Friday, 23 March 2007

Images, books and a matter of theology

I had a very gratifying e-mail this week from someone who runs an animation studio saying how he and his wife like the Lamb among the Stars books. The company's web site is and it's well worth a browse of some of the animation samples. Rather jokingly, I replied that I would love to see them do animations of the Krallen and Allenix creatures that occur in the series and would be delighted to post them on my web page with due credit. And the answer I got back was the very kind one that if they had time they would try and create them. Many thanks! Now I hope they do manage to produce them because they have the talent to make some impressive renderings. But on reflection, I have realised that this has raised a number of issues, at least one of which has a very important theological consequence.

My main concern is this: whether in their heart of hearts, readers want writers to flesh out their creations with images, even author-approved ones. I wonder. Don't we actually prefer to be given that degree of freedom that allows our minds to create pictures? In other words, wouldn’t we rather to be given hints and intimation, rather than specifics which must inevitably limit our imagination? Isn't this why a good book is ultimately more enriching than even the best film? As a teenager my imagination was enormously nourished by Lord of the Rings and I was quite happy to draw pictures of how I felt Minas Tirith and Mordor looked. My imagination was much less nourished and prompted by the Star Wars films. The imagining was done for me. In films the universe is closed and limited. And although I count Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films as tolerable (they were certainly not the disaster that we feared) I still think the pictures in my mind are infinitely superior and closer to what Tolkien imagined.

In fact it's quite hard to think of books that have had author-approved drawings in other than children's books (for example, Pauline Baines drawings for C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books). The Dickens sketches by Phiz and Cruikshank and Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland are some of the few I can think of. In general, hinting seems to be more popular than describing. (As an aside, isn't this the attraction of maps in such books? Instead of telling us what a place looks like, they encourage us to conjure up an infinite number of landscapes and scenes). Is it perhaps better to sow seeds in our imagination than give us cut flowers? So, if I did get my Lostpencil images, I would make sure they were not seen as definitive but as ‘valid interpretations’.

Now, I promised that I would segue this into theology. It is this: in the Old Testament God clearly prohibits images of himself. That is in the ruling at the start of the Ten Commandments. Isn't this related? Making an image of a character is impoverishing because, in essence, it is limiting: it says ‘this is how he or she is’. And when our character is, as God is, unbounded in his nature, character and glory, it is vital there can be no such limits.