green writing

There's ents and there's ents...

Or, why the environmental responsibility of fantasy writers has a lot to do with music.

The world began with a song.  Evil entered with dissonance, a rouge-counter melody.  But dissonance only enhanced the beauty of the song, and made possible wonders before unmade.  That was the beginning of sorrow, of loss, of light that flickered and died away.

That, of course, is the creation story of Middle-Earth, when the Valar sang the song of Eru, but Melkor sang a song of his own.

The creation story of our world begins with speech, G-d uttering light and darkness into being, speaking their distinction and calling them good.

Then the Satan spoke his words of deception and destruction, and the garden was destroyed.  The light from the two trees of Eden died like the light of the trees in Valinor.

That’s why we need to think about Bangladesh for a minute.

Yesterday on WorldFocus (one of the few news programmes I’ll actually watch, thank you very much), I saw a sharp reminder of the connection between environmental responsibility and social justice.

According to Steve Sapienza’s report, Bangladesh is one of the hardest hit countries in the climate change. Never mind the Statue of Liberty getting up to her waist in floodwater.  If half the inconvenient truths we’re hearing these day’s are right, Sapienza says, about 23 million Bangladeshis will be flooded out of their homes.

Why?   Because, he says, the affluent ‘First World”s abuse of resources has reprecussions–not at home immediately–but pretty darn near it in the ‘Third World.’


Does that sound like ‘oppression’ to anyone else out there?

That got me thinking, to say the least.  If we, as writers of fantasy, have the responsibility to speak on behalf of the poor and oppressed, then here’s something to speak out against: environmental oppression.  The class-based mindset that is willing to ignore the broken backs of those we climb over to reach our lolling ease.

Thence the link between social and environmental justice.  Saint Francis taught us to think of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.  The rabbi’s teach us that we each have a role to play in tikkun ha’olam.  And saints and rabbis both agree to have compassion and care for our neighbour.

That’s why fantasy writing and social concern are so much like music.

We write, sing, play music from a place of passion, from a spiritual depth that reaches higher than our everyday words and emotions.  The great composers and songwriters pull us farther than we’ve ever been.  Something about the bow over the strings, the resonating voice, the fingers sliding on the neck of the guitar, joins us together with those listening.

Listening to music, play music, draws us into solidarity with the world.  Maybe we’re singing together, maybe we’re clapping together.  Maybe we’re intuitively aware of the gaze of an intent crowd, beyond the quivering darkness of the floodlights.  Or maybe we’re loudly aware of the audience singing along.

We’re drawn together.  For that time, and in that space, there are no strangers.  Distance is a meaningless word.

If the music is worship–as perhaps all music can be–we’re drawn together with something even more unutterable.

And the world is made of music and words.  Dissonance, harmony, creative utterance–we echo these things in words of our own.  We create, in a small way, our own threads in the fabric of the universe.

As we draw our fantasy into the creative song, we draw others along with us.  It’s the courage of writing a story, or a novel, that reaches the same way.  Our stories can and should reach to those oppressed through environmental exploitation, to acknowledge their dignity, their place in the world.

We write to heal a wounded creation, to harmonize the dissonance, to say to the stranger ‘You are my brother, my sister.’  To aid, in some way, in the song of tikkun ha’olam.

2 thoughts on “green writing

  1. My, oh my – what a beautiful collection of thoughts on our obligation to our beautiful sphere as artists. In fiction – for me one of the most stunning reminders of the oneness we share with our fellow friends around the globe as well as with our planet – is when Merlin turns Wart into a hawk and Wart discovers there are no borders on this sphere. I once read that astronauts who look down upon our small planet from space – have a life-changing moment – a sudden surge of love for our lonely blue planet – a realization that we must sing together to be heard – to save it – like the citizens of Who-ville.

    This also made me think of Pythagoras and Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Music of the Spheres. There is new music composer named Greg Fox who wrote Carmen of the Spheres.

    Wikipedia says about it:
    In 2006, an experiment conducted by Greg Fox divided the orbital periods of the planets in half again and again until they were literally audible. The resultant piece was “Carmen of the Spheres”. The principle of octaves in music states that, whenever a sound-wave is doubled or halved in frequency, it yields a super-octave or sub-octave pitch that is always perfectly consonant with the original one. This can be applied (through very large octave shifts) to any periodic cycle, such as the orbits of celestial bodies, to render an audible analogue.

    Here’s a link to his site and you can listen to it! It’s kind of cool when you realize what it really is.

  2. Phantastes is music that just happens to be in the form of a prose romance.

    I was trying to think of examples of great fantasy literature that had explicitly environmental themes, and then I saw the giant picture of Treebeard at the top… doy!

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