Saturday, March 17, 2012

Protecting Diversity: the Attack on Women

By A. M. Potter

Since 1987 the month of March has been designated ‘Women’s History Month.’ This is not only a base discrimination against women—allowing women only one month and, by default, according men eleven—but a gender-specific expression as well.

Propaganda is not often truthful and even less often logical. We are told, by bumper stickers, signs, posters, and internet ads, to celebrate diversity--racial, religious, sectarian, and otherwise. Yet, in the one area where diversity is most obvious and unavoidable--gender--we are not only discouraged from celebrating it, but it would seem that we are adjured to ignore it as much as possible.

The Abolition of Womanhood
Traditionally, men and women’s roles have been distinct and separate, but of late importunate crusaders for ‘women’s rights’ have done their best to muddle these separate roles as much as possible under the watch word of ‘freedom.’ Are gender-specific roles restrictive? Yes, most certainly--as is any privilege or responsibility; and in this case of gender roles there is a moral responsibility involved: women should not act like men just as adults should not act like children.

All this is not only logical but self evident. This much is made clear by the fact that the neutralisation of gender roles must be pushed so vehemently upon a public that would otherwise unconsciously uphold them. Women would behave like women and men behave like men indefinitely unless someone took the trouble to tell them to behave like something else. As a result, they must be told importunately to throw off the tyranny of tradition and advance into enlightened liberty. I question how free this ‘liberty’ truly is.

In the first place, the term ‘lady’ is now practically proscribed. Instead of being a title indicative of grace and dignity, it appears to be currently considered a ‘patronising stereotype’ [Chicago Manual of Style]. I am sure I do not know where such an idea was conceived. Originally, ‘lady,’ like ‘gentleman,’ was a title for nobility, used only in respect of a select few. Over time (due, I suppose, to the chivalry of individual people) there came to be a sort of obligation to treat every woman as if she were a lady and every man as if he were a gentleman; and, eventually, the two titles became a mere compliment to one’s manners and breeding.

Now, this sort of reasoning is very commendable; I think that one’s behaviour ought to recommend him more strongly than his birth or possessions, and therefore prefer the modern usage. But the word ‘lady’ can hardly be called either patronising or stereotypical. In the first instance, it is a title of respect; in the second, it cannot stereotype anyone by placing him in a group so small and select as that which the term truly encompasses.

Everything that has two parts we suspect to have two parts for a reason; in the case of a knife and a fork we understand the knife accomplishes the purposes that the fork cannot, and vice versa. There is no logical reason for diversity could any one item fulfil every function. Men and women were designed to work together as separate entities in a dynamic collaboration with each other. This has been so from the beginning.

The woman’s role has often been thought restrictive, and this is certainly true: there are many things that a woman is not suited by nature to do, and some others that she has traditionally not been permitted, either by dogma or public sentiment, to do. This is obviously prohibitive, but so is any role, including (as mentioned previously) that of an adult, or a citizen of any country. To keep women out of the political or professional world is not to keep them from fulfilling a thousand functions that they were designed for and for the execution of which they are absolutely indispensable. It is the urge of the insatiable to desire breadth at the expense of any boundaries whatsoever.

The difference between men and women is nowhere so obvious as in the ancient conflict between the two sexes—and here the afore-mentioned term ‘dynamic collaboration’ is apt, though, sadly, more in the sense of the first word than the second. This unaccountable tension, composed of both attraction and repulsion, has been the joke or bane of male-female relations at least since recorded history. G. K. Chesterton, early-twentieth-century British philosopher and apologist, in his social critique What’s Wrong with the World? sheds light on two basic causes of this conflict:

The difficulty exists especially, perhaps, in the thing called thrift; we men have so much encouraged each other in throwing money right and left, that there has come at last to be a sort of chivalrous and poetical air about losing sixpence. But on a broader and more candid consideration the case scarcely stands so.

…[The] female economic ideal is a part of that female variety of outlook and all-round art of life which we have already attributed to the sex: thrift is not a small or timid or provincial thing; it is part of that great idea of the woman watching on all sides out of all the windows of the soul and being answerable for everything. For in the average human house there is one hole by which money comes in and a hundred by which it goes out; man has to do with the one hole, woman with the hundred. But though the very stinginess of a woman is part of her spiritual breadth, it is none the less true that it brings her into conflict with the special kind of spiritual breadth that belongs to the males of the tribe.

...As it is about feminine thrift against masculine waste, so it is about feminine dignity against masculine rowdiness. The woman has a fixed and very well-founded idea that if she does not insist on good manners, nobody else will. Babies are not always strong on the point of dignity, and grown-up men are quite unpresentable....But indeed the female ideal of dignity, like the female idea of thrift, lies deeper and may easily be misunderstood. It rests ultimately on a strong idea of spiritual isolation; the same that makes women religious. They do not like being melted down. They dislike and avoid the mob....I remember an artistic and eager lady asking me in her grand green drawing-room whether I believed in the comradeship between the sexes, and why not. I was driven back on offering the obvious and sincere answer ‘Because if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade you would turn me out of the house.’

...I am not expressing my own views here, but those of nearly all the women I have known. It is quite unfair to say that a woman hates other women individually, but I think it would be quite true to say that she detests them in a confused heap. And this is not because she despises her own sex, but because she respects it; and respects especially that sanctity and separation of each item which is represented in manners by the idea of dignity and in morals by the idea of chastity....It is equally obvious that these two necessary sanctities of thrift and dignity are bound to come into collision with the wordiness, the wastefulness, and the perpetual pleasure-seeking of masculine companionship.[i]

This is no more regrettable than it is accidental. The very qualities that create discord between the sexes also necessitate their mutual dependence on each other. Independence, especially in the last two and a half centuries, has been lauded almost to the point of worship; and many people today do not recognise, not only the absolute need for, but the surprising beauty of dependence. It is at the root of all relationships and was man’s first recorded need: ‘And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone...’ (Genesis 2:18)

Chesterton goes on to document the early changes that came over the respective institutions of manhood and womanhood a hundred years ago.

But in this corner called England, at this end of the century, there has happened a strange and startling thing. Openly and to all appearance, this ancestral conflict has silently and abruptly ended; one of the two sexes has suddenly surrendered to the other. By the beginning of the twentieth century, within the last few years, the woman has in public surrendered to the man. She has seriously and officially owned that the man has been right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really more important than the private house; that politics are not (as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer, but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel...that talk is not a waste of time, and therefore (as a consequence, surely) that taverns are not a waste of money. All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers, and grandmothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of contempt upon our hobbies of sport, drink, and party politics. And now comes Miss Pankhurst [a leading suffragette of the time] with tears in her eyes, owning that all the women were wrong and all the men were right; humbly imploring to be admitted to so much as an outer court, from which she may catch a glimpse of those masculine merits which her erring sisters had so thoughtlessly scorned.

Now this development naturally disturbs and even paralyzes us. Males, like females, in the course of that old fight between the public house and private house, had indulged in overstatement and extravagance, feeling that they must keep up their end of the see-saw. We told our wives that Parliament had sat late on most essential business; but it never crossed our minds that our wives would believe it. We said that everyone must have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said that no one must have a pipe in the drawing-room. In both cases the idea was the same. ‘It does not matter much, but if you let those things slide there is chaos.’

...Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it. The solemnity of politics; the necessity of votes; the necessity of Huggins; the necessity of Buggins; all these flow in a pellucid stream from the lips of the suffragette speakers. I suppose in every fight, however old, one has a vague aspiration to conquer; but we never wanted to conquer women so completely as this. We only expected that they might leave us a little more margin for our nonsense; we never expected that they would accept it seriously as sense. Therefore I am all at sea about the existing situation; I scarcely know whether to be relieved or enraged by this substitution of the feeble platform lecture for the forcible curtain-lecture. I am lost without the trenchant and candid Mrs. Caudle. I really do not know what to do with the prostrate and penitent Miss Pankhurst.[ii]

And in the phrase, ‘if you let those things slide there is chaos,’ sounds ominous prophecy. What other word but ‘chaos’ can describe the state of affairs today in which one may place a wager as to the gender of the average individual on the street? The women’s rights activists have achieved their aim of equalising and merging the roles of men and women, at the sacrifice of the individuality and dignity of each.

Women's suffrage--the right to vote--one of the early victories of the movement, was acclaimed as a great new freedom for women. The truth is that at the time this right was accorded the vast majority of women did not want the vote--it was forced upon them. Women are told that they are now free, but they are not told what they have been freed from. What is this freedom endowed to women that they may now hold office or cast a vote?

If we ask these ladies ourselves what a vote is, we shall get a very vague reply....For the truth is that they go mainly by precedent; by the mere fact that men have votes already. So far from being a mutinous movement, it [Female Suffrage] is really a very Conservative one; it is in the narrowest rut of the British Constitution. Let us take a little wider and freer sweep of thought and ask ourselves what is the ultimate point and meaning of this odd business called voting.

Seemingly from the dawn of man all nations have had governments; and all nations have been ashamed of them. Nothing is more openly fallacious than to fancy that in ruder or simpler ages ruling, judging, and punishing appeared perfectly innocent and dignified. These things were always regarded as the penalty of the Fall; as part of the humiliation of mankind as bad in themselves...though some punishments are more inhuman than others there is no such thing as humane punishment. As long as nineteen men claim the right in any sense or shape to take hold of the twentieth man and make him even mildly uncomfortable, so long the whole proceeding must be a humiliating one for all concerned.

...[T]he essential point is that in self-governing countries this coercion of criminals is a collective coercion. The abnormal person is theoretically thumped by a million fists and kicked by a million feet. If a man is flogged, we all flogged him; if a man is hanged, we all hanged him. That is the only possible meaning of democracy, which can give any meaning to the first two syllables and also to the last two. In this sense, every citizen has the high responsibility of a rioter. Every statute is a declaration of war, to be backed by arms. Every tribunal is a revolutionary tribunal. In a republic all punishment is as sacred and solemn as lynching.

When, therefore, it is said that the tradition against Female Suffrage keeps women out of activity, social influence, and citizenship, let us a little more soberly and strictly ask ourselves what it actually does keep her out of. It does definitely keep her out of the collective act of coercion; the act of punishment by a mob. The human tradition does say that, if twenty men hang a man from a tree or lamp-post, they shall be twenty men and not women. Now, I do not think that any reasonable Suffragist will deny that exclusion from this function, to say the least of it, might be maintained to be a protection as well as a veto.

...If votes for women do not mean mobs for women, they do not mean what they were meant to mean. A woman can make a cross on a paper as well as a man; a child could do it as well as a woman; and a chimpanzee after a few lessons could do it as well as a child. But nobody ought to regard it merely as making a cross on paper; everyone ought to regard it as what it ultimately is, branding the fleur-de-lis, making the broad arrow, signing the death warrant. Both men and women ought to face more fully the things they do or cause to be done; face them or leave off doing them.

...[F]ew suffragists will wholly deny that this human necessity of pains and penalties is an ugly, humiliating business and that good motives as well as bad may have helped to keep women out of it.

Reading this, every person feels a sense of the rightness and fittingness of men having the vote and women not having it. It is not a question of being free, but something entirely different and divorced from the general argument. It is the age-old position of and discrimination between the two sexes. I use the word ‘discrimination’ with purpose here to mean exactly what it does mean: there is a difference between the two sexes and the difference is there for a reason.

We have already discussed several of the differences between men and women; but there remains still perhaps the greatest difference of all, which lies not so much in their physiognomy or psychology as in their two separate roles: men are, and have nearly always been, highly specialised in their work, whether that work is brick-laying or electrical engineering; women’s work has traditionally been less specialised and more diverse than men’s. Chesterton delineates this difference as follows:

Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a schoolmistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator, but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what has been called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman’s professions, unlike the child’s, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them from being merely morbid.

This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position. I do not deny that women have been wronged and even tortured; but I doubt if they were ever tortured so much as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time.

...The shortest way of summarizing the position is to say that woman stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which the human mind must return after every excursion on extravagance....There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomena that moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the centre and pillar of health.

...The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one. Suppose it to be conceded that mankind has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very small children who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worthwhile to cast this burden upon women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean.

When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only meant dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colourless, or of small import to the soul, then, as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

It is the modern theories that have narrowed women’s sphere and taken their liberty. I’ll give one stark example of this: the women’s rights movement has opened up thousands of career possibilities formerly closed to women--business, the church, the military, the political arena--but it is attempting to remove the term ‘lady’ from our speech and thought. I am now free to be anything I want to be--except the one thing I was born to be.

The Destruction of the Home
I don’t want to create the impression that I am against women in the professional world. I merely rebel against the ideology that states that the home is the least important of a woman’s responsibilities when it is really the most important--nay, the most crucial, and, disturbingly, the most threatened.

For most of recorded history the man’s duty has been to raise the crops and make the laws while it has been the woman’s duty to raise the children and make the bread. Despite various shuffling of the roles, they have generally settled down into these two basic lines. The term ‘to have and to hold’ is a fair description of the two roles: the man’s job is to get a thing and the woman’s job is to keep it for him.

But today, those two roles mean absolutely nothing. Few people live on land they own. Currency steadily depreciates. Possessions wear out before they are paid for. Not being able to keep what they have, both men and women desperately grab for more. Part of the difficulty, I presume, is that nobody is quite sure what exactly he wants; it follows that he isn’t certain that he wants to keep it.

Unfortunately, we don’t see that what we do have is being taken away under our very noses, and it is difficult to see it because it is not a concrete thing that is being taken, but an idea--the idea of the home and the family. If we don’t realise what those two words, ‘home’ and ‘family,’ mean, then when we have lost what they stand for, we won’t know it.

Both home and family rely on diversity. The very thing that makes a place my home is the fact that it is not someone else’s. It may be pleasant to think about every person on earth having a home of his own, but it is not pleasant to think of that home as being a huge communal structure for the housing of the world’s population. The very idea destroys the meaning of the word ‘home;’ if I lived in such a home, I would leave it to seek my fortune as a homeless wanderer. The only possible way to have a home is to have one’s own.

Similarly, the only reason to have a family is because one person on his own cannot do everything and be everything. An individual cannot be his own spouse, father, grandmother, child, cousin, kid brother, or elderly bachelor uncle. Nor can he reasonably be expected to hold his hand when he crosses the street, tell himself stories, or leave himself money when he dies. Because we see a need for all of these offices, it follows that there must be people to meet this need. If every person in the family were able to do everything that needed to be done, there would be no need for them to live together. They might live more efficiently apart.

Oddly, a surprising amount of people today seem to think that the most efficient method would be to abolish both the home and the family. The men and women should all be put to work, and the children should be raised by ‘professionals.’ Far more work would in this way be accomplished. The problem with this argument is that it supposes the purpose of a man’s existence is to do work. The women are ‘liberated’ from the task of raising children in order to do more important work; children are raised by people who will teach them how important this work really is and how to do it; resulting in an endless cycle of ‘progress’ that in reality gets nowhere.

But mere unending, unsatisfactory accomplishment is only half of life. There is a far more important, personal element--that commonly called ‘fun.’ And diversity is as necessary to enjoyment as it is to sanity--whether it be in the colours of a rainbow, or the ingredients of a cake. To celebrate diversity is somewhat redundant, because you cannot really celebrate without diversity. To do away with as much diversity as possible and then tell people to celebrate what is left is inefficacious and likely to have disappointing results.

The Eradication of Man
We see around us a world that is growing grey. Mass production has removed variety and uniqueness from its products; professional specialism creates workers who cannot function outside their own trade; and education endeavours to produce a society with one set of ideas and ethics. We are told to appreciate the differences of others, but expected to fit into a generic mould, like a piece of machinery. We are to keep a global perspective while being shrunk until there is no room inside us for more than one idea.

This is not accidental. Propaganda is often thought to be subtle, but by its very nature it must be as public as possible. Therefore, it is not very difficult to see exactly what the ultimate end is of those propagating the propaganda. First, women were not allowed to be women anymore. Now, children are no longer allowed to be children, and in the near future, I dare say, none of us will be allowed to be men.

By ‘men’ I refer to collective humanity--all that is meant by the word ‘Man’. This is a frightening conclusion indeed, if those issuing the propaganda truly intend that in future we shall no longer be men but something else--perhaps animals or automatons. If we are no longer allowed to be men, a very necessary, though often inconvenient, distinction is done away with. That is that man is made in the image of God: which animals or automatons, or even gods or supermen or any other creation of imaginative or disordered brains, are not. In this instance, man is something that nothing else is.

With every right acquired, a safety is also lost. So, since women are not to be kept out of the armed forces as different from men, they shall be killed in war as if no different from men. Since children are no longer to be spanked like children, they shall be imprisoned like adults. When a man can look into the face of another human being and see, not the face of God, but a meaningless mass of atoms, there is no import in the words: ‘Thou shalt not murder’. Having lost the safeguard of our identity with the Creator, ‘celebrating diversity’ may very well take the form of race riots or extermination camps.

A Humble Suggestion
Unfortunately, I haven’t a good plan for saving the world at present, but I understand that when one points out what is wrong, he isn’t thanked for his effort unless he also points out how it may be made better. So I offer a small plan for effecting change that each of us may help to perform today.

If you happen to belong to the fortunate fifty percent of the population made up of females, celebrate being a woman this month. How you do it doesn’t matter so much (I suggest eating chocolate and wearing pink), but recognise your role and its importance in the world at large and specifically in the lives of those around you.

Whoever you are, you can make it a point this month to thank some of the women who have benefitted your life--send them a card or flowers, or thank them personally. Most especially be sure to show your support to the mothers you know--those intrepid heroines and pioneers who faced daunting obstacles and braved the opposition of public opinion (and it’s only getting stronger) in order to bring life into the world. There is no need to wait until Mothers’ Day. This month many attacks will be launched at traditional womanhood, and motherhood in particular. You can counteract this by showing your appreciation for what womanhood really means.

* * *

[i] What’s Wrong with the World?, Gilbert Keith Chesterton; chapter vi.
[ii] Ibid., chapter vii.
[iii] Ibid., chapter vii.
[iv] Ibid., chapter iii.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fairy Tale & Allegory

“Tell me a story...”
Much of what we learn about the world in the first years of our lives is from stories told to us. There is a lot of power in a simple story, especially when we are the age in which we believe whatever we are told. When we are older, we are still ready to listen to a story and enjoy it even if we do not really believe it. That is why a story is such a powerful medium for ideas, and some of the most powerful stories are also some of the simplest—such as fairy tales and allegories.
An allegory is a fictional story that presents a spiritual truth. To outward view it is simply a story, but when properly understood, it is a careful picture of something that is difficult to draw. It is a story that takes truths that are hard for the oldest people to understand and shows them to us through the eyes of a child. You might call it a small story about a very big thing.
Allegories often use make-believe elements such as spells and magic and mythical creatures; but this is not true of all allegories. Some seem only an ordinary everyday story until you discover the hidden meanings underneath the characters and storyline. Some very familiar allegories are the parables in the New Testament. They are simple stories that can be enjoyed on their own, but when they are explained in a spiritual sense their meaning suddenly becomes much deeper.
An allegory employs techniques such as symbolism, which is using objects to represent ideas like love, honour, or envy; and personification, meaning that ideas are represented by people or animals with personalities and appearances. It is like a miniature theatre where the ideas are the roles and the characters are the actors who play the roles. An allegory is often much simpler than an ordinary story. The plot usually has only one main goal, and the characters have one major characteristic that defines them, such as fear or fury or faithfulness.
But what is the importance of an allegory, and why have so many authors, including John Bunyan, Edmund Spenser, and George MacDonald, written them?
Some people simply prefer allegory to other genres. But I think some writers used it because it was the only way they knew of to tell the world something important. They knew of something that was too big to understand on its own and so they wrote a story about it instead. Great thinkers such as Nietsche or Freud or Marx or Voltaire came across immense ideas which they were so intrigued by that they tried all their lives to get their heads around them. They had very big heads, it is true, but the ideas were so much bigger that it was the heads that succumbed and cracked: the ideas stared munificently on at the wreckage and altered not. Afterwards clever men have come along and read the books the great thinkers wrote and tried to get their heads around the same ideas and said ideas cracked said heads as they had cracked many a better one.
But nobody ever cracked his head by reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or At the Back of the North Wind; and though some heads (my own being one of them) may have been nearly cracked by The Faerie Queene, or Moby Dick, I do not think one ever actually was. These sorts of books can fit inside the circumference of a head without cracking it because they are only stories.
That is the power of a story. That is why allegories are so much stronger than books of philosophy or metaphysics. Anyone can understand a story and almost anyone can write one, which is why an allegory is such a useful tool. Many authors have used allegorical elements in their stories, even when they were not writing an actual allegory.
Then, authors sometimes write allegories without intending to at all. Edgar Allan Poe did not believe in allegories, but his Mask of the Red Death is considered one all the same. J. R. R. Tolkien firmly insisted that The Lord of the Rings was not an allegory but many people insist just as firmly that it is. So many stories are considered allegorical that it makes one wonder whether any story is not allegorical. Perhaps every story ever written with a larger idea in mind could be called allegorical because the author embodied in it something which he could not get his mind around otherwise.
And this brings me to the fairy tale. If I told you that Hans Christian Anderson was a writer of allegory, you would probably think at first that I was mistaken because Hans Christian Anderson wrote fairy tales. But The Ugly Duckling and The Nightingale are undeniably allegories. A fairy tale and an allegory are so very similar that it is often difficult to tell one from the other, and generally the only distinction is that an allegory may have been written only for grown-ups while a fairy tale is always written for children.
A fairy tale’s purpose is the same as an allegory. It is a simple story that everyone knows is not true but which everyone has read and—what is more—remembers anyway because of the truths it contains. We are often fooled by the simplistic child-like story and characters of a fairy tale and think literature has progressed beyond such primitive stuff. Actually, the whole reason children love fairy tales as much now as children did a hundred years ago is because they are good literature—just as they love nursery rhymes because they are good poetry.
Some people never outgrow fairy tales. Those who don’t are usually either a little ashamed or a little proud of the fact and the reason is the same: they are either rather sorry or rather pleased that there is some childish part of them that still enjoys a fairy tale. Fairy tales have a great influence on us, first when we are children and later, although we may not like to admit it, when we have grown up and begun to understand what the world is really like.
When we are children we take certain things for granted. For instance, we expect a story to have a happy ending. We also accept that a hero can always overcome his obstacles simply because he is the hero. We know that the impossible can happen. And we are always frightened of the bad guy. First impressions die hard, it is said, and perhaps that is the reason why all the rest of our lives we subconsciously expect villains to be ugly and poison to be green or red. Maybe that is why even after we have outgrown fairy tales we still take for granted certain things about the world.
We know that Jack never really climbed the beanstalk but we feel all the same that there is something high above us that would better our lives if we only could get it and that to get it requires great perseverance and marvellous courage—not to mention slaying a giant. We are certain that Cinderella never went to the ball, lost her slipper, or married a prince, but we are just as certain that true worth is always discovered in the end—even by the means of something so insignificant as a slipper. We find it hard to take literally most of the story of Beauty and the Beast, but we do not find it hard at all to take literally the part that says Beauty loved something ugly and made it beautiful by love. These are truisms.
The great minds that I mentioned before and that came to such an untimely and fractured end, scoffed at the Bible by calling it a book of fairy tales. I don’t think they could have given a better compliment to its verity, or to its eternal appeal. Certainly the Bible is historically accurate, just as Saint George probably really did slay a dragon. But the Bible is a great deal more than a history book, just as it is a great deal more than an allegory or a poem. It fits each of these categories and can be exclusively classified in none of them. It tells the great reason behind every story that was ever written or really happened and it couches it in the form of one of the simplest stories ever told.
That is perhaps why the best fairy tales and allegories have survived for so long. People love simple stories. They also love happy endings. And they are rather partial to a character coming out on the stage dressed as a simple peasant and turning out in the end to be a prince in disguise—and this is very like what an allegory does.
-A. P.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Tools of the Trade

Every craftsman has his own set of tools, whether they are necessary to his work or simply make it easier. In my own writing experience I’ve found several different books that I use as tools to make writing easier and which I refer to again and again. I am sure you are already familiar with most of these, but some may be new. I thought I would share them in the hope that those who read this list will find them useful.

1. The Dictionary
Arguably, this is the most important resource for the writer. Whether looking for correct spelling, precise definitions, or simply obscure and interesting words, you are likely to resort to the dictionary quite often in your writing career. If you are ever unsure about the exact meaning of a word, it is a good idea to look it up so you don’t use it incorrectly.
Besides the English dictionary there are other kinds of dictionaries that can be of service to the writer such as,
* Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary
This was one of the earliest dictionaries and was compiled by one man, Samuel Johnson, in 1755. It was the best dictionary to be had for many years and you will often hear it alluded to in old books. Dr. Johnson created some rather original and humorous definitions, such as the one for oats: “a grain which in England is given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people,” and “Monsieur: a term of reproach for a Frenchman.” (Regrettably, Johnson was prejudiced against the Scots and the French.) This dictionary is not used very much any more, but it still has great literary merit.
* Rhyming Dictionary
On the rare occasions that I am inspired to write poetry my rhyming dictionary becomes my bosom companion. This is also a very useful dictionary for learning correct pronunciations.
* English-Foreign Language Dictionaries
Of course this type is usually used when learning a foreign language or visiting a foreign country, but they can be useful when writing as well. For instance, an English-French dictionary is useful when you wish to use a French word and don’t want to look stupid. There are dictionaries for almost any language (I have found one for English-Scots Gaelic) and you may want to have a whole shelf of them to use in case you write a story with a Frenchman in it—or a German, or Swede, or Chinaman, or Russ...
* On-line Dictionaries
There are many of these, but Wiktionary and are easy to use and exhaustive.

There are many other kinds of dictionaries, such as medical dictionaries, Bible dictionaries, scientific dictionaries, dictionaries of similes, dictionaries of quotations, etc. You may or may not find them useful to your writing.

2. The Encyclopaedia
I personally refer to the encyclopaedia even oftener than the dictionary. This is because I more frequently want to know precise information about an individual, country, or thing, rather than simply the definition of a word. And, of course, there are many different encyclopaedias, but here are my favourites.
* The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Some consider this prestigious work the greatest literary accomplishment in the English language and some, the sum of all knowledge. Though both opinions are debatable, this is certainly the most extensive, well-written, and famous set of encyclopaedias.
* The World Book Encyclopaedia
Our set was published in the 1960s so it lacks more recent data. Even so, although not a very good reference, I have found it useful and interesting reading.
* On-line Encyclopaedias
These have the advantage of containing reams of regularly updated information without taking up a whole bookshelf. Wikipedia is probably the most extensive of the on-line encyclopaedias. There is also an on-line version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

3. The Thesaurus
This, I think, is the reference I use the most when writing. A thesaurus is a book of words grouped with other words that mean the same thing. It is very useful when you have a wonderful word in mind but can’t quite remember what it is, or when you discover that you have used the word “suddenly” in three consecutive paragraphs and want to change it for something less redundant. I am familiar primarily with Roget’s Thesaurus and the automatic thesaurus on Microsoft Word, which although it is convenient, is not as exhaustive. There are, as you likely expected, on-line thesauruses as well, such as

The above are the most important tools for a writer and the ones that I personally use the most, but there are lots of others. I’ve included my favourites below, and perhaps they don’t entirely fit in this category, but as I have found them helpful I thought I would share them.

1. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature was published by John Bartlett in 1855. Since then there have been seventeen revisions of the book which is now commonly known as Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. It contains thousands of quotations from hundreds of authors, from Ptahhotep to Ronald Reagan, categorized chronologically by the authors’ birthdates. Some people recommend reading the dictionary or the encyclopaedia to broaden your general knowledge. This book will increase your knowledge of literature specifically and great people in general by perusal. If you want to know what Karl Marx, for instance, had to say (or Sigmund Freud, or Albert Einstein, or Calvin Coolidge...) you can read his section in Bartlett’s and have a fairly good idea without having to read one of his books or a biography on his life. The excerpts you read may also encourage you to read the books they are from. Our copy of Bartlett’s is the fourteenth edition published in 1968. It appears to be the last good revision and is the one I recommend.

2. Baby name books
I refer to these quite often when creating names for characters in fictional stories. This resource may not be necessary for every writer but I resort to it a lot. I also collect names that I like or think interesting in a note-book.

3. Reverso
This is an on-line translation site. There are others, but this is the one I use generally. It comes in handy when, as I mentioned before, you have a story with foreign characters in it, or if you simply enjoy using different languages in your writing. You must however be careful when translating lines from English to another language or vice versa. Automatic translations are often inaccurate and you must remember that figures of speech will be translated literally.

4. The Bible
This is another reference that one would not immediately associate with writing, but I find myself using it often enough to justify inclusion in this article. A large part of our conversation is made up of scriptural allusions—even that of people who don’t read the Bible! And, although this is certainly one of the least of its good uses, I have gotten a lot of good book and chapter titles from lines or expressions in the Bible.

5. The Atlas
This comes in very handy when creating the setting for a story.

6. The Belletrist
It is true that we have only published eight issues of the Belletrist so far, but we have included much useful information in them and you will probably refer to them often as you progress with your writing.[1]

Here, then, are my favourite writing tools. I hope they will prove as useful to others as they have to myself. -A.M.P

[1] The author appears to be employing a tone of facetiousness in this paragraph. –the editors