The words we live by

I’m a constant reader, and have been since age 4. Over that time I’ve read fiction and fact, great literature, absolute dreck, and a whole bunch of stuff in between. I was thinking about my lifelong love affair with the printed word the other day, after re-reading this Sinfest strip, and I realized how much I have been shaped by these words, and the thoughts behind them… which reinforces for me the importance of guiding the reading (and viewing, although for me TV and movies never had the weight that books did) of our children, particularly in the early years when their basic worldview is formed.

When I was eight, my mother handed me my first science fiction book – Robert Heinlein‘s Glory Road – and I was hooked. In short order I read everything else he’d written, then moved on to Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Larry Niven, JRR Tolkien, Katherine Kurtz, Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip… and so on, for the next 10 years or so. I won’t say that I read *exclusively* F/SF – I’ve never read anything *exclusively* – but it certainly formed the bulk of my childhood reading, along with such great comic lights as P. G. Wodehouse, Thorne Smith, Richard Armour and Charles Addams. I don’t read much fiction these days, although I always make time for a new Discworld, but the forward-looking attitude and general optimism about the future that marked SF in those days (the 70s), and is still a hallmark of the wider SF community, stays with me yet.

I can identify any number of beliefs, feelings and opinions that I carry around with me that have their origin in those happy hours. From LeGuin and Kurtz I learned that magic has rules and consequences; the magical systems they invented are imaginary, of course, but the magical philosophies they invested in them are real, and they work. From Heinlein, I learned the importance of serving the community in some capacity, and of always thanking your sexual partner. From Tolkien… well, where does one begin? From all of SF I learned that the future may look a lot different than the present, but there WILL BE a future – and what it looks like is largely up to us. And from Wodehouse and company I learned that a little laughter will get you through a lot of heartache.

This is only the tip of my personal iceberg, of course. I don’t have room to go into the continuing discoveries I’ve made in the intervening years – Spider Robinson, Charles de Lint, Terry Pratchett (again), Edward Gorey and many others – but you get the idea. What we put into our minds matters, and what goes into our children’s minds matters even more.


4 thoughts on “The words we live by

  1. quakerpagan

    Charles de Lint has always disappointed me… he consistently writes books that have facinating premises and settings, that I want to read, want to _love_, and probably would love if somebody else had written them.

    I don’t know why, but his books have always seemed so…flat to me. As with certain Pagan music, I want the same pieces, only this time, performed by someone who is just… better. *grin*

    It’s interesting to think of how important science fiction and fantasy books have been to the intellectual and spiritual development of all the Pagans I know. And I’m sure that some out there would take that little observation and have something snotty to say about people who like escapism, except, well, as we know, sci fi and fantasy are more about thought experiments in the human psyche than “escapism”, aren’t they? Always asking the questions, what _could_ humanity be?

    And then there’s the fact, speaking as a teacher, that the readers in my classes who favor sci fi and fantasy are almost without exception my highest acheivers. So there! *another grin*

  2. Jeff | Druid Journal

    Amen. Niven and Tolkien were always my favorites. They are almost completely opposite in writing style, content, moral fiber, you name it; but they both show a deep love of world creation… and words…

  3. executivepagan Post author

    I can’t even pretend to understand – de Lint has always carried me right into the depths of his imagination – but perhaps it’s similar to the way I don’t “get” country music. :)

    Interesting – could you expand on the “moral fiber” a bit? I’m curious to know more where you’re coming from on that…

  4. Jeff | Druid Journal

    Very simply: Niven is basically an atheistic capitalist pro-globalization (or galaxization?) pro-tech libertarian. Tolkien is a Catholic pro-localist anti-tech monarchist. I love them both. :-)

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