Monday, December 2, 2013

what I'm reading: the ethics of elfland

The fairy tales rounded in me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a kindness.
Fairy tales teach us amazement and gratitude. So said Chesterton. I think he's right.

The world should astound and delight us. It doesn't have to be the way it is. The sun's rising, the green of leaves: every day they should break upon us with with fresh astonishment.

That was the first lesson from fairytales. Here's the second:
The second great principle of the fairy philosophy is that the vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.

In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited.

An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

Such, it seemed, was the joy of man, either in elfland or on earth; the happiness depended on not doing something which you could at any moment do and which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do. 
Here's how he applies this principle to sex:
I give one ethical instance to show my meaning. I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself.

Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman.

To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it.

Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

No comments: