Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sometimes Fairy Stories Say Best What Needs to Be Said

I was thinking last night about writing a blog entry, and I thought, "But I just don't feel like being pleasant right now."

Imagine that, readers. I didn't know it was possible to have a bad day in Internet-land! Don't you have to always be cheery and funny and gushing about whatever experience you're sharing?

Surprise! The answer is no.

One really unfortunate but possibly unavoidable* factor of living in a house with 31 adults-who-were-until-very-recently-teenagers is the gossip. Prejudices are formed, rumors get spread and feelings are hurt. Fortunately, being a person who isn't usually in the popular** group, I have managed to stay out of dodge so far. At least, I think I haven't heard anything, have you??

Anyways, that's the sort of tone that has pervaded the house for the past few days. Please, don't think, however, that I live with a group of emotionally-stunted people who best function by discrediting other people. There's a simple explanation for the recent behavior. It's 5th week.

The Oxford term (Michaelmas = winter, Hilary = spring, Trinity = summer) has eight weeks. The primary tutorial meets once a week (8 times, 8 papers) and the secondary meets every other week (4 times, 4 papers). If things go well, the research begun in 1st week continues to build until 8th week, culminating in a more complex understanding of the subject and readiness to take an exam (which, as a Visiting Student, I don't have to take). So, this week I had my 5th primary tutorial, and next week I will have my 6th, plus my 3rd secondary. This means lots and lots of work. It also means that we are over half-way done with term and all those research skills and writing styles that we were sure would improve over time need to start improving NOW.

Thus the recent poor behavior and my reluctance to write a blog in which the sun shines (it doesn't) and the birds sing (they do). Normally I love my primary tutorial, in which I have so far read George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Some would say that's not exactly a challenging reading list, but I disagree. I'm not just reading to enjoy the plot; instead, I'm reading with an eye for literary theory (why the authors chose the fairy-tale form to share this particular information) and identifying specific connections between Lewis and the other authors.

Unfortunately, this kind of study is not really available at Messiah - the study of prose literature largely starts in the 1920s and goes backwards. Modern fiction, especially fantasy which has a bad, 'escapist'*** reputation by itself, gets overshadowed by the strong poetic movements of the 2oth century. I don't mean that Messiah is ignoring certain kinds of literature: it's a small college and only so many classes can be offered. Anyways, I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to study something which I wouldn't normally be able to spend time on, but I have at last moved on from the fairy-story aspect of Lewis' writing to more satirical, theological writing. Of course, he is a good writer and I appreciate what he has to say, but fairy stories, the content of the first four weeks, are why I chose this tutorial specifically. Also, Lewis' particular issues, including a ridiculously misogynistic tendency, are much more visible in books like The Screwtape Letters and the space trilogy.

Fortunately, I'll start work on my long essay soon, in which I am comparing The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit based on Tolkien's definition of the fairy story in his essay "On Faerie Stories". Of course, this makes me so happy that I might as well sing "My Favorite Things" for the rest of term.

Well, this entry that I thought was going to be very depressed and negative actually turned out to be closer to neutral and vaguely optimistic for the future. it possible to write a truly negative blog post? Maybe the Internet gods forbid it. I think you readers ought to be thankful for such a lengthy, non-negative post and leave me comments of gratitude to encourage more of the same. What do you think?

*I actually don't think it's unavoidable, from a very good experience with my Messiah roommates and friends, but I'm pretty close to sounding self-righteous and holier-than-thou, so lets just say I don't think it's unavoidable and move on.

**Popular - 1. regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general 2. suited to or intended for the general masses of people - Now there's nothing wrong with being popular, but in the high school sense in which I have experienced popularity (more specifically, the lack thereof. I'm not bitter at all!), it becomes a very dangerous concept to which subscribing potentially stunts individual growth by emphasizing the importance of being 'normal' and accepted. As has been stated by many child psychologists etc., at this point in a person's life, they need to understand who they are before trying to please everyone else.

***There is absolutely nothing wrong with escapism in literature. Tolkien said (speaking about fairy-stories, but I think it applies to art in general) that while stories provide entertainment, their primary role is to provide rest and consolation, so that we may return to the real world more able to deal with 'reality.'


Phillip said...

i love reading your posts and seeing words like "mysogenistic" and having no idea what the heck they mean! I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOU!!!

Anita said...

This post made me chuckle...:) And I, like Phillip, did not understand all the words.