Have you ever read something where the author articulated precisely the ideas that you’ve been trying to work out in your own mind for ages? Have you ever felt that flash of recognition, that chill of goosebumps, and obeyed that urge to nod along and shout “yes!” out loud? And once the giddiness subsides, have you ever felt that sinking realization that someone managed to conveyed those ideas better than you ever could have?
I recently had that experience with a piece from Orion Magazine. ”Out of the Wild” features a conversation between authors Michael Pollan and William Cronon as they chat about many of the ideas I’ve been grappling with on Ekostories: Concepts of nature and culture, the power of stories for change, the importance of personal sustainability. Regular readers will know that I’ve written a few essays on Pollan’s work, namely on Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education and The Botany of Desire, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed his contributions to this piece. But in my opinion it was Cronon, an environmental historian, who made this exchange a must-read. I’ve included a few of his thought-provoking comments below.
“In our loss and fear we craved the acts of religion, the ceremonies that allow us to admit our helplessness, our dependence on the great forces we do not understand.” (Lavinia, p. 177)
This piece is dedicated to Russell Collier, fellow Le Guin fan, dear colleague, guide, friend. In memoriam.
Lavinia, a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, is many things: Historical fiction set in the Italian Bronze Age; a mythic fantasy derived from the last six books of Vergil’s Aeneid; an experiment in which the narrator is aware of her own fictionality; a postmodern tale where creation and creator come to learn and love one another. But above all, Lavinia is a haunting story crafted by a great storyteller. It is not my favourite of Le Guin’s works, but it is perhaps the most beautifully written. Her laconic prose brings to life a little known pre-Roman world, captures the lived essences of a semi-mythical people, and offers voice to one neglected, to tell the tale of her life and beyond.
“More familiarity with our own mythology might help us to relate to theirs.” – Jean-Luc Picard, from last week’s piece on Darmok
With this quote and the tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu still fresh in my mind, I came across a piece titled A Wild Man, Tarzan of the Highlands over at The AnthropoEccentric. In his thought-provoking essay, N.S. Anderson explores modern re-imaginings of the tale of Gilgamesh in music, translations, and art while highlighting the connections between nature and culture that lies at the heart of this Mesopotamian epic.
Sticking to last weeks’s topic on music and sound in storytelling, I wanted to share a series of development videos around Flower, a videogame released in 2009 by thatgamecompany. It’s one of my personal favourites, and in these videos, music composer Vincent Diamante and sound designer Steve Johnson talk about their experiences crafting an emotionally resonant narrative for a game without text, speech, or even characters. Take a look:
While listening to the incredible soundtrack of Cloud Atlas during my writing session, I thought back to a post I read a few months ago about the power of music in storytelling. In it, the author shares his firsthand experience with something most of us know to be true, that music can play a crucial role in enhancing narrative:
“Emotions become clearer, drama becomes more intense, and action becomes more exciting. The whole story is augmented and pushed to a new level that the visuals alone can’t accomplish.”
But can sounds by themselves, without words, become primary vehicles for storytelling? Connecting this thought back to an environmental theme, I came across this fascinating video by University of Minnesota undergrad Daniel Crawford in which he converts global temperature records in a piece he plays on his cello. Have a listen: