April 17th, 2013


People of the Book

I'm sure this must be a much-written about subject, but I'd be interested to know if anyone can recommend a particular treatment.

I've been wondering about the relationship between religion and the development of writing and early literacy. At least in the Middle East and the lands of the eastern Mediterranean, the idea of sacred writings seems to have been prominent from early times, and has at least two aspects. First, the notion that God dictates commandments, laws, scriptures - whether to Hammurabi, Moses or Mohammed - and that they assume thereafter a divine, perhaps infallible character in their written form. Second, the control of writing becomes associated with a priestly caste, using hieratic scripts, symbols and magic - something I associate particularly with Egypt, though no doubt it appears elsewhere too (in Babylon, for example?).

With both these developments, but especially the first (because magic can be performed without script) religion isn't just facilitated by writing - it's virtually identified with it: the Good Book, Holy Writ, the Law. To this day the invention of writing is the prerequisite for a vast amount of what we recognize as religious practice - from Golden Dawn ceremonials to scripture-quoting Southern Baptist preachers. I suppose it's uncontroversial to say that it must have been impressive for illiterate societies, from ancient Britain to the Aztec Empire, to find that a piece of paper could talk and carry messages - but even after the novelty has worn off (as it must have done by now) the written word appears to be valorized to what seems a slightly weird degree. I can't think of any other technology that has embedded itself so firmly into the DNA of religious experience.

Anyway - as I say, I'm just wondering whether there's a standard/classic/interesting treatment of this subject out there that my sapient friends list might be able to recommend?

How did Max's supper get into his room?

Sometimes I have to plump up books like pillows, until they're the right shape for my brain.

If, indeed, the trip to the land of the Wild Things was all in Max's head (as adult critics would have you believe), then his mother must have come up with his supper at some point and placed it on the table. But then, how did Max not notice this and break from his reverie? Was he in some kind of catatonic state? If so, how did his mother not notice that and call an ambulance? Surely she'd have been expecting some response from her naughty son, not just a blank stare? It makes no sense.

Or maybe - and this is my belief - the critics are wrong, and the bedroom really did turn into a forest. Maybe Max was indeed away for over a year. And maybe, like Mrs Darling leaving the window open, his penitent parent brought a hot supper to his room each evening, in the hope that it might lure him back.

Until, one day, it did.