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.”

 Read the Rest of the Article

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.

Continue Reading This Article >>>

To Be Royal in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1 of 3)

To be called a “princess” by anyone in my grade 7 class is not a compliment. The term is used pejoratively to say the least–a term used to convey that a person is acting selfish, arrogant, egocentric, and entitled. It is a term that can be directed at both boys and girls, but most often towards the girls who are perceived as being a little too big for their own breeches. It is a term we endow on younger girls and despise in the older ones. And while calling a boy a “prince” seems antiquated, the term still generally has positive connotations. No doubt, today’s princes inherently struggle with vanity, arrogance, and probably a little absent-mindedness, there is still room for courage and a sense of honour in the term, making it a more graciousness term than that of a “princess.” And while there is lot to be said about the gender issues presented here (Monika Hilder’s newer book on the subject is fantastic!), I believe that there is an overall misunderstanding of the symbol of royalty. This begs the question–

Is there more to these terms than the emaciated shells of royalty we are presently asked to accept? The answer, I believe, is yes.

To answer this question, I would like to take a few posts to discuss how George MacDonald defines the term “princess” and ultimately the term “royalty” in his book The Princess and the Goblin. As an introduction to the topic, I would like to share Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to the Puffin Classic edition of the book:

“MacDonald is also stern and clear about what nobility is. It has nothing to do with money or social status. 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. It’s very different from the lazy-minded stories that call some characters good and others bad although they all behave exactly the same way; the Goods win the battles and the Bads lose, besides being ugly. MacDonald’s goblins are ugly only because they behave badly.”

 

To Be Royal (2 of 3)

To Be Royal (3 of 3)

A CALL FOR THOUGHTS ON GEORGE MACDONALD

The prolific writer and great Christian mind of G.K. Chesterton once wrote this about the book The Princess and the Goblin:

But in a certain rather special sense I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; a vision of things which even so real a revolution as a change of religious allegiance has substantially only crowned and confirmed. Of all the stories I ever read … it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald….

In the next two weeks I am going to be doing a 3-4 part blog series on The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, and I would like to include some of your thoughts and/or experiences with the book. As a little guidance, you might consider answering one or more of the questions below (but don’t feel inhibited by them). Please leave any and all thoughts or comments that you have…no matter how brief or general. I really just want to hear from you!

Questions to Consider

1. When did you first read the book, and what were your first impressions?

2. Have you read the book as an adult? Impressions?

3. Any character or scene standout to you? Why?

4. Did the book clarify any aspect of faith for you?

5. Favourite quotes.

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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