2022 started off with a sprig of the fantastical. The first book of the year was The Ickabog by J K Rowling. Regular readers know that I am a fan of her work for children (Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, The Ickabog etc, but not as much of her works for adults such as the Robert Galbraith ones or other adult books) .
In any case, I was grateful for the first book of the year being one so classically told, and imagined. Her story is relevant to every dictatorship, and every place where power holds sway. One can see the influences of her work at the Amnesty International in the story. She shares some of these experiences in her graduation day speech at Harvard (Benefits of Failure & Importance of Imagination).
As the car made its ways past the hills wearing their green robes after the recent rains, I asked the occupants if they would be interested in a spot of Cornucopian story-telling. One nodded enthusiastically, the other reluctantly, and the third did not deign to indulge me with an answer. No special points for guessing the nod intensities with the personalities. But it is was nice to be able to read aloud to the folks in the car – enough to get them hooked anyway. Like I wrote in an earlier post, the best way to read out your favorite literature is in a locked vehicle.
The Ickabog is a fearful beast that Cornucopian children are frightened with. (The equivalent of the South Indian Poochandi). However, after an unfortunate accident – the cunning lords of King Fred convince him that the Ickabog is indeed real. They see it as a way of fear-mongering, and stifling transparency. As the improbable tale of the Ickabog was spread by the conniving Lords Spittleworth & Flapoon, the population was led astray into believing lies upon lies, and soon, very few had the capacity to unravel the web of lies, or had the motivation to do so. Their King Fred was a mild sort – cowardly, but also thoroughly lacking in critical thinking & administrative prowess.
As we made our way around the Getty Museum, we trundled around the French Art and there, on display, were the artifacts probably obtained after the French Revolution, when a number of these things made it to the wider world markets. Reading up a little on King Louis XVI there, the daughter described the king. ‘Wasn’t much of a King – he wasn’t particularly harmful or anything…’ and went on to narrate what she had read about him and the times. To my mind, he sounded remarkably like King Fred in The Ickabog (If you’d like to read the first chapter).
The old father & I have been watching the news for the past few days ( a bad habit that I need to snap out of), and it is disheartening to watch the same struggles for power continue in different settings. Tanks piling up in fits over Ukraine, power battles raging on in Afghanistan, Syria and the Middle East region. How many people involved on all sides to call the shots, plan the power grabs, use guile and flattery to achieve their aims?
Power, fame and flattery are a potent combination that can poison the best of minds. Mankind’s history should be good enough teachers, even if our stories and fables are not, but it isn’t. Every dictator in the history of the Earth was impaled upon swords dipped in this mixture, and yet, time marches on claiming its victims.
What was it that Einstein said of a peaceful, purposeful life?
“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”Albert Einstein