Fairy tales according to J.R.R. Tolkien

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Tolkien’s both ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ stories have ceaselessly inspired imagination and creativity for decades, of dragons and semi-humans, of tales of conquest and victory, and those of intensity and fear. Entirely visualizing a fantasy world of his own, Tolkien has added a new perspective towards world literati.

Here is one of his quotes when he’s responding to an opinion that mythology, much of which inspires Tolkien’s universe, is ‘a disease of language’:

 

Mythology is not a disease at all, though it may like all human things become diseased. You might as well say that thinking is a disease of the mind. It would be more near the truth to say that languages, especially modern European languages, are a disease of mythology. But Language cannot, all the same, be dismissed. The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faerie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power — upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.

 

Read the full article in Brain Pickings to further understand his perspective.

Neil Gaiman reimagines Hansel and Gretel, and it’s stunning

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Neil Gaiman doesn’t believe in ‘happy-go-merry’ children stories. Particularly after visiting a refugee camp in war-torn Syria, Gaiman got his inspiration to create a darker version of one of the world’s most favorite tales, Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’. With a stygian touch by Italian graphic artist Lorenzo Mattotti, Gaiman wants to introduce his horror-induced tales to children, but with an obvious message: fear of ghosts will not match fear towards far greater things in life when people grow up, especially when it comes to facing the authority.

His personal thought about why some elements of cynicism should be included in children’s stories:

 

I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.

And for me, the thing that is so big and so important about the darkness is [that] it’s like in an inoculation… You are giving somebody darkness in a form that is not overwhelming — it’s understandable, they can envelop it, they can take it into themselves, they can cope with it.

And, it’s okay, it’s safe to tell you that story — as long as you tell them that you can be smart, and you can be brave, and you can be tricky, and you can be plucky, and you can keep going.

 

Read the full article in Brain Pickings.

A 2,000-year-old treatise about living a wonderful life

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This quote was taken by a 2,000-year-old philosophical work by Seneca, ‘On The Shortness of Life’. Long before there were Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins, or any other speakers alike, and so long before human life expectancy was dramatically improving like now this century (which could also be one defining factor), the Roman philosopher had offered us timeless advice (and also a cautious warning) on how to make the best use of our time as long as we are still alive in this world:

 

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

 

Read more about his work in Brain Pickings.

Pablo Neruda, about a glimpse of humanity

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From the Nobel Prize winner’s essay, ‘Childhood and Poetry’:

 

To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together…

It won’t surprise you then that I attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood. Just as I once left the pinecone by the fence, I have since left my words on the door of so many people who were unknown to me, people in prison, or hunted, or alone.

 

Read more about his essay on Brain Pickings.

The purpose of life according to Leo Tolstoy

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Tolstoy has always been a great, wise thinker, in particular when it comes to rethinking our purpose of education, as seen from this quote below, taken from one of his influential books, A Calendar of Wisdom (well, it’s already past a century, but it pretty much echoes what’s really going on with our current – honestly speaking – outdated system):

 

A scholar knows many books; a well-educated person has knowledge and skills; an enlightened person understands the meaning and purpose of his life.

There are a limitless number of different sciences, but without one basic science, that is, what is the meaning of life and what is good for the people, all other forms of knowledge and art become idle and harmful entertainment.

We live a senseless life, contrary to the understanding of life by the wisest people of all times. This happens because our young generations are educated in the wrong way—they are taught different sciences but they are not taught the meaning of life.

The only real science is the knowledge of how a person should live his life. And this knowledge is open to everyone (January 18). 

 

More great quotes can be found in Brain Pickings.

Writing according to E.B. White

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Another quote worth considering when you are considering writing (though it may not work for all):

 

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me. A girl pushing a carpet sweeper under my typewriter table has never annoyed me particularly, nor has it taken my mind off my work, unless the girl was unusually pretty or unusually clumsy. My wife, thank God, has never been protective of me, as, I am told, the wives of some writers are. In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

 

You can find out more about this author in Brain Pickings.

Life in a microcosm

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The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way. – Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), an American evolutionary scientist

 

Browse more for what cultural icons define about the meaning of life in Brain Pickings.

What it takes to be a true author

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A worthwhile piece of advice from John Updike for aspiring writers:

Try to develop actual work habits and, even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say, or more a day to write. Very good things have been written on an hour a day. . . . So take it seriously, set a quota, try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. . . .

Don’t be contentious to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff. We’re still a capitalist country and writing, as some would agree, is a capitalist enterprise… It’s not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience.

Read what excites you… and even if you don’t imitate it, you will learn from it. . . .

Don’t try to get rich. . . . If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or be a certain kind of lawyer. On the other hand, I like to think that in a country this large and a language even larger, that there ought to be a living for somebody who cares and wants to entertain and instruct a reader. 

 

You can watch his interview videos by Academy of Achievement in Brain Pickings.

Writing and death, a la John Updike

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Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? It is even possible to dislike our old selves, those disposable ancestors of ours. For instance, my high-school self — skinny, scabby, giggly, gabby, frantic to be noticed, tormented enough to be a tormentor, relentlessly pushing his cartoons and posters and noisy jokes and pseudo-sophisticated poems upon the helpless high school — strikes me now as considerably obnoxious, though I owe him a lot: without his frantic ambition and insecurity I would not be sitting on (as my present home was named by others) Haven Hill. – John Updike, as quoted from his 1996 memoir, Self-Consciousness.

Note: John Updike (1932-2009) was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, novelist, and essayist, who was best known for his Rabbit Angstrom novel series, one that depicts a pathetic life of an American middle-class individual entrapped in a visceral midlife crisis, starting from his youth, to his heyday, to his death. He passed away in 2009 for lung cancer, partially thanks to his chain-smoking habit.

Look up for more Updike’s quotes about correlating writing and death in Brain Pickings.