One of the most influential members of my tribe is Richard Adams, the British author of such works as Watership Down, Girl on a Swing, Maia and Shardik. One of his lesser works has had a great impact on me, not only on my writing but also on my philosophical leanings as it relates to the arts and especially life.
The book is “The Unbroken Web.” It is the author’s version of various folk tales from around the world. I’ve transcribed a few paragraphs from the opening chapter for you to ponder this winter weekend:
The weaving of emotion and experience into tales…is a spontaneous and involuntary phenomenon. We do it naturally, we can’t help doing it and of the ingenuity with which we find we have done it is startling…
…I see in fancy — I have a vision of — the world as the astronauts saw it — a shining globe, poised in space and rotating on its polar axis. Round it, enveloping it entirely, as one Chinese carved ivory ball encloses another within it, is a second, incorporeal, gossamer-like sphere — the unbroken web — rotating freely and independently of the rotation of the earth. It is something like a soap-bubble, for although it is in rotation, real things are reflected on its surface, which imparts to them glowing, lambent colours.
Within this outer web we live. It soaks up, transmutes and is charged with human experience, exuded from the world within like steam or an aroma from cooking food. The story-teller is he who reaches up, grasps that part of the web which happens to be above his head at the moment and draws it down — it is, of course, elastic and unbreakable — to touch the earth. When he has told his story — its story — he releases it and it springs back and continues in rotation. The web moves continually above us, so that in time every point on its interior surface passes directly above every point on the surface of the world. This is why the same stories are found all over the world, among different people who can have had little or no communication with each other.
Both in folk-song and folk-tale there is a paradox. On the one hand they are not attributable to individual authors, but impersonal and universal. On the other, they lose much when they are depersonalized — the songs written down and played on the piano, the talks written down and made anonymous for reading in a book. A folk-song is best when sung by a flesh-and-blood singer to real listeners. A folk-tale is best when told aloud, spontaneously, at a particular time and place. This is like drinking wine or making love. That time is that time — unique and irrecoverable. The thing may be repeated, but that will be different — another occasion. Filming, printing and recording are inappropriate.
I believe the unbroken web is the source of creativity, something that belongs to all of humankind. When I interviewed Bill Monroe many years ago, I asked him to explain how he was able to write all of the songs he had written. He responded quickly, “I never wrote anything. I just heard ’em first.” He was a frequent “toucher” of the unbroken web.
I believe the arts belong to everyone and that artists should be revered in culture. They are not, especially in a world run by anti-creative, left-brained bean counters. I’m not sure it’ll ever be any different, and for me personally, that’s okay. For no bean counter will ever experience the rush that is touching the unbroken web. That, my friends, is a form of currency more costly than gold.