From Edge Of The Map
In the fourteenth century, a Florentine poet, scholar, and politician could find himself halfway through his life journey, lost and in a forest, and discover in this darkness the gates of hell and the long winding path to the heavenly Rose. The cave that led to Dante’s Inferno may not be on a map, but a hiker reading his poem might assume that perhaps over this hill, through this grove of gnarled trees, could be the Gaping portal. At every corner of a sufficiently not-known place, you could slip into a story room, in one of those strange places where the rigid daily progression of events gives way to the augmented and analog sphere of Magic and revelation.
In Spain, a hundred years after, the world felt too big for giants and chivalry. Cervantes writes of a mad Don Quixote in a social world of the after Middle Ages so well known, so observed, so depicted that it could contain impossible chivalric quests and evil sorcerers. Don Quixote’s Questland-where he searches for wizards and Grails, kills monsters, and action with evil knights-this Questland does not have to exist for it to exist. He participates in stories that could never have happened, but centuries after they remain immediately understandable and understandable to any reader of fantasy romance
Cervantes mocks this invisible world by portraying golden helmets as razors and ladies of legendary beauty as taverns – but he also acknowledges that Don Quixote’s empire offers meaning, clarity, and revelation, even if it’s foolish. Even after the “healing” of Don Quixote, he cannot survive for a long time without building another fantasy for himself — this time with the form of Pastoral Care.
No organism, as Shirley Jackson would write centuries after, can exist for a long time in conditions of absolute reality. Even the Larks, and Katydiden of some of his dreams.
The great inner moments of life – revelation and Transformation, confrontation with our darkest fears, obtaining the divine, rapture, and pain of true love or dissolution of the self— are as real as possible. We know they exist. We meet them and we are finished and changed. Even if we are not in their grip, we see them on the edge of the shadows. But when we try to approach them directly, to talk or write about them, they bounce off our clumsy lead, rush to a safe distance, and continue their trembling vigil and we observe them. A woman’s search for inner grace — for the liberation of the chains she has forged around her — can only be captured indirectly by the acute realism that refuses to immerse itself in the trembling mess of myth and memory that underlies our common experience of this confusing thing. we like to call reality, so-called because it makes us feel better. But we have tools to tell stories about this research. All we have to do is start from the edge of the map where we can find knights, a forest, a Grail, and a wounded king.
In the Tang Dynasty, a monk named Xuanzang left the imperial capital in the city of Xi’an. He traveled west to India through places today called Xinjiang and Tibet. He left behind a glittering and educated imperial court, the pinnacle of world civilization of his time, a place where he enjoyed patronage and support to travel a silk Road that was not ruled by any empire, full of bandits and hostile foreigners. As a Buddhist monk, he brought little comfort.
Why take such a long and brutal journey? Why leave friends and family? He was looking for writing. He sought the Salvation of the World and the Liberation of all Sentient Beings. A new form of Buddhism had filtered through the Himalayas in the Tang Dynasty of China-building a political and communal Vision of Buddhist practice in the person of Bodhisattva, a character who, realizing the liberation of the world, remains free in it to help others. This new Tradition intrigued, but the emperor wanted to study his sources firsthand – so he instructed Xuanzang to go to the West, study and bring back an authentic copy of the writings of this “great vehicle” (as its authors called it because besides the holy men they were wise marketers).
Thus, Xuanzang made his journey through what Tang writers then considered barbarian countries, reached India, studied under masters, learned Sanskrit, copied the Sutras by hand and translated them into Chinese, and after many years—his Mission a success — returned to a grateful emperor.
This is history on a mythical level. But when the story became a story, the glaring external image of a monk who traveled with a minimal escort on barren views and studied languages in foreign countries moved into the colorful petals of myth.
The search for Xuanzang was great – in Wu Cheng’en’s journey to the west, its inner aspects acquired a magical meaning and mythical resonance. The monsters of peril and temptation that afflict everyone with deep Commitment have become demonic kings, and seductive immortals, evil Taoists, have escaped from alchemical experiments. Man’s deep inner impulses arise from his person and take shape: demigod animal disciples, rich in mystical force, each corresponding to a different characteristic of the psyche, their deep personal conflicts lie between Xuanzang and his quest to the West.
Once Xuanzang crosses the borders of the well-known and stable Tang China, anything can happen-well, not quite. Other things can happen, other rules apply. To understand Xuanzang’s pilgrimage on foot, to understand its magnitude, its consequences, and the range of difficulties he faced in his heart, Wu teases around The Walking Man a world of monkey kings and voracious pig and spider gods-immortal, ribald, and rich and huge as any soul.
But where should we go in our largely Google-mapped world, which could be populated with Magic, monstrosity, and Transformation, as was Xuanzang’s journey to the West? In what dark forest could we get lost to find these doors with the famous words above them, and Virgil ready to lead us down? We live in the world of Cervantes more than Dantes or Wu Cheng-en. there are no links beyond the edge of the map.
Tolkien, among others, responded to this challenge by creating a completely different realm where his dramas would take place, where men who go through a war together at the end of the age could be the pivot of history. But the under-created fantasy world is by definition a place we can’t go. No one, halfway through their lives, finds themselves lost and in middle-earth. At least outside of Fanfiction.)
Even the hidden image is trapped in a Finger Trap. The narrator must create functional systems and societies through which our heroes can pass so that the Illusion does not break. Who grows grain here? Who could these traders trade with? Why build a castle there? The systems, maps, and justifications that guide readers are all opposed to the desire to create a great not-known, a kingdom of Transformation. The kind of stories I’m talking about here start with characters we know and push them off the map. Fantasies usually begin with Cards.
How to disable the edge of the map? Where can our spirits flourish in all their mythical scope? Each Genre offers its own answer. Through the gate, the gate, The fairy ring, to Oz or Narnia or the world of Roland, says Portal Fantasy. Among the large quiet spaces behind the doors of the neighbors’ apartment upstairs, says urban Fantasy. And to the shadows in the closet, in the forest, in the old house, in the attic of our dead parents, in the tunnels under our Nation – says horror. (This is also the reason why my neighbor Totoro remains firmly locked in my heart as a great horror film by Miyazaki.)
But each of these options has a built-in limit. When we grow up, we find that our young people’s wardrobes did not lead to Narnia. Only as a child can we really believe that the back of our uncle’s wardrobe could lead to something interesting. And while this silent neighbor might be a vampire, soon the constraints of logic and urban space limit the space available for adventure. (How does she feed? No City has so many execute. Could there be a vampire society? If so, how do they work?)Tags: Discover, Edge Of The Map, Empress of Forever