Passage (Was: Re: Best of 2001)

Gross Family argross at
Thu Jan 24 07:00:15 EST 2002

> >>  >S
> >>  >P
> >>  >O
> >>  >I
> >>  >L
> >>  >E
> >>  >R
> >>  >S
> >>  >
> >>  >
> >>  >
> >  > >
> >

[stuff snipped]

I wrote:

> >>  >The other thing we were confused by is the fact that Willis has that
> >>  >wonderful, poignant, heartbreaking description of Joanna's memories
> >>  >disappearing one by one, but the next thing you know, she still has
> >>  >memories! What did you make of that?

Hallie replied:

> >>  That one doesn't bother me, because I see the memories disappearing
> >>  as the death of her physical self, her brain.  (And it is incredibly
> >>  moving, isn't it?)  But I felt the last page showed her spirit, soul,
> >>  call it what you will, now freed from her physical body.

I didn't comment on this before, but I just remembered why this still
bothered me. I agree that the last page shows us Joanna's soul. But the
death of the physical brain would seem to imply the death of memories
(though not the soul or essence of the person), as seen in Alzheimer's
disease. I'm not saying that this is what *I* believe; it seemed to me to be
implied by the book itself (given the condition of Joanna's teacher--I can't
believe I don't remember his name! Maybe my brain is dying as well..:-)) So
it seemed strange to me that after the death of Joanna's physical brain is
shown, she still has her memories intact. This would imply a belief that
memories survive the brain's death, which would seem to be contradicted by
the condition of Joanna's ex-teacher.

> >>But *after* all the things which she'd
> >>  expected to happen in death have gone, Joanna's consciousness is
> >>  shown continuing.  I found the last page amazing, and personally,
> >>  loved the way standard Christian symbols became an organic part of
> >>  symbols which had become meaningful for Joanna in the book.
> >
> >Do you mean "passage" and "message" as symbols? I've probably not
> >which other symbols might also be standard Christian symbols.
> Well, that kind of shows what I was hoping. :)  I didn't mean passage
> or message, there are far more specific symbols.  On the last page,
> when the Yorktown comes steaming towards them, Joanna sees the
> antennas, "shaped like crosses", and says that the ship was raised in
> three days.  What I really liked was the way that a non-Christian
> reading it would find the Yorktown meaningful as a symbol which has
> been developed through the course of the book, while I as a
> Christian, also found the cross and raising in three days added to
> the Yorktown's meaning.  (I don't think at all that it makes this any
> less wonderful, that the sweet old guy telling the stories about the
> Yorktown turned out to have been inventing his part in them.)

Thanks for pointing these out--I didn't notice them during my reading.


> >The way I personally would word what I loved about the ending is that
> >seems to transcend the limits of both science and conventional religious
> >beliefs to say something that shows the presence of real mystery and
> >transcendence. That is, you can reject the conventional religious
> >about death and life after death and still have a vision of something
> >genuinely transcendent and spiritual.
> >
> >But you may disagree with my wording....:-)
> No, not that, but I am in a bit of a bind here.  I know exactly what
> you mean, and yet, by most people's understanding of the terms, I
> have those "conventional religious beliefs".  I'm an Anglican,
> regularly attending a Church of Ireland parish.  But, I would
> honestly say that I don't think my Rector would find anything even
> particularly unorthodox in the views described in _Passage_.  By the
> end.  I mean, he actually said exactly  "just because you want to
> believe something..."  - both parts - in a sermon!  (Not saying that
> I think he'd agree with her *portrayal* of everything, necessarily,
> but rather with the  overall belief suggested.)  (I actually don't
> agree with everything either, fwiw.  Still one of my favourite books.)
> This isn't coming out at all as clearly as I wish, but I guess the
> bottom line is that in _Passage_, I think CW is writing *against*
> some mind-sets which she sees as prevalent in society (purely my way
> of thinking about this).  And she certainly slams fundamentalist
> religious attitudes through Joanna's sister, and she definitely slams
> the authors like Mandrake of books which dishonestly try to cash in
> on people's fears.   But neither of those has much to do with all
> conventional religious beliefs, at least, not using what I'd consider
> a base for them.  Which is a pretty pointless, I guess, as I can do
> no more than offer you what I've experienced and learned myself.  Oh
> well.

No, not pointless. I *think* I understand what you mean--that Willis is not
so much transcending conventional religious and scientific beliefs so much
as coming out against bastardized, dogmatic, or dishonest religious beliefs
and rhetoric. Is that sort of right? That does make sense to me, especially
in light of the fact that Willis is herself a Christian.

>Oh, I've read the article on NDEs btw, but I'll write about that
> off-list, Ros.   After some sleep, when I may be a bit more coherent
> again.  :)

Hallie, I think you explained yourself remarkably coherently!


To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list