Once upon a time there were two little Princesses whose names were Violetta and Gambetta; and they lived in Mountainy Castle. They were twins, and they were so like each other that when Violetta came in from a walk with her feet wet, Gambetta was sometimes told to go and change her stockings…
The Silver Trumpet
So opens The Silver Trumpet, a fairy-tale written by Owen Barfield in 1925. It was his first published book and the first fantasy book ever published by the Inklings. According to the author himself, he felt that in all his books he was “saying the same thing over and over again.” But what is this “one thing” he was saying over and over again? And how did he say it in The Silver Trumpet?
The Silver Trumpet is a mythical depiction of what Owen Barfield would later unfold in his other works and, in some way, a prelude to what seems to be the overall message of the Inklings — the world is God’s music clad in matter. In Saving the Appearances, Barfield points out that we live in the world of unsaved images — images that have been taken literally and turned into idols.
The images (or appearances) we observe around us are so much “like” the things they represent that we have a hard time distinguishing between them. We take a representation for the reality behind it. For us, the image and the thing it represents look alike, almost indistinguishable — like the two little princesses, Violetta and Gambetta, who were so like each other that even the Queen had a hard time distinguishing them.
The Queen used to be so fussed and worried by the confusion that, what with one thing and another, she persuaded the King to appoint a special Lord to distinguish between them [the princesses]. And he was called the Lord High Teller of the Other from Which.
The Lord High Teller of the Other from Which was the only one who noticed the difference between the two princesses. But it was not in their appearances but in what transpired through the appearances.
Moreover, he “knew a thing or two about the magic power of names,” and so he found a way to tell the two princesses apart — by changing their names. By calling them Violet and Gamboy he brought out into the light of day what was otherwise invisible — the princesses were “as different inside as a Church and a Booking Office.”
In Barfield’s mind, the two little princesses who were almost identical in appearance represent the confusion of the modern mind about observable phenomena. We tend to equate appearances with the reality they point to. This anthroposophical dilemma Owen Barfield would later explore in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.
If there is one connective tissue between the fantasy imaginations of the Inklings, it is the theme of our participation in the Divine Music – the Music of Iluvatar.
The worlds of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield are born in Music and governed by Music.
In Tolkien’s legendarium, the Ainur descend into Arda, the created Realm, as individual themes of the Music of Iluvatar to behold their unique part becoming incarnate in the visible elements of air, earth, water, and other substances.
Enamored of their part in the celestial symphony, the Ainur follow this “music-made-flesh” into Arda and dwell therein because each yearns to participate in the Divine Thought.
They didn’t yet know how the Music would end – the only thing they knew was that the discord of Melkor would somehow be resolved by the coming of the Second-born to whom Iluvatar gave “strange gifts.”
The Third and final theme in the Music of Iluvatar announces the coming of Men in a soft, slow, and immeasurably sorrowful theme, from which its beauty chiefly comes.
How does Narnia start?
C.S. Lewis’s Narnia also begins in Music, the Song of Aslan, which is “the deeper magic” of his fantasy world – the magic of growing that opposes the black magic of domination.
Aslan sings his world into existence, and all the stars join him in the Song.
I wasn’t planning to write a review on Amazon’s The Rings of Power, but my son asked me a question I couldn’t ignore.
And thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor. Of all things which Yavanna made they have most renown, and about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven.
As we finished watching the first episode of The Rings of Power last night, my son asked me after a pause:
“What do you think?”
“Don’t know yet,” I answered, “not too bad, I suppose, but I hoped there would be much more Tolkien in it.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, “there’s Galadriel, Elrond, Sauron, hobbits. What else?”
“Hm…” I scratched my head, “I guess to have more Tolkien there you need to start the tale how he started the tale.”
“Do you mean with the creation of Arda?” he pressed.
“No, with Music. The Music. The world of Tolkien began in Music.”
“So, how would you have started the series?” he finally asked.
“Let me think,” I said, and there was silence in the room for about half an hour broken only by the chirping of a cricket outside.
And silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna.
Finally, I broke the silence.
“All the tales of Elder Days are woven around the fate of the Two Trees. Do you have any idea why?”
He shook his head.
“Imagine Galadriel and her brother Finrod sitting by a murmuring brook at twilight. He asks her: ‘Do you know how Elves came about?’
The camera zooms in, and we see the following scenes unfold in Galadriel’s big blue eyes as she listens to Finrod’s tale.
‘By the starlit mere of Cuivienen, Water of Awakening, the Elves rose from the sleep of Iluvatar; and while they dwelt yet silent by Cuivienen their eyes beheld first of all things the stars of heaven. Therefore they have ever loved the starlight, and have revered Varda Elentari above all the Valar.’
Galadriel sees in her mind’s eye the mere of Cuivienen and then looks up and suddenly sees Varda walking among the heavenly hosts.
‘Who is it?’ she asks her brother in amazement.
‘Varda, the spouse of Manwe, the chief of the Valar.’
The swimming pool was teeming with people. Bright luminescent bikinis, squealing children, laughing dads, chattering moms, all jumbled up together in a thick soup of incessant movement, stirring, whirling, mixing, blending.
On one side of the pool, there was a man sitting by the edge of the water with a long pole, fishing. His face was hidden in a thick beard. He seemed totally detached from what was going on around, watching intently the red bobber on the undulating surface of the pool. A guard hastily jumped down from his tower and ran towards the man.
“Sir,” he said with an air of utter amazement, “what are you doing? This is a swimming pool!”
The man didn’t budge.
“This is not allowed!” “This is…,” he stumbled, “you’ve got hooks out there, people can get hurt!”
In the blue-blue sea, there lived a fish called Self-Fish.
What a strange name, you might say.
Who gives such a name?
Well, it’s actually a whole group of fish. They are called “Self-Fish” by other sea creatures who are sure about themselves that they don’t belong to this category.
She knew very well who she was – Self-Fish. Of that she was reminded daily.
“Stop thinking about yourself all the time.”
“You never care about others,” the others chided.
“Why are you looking at yourself all the time?”
“If you weren’t Self-Fish, you would have had more compassion on our poor nerves.”
“Why am I Self-Fish?” thought Self-Fish. “I need to change. From now on I will think about others all the time.”
And that’s what she did.
Tired of being shamed and blamed, she decided she would be looking out for the interest of others.
She was hoping that others would start appreciating her more and more and would finally stop calling her Self-Fish.
But the more she tried to please others, the less they seemed pleased.
In fact, they blamed her all the more.
“You should think more about others and less about yourself! Shame on you, Self-Fish.”
“What’s happening?” thought Self-Fish.
“It’s not working. Am I so hopeless?”
And so, she doubled and even tripled her efforts.
But the more she tried, the less it worked.
Finally, she got so exhausted and hopeless of pleasing others that she flung up her fins in utter desperation:
“I must be doomed. I was born Self-Fish, and I will die Self-Fish.”
“Die hard,” said a crab who lived next door, and whose name happened to be Bruce.
“What do you mean?” asked Self-Fish in bewilderment.
“Nothing. Just talking to myself,” grunted Bruce as he clipped off a seaweed with his sharp claw.
“What’s your problem?”
“I am,” replied Self-Fish, “I am Self-Fish.”
“No worries,” said Bruce. “Have a coffee.” And he handed her a Frappuccino.
“You know what? Stop trying to save the world,” finally said Bruce after a pause.
“It never works. Believe me, I know. No matter how many times you try to save the world, it always gets back in a mess.”
“Hmm…,” said Self-Fish, “but if I stop trying to save the world, wouldn’t it be selfish?”
“Selfish is as selfish does,” replied Bruce.
“To be selfless, you must first have a Self that you can give up. There is a world of difference between giving up yourself and giving up on your Self.”
“What do you mean?” asked Self-Fish in utter amazement.
“You must first become who you are. Become Self-Fish.”
“But… but… I am that already!”
“You see, if you don’t have a Self, you are not really a Self-Fish.
And to have a Self, you must start looking at yourself before you look at others. Look at your Self!”
“But if I keep looking at myself, I will be more selfish.”
“Trust me on that,” said Bruce grimly and gave her a look that couldn’t be resisted.
So, Self-Fish looked at herself but didn’t see much to look at.
“What do you see?” asked Bruce.
“Nothing special,” replied Self-Fish.
“Just keep looking. Just keep looking.”
“There’s nothing to look at,” finally said Self-Fish and turned her eyes away.
“It’s just me.”
“Just keep looking.”
“What’s there to see?”
“Don’t you see… a kid?
“Yes, a scared little kid. A kid who was left all alone in the dark.
Believe me, I have met that kid once. A long time ago.”
“Old story,” said Bruce.
“I see her,” suddenly exclaimed Self-Fish and felt salty tears welling up in her eyes.
It seemed to her that up to this day she had been swimming in the ocean of tears.
“Good. Now take her gently by the fin. Hold tight. And never let her go. No matter what. Don’t leave her. You are her mommy now. And one day, she will be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To take on the world.”
“Have to go,” said Bruce.
“There’s another Apocalypse nearby. Remember to always look at her and never-ever-ever let her go, no matter what the others say.”
And then Bruce hopped on his cool Yamaha jetski and was off in a flash.
Sure enough, the “others” showed up in no time.
“Hey, what are you up to?” snapped the red snapper.
“Nothing… just looking at myself,” replied Self-Fish.
“Shame on you, Self-Fish,” snapped the snapper. “Always looking at yourself.”
For a brief moment Self-Fish stopped looking at herself and started looking at the snapper.
Suddenly she felt she was blushing from gill to tail.
She was almost about to blurt out a funny joke or two so as to divert his attention – the art she had mastered so well – but then something made her choke on her own words.
She distinctly heard a small little voice coming from inside her.
“Don’t leave me,” it said.
“What?” echoed Self-Fish and looked at herself intently.
And then she saw a little baby fish left alone in a dark cave and trembling all over.
She looked so little and so miserable that Self-fish immediately wanted to look away, get busy, invite the red snapper to dinner, hide in her little hole at the bottom of the sea – do anything so as to not think about it anymore.
But something made her look. She didn’t even know what it was.
It was so hard not to turn away, and yet there was something very beautiful about that little one.
She had eyes full of ocean-like sadness.
And there was a great big void.
And the void was so deep and wide and empty that one could easily drown in it.
It was like a gaping abyss in the crevice of time, an insatiable black hole sucking everything in with its irresistible gravity.
It was at once a pack of hungry wolves, a mighty hurricane, a raging ocean, and a gentle flower.
And there was beauty in it.
Some soft light was peeping out of that void.
It was coming from within as if it belonged to the void itself.
And this light shone out of the vast emptiness and there was life in it.
And in this light, there was something one could gaze upon hours and hours on end.
There was a river of peace flowing out of it, and a warm embrace of utter tranquility and healing.
There was a desperate cry as well as a dance of joy.
There was profound sorrow as well as a whiff of tingling freshness.
There was an ugly wound and a well of inner harmony.
There was at once Chaos and Order, as if fashioned by the hand of a masterful Artist.
“Don’t leave me,” asked the kid again.
“I am here. I am looking at you,” said Self-Fish, “and I will not leave you.”
The little one stopped trembling and looked up.
Self-Fish took her by the little fin and together they went shopping.
She was constantly looking at her, and the kid seemed to transform before her very eyes.
The longer she looked at her, the calmer and the happier the kid grew.
And with this calmness and peace settled over the little one, Self-Fish totally forgot about others.
She was alone in the world, but for the first time in her life she felt fine in her own company.
She was alone, and yet she wasn’t lonely.
She was by herself, and yet she was keenly aware that there was someone else with her.
As she spoke gently to the kid, it seemed to her that she was hearing another gentle voice speaking to her through her own words.
And as that other kind voice filled her heart and mind, she grew calmer, and stronger, and happier.
“Who are you?” she asked and looked around in amazement.
And from the unfathomable depths of her Self she heard a still small voice saying,
“Don’t look away. I am not out there, I am in here.”
She looked at her kid again, and suddenly it seemed to her that she saw someone else.
She saw another baby far-far away in a cold dark cave, and his mother rocking him gently in a manger and humming a familiar tune.
“I am not out there, I am in here,” repeated the still small voice.
“Just keep looking. Just keep looking.”
She drew closer, peeping into the darkness of the cave, and fixed her gaze firmly upon him.
And as she looked, the darkness of the cave receded like a mighty tidal wave, and a soft light poured from inside of the void, filling it up to the brim.
And her ocean-like sadness shook and gave way to a quiet sigh of relief.
And the salty tears she swam in for years became a bubbling brook of healing waters.
And out of the gaping hole on the inside came a beautiful song – the song of the void.
“Nice song,” commented someone passing by.
“Bruce!” exclaimed Self-Fish. “It’s so good to see you!”
“And you. You look radiant.”
“You know I’ve seen him.”
“So, I see you are ready to take on the world,” said he and pointed to the empty seat in his jetski.
She laughed, hopped on, and off they went into the big wide blue.