Since becoming the full-time nanny for my little granddaughter, my reading tastes have taken a decisive darker turn. Instead of the lyrical literary novels I’mm usually drawn to, I’ve been on a Viking binge.
It started with Bernard Cromwell’s The Saxon Stories, upon which the acclaimed BBC series “The Last Kingdom” is based. It continued with Judson Roberts’ “The Strongbow Saga“, Giles Kristoan’s “Raven Trilogy”, and James Wilde’s books about Hereward, the English hero that some claim the Robin Hood tales were based on.
The question puzzling me for quite some time is why this dark turn toward such violent reads? What is it that draws me to them and keeps me reading?
I may have found at least a partial answer in one of Kristian’s books, when the young Viking Raven muses on “the love of chaos.” How even in the most life-threatening moments, when absolute silence is needed to keep death from descending and destroying them all, part of him wants to cry out and “turn that still night into seething madness.” Part of him wants to “break through the thick ice of that mute terror, for even chaos would be better than waiting, than expecting the fire to reach out of the night and eat your flesh.”
Perhaps we’ve all felt a bit of that “love of chaos” at some time in our lives. Felt in the face of some extreme danger a wild giddy urge–to run the car off the edge of a dark winding road, to step off the edge of the cliff into the wild-blue thrill of free-fall. Perhaps all extreme sport enthusiasts harbor a bit of this in their hearts when attempting their death-defying stunts. The mad desire to push past the edge of all reason into a wild unknown.
Maybe my turn toward these violent reads is a dormant “love of chaos,” the urge to experience, if only vicariously, that death-defying thrill. To travel with these warriors into a dark unknown as they risk death and destruction in a daring quest for gold and glory. To risk all to see what great gain may stand on the other side. Or not.
I can’t help seeing some of this “love of chaos” playing out on the political stage today in what some have called a kind of “wrecking-ball” mentality in some American voters. Their impatience with restraint, nuance, diplomacy, and what they see as political correctness. The wild urge to tear it all down, all apart, and see what rises out of the ashes. They see Trump as wielding the wrecking ball that will destroy the status quo in the wild hope that out of such chaos will come gold and glory.
I’m far from being a Trump fan, but I do understand that wild impulse. In certain seemingly hopeless situations, throwing caution to the wind has a strong appeal. The desperate hope is that chaos itself will become the cauldron out of which a new, better world will emerge.
This urge toward chaos has strong a strong corollary in nature, in the violent upheavals that impose a new order: The shifting Teutonic plates that broke apart to create the continents and seas that sustain life today. The glaciers that ripped away vast chunks of earth to carve out spectacular canyons and riverbeds. The wild-fire that brings so much destruction, yet germinates new seeds for future forests.The list goes on.
“Out of chaos the dancing star is born.” So sang the poet.
Perhaps this love of chaos is etched into our DNA. We can’t escape it, but we can try to understand it, in ourselves and each other.
I’m hoping our better angels, our more reasonable natures, will prevail in the November election, and we do not trust our future to the chaos of wrecking-ball politics. But it’s important to try to understand what gives rise to these desparate tendencies. To not make the mistake of thinking we are above it all, that only the others, the so-called “deplorables,” have such dark urges. Hate, racism, xenophobia, terrorism–if we look deep enough into our own hearts and minds we will find the seeds of each, whether lying dormant or on fertile ground. We have to see this, and understand it in ourselves, before we can understand it in others. And learn to rein it in.
Young Raven learned to rein in his urge toward chaos that dark and deadly night, and he and his companions lived to fight again for gold and glory. Learning when to let our wilder urges move us forward, and when to rein them is what will move all of us closer to our own common goals, whether they be of gold and glory, or peace and prosperity and a better world.