As a followup to this post, here’s more inanity from the sump-pump of the interwebs. Enjoy!
This is a series I’ve been contemplating for a while. As I collect more material, there will be followup posts. I hope you enjoy it!
In reading Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” I had a thought. He says that if man ever reached the point where he was not interested in truth anymore, then he would also lose interest in fairy tales, since the delight in such stories comes from the knowledge that we are subcreating. The story goes that some people felt depressed or suicidal when they saw Avatar, because the beauty wasn’t real. Is this a symptom of good fantasy, or the side-effect of a postmodern abandonment of truth?
Good fairy tales allow you to enjoy the juxtaposition of our creation with God’s. Do bad ones make us hate the real world and long for the story? I think so. In that case, I would submit that the story has ceased to be a story and has become a lie. The beauty of fairy tales rests in God’s good world, not apart from it.
Storytelling has always fascinated me. It recently came to my attention that my favourite movies are all stories about stories being told. Three that come to my mind are The Princess Bride, The Fall, and Big Fish.
The Princess Bride is about a grandfather telling a story to his sick grandson, the same story that his father had read to him when he was sick, and the same story he had read to his son: and now he tells it to his grandson. The story is one that assembles all the fantastic and marvelous elements of fairy tales: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles. In this tale about a fairy tale, we find ourselves constantly presented with the small private smile of a storyteller who realizes that his tale is childish and yet will never apologize for it. The young boy at first disregards the tale, thinking it silly: to him, it’s just a “kissing” book. And yet by the end of the story, he finds himself gripped by this self-aware tale. He wants to hear how true love wins. The story, told by a loving grandfather, has changed the boy he told it to.
The Fall is another tale about an adult telling a story to a child. A young girl with a broken arm is in the hospital, and meets a man with a broken back. The man begins to tell her the most marvelous adventures about a group of men who swear to revenge themselves upon the evil Count Odious. The main character in these tales is played by the man himself. But while the girl listens to the tales, she is unaware that, in the tales, the man is justifying both his desire to commit suicide and his bitterness against those he perceives as his enemies. He attempts to manipulate her into getting him the means to commit suicide by refusing to tell her the end of the stories unless she does things for him. But when she gets further injured and nearly dies during one of her unwitting missions of his suicide, he is broken by grief and begins weaving the tales into death and destruction, killing off all the characters you’ve come to know and sympathize with over the course of the movie. She begins crying inconsolably when he does so, and begs him not to tell the story that way, pleading that the story wasn’t right, that this is not how you tell stories. To comfort her, he changes the story. He finishes with forgiveness, not death, and here’s the best part: in doing this, in changing the story to the way it should be told, he finds himself letting go of his bitterness, and finding comfort despite his losses. By telling the right story, he himself has been changed.
The third movie that follows this pattern is Big Fish. I initially avoided it, since it was a Tim Burton movie. I had come to view his stories as the products of a dark and warped imagination. But this movie proved me at least partially wrong. We see a son and father estranged, never speaking to one another, because the son has become fed up with the fantastic tall tales his father told him about himself. He is angry that his father only tells him these palpably false lies instead of the truth about his history. But when his father begins to die, he sees the need for ultimate reconciliation, and goes to talk to his father. To help us understand his father, he tells the story of his father’s life to us as it was told to him. We find a tale about a man constantly thrust into the most improbable situations, yet always coming out victorious and heading into further victories. He seemed “meant for bigger things.” Closely twined with his life story is the story of his pursuit of a single woman whom he falls in love with. He works seven years just to be told her name, like Jacob and Laban. When he finally catches her, he compares it to landing a big fish, the kind that no one has caught before. Through the rest of the movie, we are constantly presented with examples of his love for and faithfulness to his wife. But still the son does not believe the stories. He begins investigating his father’s past life for himself, and meets one of the characters from his stories. She tells him the truth, and it is a story that is remarkably similar to his father’s stories. Finally compelled to believe, he returns home, only to find his father in the hospital on the brink of death, in a coma. His father, late that night, wakes one last time, and asks his son to tell him a story. Drawing on everything he has learned from his father’s tales, he weaves a final story about his father escaping the hospital and going down to the river, miraculously cured, seeing every person he ever met during his life, every character he told of in his stories, all smiling, all happy. And at the funeral, miraculously, he sees his own story come true. Every person his father ever knew or told about has come to the funeral, and all are happy, all telling stories the way his father did. He finally realizes that his father was always exactly who he said he was: a person who mattered – a big fish. The son, again, has been shaped and changed by his father’s stories.
Each of these tales appeals to me because I firmly believe that the world itself is living out a story right now, and telling the right story, telling a story that follows the way the world really works is one of the most powerful experiences we can expose ourselves or our children to. Stories that show us stories being told are a great tutorial in how to live aright.
So go, put a once on a time, and weave a true story for someone.
How to make money on your blog?
I’m here to tell you: don’t.
Why did you take up blogging to begin with? Wasn’t it to tell the world about yourself, or give other people helpful tips on stuff, or to get feedback on your writing, or to brighten up someone’s day with good advice and a smile? Wasn’t it to give valuable reviews of books and movies? Wasn’t it for other people?
You didn’t start out trying to get money.
Perhaps one day you were surfing the blogosphere, and you came across one of those all-too-common posts: “HOW TO MAKE MONEY ON YOUR BLOG,” followed by a lengthy list of low work rates, astoundingly high returns, and glowing testimonials of the “insert-name-here” system. Something for nothing! It sounds almost too good to be true!
Is it too good.
It’s not true.
I’m not saying that they’re lying: you might in fact be able to make money off your blog.
“Why not?” you ask. “Why does it matter if you make money off your blog?”
Because as soon as you try to make money off your blog, your blog has become about what you can get from it, rather than making your blog a gift for other people. Your readers become a commodity that you sell to the advertising companies, fodder for your wallet.
Once your readers become cash revenue, you care less about them and more about what they can get you. A few bucks? Maybe. But now that you’ve taken your blog and made it a business, you’ve sold yourself.
Don’t be greedy.
Don’t be miserly.
Give something away for free.
If you sell your blog as a product, it becomes subject to the laws of supply and demand: the customer is always right. No longer do you have the freedom to write what you want: you must write what the readers want. And if what the readers want isn’t what you want – tough. Your blog is no longer your own.
So if you decide to sell your blog you have literally sold your blog. You don’t own it anymore. The fleshhooks are in, and the gnawing worries about how to get more readers, how to paint your blog in ever more attractive ways, how to make more more more money – well, my friends, you’ve lost something.
But not forever.
Forget about the money. Resist the siren song of cash for readers: it will only destroy your blog, and your relationship with your readers. If you’re selling your blog right now, stop, turn your back on the money, and don’t look behind you.
Love your audience. Do something for them that gets you nothing back. Be truly generous.
Making money off your blog is a losing proposition.
The third element of Ygdrasil which we perhaps see making an appearance in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the root of corruption, the root being strangled and bitten by Nidhogg the serpent. This tortured root, since it is on the tree that represented all existence, is a symbol of how misery and evil are rooted in the world. Similarly, the tree that we know as Old Man Willow has been corrupted. He is face of the evil that lurks in the hearts of many trees in the wood that Tom Bombadil rules over. Tom Bombadil himself is a Valar governing this wood, just as Mimer who rules over the grove of the third root and its well is a god.
Perhaps this connection is a little tenuous. But it is clear elsewhere that this story of the root tapped by a corrupt creature has left its mark on Tolkien. In the Silmarillion, we see that the two trees Telperion and Laurelin, the massive trees that light the world, are destroyed at Melkor’s behest, when he brings Ungoliant, the massive she-spider. Ungoliant kills the trees by biting into their roots and sucking the life out of them. It is true that Nidhogg the serpent has been exchanged for a spider, and that this is a one-time attack, not a permanent state of affairs: but nonetheless, the significant elements marking the tale are unchanged. A terrible monster stealthily attacks an essential piece of the cosmic architecture, a component of the world’s own structure, in the shape of a tree. And despite this attack, the serenity of the divinely planted system is preserved. In Ygdrasil, the tree’s life is maintained by the care of the guardian, Mimer, the God of wisdom and knowledge. In the Silmarillion, the light of the two trees is salvaged, and preserved in the form of Telperion’s last flower and Laurelin’s last fruit, by the Valar Yvanna. The flower and fruit are now the moon and sun, out of reach from attack, and safe forever. In this way, we can see a fairly obvious influence of the old Norse tale upon the work of Tolkien. While his creation tale preserved itself from the pagan elements of Norse mythology (something that Tolkien did quite deliberately, and rejoiced in ), his later tales delve into the richness of the Norse tradition.
It is no accident that Tolkien wrote a whole book called Tree and Leaf. It is plain that the Norse cosmology, based in the form of a tree, took hold of his mind. Tolkien characterizes the collection of Tales that mankind has created as a tree, un-ravelable, complex, and alive. This tree is eternal, and the tales that spring from it are endless. In this tree, this living fountain of tales, we see another Ygdrasil. Tolkien sees himself as plucking leaves from an infinitely fantastic and rich source. Not only does Ygdrasil inhabit the worlds that Tolkien subcreates, but it is from a sort of Ygdrasil that Tolkien gets his tales: grown from the soil of England and rooted in old traditions: one of Tolkien’s roots is clearly the Norse mythology of Ygdrasil.