So, had you asked me what The Once and Future King was about before I recently re-read it1 I would have said animals. Most books, in my creative recollection, are about animals. Narnia? About animals. Alice In Wonderland? Clearly about animals. Julie Of the Wolves? That one might actually be about wolves. But…nope, Wikipedia is telling me there’s some dark-as-hell human bullshit that goes on before the wolves that I have straight blacked out. Yeah, something tells me that most of the books I remember as being about animals are probably not about animals at all.2 Good thing I never read Animal Farm. That would be embarrassing, if I were going about saying it was about animals. (Which it’s not…right?)
But, anyway, there’s actually a bit in The Once and Future King (actually in The Book of Merlyn) that captures the delight in not caring about what you’re supposed to get out of something. So, I didn’t feel too badly about my own childhood single-mindedness and stupidity after reading it as an adult. Here’s the quote, hastily typed:
But it made him remember his first childhood vividly, the happy times swimming in moats or flying with Archimedes, and he realised that he had lost something since those old days. It was something which he thought of now as the faculty of wonder. Then, his delights had been indiscriminate. His attention, or his sense of beauty, or whatever it was to be called, had attached itself fortuitously to oddments. Perhaps, while Archimedes had been lecturing him about the flight of birds, he himself would have been lost in admiration at the way in which the fur went on the mouse in the owl’s claws. Or the great Mr. M might have been making him a speech about Dictatorship, while he, all the time, would have seen only the bony teeth, poring on them in an ecstasy of experience.
This, his faculty of wonder, was gone from inside him, however much Merlyn might have furbished up his brain. It was exchanged–for the faculty of discrimination, he supposed. Now he would have listened to Archimedes or the Mr. M. He would never have seen the grey fur or the yellow teeth. He did not feel proud of the change.
Yay for wonder.
- By the way, I 100% believe I only ever read The Sword In The Stone now. Jesus this gets dark. And political. And also, hilariously, I’ve have Lancelot mentally merged with Galahad for 30 years, which upon reflection, makes zero sense.
- Before anyone references that experiment about how Americans and Japanese people see the fish tank, let me refer you to an extensive post on Language Log about it. You can pull that one out and feel smart once you’ve read the article.