To betray my bias at the beginning, I greatly enjoy my forays into Lawhead’s works. I was first pointed to their historical richness by way of discussing a reinterpretation of the Robin Hood myths. If you ‘ve read or talked to me about this, you will know I hold a deep love not only for hearing ancient characters revived but especially for those which appreciate the context in which such characters first find listening ears amongst their audiences.
In my adult years I have found both the Robin Hood gests and Arthurian tales fascinatingly stirring. Perhaps too often I have stolen time away from more pressing concerns to delve into these works in as raw of a form as I can find. (For which particularly I would here recommend Rochester University’s resources for the mildly curious in all things Robin Hood/Robyn Hode.) I was overwhelmed in seeing C.S. Lewis’ uses of the Arthurian legends in The Space Trilogy (most clearly and especially in The Hideous Strength) and this at last turned me to engage particularly with Lawhead’s works. I stumbled through the Pendragon (Arthur) Series as quickly as my studies would allow and finally have begun the King Raven Trilogy which details Lawhead’s interpretation of Robin Hood as a dispossessed Welsh nobleman utilizing the forest for protection. But sadly, I could n’t find the second in the series at hand (I rarely deviate in a series or skip ahead to the end of a book…a sentiment not shared by my fiancee).
At last I draw to the point. In picking up The Iron Lance, I find much of my reading to match with the broader picture I gather from Lawhead. He commonly venerates a certain combination of druidic and Christian personas which appreciates both the depths of wisdom attained by the bards and the recognition of truth in the person of Jesu and his role as protector, healer and redeemer. This, thankfully, naturally led me to expect much good to come from three peculiar monks (Ronan, Fionn, and Emlyn) who, despite the main character Murdo’s aversion to the church and those who bear her name as a profession, befriend their fellow traveler as they embark for the conquest of Jerusalem. I won’t further discuss the contents of the story but to mention, finally, what has especially struck me: the way these monks describe themselves.
Emlyn describes rapturously to Murdo the glory of his home, Dyfed:
“[T]he Cymry, blessed of the Gifting Giver with all the highest boons, were also given a solitary affliction lest men of other realms and races eat out their hearts in hopeless envy. Heaven’s Most Favored were endowed with an irresistible taithchwant so that they might not become too proud in the enjoyment of their many-splendoured homeland.” Emlyn goes on to describe this taithchwant as the affliction of wanderlust — “that gnawing discontent which drives a man beyond the walls of paradise to see what lies over the next hill, or to discover where the river ends, or to follow the road to its furthest destination.”
It is only equaled by the hiraeth; “the home-yearning — an aching desire for the green hills of your native land…for the sound of a kinsman’s voice…for the food first eaten at your mother’s hearth…and therefore,” he concludes, “We are forever pinched between the two most formidable cravings men can know, and therefore we cannot ever be happy to remain in one place very long.”
~ pp. 217-220, Iron Lance
This strikes me rather to the core — this being pinched between taithchwant and hiraeth; wanderlust and home-yearning. I feel such urges have gained strength through reading, but also there is some sense in which the traveler never seems to set out in any search for an adventure. It ‘s rather Tolkienesque — as I ‘ve grown to actively seek travel I find that the desire for home never departs. To some extent I ‘ve worked out that home is, and I think should be, far more about who than where — it ‘s about both the family one finds naturally and the kinship brought about by the travel-experiences. That thought has helped at times.
At moments this pinching can feel especially unforgiving; as if neither in staying put nor venturing out do we find home. Perhaps this is only the plight of humanity magnified – shown most clearly due to the trials particularly offered by travel. Are we not all, as S. Kierkegaard would have, the infinite finitude and the finite infinite — we understand ourselves by understanding what we are and what we are not. We best understand ourselves in the searching and anxious grasping which reaches out from death to life. So too, travel by nature alienates but such alienations drive us to experience more drastic (and we may feel genuine) expressions of humanity.
I can’t say to where, or list any of the who’s save one, such paths lead. The scandal of particularity requires that choosing one where negates choosing another. So too, one can only accompany or be accompanied by so many. Our tales cannot be described wholly either in bardic lament or by way of gest, but surely they shall be full, and one yet hopes; a blessing. Shall this dance be proved worth its strains?