“The sad truth is that many of us approach literature more like a textbook than like a love letter."
— Adapted quote from Ruth Haley Barton
From Cave to Cave
From Cave to Cave, that is my very short summary for Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book The Buried Giant: A novel. Plato’s cave marks the start. That is a place where people live since childhood chained, forced to see only the cave walls. They see solely shadows. Their world is one of interdiction and limitation. When one of them leaves the underground cave, will he believe his eyes or his experience?
Ishiguro's imagined cave is the 6th century Britain enveloped in fog. A mist conquered land as well as time. People no longer remember their history nor their yesterdays. Most of them can't imagine change. Yet for Axl, an aged man, his neighbors’ attitude towards knowledge is unsettling. With little comfort left, few memories active, and yearning after their son, Axl and his wife Beatrice seek answers about their past. When they gather enough supplies, leaving no debt behind, they depart the village. Something stronger than themselves, a son they barely remember, is what they are fighting for. The same as the freed man from the cave, they need clarity.
Certainly, searching for truths is a righteous path to take. However, the couple concerns about the future. Theirs and their home's. What dangers reside in the lacking memories? On their path they encounter an older woman who takes vengeance on a boatman. The boatman’s mission is to cross people to an island of prosperity. They arrive there as individuals, seldom as couples, families.
The boatman states that exceptions are made only for those that have a love strong enough. The old woman’s love did not measure up. Nonetheless, she blames him. This encounter drives Beatrice to wonder if without memories hers and Axl's love will survive. Would the boatman cross them the river?
Axl and Beatrice are Britons. For a night, they seek refuge in a Saxon village, more developed than the hamlet they left, more populated; also, more dangerous. The mist is affecting people’s attitudes, they are quarrelsome and brutal. Axl and Beatrice take on a new quest, as they agree to deliver a boy bruised by monsters to a safe Briton place. Along with them comes a Saxon warrior, Wistan. In spite of the need to find their son or answers, they become involved in others' adventures.
The boy, Edwin, was a casualty of circumstances. An unneeded cripple, he was offered to monsters. He survived, but a dragon poisoned him. Such that he now believed the dragon Querig was his mother. In murky times, innocence falls victim. In Plato’s cave, he might have been one oppressed by the oppressed. Even from sheer ignorance and superstition. People content with images on walls, might in time believe their own minds’ fears and imaginations are the reality.
From warrior Wistan and Axl's conversations, it becomes known that in the lost memories hide tragedy, war, and massacres, also pain and grudge. As the warrior’s memories become clearer and clearer, so does his hatred towards Britons.
On their journey, the boy grows stronger. However, the older couple turns distressed and confused. By now, they realize they no longer have a son, he died a long time before. Their lives can still have a purpose, though, and Axl can still protect Beatrice from evils and monsters.
(Spoiler) On their path, they encounter also old sir Gawain. A knight of Arthur, sustaining he is on a quest to slay the dragon Querig. Turns out he is protecting her. Turns out the dragon’s breath is responsible for the general loss of memory. Merlin and Arthur decided, decades before, to cast a spell in order to ensure peace. The ones governing decided that keeping people in darkness was safer for their well-being. The dragon is slain by Wistan, which was his goal all along.
Now, the world with memory restored could prove to be no better or even worse than the world before. Was keeping people in darkness a solution? The ones in power create caves and call them safe places. Yet, It should be up to the individuals to determine how they live, what they believe.
Jumping from fantasy to a nonfiction work, In The Time Paradox, authors Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd state the next idea:
"Your attitudes toward events in the past matter more than the events themselves. Psychologists have demonstrated that no one can be certain about what happened in the past, but our research has shown that what people believe about the past influences how they think, feel, and behave in the present. What good is the past? First of all, our pasts provide us with continuity and a sense of self."
Here is the entrance to the second cave, the one from Star Wars. Another nonfiction work, Rising Strong by Brené Brown, brought it to memory. It is the cave where one finds only what one takes in.
The narrative in The Buried Giant, at times slow, occasionally muddy, from time to time exciting, plays similar to an actual recovery of memory. The first questions that might appear are What can it mean? Who is right? Beyond them, an idea of higher substance can be found: the power of personal choice. Also, the truth that love and peace are not necessarily found in the mist or out of the mist, but should be taken into the mist. Even into the one of a fantasy novel.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a contemporary British novelist with Japanese origins. His eight novels are works of historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, contemplating themes as war, love, multiculturalism, society.
I found the quote from Ruth Haley Barton on Ello: