Misled and Misleading (or embarking and returning)

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?


4 responses to “Misled and Misleading (or embarking and returning)

  1. Strikes a certain cord, well said. I have also found that after a long journey, and once the newness of home wears thin, a desire to make home new and more personal kicks in. The appreciation of being blessed with a home to return to, coupled with the lessons of the people and the journey, change and color the life of the traveler to a point that alienates them still at home (location of childhood.) So in essence, once departed from a home, a return to the same place and people is, in essence, a journey of rediscovery of identity and location. Nothing is quite the same for the traveler, though the location and people may yet still be just as you’ve left.

    I’ve heard it best in the song ‘There are Giants in the Sky’ from the musical Into The Woods. As with most theatre it’s best experienced live, but the gist is that I’ve found that I wish I could stay some what in between where I was at first and where I’ve come to travel.

    I find the journey beautiful with the faith that a true home exists at the end.

  2. Beautifully written and expressing my sentiments on this subject exactly. Leaving only to return and returning only to leave has been a recurring pattern in my life so I can identify with a lot of what you have written. I can also testify that the constant yearnings for a home was never satisfied once I found myself established in a country nor has the desire to explore other places been cured despite having been to so many. I think I am still on a quest to find the One Who Cannot Be Fully Known and Whose beauty is manifest in so many different ways (e.g. nature, people, experiences, and such) that it requires a lifetime and eternity to find out. I welcome the adventure I’ve been called out to go on–this journey of discovery–and am glad that my traveling companion is a person, who understands the tension and where it all leads to. 🙂

  3. What’s the saying — “you can never go home”. That seems to express a bit of it (and I’ll always go back to Heraclitus’ “You can never step in the same river twice”) – tying this to my last post a bit, we associate the idea of ‘home’ with a certain notion of ‘here-being’. There’s a certain way people talk and look at things, cook and share their food, and a whole list of things we never list which we associate with ‘being home’. But this notion of home is past – it is there – and that there almost looks like here, but not quite. Those who never leave may fail to notice — staying well planted in the river won’t keep the river the same either.

    The question then is…whether to grasp for the thing never offered – having the river completely as it was. Or, we may grasp for the best of what was there whilst we are here and can be thankful for the measure of goodness in consistency we manage to find.

    Thanks Dennis & Ki – always appreciated 🙂

  4. You’ve an interesting discussion here. I was drawn to it first by the mention of Stephen Lawhead. I discovered his books last year, reading (and reviewing) Taliesin and Merlin. They are very good books, and I’m now reading his Patrick, about, well, St. Patrick. I also bought Hood, because I too am fascinated by the Robin Hood legends, but haven’t started it yet.

    You’re right, I think, to call this kind of yearning Tolkienesque, although the yearning his characters have is more numinous, pulling them towards a higher realm for which they were made rather than the dust of this earth. This wanderlust and homesickness, though…I think I can relate to it. I love traveling — the three months I spent studying in Scotland was far too short, and I was not the least bit homesick. Had I my way, I’d travel everywhere, and have plenty of time to live in each place and call many places home! And yet…there’s a special comfort to the place where you were raised, where you have your roots, your family and old friends, your old haunts and sleeping spaces. Even imperfect as they are, our homes do give us a small taste of what heaven will be like. Heaven is the ultimate homecoming.

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