Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Evolution Of The Supernatural

Philosophy has a grudge on reader friendly concepts such as plot and characters. Philosophy feels very at home in the world of surrealism, and, as such, is conveyed a sense of inaccessibility. This pretty much defeats the purpose of philosophy. What is the use of enriching thoughts if they are communicated to no one, and thus we are left unenriched? To overcome this obstacle, philosophical writings concentrate surrealism into an accompanying factor, and make room for characters and plot... this is how the supernatural was born.

The earliest works involving the supernatural are probably myths and legends. Basically, these are works involving strong human emotions, such as courage and love, which in the context of the supernatural become epic works of heroism and romance. The Epic of Gilgamesh or the Kalevala are prime examples, in which the themes of human emotion meld into concepts of creation and death.

In modern times, the supernatural forgot its purpose, and spawned a collective of three literary genres, in which it is not a means of delivering engaging and enriching philosophy, but a cadre for the characters and plot, in order to give it a twist. This way, in many works, ordinary people come to experience the epic heroism and romance of old. The collective I'm talking about is called speculative fiction, and the genres included are horror, science-fiction and fantasy.

Before these genres broke off from the single genre of the supernatural, there were writings which still remembered the original purpose of this phenomenon. They were writings with ample characters and plot, but in which the supernatural told something more than the narrative itself. While in most cases modern works of speculative fiction combine the philosophy of the supernatural and the narrative, these primitive (and by "primitive" I mean "original") works set a clear distinction between the two. The result is a story which can be read in two ways. In my opinion, the best example of this is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

While this duality is specific to works of the pre-separation era, there are modern works which hold true to the original purpose of the supernatural. I'm finally getting where I want with this post. The man I'm talking about (though certainly not the only one) is Michael Ende. Michael Ende (1929-1995) is a German writer, most famous for his work The Neverending Story (German title: Die unendliche Geschichte). It was adapted into a movie with several spin-offs, two TV series, an animation series and even a video game. But I'm not here to talk about his most famous work. I'm here to talk about his second most famous work.

Momo like many memorable books bears a lengthy full title, which happens to be Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people (German title: you've got to be kidding me...). Who knows, there might even be something to this OMRSTPLRLCNSWMTCTHTALCNEE thing... Anyway, this book is considered by the author a fairytale-novel, and right there you have the duality I was talking about earlier. You can read it either as a fairy tale, a children's book, telling a heart-warming story you are bound to remember, or as a novel, a work of serious depth, criticising element's of modern day life and opening up our minds to that all-so-lost enriching philosophy. Doesn't this sound strangely familiar to you? If you are thinking Antoine de Saint Exupéry's (I know there is an accent there, but the Le Petite Prince (English title: The Little Prince) then you've hit the jackpot.

Amazingly, the two works are extremely similar, yet very different from one another. They both have a child as the main character (and surprisingly, one is a girl the other is a boy) and the whole story is seen through his/her eyes. They both explore the same themes, only in different manners and in different proportions. While the little prince makes a not about the business man who spends all his time counting things, and says that "all adults care about are numbers", this is actually the main theme in Momo, where a group of grey gentlemen trick adults into saving their time (by showing them elaborate calculations), so that they can steal it and feed of it. While in the first part of the book, Momo spends a lot of time with her friends, and even later in the book she always keeps thinking of them, in the end friendship remains a small theme, however this is one of the main themes in The Little Prince, in which loneliness is actually the very thing that drives the little prince to visit planet Earth.

If I were to make a one word comparison between the two, I would say that both works deal with that which is important, however, The Little Prince gives us a very individual view and a strong personal experience, while Momo takes a broader look at the situation and deeply reflects upon society. Those were more than one word, weren't they? I came to this conclusion through the ending of the two books. In The Little Prince, he changes the lives of the few people (and not only... can anyone say "vegetable, animal and mineral"?) and ends up personally enriched. In Momo, he saves the whole world and everyone ends up with their lives improved.

It would be useless to say anything more about this book. If I begin to relate the story, I wouldn't be telling even half of what the book really says. If I begin further telling you what philosophical ideas are hidden within, I would end up telling you even less. How could I comprise in a few words the profound deepness (is that a pleonasm?) that took the author a whole book to express? Here's my go at it: If it were up to me, I'd make both these books a compulsory read at school, not once, but twice, the first time in middle school, and a second time in high school... I think this is what people really need!

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