Saturday, 6 June 2015

Wishes Make the World Go ‘Round

What if everything around us—the world, the universe, and even our very lives—came from wishes?

"The last of Fantasia" from The Neverending Story (1984)

This is a theme that I’ve noticed in several books I’ve been reading, and it’s an idea that’s been lurking at the back of my mind for some time now. My most recent wrestling with this idea came when I read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (in print and audio). After reading about the mythical land of Fantastica’s slow road to ruin, the boy Bastian enters into the story itself, only to find that he is surrounded by nothingness. In the darkness, the Childlike Empress of Fantastica approaches him, after which Bastian whispers:

“Is this the end?” 
“No,” she replied, “it’s the beginning…” 
“Fantastica will be born again from your wishes, my Bastian. Through me they will become reality.” 
“From my wishes?” Bastian repeated in amazement.

He heard the sweet voice reply: “You know they call me the Commander of Wishes. What will you wish?” 
Bastian thought a moment. Then he inquired cautiously: “How many wishes have I got?” 
“As many as you want—the more, the better, my Bastian. Fantastica will be all the more rich and varied.” (Chapter 13)

Bastian has a blank slate with which to create an entire world—all he has to do is wish it into being. I was especially touched by the Empress’ suggestion that the more Bastian wished, the more “rich and varied” the world would be. That idea made something within me sing—could we really make the world brighter and more beautiful through our own wishes?

This thought reminded me of another passage I had read a few months earlier in Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street (print, digital, audio), a modern-day reworking of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this story, a teenage boy named Mack is in the middle of a war (of sorts) between the fairy king Oberon and the fairy queen Titania. Having been raised in a post-Enlightenment world where the quantifiable reigns supreme, Mack is surprised to learn that the immaterial, intangible, and unquantifiable play a significant role in the world around him: 

"That's what humans never understand," said Titania. "They're so seduced by the material world, they think that's what's real. But all the things they touch and see and measure, they're just—wishes come true. The reality is the wishing. The desire. The only things that are real are beings who wish. And their wishes become the causes of things. Wishes flow like rivers; causality bubbles up from the earth like springs. We fairies drink wishes like wine, and inside us they're digested and turned to reality. Brought to life. All this life!" (Chapter 23)

This sentiment of bending reality to your own will is essentially the same lesson—packaged just a little differently—in the international bestselling book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (print, digital, audio). A closely related and similarly successful book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (print, digital, audio), which was the source of this fairly popular quote (judging by the number of times it has been adapted on Pinterest):

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (Part One, p. 24)

This statement is inspirational, to be sure, but it’s inspiring in a very vague sort of way. There’s something, however, that the inspirational language of The Secret and The Alchemist doesn’t address: the fearful gravity of our ability to wish. Such gravity is highlighted in Magic Street—in the conflict between fairies, the wild dreams and secret thoughts of Mack’s neighbors begin to come true, leading him to ask Titania:

"How do you do it? How can you collect a wish and turn it into—something in the real world?" 
"Don't you understand? Wishes are the true elements underlying all the universe. Mortal scientists study the laws, the rules, the way the dominoes fall. But we can see underneath it all to the flow of wishes and desires. The tiny wishes of the smallest particles. The vast, complicated, contradictory wishes of human beings. If mortals had the power to see the flows, the streams of desire, if they could bend them the way we can, then they would constantly be at war with each other. They stay at peace only because they have no idea of what power is possible." (Chapter 20)

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, by Sir Joseph Noel Paton (1849)

If wishes are what lay behind and under and above reality—and if those wishes have the capacity to generate good, bad and everything in between—then we should all be much more mindful of our wishes.