ON THE INTERNET, ‘CONTENT’ IS SUPPOSED TO BE KING. IN THAT CONTEXT, SHAKESPEARE WROTE ‘CONTENT.’
THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS TRULY RICH AND WONDERFUL—BUT SOMETIMES IT GETS HIJACKED BY PEOPLE OF LITTLE TASTE.
Stories have astonishing power, appeal, and durability—to the point where you would have to wonder. After all, the real world is so remarkable in itself—on just about every level—that you might think that reality alone would be enough. Consider the endless wonders of nature, and the fascinating developments in technology, just by themselves. Surely, these should be adequately fulfilling.
Clearly they are not—because we fill our lives with stories at every conceivable opportunity. Some, of course, are true—or as true as we humans can manage (which is decidedly not the same thing) but many—probably most—are not.
Somehow, we crave fiction. It is so often more satisfying than real life, it is free of the friction that characterizes reality—and it is certainly neater. It also distracts, entertains, educates, gives hope, and satisfies deeply.
In fact, when you think about it, it is hard not to ponder the notion that we might be vastly more content if we lived largely escapist lives—and the reality is that many of us do.
As I think about this, I find it hard not to be struck by how vulnerable this human need for the impossible expectations raised by fiction makes us to manipulation. We seem to need to be lied to. We pay lip service to rational thought and the truth—but we certainly aren’t rational, and we virtually run towards myth, and away from reality, if given a choice.
Still, that’s a heavier subject than I want to deal with today—and the truth is that despite my concerns about the abuses to which stories can be—and are—put, they anchor my life. I love reading them, crafting them, writing them, and—to an extent—living them.
My much loved grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, gave me my initial love of story. She started reading to me at a very early age—and after working through all the classical children’s stories (everything from Rudyard Kipling to Winnie the Pooh) gravitated to a series of books written by Elephant Bill—an extraordinary, but real life character, who had made a significant contribution towards the war effort by harnessing elephants for construction and other purposes in Burma during WW II.
The Elephant Bill books carried a special significance for my grandmother. She had spent virtually her entire short married life there until her husband, my grandfather, John Lentaigne, had succumbed to cholera in the early Twenties. He had been a barrister with the British administration which ran Burma at the time—and my mother had actually been born there.
Not only was I inspired to have a love of elephants—which I rode on many times when a child (a story for another day)—but I was hugely impressed by the Elephant Bill books.
Still, I hadn’t thought about them for years until I learned, just a couple of days ago, that a hugely entertaining biography has recently been written about him. By all accounts, he really was a remarkable man. Good to know he hasn’t been forgotten.
I think of my grandmother—and miss her—every day.