Monday, August 4, 2014

Literary Music

Sometimes things come full circle.  Once, at a library book sale, my mom purchased a CD by a group called Caedmon’s Call. It was called Back Home, and eventually after hearing it played in our car several times I asked if I could have it. 

Not only are the songs very good melody-wise, but the lyrics are very poetic. I’m not much of a musically-minded person—I have only the vaguest idea of what a “bridge” is, for instance—but I’ve read enough poetry to recognize a good lyric when I hear it. And that’s what Caedmon’s Call’s lyrics are like: poetry.

Now you may ask yourself why I’m reviewing a CD instead of a book. “This is totally the wrong medium,” you may be saying. “The blog is called ‘Come With Me If You Want to Read,’ not ‘Listen to a CD.’ And even if it were, the name wouldn’t be nearly as catchy.” 

Maybe if you wouldn’t keep interrupting me you’d get your explanation. 
Another part of my being drawn to the Back Home album was that the lyrics, though I could identify them as poetical, were very cryptic. There’s a song on the album called ‘The Kingdom’ that I still don’t really understand,* and several others were similarly enigmatic. 

But then I started reading more of C.S. Lewis’ works, and came to the realization that the song-writers had been reading the same books. The most obvious example is the song “The High Countries.”  To anyone who’s never read Lewis’ The Great Divorce the song is a jumble of metaphors that won’t make sense. 

Best known for his Chronicles of Narnia fantasy books, C.S. Lewis also wrote some awesome adult-focused novels, most of them fantasy and science fiction. (He also wrote nonfiction, mostly theology, philosophy, and literary criticism, which are also good but did not make it into Caedmon’s Call albums as of yet.) I’ve already given a little overview of Till We Have Faces, a fantasy retelling of the Psyche/Eros Greco-Roman myth.  The Great Divorce is also a fantasy, but along different lines. 

Set in the “present day” (circa 1945), it’s about a C.S. Lewisesque character in the afterlife, and mostly chronicles his experiences and his conversations with real-life spiritual mentor George MacDonald.** The whole premise of the book is about how this afterlife is more “real” than the reality we know on earth. Walking on grass, for instance, is a painful experience because the grass is so Real in comparison to the ghosts who walk on it. 

(Anyone who has studied Plato’s Anyone who has studied Plato’s Republic may recognize parallels between this book and the “Allegory of the Cave” which I’ve personally always found intriguing.)

Like most of Lewis’ works, this novel has a lot of spiritual themes. The “Great Divorce” of the title is the division between heaven and hell, and the ghosts are basically at a “rest stop” on the bus route to either destination. The imagery is akin to T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, which might explain why I love this book and why I was so drawn to the Back Home CD.  
It was only after reading this book that I understood the song. “The weight of glory, if you held it in your hand / It would pass right through you” and “You drink the cup from the bottom, but it burns in your hands” finally made sense.  

So my mom bought a CD at a book sale. But it turns out the CD was somewhat influenced by books. As I said, sometimes things come full circle.

*And if anyone does know the backstory or reference of the song, please comment below because it’s been driving me crazy for about ten years.

**Author of several books in his own right, I’ve only read the children’s fantasy books The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie, neither of which I liked but since they apparently inspired Narnia I can’t be too critical.  (...Yet.)

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