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Why we need stories, part 2

Living for excellence

The Mabiongion illustrated by Alan Lee

From "Aback of Beyond" by Alan Garner, master of mythic fiction and fantasy:

"I live, at all times, for imaginative fiction; for ambivalence, not instruction. When language serves dogma, then literature is lost. I live also, and only, for excellence. My care is not for the cult of egalitarian mediocrity that is sweeping the world today, wherein even the critics are no longer qualified to differentiate, but for literature, which you may notice I have not defined. I would say that, because of its essential ambivalence, 'literature' is: words that provoke a response; that invite the reader or listener to partake of the creative act. There can be no one meaning for a text. Even that of the writer is a but an option.

"Literature exists at every level of experience. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It embraces; it does not reduce, however simply it is expressed. The purpose of the storyteller is to relate the truth in a manner that is simple: to integrate without reduction; for it is rarely possible to declare the truth as it is, because the universe presents itself as a Mystery. We have to find parables; we have to tell stories to unriddle the world.

"It is a paradox: yet one so important I must restate it. The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth."

The Mabinogion illustrated by Alan Lee

"It is one of the main errors of historical and rational analysis to suppose that the 'original form' of myth can be separated from its miraculous elements. 'Wonder is only the first glimpse of the start of philosophy,' says Plato. Aristotle is more explicit: 'The lover of myths, which are a compound of wonders, is, by his being in that very state, a lover of wisdom.' Myth encapsulates the nearest approach to absolute that words can speak."

The Mabinogion illustrated by Alan Lee

The Mabinogion illustrated by Alan Lee

The beautiful mythic art here is by my friend and neighbor Alan Lee, from his illustrations for the 1982 edition of the great Welsh myth cycle, The Mabinogion, translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones.

Alan Garner's essay can be read in full in his 1997 essay collection, The Voice That Thunders, a volume that I highly recommend. Also, if you're a Garner fan, don't miss the crowdfunding campaign to raise money for In First Light, an anthology in celebration of Garner's life and work.

The Mabinogion illustrated by Alan LeeThe quotes in the picture captions are also from "Aback of Beyond." (Run your cursor over the pictures to see them.)

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