December 5, 2017

The Magic of Books

        Having mentioned last week the long, deep connection between writing and magic, this is a good time to share with you the inimitable Carl Sagan’s take on the matter.

        What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

        I am of the Carl Sagan “Cosmos” generation, a middle schooler when the show aired, watching it each week on PBS with my family.  (My children don’t even understand the concept of watching a television show when it airs!)  I confess that what I chiefly remember about “Cosmos” was how silly the dandelion spaceship looked, and Sagan counting like a whale: “Whoop!  Haw haw haw haw haw…”  So it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I remember and was inspired by this particular statement about books.  Still, I can’t imagine that it didn’t please me at the time, seeing what an avid lover of reading, writing, and books I was.
        At any rate, much of our reading nowadays is not done with paper books made from trees, but that doesn’t change the magic.  Indeed, is it not even a further height of magic that we can now send those funny dark squiggles instantaneously through the aether, to carry thoughts from mind to mind?  Never doubt that there is magic in the world!  Now let us be sure that we use the magic for good, not evil.

[Picture: Flights of Fancy, painting by James Gurney, 1996 (Image from Ideas Made of Light).]
Quotation from Carl Sagan, Cosmos episode 11, 1980.

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