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The Folk of the Air

Posted by on August 27, 2007

I remember once, in high school — it was just after French class, not that that matters — I got in a conversation with two or three other girls who were earnestly trying to convince me that the female orgasm couldn’t have been invented until the Renaissance. No way, they said, were ladies having a good time in the Middle Ages or before. I tried just as earnestly to talk them out of it, though this was before I read Shakespeare (“Graze on my lips, or if those wells be dry, stray lower where the pleasant fountains lie”) or Chaucer or any of those bawdy old reprobates who had known any number of enthusiastic women in their days.

I’m remembering this as I re-read Peter S. Beagle’s book The Folk of the Air, wherein one character is occasionally possessed by a ninth century Viking named Egil. “Egil didn’t think much of our civilization, the little he saw of it. He thought it was probably all right, for people who didn’t really care a lot about anything.”

Yes, quite right, I thought when I read this. I don’t much care about anything, none of us do, not like people used to do. And I bet it all comes down to how much cynicism we have now, how jaded the world is getting as civilization goes on repeating, not like how things must have felt when all the love-and-springtime metaphors were brand new.

Only now I’m realizing of course that’s nonsense. Cynicism isn’t new, and love-and-springtime metaphors were old the second someone first said them. I don’t go around feeling all the time because I haven’t had to, yet; you wait until things start happening to me and then I’ll be feeling all over the place.

It’s just like that old argument about the orgasms. It’s just like the first time you discover music or sex or the pleasure of laughing with your friends and you think whatever your parents knew was a dim shadow of this, this thing you’ve found out all on your own. I don’t think people change so much from era to era. I don’t think we change at all.

Incidentally, The Folk of the Air is a very good book that I think stemmed from ideas for several different very good books. You’ll like it if you are or ever were very into the Renaissance Faire and can still think of it without blushing for yourself. It also has a paragraph I’ve been quoting for years, a goddess talking about humanity, as follows:

“There is nothing like you anywhere among all the stones in the sky, do you realize that? You are the wonder of the cosmos, possibly for embarrassing reasons, but anyway a wonder. You are the home of hunger and boredom, and I roll in you like a dog.”

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