Fire and Hemlock (SPOILERS)

Charles Butler hannibal at
Sun May 30 12:35:40 EDT 2004

When C.S. Lewis described his disagreement with Leavis over Paradise Lost,
he said that it wasn't so much that they had different ideas about what the
poem was or did, as that Lewis saw and loved what Leavis saw and hated.

I'm feeling a bit like that with you and F&H, Ika! Your analysis seems spot
on: the way the book insists on contradictory views of what's magical and
what's not and where the border between them lies, and whether it stays put;
also Polly's indifference to the distinction between the magical and
mundane, and all that. It's just that I think this is admirable, while for
you it's obviously a weakness.

Personally I don't find it at all hard to believe that reality is
fundamentally incoherent - or rather, perhaps, that my mind is incapable of
perceiving whatever coherence it may ultimately have. (For a hackneyed
example, think of the double-slit experiment in quantum physics - and for
wave-particle duality substitute magic-mundane duality.)  F&H shows me as
few other books do what experiencing such a universe is actually like: how
the imaginative and the physical interpenetrate; how much of the time we
spend not noticing the important things, or not realising their importance;
how matters seem to be set up so as to militate against our looking
mysteries full in the face, but always make us take an oblique or roundabout
path to understanding. Most books make a tacit agreement with the reader to
bracket all this stuff, or else to frame it in a well-defined fictional
world: F&H does not.

As an old Spenserian, I was pleased to see that in 'The Heroic Ideal' DWJ
said she got a lot of the techniques for mixing up the magical and the
mundane in F&H from Spenser. I can well believe it, and it reminds me of
something else that CS Lewis said, in another context - that what happens in
the Faerie Queene is not like life, but that reading it is like living. And
so, in a proportion, with F&H. To my mind, McGuffins - even ones as complex
and interesting as the Bannus in Hexwood - offer a different kind of
pleasure (the pleasure of resolution and understanding, even of insight) but
not necessarily a greater one.


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