Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for ROBINSON CRUSOE

Defoe's 1719 novel, an early example of the English novel, entered my imagination at a young age thanks to my mother's provision of nicely illustrated children versions of classic novels.  It also made an impression on G. K. Chesterton, whose importance for mythopoets I have treated before.  But unlike the elements of the story that my youthful imagination was taken with like cannibals, pirates, friendship, and black-powder, Chesterton was taken with, of all things, Crusoe's accounting of items salvaged in chapter IV.  In other words, with little more than a list of goods.  For Chesterton, it is a poem reflecting the truth of our world.

In chapter IV of Orthodoxy, "The Ethics of Elfland," he writes,
I really felt...as if all the order and number of things were remnants from Crusoe's ship.  That there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were two guns and one axe.  It was poignantly urgent that none should be lost; but, somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added.  The trees and the plants seemed like things saved from the wreck: and when I saw the Matterhorn, I was glad that it had not been overlooked in the confusion.  I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton's Eden): I hoarded the hills (116).
...there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin (118).
I never appreciated the salvaging of goods when I read Robinson Crusoe, though it did make more of an impact on me when I saw the Swiss Family Robinson movie.  But after reading Chesterton, I find it unforgettable.  Even while I take more of a mythic approach to the story of the Fall than Chesterton did, I believe it resonates with me just as much.  It also suggests part of the truth behind humanity as homo mythopoeicus.  Our sense of wonder at the things that are and the things that are not find one mode of expression through the sub-creation of secondary worlds.  In On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien traces this to the doctrine of the imago Dei: God created beings in his image, that is, image-making creatures.

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