There are three pillars to my writing philosophy: the beautiful, the painful, and the numinous. There are books that delight me, and books that engage me, but the books that truly move me are those which create in me that peculiar sensation of which C. S. Lewis spoke when he described The Lord of the Rings:
“Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart."
That is what I aim for when I write: the beauty of the breaking and the nearness of things too sacred to be uttered.
Today, I write about Beauty as explored in the work of Stephen Lawhead.
My Dragon has been telling me since the beginning of our relationship that I simply must read Stephen Lawhead, so, after I finished Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga, I decided to dive into The Song of Albion Trilogy.
I have not yet finished The Paradise War (the first book in the trilogy), but there is a refreshing quality to Lawhead's work. Yes, I have seen before the trope of an unprepared young man pulled into another world in which he must learn to adapt, survive, even thrive and make something like a hero of himself. It is a trope that still works because, after all, who doesn't want to be that ordinary person who turns out to be not so ordinary?
But what strikes me most is this: Lawhead's emphasis on Beauty.
As the Otherworld and the manifest world begin to dangerously interweave, Professor Nettles describes for the main character, Lewis, the nature of the Otherworld. The Otherworld, he says, is the form by which we know Beauty. He poses the question: What is life without beauty? The answer: Mere animal existence.
"The Otherworld does not supply the meaning of life. Rather, the Otherworld describes being alive. Life, in all its glory--warts and all, so to speak. The Otherworld provides meaning by example, by exhibition, by illustration if you will. Do you see the difference? Through the Otherworld we learn what it is to be alive, to be human: good and evil, heartbreak and ecstasy, victory and defeat. It is all contained in the treasury, you see. The Otherworld is the storehouse of archtypal life imagery--it is the wellspring of all our dreams, you might say."
This goes over Lewis' head a bit (as it might the reader's) but when Lewis is unexpectedly pulled into the Otherworld, with all its rawness and uncivilized lifestyle, his first thoughts (after panic) are of Beauty.
It was the serenity of a world that knew no mechanical thing; no planes, trains, or automobiles; no motors, no engines; no factories, mills, offices, or industry; no telephones, radios, televisions, and no satellites, or rockets or space shuttles; no machinery of any kind.
I could hear in Lawhead's words the echoes of my own words since childhood: "I want to go someplace where I can't see or hear a single manmade thing. I don't want to see a telephone pole or a jet."
And I remember sensible adults telling me that there was no such place on earth, not even in the remote places of Canada. Man had conquered the earth entirely.
Even in my child's heart, what I was really asking was: Isn't there something beautiful left?
Reading Lawhead, I feel that familiar ache. Someone else understands that ache for the virginity of beauty. And his answer is yes, there is something beautiful left. There are words that make me see green (Green! --that was too slight and inconsequential a word for what I saw: a shimmering citrine viridescence, breathtaking in its purity...) and a million other beauties in this world, through the eyes of the author's imagination.
There are still beauties to be seen, heard, felt in my core, and it's a joy to encounter--in the real world, in the Otherworld, or in the world between pages--someone like Lawhead, someone with a love for Beauty.
What story gave you a sense of Beauty?
You may also like my discussion of perceptions of beauty in George Orwell's 1984.