I was recently invited to join a very small, very exclusive book club, an invitation I accepted with alacrity and gratitude. I don't know what the other two members call it, but I am calling it the Not Quite the End of Your Life Book Club, with a nod of the head to Will Schwalbe and his beautiful memoir of a similar name.
I'll write about the book club soon. This post is about my facepalm moment (yes, facepalm is usually written as one word) when I finished the most recent selection.
The book was Hyperion, the first of a four or five book series by Dan Simmons. Hyperion is science fiction work, a genre I almost never read. This one is cleverly crafted, with a framework based on The Canterbury Tales and with the poetry and persona of John Keats woven throughout.
It was the last two pages, however, that caused me to realize just how clueless I have been for the last half century.
Pilgrimages fascinate me. There is the Santiago pilgrimage. There is my pie pilgrimage. The Canterbury Tales are the stories of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, a shrine to the martyred Archbishop Thomas Becket. The characters in Hyperion are taking part in a pilgrimage, one that may end in the death of them all.
In the final scene, the Hyperion pilgrims are descending into the dark valley of their destination. One of them starts singing a tune to his infant daughter, an old, old tune from an Earth long gone. The other five pilgrims pick up the tune and the lyrics, and are soon stepping along with lighter hearts. As the path broadens, they shift from single file to six abreast, linking hands. "Still singing loudly, not looking back, matching stride for stride, they descended into the dark valley."
"We're Off to See the Wizard."
Dorothy (Judy), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, arms linked, on the Yellow Brick Road headed to the Emerald City.
And my facepalm moment?
HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED SEEING THAT THE WIZARD OF OZ IS THE GREATEST POPULAR CULTURE PILGRIMAGE EVER?
I have read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz dozens of time. I have seen the MGM movie countless times and consider it my all time favorite movie. I mean, come on!
And after all those viewings and all those readings and all these years, I didn't get the pilgrimage theme? I didn't get that Dorothy and her traveling companions were on a pilgrimage to gain knowledge or understanding or self awareness to a shrine to a wizard who some doubted even existed? I didn't get even a hint of that?