Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Novel as Freeway of the Inner Journey

Some of your favorite novels take their various shapes from the events and attitudes connected to a journey. Novels such as your still overwhelming favorite, Huckleberry Finn, and one of your favorites from university days, Tobias Smollett's eighteenth-century romp, Humphrey Clinker, would never have achieved dramatic escape velocity without the cumulative effect on outcome of journey.  

Herman Melville not have been able to achieve his intended effects in Moby-Dick without his protagonist undertaking a time at sea to cope with the tide of depression he felt waxing within his person.

There would have been no Grapes of Wrath without the symbolic journey of the Joad family from the Dust Bowl to California, nor would Nikolai Gogol's rascally 1842 venture, Dead Souls, have its confidence man protagonist creating the stir he did, had he remained at home.  Think Heart of Darkness,  think Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, think Charles Portis' gem, True Grit.

The more you put those two words, "novel," and "journey" in a contextual arrangement, the greater the likelihood you will be embarking yourself on a journey of compiling a laundry list, for even that remarkable 1478 prototype of the novel, The Canterbury Tales, had its beginnings in a journey from London to Canterbury.

As well, the more you put the novel and journey together, the more you realize they were made for each other as a genuine occasion of symbiotic relationship. Neither novel nor journey are what they seem at the beginning; by the time you have finished either, you are a different person. 

This change goes beyond the observation of Heraclitus, about the mutable nature of persons, places, and things; this change adds the wisdom of experience to the reading of the novel, the taking of the journey, and the memories extending from both.

At one time or another, the memory of a scene or exchange of dialogue between characters triggers an awareness of how far you have come since the original reading. During such times, you  become aware of times you've reread a particular novel or retraced a specific trip, more often than not because you were trying to recapture the excitement of the first reading or the first venture.

Since you became a teacher, you took to rereading some of the many novels you discussed with your students, hopeful of finding more relevant details which lead to more relevant meanings which you can then use to direct those coming in contact with the novel for the first time. You often come away wondering how you could have missed so much the first time through and how your life might have altered a tiny fraction had you seen the clues you now see.

All of this speaks to your belief in the metaphoric implications of story and trip, how each is more than a venture from point A to point B or, as much of your early reading was, a venture from boredom to some sort of involvement in some kind of purpose.

Without knowing you were doing so, your reading of novels from the distant past, say The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleus, the Victorian past, say Trollope's The Way We Live Now, the historical past, such as David Balfour and The Heart of Midlothian, had you taking sides in issues and schisms that had played their historical ways long before your arrival on this planet.

Any novel is a journey, in fact one of your favorite metaphors: light from a distant star. Any journey is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Not all journeys nor all novels leave specific memories, but they do remind you of the most important outcome of all. You are a traveler, looking forward to a destination, which in fact is a greater discovery of the landscape within you.

No comments: