Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whimsical Inspiration and the death of dreams

I am not a spontaneous book buyer.  I have a dorky file on my computer of authors to follow, books I’ve seen before that may be of interest to me, and may of titles that have stuck in my head for one reasons or the other.  Sadly, I’m one of the bad guys that is actively working to put brick and mortar book sellers out of business by supporting the dominance of internet retail.  (I’m broke so leave me alone.)  It was truly a surprise to me when I found myself in a real bookstore.  

Even more shocking was walking out with a title I had never heard of before.  Something about Paul Coelho’s twenty year old The Alchemist said, read me and so I did.  Me acting on a whim, is somewhat rare, but it wold seem that this was a good one, as it only took me two days to read it and the book was enjoyable.  

I refuse to do a, ‘review” but some explanation is needed to make my point so bare with me.  It’s a pseudo fairy tale, that so careful walks the edge of fantasy.  I would call it urban fantasy if it were being read in the time that the story takes place.  

The book is meant to be inspirational and uplifting more so than the action adventure type fantasy novel.  to make all readers feel like there is something more for them in the world, and that they have the means to achieve it: our own ‘Personal Legend’ as it is put to the story’s lead character, (who has a perfectly good name, but is annoyingly referred to as, “the boy” for the duration of the short book.  More on that later.)

Santiago’s ‘Personal Legend’ is a buried treasure somewhere outside the Pyramids of Egypt as he is told by an “Old King” of obscurity yet profound character.  His journey takes years, entails hard work, falling in love and is filled with hardships.  Coelho has unique ability to knowingly jump into plot cliches but not offend the reader.  The climax comes when he is captured by a warring Arab faction and is friend/mentor and fellow captive promises the Arabs that the boy can turn himself into the wind or they may take his life.  

He ends up having conversations with the desert, the wind, the sun, and finally the Hand of all creation.  I’ll start making my points now and leave the stories out come for you to discover.  

When do we stop dreaming?  At what point in time do well give way and steer off the path of our ‘Personal Legends?’  The “Old King” only talked to children, because they were willing to believe, and the elderly to remind them of all they could have achieved.  Fear of achievement was one reason offered in the book to stop chasing after what we really want in life.  After we get our ‘Personal Legend,’ what next?  The fear of whatever great void of bordem comes after the accomplishment of our lifetime is better not confronted in some peoples minds.  After such a grand adventure, what else could there be worth living for?  

After finishing The Alchemist my strange mind took me to a short story by an author who isn’t usually thought of as inspirational: Kafka, of all people.  A message from the Emperor is, to me, the most brilliant story ever told in under two hundred words.  The inspiration value there was a man who knew he would fail at his given task--who knew there was no chance of success--yet still tried.  Perhaps that is a romantic ideal; hence the attraction, perhaps it’s human nature to admire something as stupid as an ideal, but Kafka was no romantic and the reality we live in is unforgiving to idealism.  

For me, the end of hope, the death of my personal legend happens everyday at about seven thirty in the morning.  The alarm goes off, and I go to work.  It’s a good job for the time being, but my personal legend?  I should hope not.  We grow up and become cynical, and find justification in shunning what we once held as our dreams.  In part due to experience and choices we made in part because we are too jaded to whole-heartedly accept those choices that slowly but surely steered us away from our dreams.  

Hope is fun and Never Never Land is great but reality is harsh and the weather is rarely so pleasant.  Perhaps our personal legends develop and mature as we get older or we convince our selves of our childish stupidity as the years go by and life is made easier by the conventional choices.  

I’m weaker than I like to be and that is no surprise.  I can’t even remember what the old king told me was my personal legend and I’m held back from memory and even desire by something as mundane as my cell phone bill.  I’d never tell anyone to not follow their dreams; by all means get to the Pyramids or Deliver your Message; only make sure your efforts aren’t curbed by something so weak as growing older or social complacency.

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