Saturday, August 29, 2009


I remember looking at the list of books, and it had Siddhartha and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in it. I remember reading both as a child, and I was interested to see what the First would make of it (and the Second, as well). What these books have in common is the idea of a River.

I've always had this idle preoccupation for rivers; one of the first pieces of trivia I picked up was which rivers were the longest and biggest, and which civilisations depended on them. When books like PJF's The Magic Riverboat came along, I was greatly cheered. Every great city needs a proper river; the Thames is a small one relative to its great city of London — but as the lifeblood of that city, and with its many hidden tributaries and rivulets, it is one of great mythic power.

But as I read various riparian stories, I came to realise that in the end, Heraclitus the Ephesian was right when he said, "No man ever steps in the same river twice: for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man."

All the riparian tales are the same: a man (and sometimes his friends with him) proceeds down a river, and by the end, he is changed. If his is a classical hero's quest, he will return home, only to discover that home is no longer home and he has to 'sail beyond the sunset', as Tennyson wrote of Odysseus, in order to find his rest. This is as true of Huck Finn as it is of Odysseus, and it is true (in a metaphorical sense, of an allegorical character!) of Hesse's Siddhartha.

Life, it seems, is only an excursion down a river and back again. And like Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien's magnum opus, a person can try to go 'there and back again', but the sunset lands are everyone's last, true home.

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Blogger Augustin said...

that's so sad but true! time and tide wait for no man.

Sunday, August 30, 2009 4:38:00 am  

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