A Conversation between P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins) & Laurens Van Der Post (The Heart of the Hunter)
Travers: I wonder when everyone there has a gun and a television set, what will happen to the ancient lore? Only today I was reading of the increasing number of suicides among those who leave the wild for the cities. Lacking the extended family, separated from the tribe, and therefore from the stories, what have they to lean upon? Already the stories are becoming unavailable to those who need them most.
Post: It seems to me that without stories, human beings wouldn’t be here. Human beings are a story; they are living a story and anyone open to this story is living a part–perhaps all–of themselves.
And the story is one of the roots of this area, this area from which myth arises, which sustains and feeds the human spirit and enables man, and life on earth, to be greater than it could otherwise have been.
Travers: And that’s what men are now hunting for–for life’s sake, one could say–and they think they can get it by inventing the kind of thing that brought Roots to all the television screens in America.
Post: I thought it was appalling, phony and untrue to myth and even historically untrue. And what makes it so sad is that it comes out of the genuine longing of millions of people for roots, those millions of people who do not realize that in the most profound sense, we carry our roots within ourselves. They need not be physical roots, which is what this man has tries to provide, a phony kind of physical source for what, in a sense, is the super-physical, a hunger for roots in the myth.
Travers: I would say that really we don’t even need that “super.” It exists. It courses in our blood, carried along from one generation to the next–wouldn’t you agree?
Post: I would. I only use the word “super” as a substitute for the whole process which moves and works within us.
Travers: It’s the same with the word “supernatural.” For me, the natural includes the “super.” And this brings us to what you wrote in, I think, The Heart of the Hunter, where you say–or, rather, the Bushmen say–“We are dreamed by a dream.”
Post: Ah, I was very moved by that because, being in the company of a very ancient form of man, a Stone Age hunter in the Kalahari Desert, I was pressing him to tell me about the Beginning, his idea of the Beginning and the beginning of those stories you were speaking of. He looked at me in astonishment and said, “Well, that’s a very difficult thing because, you must know, there’s a dream dreaming us.” And this seemed to me to sum it up, to arrive, for instance, at the point where all explorers of the human spirit have begun–and also ended. It leads us to Shakespeare’s famous conclusion in The Tempest, one of the last plays he wrote, where he comes face to face with the fact that he has exhausted all his own powers, come to the frontiers of himself, where something other than what has brought him to this point must now carry him on. You remember the epilogue–
“And my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer…”
But even before that he has come to the conclusion that
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”
And what is the distance between him and that little Stone Age man who had never before seen a white man and never heard of Shakespeare? For his own myth inside him tells him: “Look out! Watch! Listen! a dream is dreaming through you.” And this enriches him. It seems to me that this man, whom everybody else thought of as poor, despised, rejected, was rich in a way that we, without our technological abundance, are destitute.
From my first book, The Way of Story, here is the Prologue:
In the beginning was story. The caveman rushed back to his tribe and excitedly acted out his encounter with some Paleolithic beast. This was his story and forever after he would be remembered by this story. Every story has a sacred dimension not because of gods but because a man or woman’s sense of self and her world is created through them. These stories orient the life of a people through time, establishing the reality of their world. Thus meaning and purpose are given to people’s lives. Without story, we do not exist. The Way of Story is how we discover who we are.
– Catherine Ann Jones, The Way of Story: the craft & soul of writing