Memetic modification is the order again. I neither want to spoil the “surprise” of my final choice for favorite book (which of course will not be “final” and could in fact end up being multiple books), nor limit myself to the impossible task of one favorite passage. Some of my favorite books, like The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, are simply too large and wonderful for me to hone in on any single passage.
So instead I have chosen two passages from two books which speak to me in very different ways.
As through the hard rock go the branching silver veins; as into the solid land run the creeks and gulfs from the unresting sea; as the lights and influences of the upper worlds sink silently through the earth’s atmosphere; so doth Faerie invade the world of men…
That’s George MacDonald in Phantastes, a truly beautiful and dreamlike book. In describing the ways in which magic relates to the world of the book, he is also saying something about the way the spiritual world relates to our real world. And…(my brain is kind of dead right now, so I’ll point you to these posts to get an idea of what I mean by that.)
The next is from The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. It comes from the end of the book, is beautiful, and benefits from context which I cannot give you. +) The pages following it are equally beautiful, but you must earn them by reading the book itself.
Aquila reached for his best cloak, where it lay in a tumble, dark as spilled wine, across the foot of the low couch, and flung it round him, hastily settling the shoulderfolds. He was late, for there had been some trouble down at the horse-lines over the new Cymric steeds that he must see to, and the feast would have begun by now; this crowning feast for a new High King, who was the hope of Britain. He stabbed home the pin of the great bronze-and-silver shoulder brooch, and when he looked up again, there seemed to be all at once more warmth in the room, and more colour, for Ness stood in the inner doorway in a gown of thick, soft wool the colour of the apple flames. Roman in so many things nowadays, she had never taken to the pale colours that Roman ladies wore, and suddenly he was glad of that.
“I feel as though I could warm my hands at you, in that gown,” he said.
She laughed; something of the old mockery in her laughter still, but the sting gone from it. “My lord learns to say pretty things in his old age!” She came forward into the inner circle of warmth and light about the brazier…
…He half-turned towards the colonnade doorway, then back again, realizing he would probably not see Ness until after [the feast for] Ambrosius. “You look so pretty in that gown. I wish this wasn’t an all-male banquet.”
“I am sure that the Princes of the Dumnonii and the Lords of Glevum and the Cymru would be outraged if they found themselves expected to follow the Roman fashion and sit down to feast in the same hall with women, on such a state occasion as this!”
“Your people,” Aquila said, and was struck by a sudden thought. “Ness, do you see that it has come full circle? The Princes of the Cymru feast with their High King. Tonight Ambrosius will confirm Pascent as lord of his father’s lands and his father’s people. Tonight your people and mine are come together again!”
“Yes, I do see,” Ness said. “After twelve, nearly thirteen years.”
Aquila felt that he had been stupid in pointing that out to her as though it were a thing that she might not have noticed, when it must be so much nearer to her than it was to him. He wondered whether she had regretted the choice that she had made, almost thirteen years ago, but could not find the words to ask her.
And then Ness came and put her thin brown hands on his shoulders and said, as though she knew what he was thinking, “Have you regretted it?”
“Why should I regret it?” Aquila said, and put his hands over hers.
“I’m not beautiful like Rhyanidd—”
“You never were, but it was you I chose, in my rather odd way.”
“And maybe I’ve grown dull. Contented women do grow dull; I’ve seen it happen.” She began to laugh again, and this time with no mockery at all. “But at least I haven’t grown fat, as some contented women do.” She gave him a little push and dropped her hands. “Go now to this splendid all-male banquet of yours, before you are later than you are already.”
The meaning, the striking emotion, of this passage is gathered from all that came before it. Aquila’s long years of suffering, the heartbreaking way he and Ness married against both their wills, their years of bickering and misunderstanding. So much pain. But then, finally, to see them like this, where they have comfort with each other and both are surprised to realize that they do not wish to leave each others’ presence, even for an evening…oh my friends, all I can say is that this is the only passage of a novel to have wrung even a few tears of joy from my stubborn eyes. I love it. I reread it often on its own, and its power remains. It encourages me, sobers me, and causes me to praise God for His grace in allowing even flawed beaten creatures such as we to experience the joys of forgiveness, mercy, healing, and love.