Imagination and Creativity

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There are many aspects of creativity that I find fascinating–the relationship between creativity and innovation, the history of creativity, and the definition of creativity, just to name a few. In spite of all the acclaim that surrounds creativity, I believe that the concept of creativity would not be nearly as important if it didn’t connect with people in a meaningful and significant way. I believe this connection is the imagination.

Molly Andrews, a Professor of Political Psychology and the Co-director of the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London, has this to say about imagination and creativity:

Imagination is in fact the life blood of one of the most fundamental human inclinations — that of storytelling. We tell stories all the time, about everything, to everyone, including ourselves. What we tell and why and how we tell it are strongly influenced by the contexts in which we as narrators operate. But one only needs to think for a moment of what it would mean to have no story to tell, or to have forgotten one’s story — as depicted in some of the wonderfully rich books by Oliver Sachs — to realize that we organize our relationship to those around us, to the world, and indeed to our very selves via narrative.

Narrative and imagination are integrally tied to one another; that they are so immediately clear to anyone who stops to think about stories — real and imagined, about the past or in a promised, or feared, future. Why and how this is so are questions that direct us to ruminate on what it means to be human. Narrative and imagination are combined, not only in our most elevated thoughts about the world as it might be, but also in the very minutiae of our daily lives. Although we do not often talk about the role of imagination in how we approach each day, carrying out and evading those responsibilities to which we have committed ourselves, and simply being ourselves in the world, negotiating our sometimes troubled paths between competing desires of our own and those of others, its importance cannot be overstated.  (Entire article)

I believe Andrews makes a very good point when she writes that “we organize our relationship to those around us, to the world, and indeed to our very selves via narrative.”  Simple put, we are a people of story. We tell stories. We listen to stories. We identity with or reject the stories in which we are a part of. And these stories are not independent or static–they are dynamic and intersect with other stories like an intricately woven tapestry. In many ways, we tell stories to identify with humanity: our own and others’. Yet the connection between imagination and creativity is not intrinsically clear.

In Mineko Honda’s book The Imaginative World of C.S. Lewis, he explains how Lewis saw the connection between imagination and creativity:

The imagination he thus sees in himself appears to be the same things as the ‘creativity’ that we expect of good writers and artists.  In fact, however, this ‘imagination’ means a lot more than mere creativity.  For Lewis, it is also a power of intuition into the metaphysical reality of this world and heaven, and a power of communication of that reality.  It perceives the meaning of the world, expresses that meaning, and enables us to participate in the metaphysical Reality (Pg. 1). 

Creativity is not the equivalent of imagination, yet the two are not completely separate of one another. Creation without imagination is just the creation of idols—representations of what is true, but themselves are not true.

So, if imagination leads to creativity, and the two are distinct yet cannot be separated from one another, where does that leave us with the question of how the two are connected? I believe the answer to that question lies in the word “metaphor.”

The use of metaphor employs the imagination to give an image to a truth that is difficult or impossible to understand in and of itself.  A word such as “love” is difficult to understand by itself, so artists use metaphors to explain that love is like “a red, red rose.”  Likewise, trying to understand the meaning of words like beauty, honor, and friendship is nearly impossible without using images that are attached to those words.

Words which we could scarcely grasp are expanded and burst into reality through metaphor. Elusive nouns such as “anger” and “joy” are connected to objects like the color red or sunflowers in a field; thus we can continue to communicate these abstract concepts with images.

Whether it is a story, a photograph, or a painting, a powerful image can communicate both meaning and value. In his book Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis, Peter J. Schakel gives a concise explanation of Lewis on this matter:  “Images are seen through imagination, and the moral of the story must be embodied in the images” (Pg. 169). Lewis feels that the use of images and metaphor by the imagination is not only an exercise in critical assessment of a work of art but actually nurtures a person’s “moral imagination.”  The images are metaphors themselves of greater virtues such as loyalty, courage, good vs. evil, and the like.

To quote George Macdonald, “the Intellect must labour, workman-like, under the direction of the architect, Imagination” (“Imagination,” Pg. 11). Creativity is the natural outcome of a working imagination. Creativity that endures hundreds of years and thousands of miles is melded and fired from the metal of Reason and Imagination in the kiln of Diligence and Truth.

But imagination won’t be nailed down. It is like the wind, the rushing river water, and tiny grains of sand.  It manifests differently, and never looks the same way twice—but it does feel the same. It gives a feeling of smallness yet the hope of greatness.  It destroys self, but introduces that self into a world where he/she can grow into something much larger. Thus, creativity is a byproduct of the great architect Imagination.

 

 

10 Reasons Why Kids Need to Read Non-Disney Fairy Tales

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By Melissa Taylor

Say “fairy tales” and your mind likely flashes to Disney and its animated versions of children’s classics. But old-school fairy tales — stories by authors such as Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde, Sophie, Comtesse de Ségur, or Andrew Lang — are filled with a richness and complexity that is often missing from their big-screen renderings. Here are ten reasons it’s worth reading the original stories with your young reader.

1. Life Lessons

Remember the line from The Princess Bride: “I do not think it means what you think it means”? Many of the moral lessons in the original stories are quite different from the Disney versions. Hans Christian Andersen didn’t write “The Little Mermaid” to teach us how to marry a prince, but to warn us that our actions have consequences. As Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller explained, “Deeper meaning resides in the fairytales told me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life.”

2. Hope

Many fairy tales offer hope — hope of redemption, hope that good can conquer evil, hope that our enemies will be vanquished. G.K. Chesterton said it best, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

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Why we need fairytales: Jeanette Winterson on Oscar Wilde

Love transfigured by imagination … 'The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Photograph: Grahame Baker-Smith

Love transfigured by imagination … ‘The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Photograph: Grahame Baker-Smith

“Far off, like a perfect pearl, one can see the city of God. It is so wonderful that it seems as if a child could reach it in a summer’s day. And so a child could. But with me and such as I am it is different. One can realise a thing in a single moment, but one loses it in the long hours that follow … ”

– Oscar Wilde, “De Profundis”

Oscar Wilde wrote “De Profundis” in Reading gaol where he was serving two years hard labour for being himself; he was homosexual. He was sent to prison in 1895 after one of the most notorious trials in English history. Wilde’s fatal amour, Lord Alfred Douglas, was son of the Marquess of Queensberry, who was a bully, womaniser, gambling addict, cycling bore and amateur boxer (to him we owe the Queensberry rules). In his personal life there was no such thing as fair play. Queensberry was a vicious pugilist detested by his family. A caricature of masculinity, he loathed the cult of art and beauty that Wilde championed, and under the guise of saving his son from sodomy, he set about bringing down Wilde at the height of his fame.

The tragedy is that he succeeded. Wilde became the most infamous man in Britain. Queensberry bankrupted him. Even his copyrights and his library were sold. On release in 1897 he was forced to live abroad, separated permanently from his wife and children, who changed their name. Three years later he was dead.

Wilde loved his sons and had been a devoted father. He loved his wife, Constance Holland, too; in his domestic affairs, and perhaps only there, Wilde was unexpectedly conventional. He liked women, but in common with Victorian men of his class, heterosexual and homosexual alike, his interests and his excitements happened outside of the home – with other men.

Unlike other men, Wilde was flamboyant, outspoken and provocative. The all-male environments of school, university, the army, gentlemen’s clubs and public life operated on a tacit code of concealment – whether of mistresses or misdemeanours. The “love that dare not speak its name” was a crime, yet in the eyes of society, Wilde’s real crime was being found out. The Victorians didn’t invent hypocrisy, but in an era of industrious taxonomy, they were the first to reclassify that sin as a virtue.

Disgraced and imprisoned, sleeping on a plank bed, his health broken, Wilde wrote a long letter to Alfred Douglas, later published as “De Profundis”. It is a meditation on faith and fate, suffering and forgiveness, love and art. The strange thing is that in this, his last real piece of work, Wilde takes us back in tone and spirit to his first authentic work – the fairy stories or children’s stories he wrote immediately after the birth of his two boys, Cyril and Vyvyan.

The work Wilde is remembered for was written over a period of less than 10 years. The Happy Prince and Other Tales was published in 1888. That volume marks the beginning of Wilde’s true creativity. He had lectured extensively in the US – but that would not have won him any lasting legacy, any more than his journalism or his poems. He had published a great many poems, but Wilde was a bad poet – he rarely found the right words and he was old-fashioned. Read him next to Emily DickinsonWalt Whitman or WB Yeats, and you will see for yourself. We don’t read his poetry now – it is dated and dead; too much Arcady and Hellenic Hours. The early plays suffer from the same verbal excess. Wilde at his worst wrote in purple. At his best he is dazzling.

The birth of his children seems to have regenerated Wilde as a writer. The tedious Hellenism vanished. The purple-isms faded. There are still overwritten images – Dawn’s grey fingers clutching at the stars – and he never gives up his fondness for a biblical moment, usually appearing as precious stones or pronouns (thee and thy), but his style did change. The writing became freer and sharper, and also more self-reflective, without being self-absorbed.

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To Be Royal in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (2 of 3)

In my last post, I included the quote from Ursala Le Guin who had this to say about royalty in The Princess and the Goblin:

“A princess is a girl who behaves nobly; a girl who behaves nobly is a princess. Curdie the miner, being brave and kind, and behaving (or anyhow trying to behave) nobly and wisely, is a prince. The king is king because he’s good man. No other definition is allowed. This is radically moral democracy.”

Le Guin can make this statement because MacDonald is clear in what he expects of royalty. Throughout the novel, MacDonald intersperses definitions of
royalty by stating that “a true princess does…” and “a princess never…”. MacDonald leaves little room for speculation to what he means when he places teaching about morality squarely on the symbolic shoulders of royalty. Yet, there are two kinds of royalty found in this book: the true royalty of the king, the great grandmother, Princess Irene, and Curdie (who is accepted by royalty because of his royal behaviour), and the false royalty of the goblins who create their own monarchy as a rejection of true royalty. *As a special note–there is some great research into physical positioning of characters and their moral goodness in the story (example: great grandmother lives in the highest point of the castle while the goblins live in the depth of the mines).

With this said, I’m suggesting we can understand what MacDonald accepts as moral and good by understanding what he accepts as truly royal. This examination can undoubtedly be done in a number of different ways, but I will limit it to two types of examinations. Firstly, I will look strictly at the character dialogue and direct references that MacDonald uses to describe royalty. And secondly, I will look at royalty in relationship to a characters position to light. For the purpose of brevity, I will only focus on dialogue in this post.

Here is a list (I am using the Puffin Classics edition):

“Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don’t always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other little girls I know. Next, like a true princesses, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back” (9).

[Conversation about Irene keeping her promise to kiss Curdie] ‘”Nurse, a princess must not break her work,'” said Irene, drawing herself up and standing stockstill. Lootie did not know which the king might count the worse–to let the princess be out after sunset, or to let her kiss a miner-boy. She did not know that, being a gentleman, as many kings have been, he would have counted neither of them the worse. However much he might have disliked his daughter to kiss the miner-boy, he would not have had her break her word for all the goblins in creation” (43).

[About Mrs. Peterson] “She made and kept a little heaven in that poor cottage on the high hillside–for her husband and son to go home to out of the low and rather dreary earth in which they worked. I doubt if the princess was very much happier even in the arms of her hug great-grandmother than Peter and Curdie were in the arms of Mrs. Peterson” (93).

[Mrs. Peterson’s conversation about the royal family] “‘But first, I may as well mention that, according to old whispers, there is something more than common about the king’s family; and the queen was of the same blood, for they were cousins of some degree. There were strange stories told concerning them–all good stories–but strange, very strange. What they were I cannot tell, for I only remember the faces of my grandmother and my mother as they talked together about them. There was wonder and awe–not fear–in their eyes, and they whispered, and never spoke aloud'” (185).

[Irene addresses Lootie after Lootie accuses her of “telling stories”] ‘Just as bad to say nothing at all as to tell stories?’ exclaimed the princess. ‘I will ask my papa about that. He won’t say so. And I don’t think he will like you to say so'” (195).

[The king addresses Irene after she tells him she made a promise to kiss Curdie] “‘Indeed she must, my child — except it be wrong,’ said the king” (231).

[Before the house is flooded] “The king, who was the wisest man in the kingdom, knew well there was a time when things must be done and questions left till afterwards. He had faith in Curdie, and rose instantly, with Irene in his arms” (234).

[Curdie saving the horses] “Curdie got on the king’s white charger and, leading the way, brought them all in safety to the rising ground” (236).

“‘I wish,’ said the king, when they stood before him, ‘to take your son with me. He shall enter my bodyguard at once, and wait further promotion'” (238).

[Describing the goblins after the flood] “But most of them soon left that part of the country, and most of them who remained grew milder in character…Their skulls became softer as well as their hearts, and their feet grew harder, and by degrees they became friendly with the inhabitants of the mountains and even with the miners” (241).


What does all of this mean? 

So, if we start with the assumption that many fairy tales are built upon symbolism and metaphor, and build from that assumption with the Ursala Le Guin’s quote about true royalty being a symbol of goodness, then what we have in The Princess and the Goblin is a picture of what MacDonald’s sees as the essential virtues of goodness. This is not an extensive list, but here are a few that seem obvious to me (if you see any that I missed, please feel free to add).

True Royalty is…

Based on virtue not position (although the position is often symbolic of the virtue)

Honest and Truthful

Courageous

Knowledgeable between right and wrong

Willing to trust and have faith

Willing to serve

Willing to lead

Willing to accept others’ shortcoming

Willing to be led by a “higher light”

In the third and final installment, I will discuss how true royalty in P & G is recognized by a person’s position to light (particularly that of the grandmother), and I will also discuss the goblin’s “royalty” and why that structure is different from the true royalty of the people
above ground.

 

To Be Royal (1 of 3)

To Be Royal (3 of 3) 

The truth of fairy tales: Gaiman’s ocean and Chesterton’s giant

By Ross Lawhead

“WE NEED TO KEEP BEING TOLD FAIRY TALES, LIKE NEIL GAIMAN’S, BECAUSE WE NEED TO KEEP BEING REMINDED THAT FAIRY TALES ARE ALWAYS TRUE – MORE TRUE THAN MERE FACT, BECAUSE IT APPLIES TO ALL OF US.”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a novel of childhood and memory. It is a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside each of us. It’s about fear, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it’s a novel about survival.”

 

This statement by Neil Gaiman appears on the back cover of his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. And like most statements by authors about their own works, it is wildly inaccurate, nearly to the point of being completely untrue. The statement is made in absolute earnestness and without a shred of guile, but what Gaiman says his book is about applies less to this book specifically, but entirely to the reason he writes books at all – which are the best reasons that any writer writes for, and arguably the only reason any author ever should write.

The list of things that Gaiman claims that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about are not what it is about – it is only what the book contains. The book has magic, love and families in it, but it is not about magic, love, or families. He says it is about the power of stories, but it is not. Gaiman has written other stories about the power of stories, but this is not one of them. It is one of the most powerful stories he has ever written, however, and this is because of the few things the book actually is about, his book really is about survival. It is about surviving life, which is what every great book – that is, every book that is useful to humanity – is about, and Gaiman is right to apply this statement to his book because what he has written really is a great book.

The best justification for fairy tales ever written can be found in two short essays written by G.K. Chesterton (“The Dragon’s Grandmother” and “The Red Angel”), collected in his bookTremendous Trifles (1909). They are short essays because the need for fairy tales can be very plainly stated in perfectly plain logic. (J.R.R. Tolkien’s longer essay “On Fairy-Stories” covers nearly the exact same ground; it is only more exhaustive in its reasoning and referencing.) The core of Chesterton’s argument for fairy tales is this:

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of the monster. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of the monster. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one black giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy tales restored my mental health, for next day I read an authentic account of how a black giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart.”

This perfectly states Gaiman’s intent behind The Ocean at the End of the Lane, as well as his other fairy tales, Coraline and The Graveyard Book. In all of these books he has created worlds filled to the brim with evil and danger – fantastic worlds which we instantly recognise as being more real than our own world because the evils are more easily identified, and the dangers more abrupt – and placed at the centre of them one single, vulnerable child. This may or may not prove to be the most meaningful story of mankind, but it is the first story of mankind. It is the story of each of us being suddenly born into a world of more evil and corruption than we can define – our first great anxiety. And to be told this, and to be shown the way to survive it, is the highest purpose of literary art – which Aristotle terms catharsis, which is the cleansing of emotions, which is another way of absolving the soul of the fears that it experiences.

Common elements can be found in Gaiman’s works, as well as all the great authors of children’s books (the first educators) such as Roald Dahl and the Brothers Grimm: useless, if not actively hostile, parents; an evil from the wilderness or an outer-realm; and help from the ancients. This is not to say that this book (or any of these stories) are formulaic – that is one thing that Gaiman will never be accused of – but that this book follows the logic of truth, for parents are the first authorities that are proved to be fallible (since they are also human), the first evil we experience is that from outside of humanity, and the first hope of salvation can be found in the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Gaiman’s fairy tales follow this logic because he loves the truth of its outworking, he loves his characters too much to ever go easy on them, and he loves us, the audience, too much to ever lie to us and say that there is no life without danger, and no victory without personal sacrifice.

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My New Online Fairy Tale Class is Live!

Hey everyone! My course is now live and has had nearly 250 students enroll in the first day!

The course is at a reduced price right now ($12), but it will return to its normal price of $25 in one week. There are lots of great introduction videos and good bit-sized pieces of information. Regardless of age or experience with fairy tales, I’m positive that you will be able to get something from this class. I hope you enjoy it!

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Fairy Tales in a Flash: Sharing Stories that Matter

Introduction to The Princess and the Pea

Happy Monday Morning (as much as possible),

Not sure what the weather is like where you’re at, but it’s a frosty and sunny Monday morning here in my little part of Vancouver, BC. I’m nearly finished with all of my intro videos for my course, so I wanted to share one with you this morning. And of course, if you have time–read the story The Princess and the Pea…it’s really short!

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