Saturday, 16 July 2011

On "good" bad literature and the "spiritual" landscape

There is something immensley satisfying about "good" bad literature, by which I mean novels which in themselves have no literary merit, but which make good reading. They are a guilty pleasure, something to be enjoyed in place of something more meatier, but also more wholesome.

A good example might be Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', a book with virtually no literary merit (or so the critics tell us) and one in which the major charecters receive virtually no development, and yet is a classic which can be found on the bookshelves of both wannabe Goths and professors of literature. Dracula is a book that has launched a thousand spin-offs, both books and movies, and yet is like literary chocolate, good for a few minutes pleasure, but not for a nutritious meal.

I am writing this caught between reading Stan Nicholls' 'Orcs' and the latest William Horwood novel 'Awakening'. The former is good, weekend reading. It doesn't require too much thought or consideration. It is essentially good reading for a quiet afternoon (though there are far too many battles and 'deus ex machina' for my liking). Horwood is of a similar genre, but cannot be classed as a guilty pleasure. His novels are written well and utilise the historico-mythological landscape of Britain as their backdrop/ canvas.

Whereas Nicholls writing is good, escapist fun, Horwood opens up the English landscape, showing us the old/ hidden pathways which we, as modern people, have forgotten. Wayland's Smithy becomes not just a name on a signpost, but a place of encounter with Wayland. As with Alan Garner's novels, the old meanings of our landscape are opened up to us.

As modern Christians we often reject these symbols of our past, and yet our ancesters included them in their cosmology. The Green Man or the Sheelagh na'gig are often found as additions to our medieval Churches, yet we little understand their significance or meaning today. Horwood and others (such as Robert Holdstock) try to reconnect us with these age old spirits of our landscape. They were friends (and fiends) whom our ancesters feared or revered and remembered their passing in the stonework of the buildings that have lasted the longest, our Churches.

All of which shows us that we've come a long way from where we started. Literature, even books read as a guilty pleasure have a way of doing that to you. As Bilbo warns Frodo, it's a dangerous thing stepping over the threshold of your door, because you've got no inclination as to where the road you are embarking on will lead to.

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