Up the Congo

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness…”

Joseph Conrad’s famous tale concerns an expedition up the Congo River.  The mission: to repatriate a company agent.  And with each bend in that jungle river, the protagonist’s belief system proves increasingly unreliable. 

The Heart of Darkness…the perfect metaphor for the hero’s journey.

And the writer’s. 

I don’t know about you, but I begin Page One with no idea how I’ll feel when the ordeal is over. 

I don’t write to explain—I write to find out.

The narrator, Marlowe, is dispatched upriver to investigate a rogue ivory trader named Kurtz. 

And who is this mysterious Kurtz?  We don’t learn much about him.  That’s okay because Kurtz is only the goal. 

Only the goal?

The goal sets the quest in motion.  The goal is the hero’s excuse for getting out of bed in the morning.  But the quest is…

The hero’s journey to the truth about himself. 

Up the Congo, Marlowe finds “truth stripped of its cloak of time.”  Losing his cultural and moral coordinates, Marlowe must… 

“meet that truth with his own true self—with his own inborn strength.  Principles won’t do.”

Up the Congo, the narrator’s conventional scruples are exposed as mere “acquisitions”.  He likens his principles to…“clothes, pretty rags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake.”

Marlowe’s precious belief systems are…

“Incidents of the surface, the reality—the reality, I tell you—fades.  The inner truth is hidden—luckily, luckily.”

Lucky, yes, because the underlying reality is shocking.

“We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster [European society], but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.  It was unearthly…”

Rumours surrounding Kurtz suggest that he, too, has become “monstrous and free”.  Does that make him a madman or a sage?  Marlowe struggles to get his mind around it.

The meeting of Marlowe and Kurtz only adds to the uncertainty.  Speaking of his life in the jungle, Kurtz, before he dies, famously comments, “The horror!  The horror!”

Was Kurtz reacting to cannibalistic rites he may have observed during his jungle sojourn?  Or perhaps to horrors perpetrated by himself.  Or was it something worse? 

Kurtz was on the verge of some great discovery, we’re told.  He seemed to have gained insight into the meaning of life.

“The horror!” he says.

Was Kurtz reacting to life’s meaninglessness?  Or was he in awe of the human organism itself?

  • Horrified that humans should be wired so as to be shielded from the truth. 
  • Horrified by the suffering we must endure to glimpse the truth. 
  • Horrified that seeing the light requires a journey to the heart of darkness.

Every good story leads us all—protagonist, writer, reader—to within shouting distance of this glorious horror.  

I’ve discovered that this is…

Why I write.

Up the Congo—is the central image lending meaning to my insights in an upcoming eBook about the journey to the dark heart of fiction.  I’ll be developing some of the book’s material in future blog posts. 

You can keep me honest as I go…by subscribing to this blog (top of page) and chiming in with your comments. 

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  1. says

    NOTE TO READERS: my “Comments” function has been acting up…but I believe I now understand it and have fixed it. As for the E-world, all I can say is, “The horror! The horror!”

  2. Yvette Carol says

    Wow you did fix it PJ! Yayyyy!!!!! I almost didn’t read your post because I thought I couldn’t leave a comment on it. That’s it bald and straight for you there boyo, it’s all ego this social media commentary. These days we don’t want to read just to be informed, we want to read to interact with others. It’s one big sandbox we can all play in together right?! And it’s fun. There is that. Anyway that was rather a convoluted way of saying welcome back!
    Super excited to hear you’re developing another ebook. Can’t wait to read it. Seriously. I’m a fan, what can I say :-)

  3. says

    I am so glad to be a subscriber to this blog because I just love your posts! Heart of Darkness remains one of the scariest books I’ve read and your explanation of it is why. What a scary and lovely thing to be “within shouting distance of the that glorious horror.”
    I write to find out, too. That’s why I refuse to define what my blog/brand is (mommy blog? writer blog?).
    Looking forward to your next post!

  4. says

    …and there’s no one more energetically e-interacting than you, Yvette. I’ve been reading your generous comments on other writers’ blogs. It’ll stand you in good stead… especially if you ever decide to make that jump to blogging, yourself. About which there is no rush. Keep me posted about your blogging intentions. I’ll help you however I can.

  5. Yvette Carol says

    PJ, thanks man. This one goes in my special file called ‘kind words’. You’ve given me my first real smile today. My youngest (who has continuous health issues) has been coughing for three days. In the last three weeks I’ve been to the doctor with either him or his brother 6 times. I’m feeling about as energetic as a deflated blimp! Phooo….so you’ve given me a shot in the arm. Thanks for that!

    Yeah I dived in to this blog community this year and I absolutely love it. I feel as if my writing life has blossomed!! I’m glad to hear your feedback about my commentary actually. I endeavour (NZ spl) to be as true to who I am as possible. It’s coincided with my mission this year to ‘be who I am and say what I think’ (Dr. Seuss’ advice).

    As to my blog. Inspired for a minute I wrote three blog posts. I subscribed to 4 more blogs ‘about blogging’. In a short space of time I became overwhelmed with information. The message I heard again & again was ‘define your audience’ and I realized that I hadn’t even considered that angle. I got confused and stopped my forward rush.
    Every way I turn I’m told I need to blog.
    I started a ‘writing for children’ group on WANAtribe and all the other members have a blog except for me. I felt once again I must jump in. Yet, still I find myself dithering over it…Then I get a period like this last one with the kids needing to be nursed & I feel freaking glad I don’t have another baby to tend! You know what I mean?
    To read your words saying, no hurry, was like taking a cool drink of water in the desert. You’re a good guy. I appreciate your offer. As you can tell, I could do with another perspective!!


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