Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Toast to The Copious Cornucopia of Ancient and Modern Folktales

Before giving thanks this year, think on this: Words are an endlessly renewable resource.

Imagine: If an infinite number of turkeys pecked at an infinite number of computers for an infinite length of time, they would eventually type all our favorite novels, exactly word for word.  An even more exciting prospect is that they would type a great number of new novels that the world has never before seen.  The nightmare of sorting through all the random rubbish to find such gems would take an infinite number of pilgrims, and being Puritans, they may simply throw out all the best stuff for containing gratuitous witchcraft and hot inter-species sex scenes.

Obviously there is a better way.  Instead of implementing this absurd system of random word generation with a Thanksgiving-motif, society employs the humble writer, who types non-random words wracking their brains to find a combination that pleases everyone.  Everyone except the Puritans.

Word combinations are free and infinite.  Other harvests require real-world resources, such as lumber, steel, plastics, fuel, factories, fertile ground and seeds.  The harvest of Thanksgiving requires agricultural infrastructure and assembly lines to fill the cornucopia with plentiful food.  But to fill the mind with ideas and images, this takes only time.  Time, an imagination, a bit of electricity, and fast-moving fingers.  The cornucopia of fiction overflows, and will always overflow, until the sun itself stops shining, the oceans dry up, and the last human is no more.

It is a human trait, to pass on these stories, since ancient times.  One of these stories, imagined by myth-makers long ago, told of the god Zeus who grew up in a cave.  Some of our favorite urban fantasy protagonists were raised by wolves, but this one was raised by a goat.  Now there's an old twist on a new trope!  The goat's name was Amalthea.  One day, while tussling playfully with Amalthea, Zeus underestimated his strength, and broke off one of her horns.  Regretting this accident greatly, he made amends by blessing the horn with the power to grant all wishes.  Any material riches a person could want would be granted to anyone who possessed this horn of plenty.

I'm not sure how this helped Amalthea, since everyone would covet such a treasure and try to steal her horn away, but old myths often have a lot of plot holes.  Regardless, a lot of people really liked this story, and it lives on to this day.  It is where we get the cornucopia symbol, overflowing with the bounty of harvest, every Thanksgiving.  This is also where the unicorn myths originated, so it would not be too outrageous to create a new holiday mascot: The Thanksgiving Unicorn.

So here's to a wonderful holiday to you all.  May your cup overflow with books, words, beautiful ideas, far away places or strange creatures in familiar places nearby.  May your plot be twisted, your mind expanded, and may your protagonist always win in the end.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Luna Lindsey


Anonymous said...

Are words really an endlessly renewable resource? Our brains can only create a finite amount of them in our lifetime.

Luna Lindsey said...

Great question. :) Trying to keep me technically accurate. I would argue that they are. We do not judge the limits of other resources on individuals... Trees are endlessly renewable, even though one lumberjack is limited to a few hundred trees (a few thousand if he uses heavy machinery).

There are millions of writers, and each generation only brings more of us. We're like ants, or zombies, finite at any given point in time, but always growing in numbers. When you multiply that by the word combination we spew forth... Well it's not technically infinite, but it's not like lithium or oil... we're not scheduled to run out any time soon. :)

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