Believing the world to be flat, long-ago people must have feared falling off the edge.
Imagine the courage it required to embark on a voyage toward the unknown. Yet men did. It’s a paradox—we want to live—yet we put life at risk to live better.
Listen to Herman Melville:
“As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts.”
For some people that’s counter-intuitive. For others, that flirtation with the dark side is an impulse to be ignored only at great peril. One thing’s for sure—the stories we love concern heroes who are blessed with Melville’s itch.
Even still, I keep running across people for whom the concept of a “journey into darkness” is unnecessary. These upbeat folks insist that they would indeed be happy reading a book called “The Valley of the Happy Nice People” (see recent post). In such a valley the “dark side” equals evil, and for this reason such people avoid their own subconscious.
To those who happily live on the surface of things, may I present Helen Keller:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
When presented with the evidence—biographies of eminent people—in which maturity consistently ensues from a struggle of some kind—the superficialist would nevertheless prefer to rewire the human race than face the deceptively wonderful facts of life.
The truth of our existence—if that’s what we’re after—must fall more on one side of this argument than the other. Are we creatures of light who occasionally plunge into darkness? Or is it the other way around? Are we magnificently ignorant, ever striving for the light of understanding? I vote for the latter because it explains our thirst for truth.
Would religions have arisen if light wasn’t in such short supply? Would our appetite for stories be so voracious? My point is this:
A story is invariably a journey to the dark side. So is a full life.