Jun 10, 2012
One of my favorite books in the world is one I re-read every few years. One of the reasons it is a favorite book is a favorite chapter. (Sometime I would like to edit a book and call it “Chapters” – to ask people to nominate favorite chapters of favorite books, because sometimes an author strikes a chord, composes a masterful scene, captures a special feeling, standing even higher than the whole book.) Anyway, for me, “The Piper At the Gates of Dawn” stands out from the rest of the Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. I am no fan of the Disney commercialization, but the original book, and this chapter, are magically unique. Grahame draws readers into a special world.
Nurturing my interest and affection, I recently read a book by Grahame’s widow Elspeth (I’m sorry: her name could not be anything other than Elspeth), an obscure book now, but written after she was widowed. She shared stories of her family, and of the creation of Wind in the Willows. And the book offers some previously unknown drafts.
In the course of her story, she quoted an appreciation by Clayton Hamilton, a professor of English Literature. He tells a story of visiting the Grand Canyon, seeing a copy of Grahame’s book in a gift shop, and surprising the owner, who had been waiting years for some customer to express affection for her favorite book. In that unlikely setting she was doubly gratified that her customer was actually a friend of its author.
Fans of certain books have an automatic kinship. And I value anyone whose fond instincts draw him to the world that Kenneth Grahame created. But even Grahame realized there were other worlds: he loved the world of nature (real nature, not just that of Toad Hall); and the world of childhood, as he created and defended in his other books The Golden Age and Dream Days. Read what Prof. Hamilton said of the Grand Canyon:
“Having seen it, I am relieved of any desire to see it again. It is the most gigantic chasm in the surface of the earth and is, of course, impressive because of its immensity…. But it is a lonely place, devoid of any human interest. Nobody, in historic or prehistoric times, has ever lived in the Grand Canyon. Though many of its pinnacles and buttes take on at times the look of towered castles, they have been sculpted only by uncounted centuries of wind, and show no touch of mortal hands. That dizzying immensity is empty of all human memories, and offers nothing to stimulate the sense of drama or romance.”
It is not hard to summon pity for people like Prof. Hamilton. My guess is that Kenneth Grahame would have disdained his cold sense of wonder. I do. Theodore Roosevelt (another fan of Grahame) beheld American landscapes like the Grand Canyon and unilaterally preserved them by the millions of acres, so that future generations, even Hamilton’s descendents, could be awestruck by the beauty of God’s creation. In their pristine states. Even if their pinnacles were formed not by men or even winds alone, but by God.
The humanistic phase of human history, where we float now, elevates the human mind and its accomplishments, but unfortunately is unable to separate human passions from that which guides us. It is the dark side of freedom, the residue of democracy – human nature, which never changes on its own, generation to generation. Religion, philosophy, and politics aside, humankind tends to lose something in exchange for greater “self-expression”: the acknowledgment of a marvelous Creator God; finding pleasure in His amazing works; and the enjoyment of His handiwork. In the beginning, it was created for our delight, too.
I have just returned from a three-week trip in which I experienced snow in the mountains of Colorado and 107-degree heat in the Nevada deserts. Bright red sandstone was the coincidental theme: a friend took me to Red Rocks, high above mile-high Denver; Red Rocks is the name of an area north of Las Vegas, similarly dotted with sandstone monoliths and buttes. And my son planned a day in the “Valley of Fire,” so called because its endless stretches of sandstone are so brilliantly hued as to resemble, from a distance, flames.
I have been blessed to visit many of the world’s great cities, and I marvel indeed at buildings and monuments and statues. But I have been doubly blessed to have visited many scenes of God’s handiwork. Sorry, Prof. Hamilton: it is not an “either/or” situation. The natural world of nature’s God is awesome because He intended that we be awestruck. If “towered castles” impress you, remember that it was God’s children and their God-given talents that made them. God still wins, buddy.
The evangelist Ellen G. White put it in perspective: “The flowers of the field, in their endless variety, are always ministering to the delight of the children of men. God Himself nourishes every root, that He may express His love to all who will be softened and subdued by the works
of His hands.
“We need no artificial display. God’s love is represented by the beautiful things of His creation.”
+ + +
Is there any more beautiful musical expression of these thoughts than the old hymn (with glorious nature videos)? –
Click: This Is My Father’s World