Last year (2011) we took a trip to America for the first time,
hiring a Ford Mustang and driving through California, Arizona and
Nevada. It was glorious discovering new places, new environments,
new ways of doing things, but we didn’t leave all the discovery
till we arrived. We brought a couple of guidebooks beforehand,
googled a few places on the Net, pored over some maps and studied
details in the brochure.
All this is quite natural.
How about the Bigger Trip at the end of earthly life? Where are the guidebooks? Which web pages should I google? Where are the maps and tourist brochures? Once again it is natural to want some information. Where should I try?
From time to time I hope to post articles on 'Matters of Life and Death', and shall be evaluating various sources of information:
· Science: how much, if
anything, can it tell us about non-material reality?
· Religion: how much can the familiar Christian variety tell us?
· Poetry and music: can these reveal any ‘Truths of the Imagination’ for us?
· Inner Resonance: how much weight can I place on something that ‘rings true’?
And there is one more source I shall consult, Spiritualism. For a
writer, it is a brilliant resource. Spiritualism had a
considerable vogue before and after the First World War, but
nowadays it is deeply unfashionable. As a result, there is a
cornucopia of wonderful but neglected materials for me to
At my bedside I have volumes with such evocative titles as Life Beyond the Veil, Gone West and The Living Dead Man. They all date from the time around the First World War and have a sense of the drama and intensity involved in the time. But wait a moment, you might say, aren’t they too spooky for the bedside? Not at all. They make splendid bedtime reading, often cheering, frequently astonishing, always fascinating. I have dog-eared many a must-revisit page, made vertical lines in the margins of read-again extracts, and added double – or even treble – lines for especially mind-boggling material.
But how much can I trust such things, I hear you ask. Well, there are basically four answers to this:
· Firstly, I can check
the materials for consistency. How do they match up against each
other – and also against more recent material coming from Near
Death Experiences and Hypnotic Regression? Do they support or
contradict each other?
· Secondly, I can ask how far the stories match up with common sense. That is, do the humans behave as humans (albeit in different circumstances)?
· Thirdly, I can employ the Inner Resonance guide (as mentioned above) – do the stories and descriptions ring true?
· Fourthly, as a novelist I can ask whether they would make darn good tales.
That last one is a good criterion for me. I am engaged on writing
an updatedDivine Comedy trilogy in which the scope
and vision of Dante are compounded with the buddy-style interplay
of, say, Butch and Sundance. A mismatched pair of cousins
are sent to quarrel their way through Earth, Hell and even Heaven
(which is not where you’d expect to see a lot of quarrelling, but
they’ll find a way).
Recently I have been busy with Book Two, A Short, Selective Journey Through Hell, and have happily drawn on Life Beyond the Veil, Gone Westand The Living Dead Man, as well as plenty of other resources.
Well yes, you might say. Rattling good tale, you might say. But is it all true? Do you really believe all that stuff?
Well, my friends, believe is a funny word. It implies loyalty to one set of propositions and not to another. This can be very limiting, and, if you are a scientist, it can be disastrous. There you go building your career on – what? – certainties about dinosaur bones, about continental drift or perhaps even the speed of light, and then along comes evidence to prove your whole life is one big mistake.
No, belief is a very limiting word. Let’s go with something rather more open. It has been suggested that science fiction writers do a lot better in the Next World than saintly believers, and this seems credible to me because science fiction writers are in the business of imagining the unimaginable. They’re not held down by the diving boots of belief.
So let’s say I value Life Beyond the Veil, Gone West, The Living Dead Man and suchlike for their Wow factor. They may or may not hold vast amounts of truth, but I can try to check them for consistency, common sense and resonance. And, having done so, I’m inclined to say yup, they make the better story.
(This post has been simultaneously published on my blog http://dimensionsbeyond.typepad.com/
complete with a lovely pic of Death Valley - seen from 'Dante's View' - which I would have included here, only I couldn't get the picture uploader to cooperate, alas. Do feel free to call in on said blog and sample the numerous delights therein...)