps continue the discussion (if you want to) in my Bravenet Forum, which you will find on most of my Christianity and literature pages, where comments are less ephemeral and easily lost than on blog pages.
See also: Christianity, paganism and literature.
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