12 May 2013

The Poet and the Warrior Part II


One of the oldest stories in English history is the poem Beowulf. Grendel, a monster who brooded in the swamplands, was attacking villages and devouring hundreds of innocents. May brave knights had tried to defeat him, but Grendel outdid them all. That is, until a young Geatish warrior came along.
Isn’t that what all fairy-tales sound like? No one could defeat the monster until HE came along. Just imagine Beowulf walking to the mouth of Grendel’s cave, passing the skeletons of hundreds of people who have tried and failed. He knows his fate could be the same. Why does he keep walking?

Because it might not.

That’s what every adventure hinges on: Because it might not. No one has ever defeated Grendel – but  Beowulf did. No one could pull the sword out of the stone – except for King Arthur. In a more popular example, no one ever volunteered as tribute for the Hunger games – except for Katniss. No one has ever “blank” except for “blank.”

This is kind of an unspoken theme in literature. Do you recognize it? I call it the “accidental miracle.” Some unexpected spark of goodness just falls out of the sky into your lap, and you go "Wow! I guess the world isn’t so bad after all!" And it’s not just in literature – it’s etched into the very code of nature. Little bits show up everywhere – a plant pushing up through the cracks of the sidewalk in New York City, or the survivor of a failed abortion. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did! Why? It doesn’t make sense, but we love it. It’s like when Bilbo Baggins titled the story of his life “There and Back Again” – he wasn’t just talking, he had actually been there and back again.

Remember Clive Hamilton? He was the poet who would rather write about Grendel that fight him. But I haven’t told you his whole story. When Hamilton was 54, he met a widowed American English teacher named Joy. Her spunky no-nonsense attitude took Hamilton by surprise as she blundered into his life with her ten year old son. In perhaps the strangest love story of all time, Hamilton took an uneasy step into a world he had been running from. Joy and Clive were married.

Four years later, she had died of cancer.

It was then Hamilton finally learned that it was better to feel pain than nothing at all, writing in his famous quote: “to love is to be vulnerable.” That’s what made Hamilton’s work so influential in the world: the experiences he had overcome. Clive Hamilton was only his pen-name – many of you know his real one: C.S. Lewis.

And the space mission? You may recognize it as Apollo 13. On April 17, 1970, the crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Their mission was dubbed “the successful failure.” Despite never landing on the moon, the captain James Lovell and Mission Control had defied all mathematical and physical odds to return a crippled spacecraft safely home. Apollo 13 has gone down in aeronautical history because it wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. The astronauts went “there and back again.”

So. Which inspires us more, the warrior or the poet?

Concluded in part three :)

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