Now that “The Witch and the Dragon” is online in its entirety, it’s time for a new Monday feature. So let’s talk.
Sometimes, when you’re reading a story, you come across a part that gleams in golden ink across the page. It isn’t merely insightful, or moving, or clever, or funny, or brilliant. At the risk of sounding dramatic: it leaps from the book and pierces your soul. You laugh, or shiver, or cry, or merely sit, transfixed. You remember this fragment long after you’ve forgotten the plot and the author and even the title. “This is it,” you say. “This is why we make art.”
I’ve been savoring and revisiting these little fragments for as long as I can remember. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a term for them, so I’m calling them moments of transcendence.
These moments can come from anywhere: books (fiction and non), poems, TV shows, movies, paintings, music, even video games. They appear in sources as lofty as Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Tao Te Ching, as humble as newspaper comic strips, as dry as textbooks, as sophisticated as Keats, as mainstream as car insurance commercials (yes, really).
You can find them in works you love, works you despise, works that are completely mediocre aside from that one shining moment. They can be as short as a few words, or (very rarely) as long as an entire TV episode.
Art can be good, even great, without such moments. By his own admission, Isaac Asimov consciously avoided them, so as to make his failures less spectacular; nevertheless, he achieved his share of both. Lord Dunsany, on the other hand, seemed to be trying for transcendence in every paragraph, which (for me) started off enchanting but very quickly grew tiresome. Tolkien, I feel, achieved a nice balance – but then, I’m awfully biased.
Each Monday, I’m going to feature a moment of transcendence. I’ll give you the background, the context, and the fragment itself, and then I’ll try to convey some sense of why it affects me as it does.
Moments of transcendence are, of course, utterly subjective. One reader’s awe is another’s cheesiness; what makes one viewer cry will make another yawn. I certainly don’t expect you to feel the same way about these bits and pieces as I do. But as I share them – and I hope you’ll share yours, too! – maybe we’ll get a better understanding of how to make great art.
Or, failing that, we’ll watch some sweet YouTube clips.
We start next Monday!