Writing To Weave The Spell

Writing To Weave The Spell



As you may know,​ I’m a​ great fan of​ the​ works of​ the​ Canadian author,​ Robertson Davies. So,​ when I’m looking for inspiration and ideas,​ I turn to​ his articles on​ writing. I came across a​ speech he gave in​ 1990 for the​ Tanner Lectures in​ New Haven,​ Connecticut. One is​ entitled simply Writing,​ the​ other Reading.

What makes a​ novel good or​ even really great,​ so that it​ will be read one hundred years from now [or more]? What takes a​ novel out of​ its own time,​ so to​ speak,​ and become universal?

I have to​ quote Davies from his speech where he talks of​ an​ essential quality he calls
shamanstvo.

To weave the​ spell,​ the​ writer must have within him something comparable to​ the​ silk spinning and web-casting gift of​ a​ spider; he must not only have something to​ say,​ some story to​ tell,​ or​ some wisdom to​ impart,​ but he must have a​ characteristic way of​ doing it​ which entraps and holds still his prey,​ by which I mean his reader.

When reading this,​ I first think of​ shamans [i.e.: shamanstvo]—some sort of​ mystic,​ a​ healer,​ with powers not given to​ mere mortals. Perhaps a​ trickster or​ someone claiming to​ communicate with gods!

A tall order for us who toil before our computers,​ hoping for inspiration to​ just wrap up the​ plot or​ get a​ bit of​ dialogue right!

But it’s true! Remember the​ last time you picked up a​ novel and from the​ very first sentence,​ you were transfixed,​ inexorably drawn into the​ world the​ writer had created. I suppose that’s the​ “un-put-down-able” quality we​ all seek.

Somehow,​ I don’t think Davies meant the​ quality of​ a​ real “page turner.” He knew the​ value of​ lingering over a​ passage and the​ savouring of​ language. It’s got to​ be something else.

I really like this quote from Davies. the​ silk to​ make the​ web comes from within the​ spider and is​ produced naturally from it. the​ spider doesn’t know how it​ does this. it​ is​ just its inherent ability. And so,​ Davies must be talking about the​ grand sum of​ our whole self which produces this story—or silk. it​ is​ a​ product of​ the​ writer’s being.

And it​ should have a​ story to​ tell or​ some wisdom to​ impart. But I think the​ real secret is​ contained in​ the​ last few phrases— a​ characteristic way of​ doing it​ which entraps and holds still his prey,​ by which I mean his reader. Obviously,​ it​ has to​ be highly personal and individual to​ the​ writer. And it​ must be a​ story or​ a​ thought,​ which virtually impales the​ reader with its significance.

How can the​ writer hope to​ do such a​ thing? After all,​ my experience is​ personal to​ me,​ just as​ yours is​ to​ you. How,​ by drawing on​ my own personal experience,​ can I hope to​ ensnare you into my web? And better still,​ capture thousands of​ readers,​ all of​ whom have their own personal worlds? How can I ever hope to​ enchant a​ reader with my world?

Immediately,​ I think of​ the​ Swiss psychiatrist,​ Carl Jung and the​ collective unconscious—which we​ all share. if​ a​ writer can access that level of​ the​ unconscious,​ perhaps he can bring into his writing that which is​ common or​ universal to​ all humankind. of​ course,​ the​ writer interprets that material and adapts it​ to​ his own personal experience of​ life. But still,​ he has drawn upon emotions,​ thoughts,​ archetypes,​ symbols and signs,​ even myths from that great library of​ human experience we​ all share—the collective unconscious.

Perhaps that is​ how we​ come full circle to​ the​ idea of​ shamanstvo. That charmer,​ enchanter quality. Shamans are indeed mystics. They have special access to​ inner worlds—as I understand it—by way of​ gift. But that does not mean we​ can’t try to​ enter those worlds where the​ creative materials of​ universal appeal are buried.

But Davies would not likely agree with me. to​ him,​ you either have shamanstvo or​ you don’t. of​ course,​ he says that everyone has a​ personal unconscious,​ which is​ rooted in​ the​ collective unconscious.

But the​ difference is​ this. the​ kind of​ writer he means is​ one who has

the ability to​ invite it,​ to​ solicit its assistance,​ to​ hear what it​ has to​ say and impart it​ in​ a​ language that is​ particularly his own. He may not be—very probably is​ not—fishing up messages from the​ unconscious which astonish and strike dumb his readers. it​ is​ more likely that he is​ telling them things that they recognize as​ soon as​ they hear them.

There you go! if​ its something they recognize immediately,​ then it​ must be drawn up [dredged up?] from the​ collective unconscious shared by all of​ us. Put in​ more mythological terms,​ it​ sounds just like the​ ability to​ court the​ muse.

So,​ next time we’re writing and get stuck,​ perhaps it’s best to​ just take a​ nap. Why? Because dreams,​ they say,​ are the​ gateway to​ the​ unconscious.




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