Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Third Kingdom

About ten years ago I was having dinner with a French friend of mine. We were talking in French. At least she was talking in French; I was talking in broken French. ‘How would you describe yourself, Brian?’ she asked.

‘Well,’ I began, ‘I would say that I was a middle aged man…’ I broke off because she had burst into laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I demanded. Surely at forty-five my claim to be middle-aged was still sustainable? Or would I have to call myself an old man from now on?

But it turned out that what had prompted her laughter was the fact that I had said, in excellent French, I am a man of the Middle Ages.

Well I have just finished reading The Discarded Image by C S Lewis in which he outlines the medieval world-view and I have come to the conclusion that my unintended description of myself was right, after all. I am a man of the Middle Ages. Everything I read in the book struck me as infinitely more plausible and familiar than the world-view espoused by contemporary media.

I was particularly taken with his chapter called The Longaevi. The Longaevi (or long-livers) were those who did not strictly fit into medieval theology, which allowed for four orders of beings: angels, humans, devils, and animals. The Longaevi included all those who could not be encompassed within these categories but whom the medievals, despite the best efforts of the church, refused to stop believing in: faeries, sprites, goblins – call them what you will

I think fantasy writers are like those people of the middle ages, refusing to depopulate their imaginations to suit contemporary rationalism because both experience and intuition tell them that there are other realms where the tyranny of the everyday is left behind.

One thing that troubled the medievals greatly was whether the Longaevi had souls and if so what would happen to them on the Last Day. They came up with a great many ingenious solutions to this conundrum. My favourite was the Third Kingdom half way between heaven and hell. This was the natural abode of the Longaevi where they would remain for all time in the expectation of neither doom nor reward.

Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the place where most writers end up?

1 comment:

Rod Duncan said...

A really interesting posting.

Love the idea of a misc. catagory for those who do not fit in. The natural home of many a writer.

Contemporaty rationalism? Now that IS an interesting idea. :-)