Since I was 9 or so, every couple of years I go through a phase where I am intensely homesick for something I never had. First it was the High Elves, the Elder Days, dimly hinted at in Lord of the Rings. When I finally had the courage to read the Silmarillion years later, it was good, better than I’d imagined, but still, it wasn’t that.
And then as a hyper-romantic teenager it switched over to Victorian medievalism, Tennyson style. That proved false pretty quickly, and so then I moved on to the Celts & medieval Ireland. But their mythology and fairytales wasn’t that either. Then a few years later in undergrad, it was seventeenth & eighteenth century Poland. The nineteenth century nationalist romantic nuts had nothing on me, guys.
Yes, it had everything to do with an golden age, with something that has been lost, something living and ancient, something to do with fresh rain on earth, with trees in a windstorm, and starlight on deep pools of water. Of large families long gone, of farmyards, of heroes, of courage, and of men calmly giving up their lives in desperate last charges.
I went through my last homesick-phase in 2008, I think. I thought I outgrew it, but I’m going through one again. This time it is about….East Asia before modernization. The world my grandfather used to look at nostalgically in the black and white photos from his war-torn childhood, the woman in their white hanboks and long dark braids, with children on their backs. I don’t know what is triggering it this time–possibly my grandfather’s passing feeling more permanent and his generation being the end of something lost forever (my foray into modern korean pop shows was extremely dispiriting… it iss completely blank, materialist, and modern–up to the gills so, like America). I’m embarrassed to say it, but I also think that part of what brought this on is watching the whole Nickelodeon show of Avatar the Last Airbender. Rant/Analysis for another day….the show was both charming & funny and incredibly epic, but parts of it were badly mauled by some Western hippie screenwriters who screwed up the end and made all the characters act out-of-character.
But part of what made the show so good before that was its constant references hinting about British/Japanese imperialism, Korean occupation, the tragedy of communism, the perks and flaws of nationalism, the corruption of ancient religion, technology vs. tradition, and all that. The best and most breath-taking character arc was that of the tormented Imperialist Japanese prince who is crazy obsessed with honor…and then has to figure out what honor really means in the first place.
Also, the show was gently hilarious, with characters that were so endearingly real in their quirks & flaws (until the hippie scriptwriters got involved and messed it up).
OK, I admit it. I got really into the show, and was pretty upset at the cop-out ending. Yes, it is still in the top 5% of shows I’m sure, and it’s a blooming miracle something that deep came out of Nickelodeon at all. But still….sigh. It could have been so perfectly epic & sweet. I’ll write more about it later.
But the odd thing is, it fills me with such a longing homesickness…for…I’m not sure. All I know is that I want to study Korean and Japanese, and the tragedy of would-be-heroes who fell for virulent nationalism, and of all the human decency and goodness that still happened by ordinary folk, between the horrors.
Maybe it’s the best mark of any piece of literature (be it a story, song, movie, cartoon, or videogame) that it makes me achingly homesick for something beyond itself. Something to do with the broken goodness in the human heart, and the wind racing through the sky. Something that somehow, I feel like people have been chasing for thousands of years, and perhaps have found long ago.