Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Prose Excerpt from Halldor Laxness

This was my favorite chapter from Laxness' semi-autobiographical novel, The Fish Can Sing. It contains all of the hallmarks that makes Laxness such a unique and enchanting writer -- his love of nature, his respect for the old traditions and values of a culture, his preference for life experience over classroom learning, and most of all, his Icelandic heart. He was truly THE great literary ambassador for his tiny but incredibly imaginative country.

To set up this passage, the narrator was abandoned by his mother at the modest village home of his grandparents, a place called Brekkukot. He has been raised by his grandmother and grandfather, and this chapter describes his idyllic life with them and the moment in time when he realized he could not stay there and enjoy their company forever. With beautiful prose (even in translation), a keen eye and a penetrating human wisdom, Laxness captures the wide-eyed magic of youth, and the pain that comes when one realizes that one can't remain a child forever.


Chapter 19:
Morning of Eternity: and End

Late in the winter, my grandfather Bjorn started calling me at six o'clock every morning so that I could help him to see the lumpfish-nets in Skerjafjordur. These mornings have always remained fresh in my memory.

What happened? Nothing really happened, except that the sun was getting ready to rise. The stars are seldom as bright as they are in the morning, either because one's eyesight is clearest just after waking, or because the Virgin Mary has been busy polishing them all night. Sometimes there was also a moon. A tiny light had been lit in a cottage on Alftanes; probably someone was going out fishing. Often there was frost and frozen snow, and the ice creaked in the night. Somewhere out in the infinite distance lay the spring, at least in God's mind, like the babies that are not yet conceived in the mother's womb.

My grandfather had a large boat, and a small one. The small boat was used for lumpfishing; it was beached at the high-water mark in front of a shed in which we kept our gear. The boat was easy to launch; it went practically of its own accord if the rollers were placed correctly. And so we rowed out among the rocks and skerries to where the nets lay. Sometimes the gulls followed us in the moonlight. Lumpfish-nets are not normally hauled in; you row alongside them and gaff the fish, or else just grab them by hand, wearing mittens. I kept one oar out and held the boat in position while grandfather used the gaff.

My grandfather was always in a good humor and always reasonably cheerful, but never exactly jolly. He could be mischievous in an innocent sort of way, and enjoyed trying to out-row me. He also laughed if some of his snuff were blown into my eyes when he was taking a pinch, probably because he did not think it was manly to show if one's eyes watered. I never knew what he was thinking about, because he talked mostly in stylized phrases, both about the weather and about the fish. But I somehow felt that in this man's presence, nothing untoward could happen. I often thought to myself how good the Savior had been to send me to this man for protection and help, and I made up my mind to stay with him for as long for as long as he lived and always to catch lumpfish with him at the end of the winter. And I hoped to God that he would not go from me before I myself was well on the way to being as old as he; and then I would find myself a little boy somewhere and have him row out with me to the nets early in the morning when the stars were still bright at the end of the winter. In the moonlight, the gulls seemed to have golden breasts. If you looked down over the gunwale you could see the lumpfish gliding among the seaweed, feeding; occasionally they would even turn their pink-shaded bellies upwards in the water.

Sometimes we would fill both the hand-cart and the wheelbarrow with this fat fish. And just when the stars were really beginning to pale, we would cart our catch homeward straight across the Sands. Grandmother would give us coffee, and then we would go down town to sell the catch just as people were getting up. Grandfather would stop with his hand-cart somewhere in the square, and people would come along with money to buy lumpfish while others just came to greet him and discuss the weather. I was often sent with a string of lumpfish to bring to the regular customers; usually the maid came to the door with the money and took the fish, but sometimes the lady of the house herself would be there, or else, for some incomprehensible reason, the daughter of the house...

These mornings when we were seeing to the lumpfish in Skerjafjordur (and they were really all one and the same morning) -- suddenly they were over. Their stars faded: your Chinese idyll ended.

My grandfather had given me a sign to ship the oars. The boat came to a rest with its bows on a shelf of rock, and the red clusters of seaweed eddied around the prow in the calm sea as the sun rose. It was almost spring. Grandfather took a careful pinch from his snuff-horn, and then said,

"Your grandmother has been talking to me."

I kept silent, and waited.

"She says that according to Helgesen, the teacher, you can learn. We want you to have an education."

"Why?" I asked.

"Her people in the past were all educated men," he said.

"Then what will I be made to do?" I said. "Will I not be allowed to come out fishing with you again?"

"We were thinking of sending you to school, my boy, and making you learn what they call Latin. The idea is that you start in the autumn, if you are accepted. I went to see Pastor Johann; we have got a university student from Copenhagen to prepare you. There was some talk of you starting tomorrow."

I asked, "Are you then not going to wake me tomorrow morning to go fishing?"

He replied, "Your grandmother wishes you well, my boy. And so do I, even though I am ignorant."

And with these words he put out his oar and we pushed off from the rock and rowed ashore.

In Stephan G. Stephansson's biography it says that when the poet was a foster-child up north in Skagafjordur he saw some young men riding over the mountains on their way to school in the south one autumn. He was so deeply distressed by his own misery at not being able to go to school himself and become an educated man that he threw himself down on the heather out there on the moor and wept for a whole day. I have always found it difficult to understand that story. The thought of becoming a Latin scholar had never once occurred to me. I had never been impressed by seeing schoolboys walking around with their tattered books under their arm, nor had I ever wanted to be in their shoes. And now that I had been informed that I was to go and start learning Latin, I inwardly felt as if my grandfather had told me to become an organ-grinder or a scissors-sharpener -- the sort of riffraff that sometimes came over from Denmark during the summer.

It came like a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky. All my plans for eternal life at Brekkekot were destroyed. My joy in existence was shattered. The Great Wall of China, within which I was the Son of Heaven himself, was breached -- and not at the blast of a trumpet, but at a word. How bitter that it should have been my grandfather who spoke the word that ruined for me our turnstile-gate at Brekkukot. I broke down. I had not cried since I was small, because we did not cry at Brekkukot. I felt that nothing could ever console me again. I rowed and rowed with all my strength to keep pace with my grandfather, and cried and cried.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #50

"Let's do the math," as Eminem once rapped (with admirable honesty)... hmm, 50 poems of the week, and this blog has been going for coming on two years... 52 weeks in a year... maybe "Poem of the Week" has become something of a misnomer? Maybe I should be calling this series "Duke Altum's Poem of Every Other Week"!?!

Well guess what folks, I ain't changin' it at this point... the original name has a nicer ring to it, inaccurate or not! I'll put it this way: the word "week" doesn't necessarily mean every week, it only refers to that week in which it appears! How's that for a contorted justification?

Anyway, this week's poem is noteworthy for the amount of freight it carries in just a few short verses... in these fascinating lines, the forces of poetry, science and politics combine to create a brief but powerful meditation on the turmoil and uncertainty of the created world we live in. Several aspects of Miroslav Holub's background as a poet/immunologist living in the Czech Republic come through in this short poem -- the fascination of peering at complex organisms under high magnification; the imagination of the poet's heart ("dreaming landscapes"); echoes of the political upheaval and physical/spiritual violence of war so common to Eastern Europe. Through the dual lenses of scientific observation and creative imagination, Holub presents to us an entire universe in microcosm, in all of its beauty and pain.


In the Microscope

Here too are the dreaming landscapes,
lunar, derelict.
Here too are the masses,
tillers of the soil.
And cells, fighters
who lay down their lives for a song.

Here too are cemeteries,
fame and snow.
And I hear the murmuring,
the revolt of immense estates.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Memory and the Loom of Fiction

Below are five isolated strands of my actual memory. In other words, they are true events, unless I am forgetting or misrepresenting details due to the passage of time, etc. In honor of this blog, we’ll call them threads. They seem unrelated, but as we will see below, they are linked, or have recently become linked, in a process I find interesting.

Thread #1: When I was growing up, there was a younger, dynamic priest named Father Frank Delia in the parish I attended with my family who was a very talented homilist, and who used to close out his homilies from time to time by sitting down at a piano and belting out a song before the congregation.

Thread #2: Years ago, maybe 12 or 14 years back, I went on a weekend trip to the beach with some friends. One night we were just goofing around and a group of us decided to go out and take a walk on the boardwalk. While we were out there we saw some young boys with these long, harpoon-like lances standing on the pier. When we got closer we saw that they were actually fishing for miniature sharks. They would wait until they had a ‘shot’, then spear them with the lances and toss them onto a pile on the pier. I remember staring at this pile of bleeding, semi-dead sharks at night near the ocean.

Thread #3: In 1996 as I was closing out my career in the US Army, I was in the process of leaving Fort Benning, Georgia, after 4 years of living in that area. My Dad came down to help me with the transition. While he was there we went for a weekend in a facility in Alabama, a very quiet, isolated Retreat Center in a town that was called Holy Trinity. This was way in the backwoods. One night while we were at this retreat house, I couldn’t sleep. In the middle of the night I wandered out from my very Spartan little room into the common area of the facility. There was an indoor grotto with a little pond and a statue of Mary in that area. I remember sitting there in absolute silence in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even praying, I was just sitting there. I guess it was some sort of awareness that my life was in a major transition and that I knew nothing about the road ahead of me. After a while I just went back down the hall and went to bed. Nobody ever knew I had been awake.

Thread #4: My mom always had this very old looking, beat-up breviary, a kind of old-fashioned guidebook that people used to bring to Catholic Mass to follow along with the prayers. It was jacketed in black leather and had an antiquated appearance. Later, I found out that it had once belonged to her father and she kept it as an heirloom and a reminder of him. She still has it.

Thread #5: About two or three years ago I was visiting with some friends of ours who were (still are) married with two children at the time (they have three now). In this marriage the husband was a ‘cradle Catholic’ from Boston and the wife was an evangelical Christian who had gone through the RCIA program so they could get married in the Catholic Church. I always had the sense from her that she did this reluctantly, but it’s hard to say. I do know his family highly encouraged it. He was the quintessential Boston Catholic boy. And yet when the sex abuse scandals hit in 2002, and one must remember they hit worst in the Boston area, he lost his fidelity to Catholicism. It also came out that one of the clergy involved in the scandals had been a part of the RCIA program that the wife had been through when she converted. Because of all these things, they both left the Church; her after a short stint, him after a lifetime. When I talked to him, he had no regrets; in fact, he was adamant that the Church, not him, had changed. ‘It’s just not the Church I grew up in any more,’ he told me. ‘It’s all based on nothing.’ I disagreed then and I still do. But I didn’t go through what he went through, and the words stuck with me like a splinter.

Why do I bring all these unrelated memories up here? Because they have all come together somehow in a short story I’ve just written called “In The Throes”. As I have been revising and re-thinking the story I realized just how many different elements of it – some of which are ancillary and some are crucial to the tale at hand – came from these random memories from very different times in my life.

It’s fascinating how the medium of stories – writing fiction – works with the material that is already there in your life. A lot of writers have argued that one of the keys to writing fiction is going out and living a very full and wide-reaching life, and that experience is the only teacher. Therefore you have to accumulate a lot of it. But this is the counter-argument, that one can also find the elements of (hopefully) good fiction within one’s own experience. Emily Dickinson comes to mind, as well as a host of others.

The point is not to draw comparisons, but to reflect on how interesting it is that by sitting down and attempting to write a short story or a poem or novel, you come into that process with these loose threads of memory and experience hanging around, and it can be like sitting down at a loom. You just start weaving, toss in a few made up threads, and before you know it you have created a tapestry. Whether the pattern or colors or design of the tapestry are any good is another matter. But creative writing – fiction, in my case – is the loom. You need the structure and the form of it to create your art. How well you weave depends on your talent and your effort.

This story I have just written may turn out to be one of my better ones, it may not. But I was surprised to see that it had brought together these unrelated fragments of my memory in a way that I never anticipated it would. I love this about the writing process; it’s why I do it. It gives me a way to mine my own experience, arrange the pieces, see what I can make out of it. It’s a way to mirror God’s ultimate act of creation that was to bring all that we see and know and experience to life out of an empty void. To create something where originally there was nothing is a hardship and a gift, a struggle and a joy, a means and an end.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Blog readers: I am back. After weeks of a lengthy hiatus from the blog to attend to personal matters, namely moving my whole family of four from one state to another and all of the various “Muttrolls” associated with that, I now return to The Secret Thread where I will hopefully resume making quasi-regular posts on matters related to literature, spirituality, film, etc.

Meanwhile, props are in order for the efforts of my man and co-blogger Duke Altum, who has mightily carried the torch while I was off doing the above. Since I make up for roughly 30% of the entire Secret Thread readership, maybe the whole of his contributions to the blog in recent weeks has not been fully appreciated. But if anyone has taken the time to read his last two posts, his insightful essay on children, innocence and the film The Spirit of the Beehive and his new Unshelved feature on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, you will know that he has been dishing out the content for any starved TST readers to lap up hungrily. Hopefully some were nourished by these noble servings. Since I have recently caught up on them I can tell you they are worth checking out.

Now then. Mutt rolls.

A lot has gone down for me lately in the new experiences related above. I’m now living in a house I own for the first time in a new state, and there are a lot of new demands on my time and resources. I have two young children who started branching out into new experiences almost immediately, and that sure isn’t going to slow down. I have not been able to do a lot of the literary work that I like to do very consistently in the last few months (this blog included), so it would seem that some of the projects I like to mention here might have taken a hit.

Reading-wise, I have not slowed much. Duke has kept the books on the right well updated. No time or real need to go through everything, but I will say this: I have been starting to read through Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, and so far I have read two of seven volumes. When I finish that series I was planning to do a blog-only essay encompassing my overall thoughts on whether that series has any merit. I have long been curious as to whether this drawn-out series of fantasy books is worth the time it takes to read them or if they belong among the finest of that very popular writer’s expansive canon. He seems to hold these books dear. I am curious about their effect as one long story, and I plan to capture some of my conclusions here in the future, hopefully before the end of the year.

Recently I have been reading more cryptic fiction – I’m on my third fairly difficult book in a row, beginning with Omensetter’s Luck by William H. Gass, The Camberwell Beauty by V. S. Pritchett and now with Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch ­– which may be considered something close, if there is such a thing, to a South American Ulysses. All three of these books, while being very different in form, structure, tone, and just about everything else, have been challenging reads, but they are all immensely impressive and they are all written by acknowledged masters. Gass is an esteemed novelist and philosopher; Pritchett was one of the masters of the short story in English and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and Julio Cortazar was a visionary and experimental genius who has been a tremendous influence on a bevy of writers from around the world.

Lastly, on my own writing, things have taken an interesting turn. I more or less stopped writing my novel a few weeks before we moved because of the difficulty of working on something like that while trying to relocate. But I found that I was still feeling a desire to be working on something. So I plugged that time with two smaller pieces that I did not expect to write. The first was a tribute to one of my literary heroes, the novelist Ron Hansen. Simply titled, “Ron Hansen: An Appreciation”, I thought the piece turned out well and I tried to sell it to three magazines. But each rejected it. I’m running out of places to send it, but I am glad I tried. Incidentally, Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish Hansen’s novel Exiles on the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 2008 and I am looking forward to that with great enthusiasm.

Then, still wanting to write but living out of boxes by that point, I sat down and wrote a new short story which is now in the revision process. This was a surprise to me. The story is called “In The Throes” and it is a fictional response to the sexual abuse scandals of 2002 in the Catholic Church. It is a kind of bleak story, but it comes out of some of the comments I have heard others make after it all went down, my own ruminations on the fallout and what it all means, and a semi-subconscious but potent concern I have for my daughters’ futures. The story is about a seventeen-year-old girl whose life is upended when her parents decide to abandon the Catholic faith they raised her in, thereby casting her adrift on the spiritual seas. As a result, she makes a decision that could have long-term consequences. It has been an interesting story to write and edit and I am not totally sure about the story’s success.

The only thing about all this is that with the mental investment involved in writing those two pieces, it leaves me in a curious and unclear spot with regard to the novel I was writing since March. I am pretty sure I want to stick at it but it feels distant to me at the moment and I have had some doubts about how well it was ‘working’. I figure the only way to find out what is what here is to attempt to dive back into it as soon as I can after I finish “In The Throes” and send it out to a couple magazines. That is what I will do, which is well and good, but right now I have no idea what the prognosis is for it. We’ll see. And as it becomes clearer I will report on it in my ‘Journal’ on these pages.

Ergo, like I said: Mutt rolls.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Weapons of Childhood (Part I)

Sometimes it feels like we're living in a culture that is at war, whether it's fully realized or not, against the very idea of childhood. Everyone laments publicly how quickly kids grow up these days, and yet when you look at the culture, especially the media (its main engine), everything is geared towards faciliating exactly that which we moan and wail about. Now that I'm fully immersed in the wonderfully challenging task of raising my own children (sons, in my case), I am realizing to my chagrin how difficult it is to "just let your kids be kids" in a world that is constantly forcing them to grow up faster and faster -- bombarding them with violent and sexual images, giving them games that put them into adult situations they should never even be thinking about in real life, showing them films that are supposedly safe for them but loaded with all kinds of innuendo, etc. The list could go on and on.

Even within one or two generations, the length of time one can enjoy "just being a kid" and not contending with adult situations and adult worries seems to have been radically reduced. For example, I am a child of the 70's, a decade which had its own problems and proclivities of course, but I cannot remember ever being worried about being gunned down at school, or being blown up on a PATH train to New York. Now, just a generation or two later, these are (sadly) very real threats against our children, and they're very much aware of them at younger and younger ages. And then there's just the ubiquity of information -- unfiltered information -- that everyone, including young children, is constantly being subjected to. When the recent Virginia Tech shootings occurred, it was indeed a national tragedy and it's understandable that a national conversation about it took place. And yet, you could not walk into a grocery store or a doctor's office without CNN hitting you with "amateur video" of running people, gun shots being fired, SWAT teams, etc. In just a few minutes of waiting in my doctor's waiting room, my three young sons were treated to a eyewitness description (in graphic detail) of the carnage in the classroom on that campus, and a clip of someone's cell phone footage that had captured a constant tatoo of gunfire from just outside the hall where the violence occurred. "Is that guy shooting people Dad?" was my four-year-old's eminently reasonable question. All I could do was tell him yes, and watch the implications of that thought work themselves out across his face.

Another quick example of what I mean: recently, we had a "grand opening" (what's so "grand" about another convenience store competing for our business in town is, of course, an open question) of a Royal Farms gas station and food mart -- one of these big, shiny, new Wawa-type stores that tries to offer you everything and ends up specializing in nothing. Except maybe gas. Anyway, a good friend of ours went in to check out the mini-store with her family (husband, son aged 7, and daughter aged 4), and when walking down one of the aisles was confronted with an entire rack of pornographic magazines, mostly uncovered, about 3 1/2-4 feet tall. Why give the height, you ask? Well, the way they are set up, just about all of these magazines fall right smack in line with the eyes of small kids. First of all, aren't there regulations about where such magazines can be displayed in these stores anyway, if we must have them at all (i.e., behind the counter, under wraps, where young kids won't ever look?)? And even if there aren't, why in the name of all that's holy would you set up an entire rack of these magazines right at the eye level of smaller children?? Our friends were dumbstruck first, then angry right after -- especially when they were forced to answer their daughter's question about why those two women were kissing each other on that page.

Well, all of this is sort of a long preamble to what I really wanted to post about here, which is movies. More specifically, movies that feature young children retreating from the ugliness and brutality of the world being presented to them using the only "weapons" they really know how to wield -- innocence and imagination. I've just gotten through a whole series of them -- unplanned, but afterwards I realized the common theme. I've seen no less than four movies in the last several months that are built around this central motif. The films are, in chronological order (not in the order I saw them): Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (1973); Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (1987); Terry Gilliam's Tideland (2005); and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006). I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the way each of them handles this intriguing theme.

The idea of children retreating into the realms of fantasy and imagination, rather than deal with the terrors of the "grown up" world, is of course nothing new in the arts. These films are, to a large degree, entering into the stream of a much larger, and older, storytelling tradition -- call it the Alice in Wonderland school of fiction. And in each one, the central character, a child (happens to be a young girl in three of the four mentioned), is dealing with forces and realities in their "real lives" that are quite beyond their comprehension, and are far too complex and terrifying for their young and innocent minds to process. Like my four-year-old son in that doctor's waiting room, the horrors they are forced to contend with are thrust upon them at far too early an age, and they simply don't have the tools yet to deal with them. So, they make use of the only "weapons" they have: those that are inherent to childhood, and thank God for it. I mentioned them before -- innocence and imagination. But as these films seem to be positing, these weapons are a lot more potent than we often give them credit for. And yet, you also wonder when watching these films: are they powerful enough to overcome the traumas these children are facing? Most of the movies leave this as an open question.

The least known of these among the general movie-watching public is probably Erice's fascinating The Spirit of the Beehive. I just saw this the other night for the first time (once again, I find myself thanking heaven for the mere existence of the incredible Criterion Collection!), and part of the reason I wanted to watch it was I heard it in an interview with del Toro that it was one of the films that inspired him. I had seen and loved Pan's Labyrinth, so any film that played a role in the formation of the imagination that created it I thought would be well worth checking out. The 1973 Spanish film is a treasure for many reasons. One thing that strikes you about it right away is its amazing cinematography: it delivers a long series of stunning images, almost like paintings, that stay burned into your memory well after the film is over (I suspect they will be with me for a long time). If you appreciate at all the craft of movie-making, you can't miss Beehive for that reason alone. The final scene in particular has an eerie, quiet beauty that is like the cherry on top of a very rich sundae. It is one of those "last shots" in a film that you see and immediately realize it couldn't have ended any other way. And in this scene, and many others, the influence it must have had on Pan's Labyrinth is as clear as a mountain stream.

The story of this quietly mesmerizing film revolves around a young girl growing up in rural Spain during the time of Franco, just after the horrible Civil War (the trauma is which is almost palable throughout). The opening scene features an old truck lumbering along the dirt road into town, being mobbed by children when it stops in front of what you quickly realize is something of a makeshift movie theatre. What is being delivered to the small town are large, metal reels of film that will be cobbled together to show James Whale's Frankenstein, and the entire town (it seems) crams into the smoke-filled, dirt-floored room to see what Hollywood hath wrought. Erice brilliantly shows us the original introduction to the film, in which the producer walks out onto a lit stage to "warn" the moviegoing audience about the shocking nature of the film they are about to see (an idea which seems so quaint and archaic to us now, but at the time may actually have been necessary, as Whale's film set a new standard for realism and shock-value at the time!). I say "brilliantly" because it almost serves as an introduction to Beehive as well -- not that the movie is so shocking, but it does have a lot to say about the power of film to influence the imagination. Certainly Ana, the protagonist (an adorable little girl of about 5, I'd say), won't be the same after seeing it.

Erice shows us the famous scene in which the monster meets up with a little girl on a river bank, who is playing with a doll and thowing flowers into the water. Most will remember what comes after this scene: we are not shown the actual act, but the monster, thinking it is all part of the game, reaches out for the little girl, and the next thing you see is the girl's father, walking somberly through town with the soaked girl hanging limply in his arms (obviously drowned). We see Ana's intense eyes take in the scene, and can feel her bewilderment as she turns to her sister, asking, "Why did he kill that little girl?" Her sister explains to her impatiently that it's all fake since it's a movie, but adds that the spirit of the monster is real, and sometimes inhabits human form. She even claims to have seen him once at a rundown farmhouse outside of town, and tells Ana that she can invoke this spirit whenever she wants to by just closing her eyes and whispering, "It's me, Ana. It's me, Ana."

Of course Ana's sister, Isabel, takes her to see the abandoned old farmhouse with a well outside of it, and Ana returns there on her own often, obviously obsessed with the idea of seeing the spirit of the monster for herself. One day she goes there and runs into a wounded revolutionary soldier who's obviously hiding out there from the law, and she is convinced that he is incorporating the spirit she seeks. The rest of the film follows her increasingly bold efforts to confront the "monster," which is obviously her way of escaping from not only the doldrums of her everyday life in the hardscrabble town, but also from her uninspiring home life, with her eccentric father (who tends bees and works all night writing extended philosophical descriptions of their activities) and disengaged and lonely mother (who we see writing to and burning letter from an ex-lover of hers in France).

Erice's finely-crafted film is a beautiful and intriguing example of what I love about these stories that immerse us into a child's mindset in the midst of disturbing circumstances: they take seriously the power and, yes, wisdom of innocence. None of these films go so far as to imply that this innocence is ultimately going to protect or save their main chararcters from the world's evils, but they show an all-too-rare (these days) respect and appreciation for this under-valued, and under-cultivated, quality. There's a reason why stories that feature children escaping into fantasy worlds that may or may not be "real" often achieve classic status and are loved by many generations running: they have something to say that strikes right at the heart and soul of all but the most hardened and skeptical readers. They also remind us of a quality most of us had at one point in our lives -- the ability to look upon a world of wonders and accept the mystery of what we see at face value, not try to analyze it or excuse it away as mere illusion or, worse, delusion.

Since I am running out of time and this post is growing rather long, I will cut this off now and make it a two-parter... for I would still like to say some things in appreciation for the other films I mentioned. For now, I hope that anyone who reads this and is interested in the subject will make an effort to find and watch The Spirit of the Beehive. It is a true work of art, and though it seems slow at times when you're watching it, the overall effect of the film is powerful indeed. I can almost guarantee you'll be thinking about it for a long time after you've seen it, and you may, if you're lucky, never forget it.