Thursday, April 11, 2013

Redemptive Animals?

"The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world."

So begins the Foreward to the 1966 edition of Wind in the Willows.

"Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavours of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder. ... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again. ... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Launcelot in shining armour on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?" 

This is something that has been impressed upon my mind for a number of years now. Ever since I first read Sophie's World, which has to be one of the more formidable books I have read in my life. Wonderment can lead to science, no doubt, but science should only increase the wonder in return. It should not leave you cold and mechanistic. Life goes by too quickly to allow our appreciation of wonder, awe, and beauty to fade away as we grow up.

"Granted that the average man may live for seventy years, it is a fallacy to assume that his life from sixty to seventy is more important than his life from five to fifteen. Children are not merely people; they are the only really living people that have been left to us in an over-weary world."
Without wonder, we are left with dreariness. We are left with nothing new - nothing to stir the imagination. We are bored.

"In my tales about children, I have tried to show that their simple acceptance of the mood of wonderment, their readiness to welcome a perfect miracle at any hour of the day or night, is a thing more precious than any of the laboured acquisitions of adult mankind."

Children have one foot in our world, and one foot in the fairy world. This is how we ought to live - not to forsake actual explanations of things, but to realize that we do not know or understand everything, and the explanation we are given - no matter how fantastic - may be the truth. Living with one foot in fairy land allows us to understand our world better. It allows us to see things from another perspective, which can only enrich our lives. It allows us to understand ourselves ... for in fairy land we are allowed to explore and think in ways our world cannot accommodate.

"As for animals, I wrote about the most familiar and domestic in The Wind and the Willows because I felt a duty to them as a friend. Every animal, by instinct, lives according to his nature. Thereby he lives wisely, and betters the tradition of mankind. No animal is ever tempted to belie his nature. No animal, in other words, knows how to tell a lie. Every animal is honest. Every animal is straightforward. Every animal is true -- and therefore, according to his nature, both beautiful and good."
Given this, when we anthropormorphize animals, we are able to communication great truths to others in ways we would be unable to do with humans because of our bent nature. Animals, too, do not behave as God intended, but that is because of man's wrong choice. Animals can only do as their nature dictates -- man can resist, for good or ill, while animals can only live according to their instincts. Grahame is right. They tell no lies, and thus, perhaps, they are closer to what God intended for his creation than man.

Perhaps, in stories, they also are redeemed, and can help lead a child, or the child at heart, to the good life.

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