- What's New?
Under the sun There's nothing newPoem or pun,Under the sun,Said Solomon, And he said true,Under the sunThere's nothing new.Henry Charles Beeching
The Spring, non-theme issue of the Quarterly suggests the truth of this rhyme with its grouping of papers concerned with the redefinition of ancient images familiar to us all. Millicent Lenz's paper on Tolkien and Singer cites the ancient stories that pre-date the traditions on which each author draws to revisit an afterlife; Judith Plotz, Gwyneth Evans, Judith Burdan, and Hugh Crago discuss works that vibrate with meaning from earlier visits of human kind to gardens, with or without apples. Miriam Miller is concerned, in part, with redefinition of the medieval period in Europe (along with the age of dinosaurs, the only popular historical period for many students), a period that often appears to be myth rather than mimesis. W. Nicola-Lisa and Deborah Stevenson direct our attention to the playful and surprising revisions, but revisions nonetheless, of folktales and traditional elements in postmodernism.1
The homogeneity of the group evaporates on closer examination. J. R. R.Tolkien, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and D. H. Lawrence are arguably motivated by an attempt to use myth as a "continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity," "a way of controlling, or ordering, or giving a shape and significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (Eliot 177). While children's literature recognizes the power of "a mysterious, inaccessible realm which is essential to the salvation of the men and women who seek it, or fear it, or forget it" (Knapp 80) in secret gardens, Sarah Fielding's garden of young women is an exercise in making the inaccessible realm accessible: the un-secret garden. The apples of discord are dutifully retired; the nurturing surveillance is performed by human reason. The postmodern papers remind us that the traditions, if not their fertility as a source of improvisation, can be denied: "nothing is for certain in this day and age" (Nikola-Lisa 34).
Similarly, the linguistic references of Plotz, Crago, Stevenson, and especially Miller tell us that the language in which we embody the traditions is specific to time and person, not timelessness. Crago's reading of C. S. Lewis's images is different from Lewis's own; his myth is embodied in language different from that of the myth perceived by his adolescent clients. Rosemary Sutcliff's medieval period in Miller's study is suffused with the social usage of the 1960s in England, as well as the languages of professional and cultural diversity within its presumed historic condition. If there is a satisfying wholeness to this group, based upon our shared pool of knowledge, there is still plenty of sizzle as we read the voices arguing for its illusory nature or reliance upon human creativity.
1. We have made an exception to the rule against accepting poetry in the case of W. Nikola-Lisa's piece because we, and our outside readers, see it as a critical statement on postmodernism in general and the ChLA 1993 Fredericton Conference in particular.