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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The limits of human imagination

In my last post from George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul, this passage was included:

3. And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee--
To light with moons, to clothe with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!

What if, indeed, we are able to create like God? Is that possible? Wow. Not in this life, I'd say, or not very much.

One of the places where you might expect to find signs of God-like creativity is in fantastic literature. (There are other places, of course) But I can't think of many examples of real creativity there. C. S. Lewis did produce seroni, hrossa, and pfiffltriggi on Malacandra. But he probably didn't do a much better job than anyone else has in creating a really original, yet credible, sentient species. The hrossa were sort of seals with human intelligence, which isn't a huge extrapolation, or a tremendous feat of creativity. (Other authors have been even less creative, of course!) A few authors have actually thought about sunsets. Jack Vance used the different colors that might be found on other planets, with more than one sun, in one of his novels. In Lilith, MacDonald wrote: "When I came to myself, the creature was hovering over my head, radiating the whole chord of light, with multitudinous gradations and some kinds of colour I had never before seen." (1895, public domain, chapter x) Probably other authors have imagined other colors, too.

There are other examples, some very old, like Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, or fire-breathing flying reptiles with great intelligence (aka dragons) and some very new, like the title of The Speed of Dark. All of them, I think, are better than any that I have thought of. My imagination is so limited. But so is that of the best of us, compared to God.

What's the best example of human creativity in fantastic literature?


Elliot said...

I think that often the most creative authors are just very, very good at digging deep into this world and showing us reality in a new light. Tolkien's language and races and cultures draw heavily on real history; Gene Wolfe's vocabulary and imagined future are the same. So perhaps all we can really do is rearrange God's world and show it afresh.

Martin LaBar said...

I think you are right.


Liara Covert said...

I think its hard to choose one favorite fantasy character. It can be difficult to choose one writer which appeals most too. As I evolve, my tastes & preferences change. Over time, the gryphon myth still intrigues me. It has been interpreted as varied combinations of multiple beasts together.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. I wonder who first imagined gryphons?