Friday, 18 October 2013

The Great Bridge Builder

Part One

The Disenchanted World

"While Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were in Narnia they seemed to reign for years and years; but when they came back through the door and found themselves in England again, it all seemed to have taken no time at all. At any rate, no one noticed that they had ever been away, and they never told anyone except one very wise grown-up.

That had all happened a year ago, and now all four of them were sitting on a seat at a railway station with trunks and playboxes piled up around them. They were, in fact, on their way back to school. They had travelled together as far as this station, which was a junction; and here, in a few minutes, one train would arrive and take the girls away to one school, and in about half an hour another train would arrive and the boys would go off to another school. The first part of the journey, when they were all together, always seemed to be part of the holidays; but now when they would be saying good-bye and going different ways so soon, everyone felt that the holidays were really over and everyone felt their term-time feelings beginning again, and they were all rather gloomy and no one could think of anything to say. Lucy was going to boarding school for the first time."

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

Lewis, in the above passage, depicts a drab, disenchanted, disconnected setting, mirroring perfectly the characters' disappointed states of mind. This, unforunately, is how the day to day world all too often can appear to ourselves as well. Our daily round of cares and responsibilities dulls spiritual and emotional perception and chips away at our sense of wonder. Ever-increasing noise and chatter pulls us away, like the train in Prince Caspian, from the stillness needed for unhurried contemplation. Our inner resources become scattered. We feel nebulous, diminished and diffuse.
This imaginative barrenness feels particularly poignant if, as with the children in Lewis's tale, we can remember times when the world around us appeared very much enchanted. 'Will those days ever return?' we ask ourselves. 'Were they even real?' suggests the sceptical inner voice. 'Is it not far more likely that that they stood for nothing more than figments of the imagination and random slices of wish-fulfillment?'
So, with this in mind, is it possible for us to recall and start writing from those times and places when we felt this way - when the magic and sparkle we once knew with on getting up each morning has departed from us and left our everyday experience of the world shorn of depth and meaning?
Where are we when this happens to us? Are we in the city or the country? What impact is the weather having? Are we drenched to the skin or is the sun beating pitilessly down on our heads? Are there other people around and about? Does the surrounding scenery match our mood? Are we fenced in by weeds? Or frightened by a crumbling, teetering mass of ancient ruins?
Or are we simply feeling lost and lonely, alone and adrift - here and now - drifting aimlessly around a crowded shopping centre, where the Divine has been, to all intents and purposes, expelled?
At the end of my novel, The Red Diamond, the central protagonist, Julie Carlton, undergoes a profound sensation of loss and pointlessness. The adventure is over, the quest has failed, and Julie is standing outside Edinburgh Waverley Station, contemplating her mistakes, while waiting for the train back home to her old life in Liverpool:
"An empty can on Tennent's rattled across the asphalt, just by her right foot. Julie booted it angrily back across the road - into the far wall - into big black pools of sturdy darkness. The echo surprised her with its manic reverberation, leaving her feeling for a moment like a dweller in Plato's cave.
Then the noise ebbed and faded, ceding place to the soft seductive patter of rain, the rumblings of the station and the double-edged peace of a dreamy night-time fog - containing neither comfort nor resolution - just question after question after question ...
The voice of Edinburgh Waverley cut through the mist once more: 'Haymarket, Linlithglow, Polmont, Falkirk High, Glasgow Queen Street.'
And Julie's soul was filled with sadness: 'It's all my fault. There's nothing I can do. Nowhere I can go. Oh, it's all so hopeless.'"

Illustration by Rob Floyd -


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