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Long ago I read a newspaper article which beautifully praised the life and works of a famous artist.  I have forgotten his name but that is of no consequence, for similar articles appear from time to time describing such clever people.  What struck the writer of the article most strongly was the ability of the artist to visualise ideal scenes – the sort that idealise Nature to a seemingly impossible degree.  Thus it was that he could paint a scene (real or fictional) not as it would normally appear, but as it seemingly ought to be if only the faults and vagaries of Nature were removed or rectified.  But perhaps that, in itself, was not the true genius of the artist ; rather, his genius showed itself in what he described as the perfect clarity of his visions, and in his wonderful ability remember and to paint exactly what he saw.

I expect there are many artists who share this gift in some measure ; and many more people who have the vision but lack the artistic skill to reproduce it.

And I expect there are just as many who have the visions (and maybe the artistic skill) but of a kind that are not at all beautiful – visions of perfect awfulness.  And it may well be that just about everyone has had such visions (both beautiful and horrid) in dreams.  Perhaps the great artists manage to enter into a dreamlike state whilst remaining fully awake.  Those with experience of hypnosis will have a good idea of what I mean.

One also hears occasionally of people who experience vivid impressions of scents and tastes, and even bodily feelings such as tensions and pains, though these are not so easily conveyed as art.

So four of our senses may be directly and vividly stimulated without any involvement of the organs of sense.  And generally this is accounted a good thing, a mark of genius.

When we turn to the fifth sense we find, first, something similar.  For example, it has been said that Beethoven could hear an entire symphony before he even set pen to paper or toyed with his piano keys to confirm his hearing.  Perhaps his profound deafness sharpened his imagination, but I don’t think that wholly accounts for his ability here, for Mozart also had the gift or genius.

I suspect also that great poets may vividly hear their lines before they begin to write ; as if their muse (or genius) is instructing them on what to put on the paper ; so as to ensure that the sounds, the rhythm, the rhyme, the metaphor and the meaning are all quite perfect for the context.  Again all this is generally marked as a gift of great price.

But then, the general opinion changes markedly in a certain respect.  For if the person who hears the voice in his head is not an acknowledged literary master, then his voices are taken to be signs, not of genius, but of madness.

There only so much that might be written about many things in the world ; but when it comes to people, the possibilities for discussion are endless.

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It’s  interesting how marriage can change a young man’s mind for the better, and sometimes to his complete surprise.  It is as if a thousand thoughts, neglected and unspoken in the careless days of bachelorhood, silently combine in wonderful ways to produce new understandings of the world ; which then make themselves known step by step.

This process, of unconscious thinking, has a name given by psychologists : they call it latent learning.  Of course, psychologists, being of a cautious disposition, presume that all the unconscious knowledge we have has been previously learned at a younger age, from the time of birth ; there are few now who are so bold as to presume that individuals might have knowledge that they brought with them into this world, or knowledge that they might have acquired directly mind from mind.

These thoughts were going through my mind recently as I was re-reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a book I first read when our first daughter was on her way into the world.  For reasons I could not have been fully aware of, I began to take an interest in what was to me a somewhat alien world – the world of myth and legend, of allegory and fable.  And, to my surprise, through that master story-teller I discovered the importance of these genres ; and their essential truths.  Much more was to follow in the coming years.

Most people now know, I think, that Tolkien wrote his great book in order to fill a gap ; a gap so obvious that no-one seemed to have noticed it ; or, if they had noticed it, they felt unable or unwilling to fill it.  What was missing was a truly Anglo-Saxon grand myth.  True, there was Beowulf, but however fine that was, it made but a small contribution to our heritage and was of limited scope.

On my first reading these aims of Tolkien quickly drifted far from my mind.  That was because I was so enchanted by the story, so drawn in to the adventure, that I forgot completely the wider aims of the author.  And that was just it ought to have been ; for no successful story was ever written merely to be an exemplar of a  genre ; a mere literary exercise.

And who can doubt the success of The Lord of the Rings?  And who can doubt the essential and eternal truths it first embodies and then expresses?  Who does not, at some point and to some extent, identify with each and every character in the tale?  Whether you be woman or man, you will sympathise with Eowyn in her dilemmas.  Also with Aragorn in his dangers and toils ; with Gandalf in his mighty hopes and fears.  And we can even identify with Sauron in his striving for mastery over all things both living and unliving.  And who needs reminding of hobbits?

In myth there is a hidden power.  It is the power to stir those obscured thoughts that come to the light of consciousness only when stimulated by some mysterious power that is latent in the very words we use.  If myth were mere fantasy then our rational minds would dismiss it on first sight, and by this stage of our evolution, myth would simply not exist.  But, although a myth may contain elements of fantasy, it is not those elements which stick in our minds and touch our hearts.  And that is why true myths are ageless and enduring.  That is why they adhere to our language.  That is why all successful novels are based on traditional myths.  That is why myths appear and reappear in all our arts and sciences.

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