The universal laws that to every down there is an up and for every vice there is a versa were some of the things that interested me when I was writing The Land of Decoration. My upbringing had been full of such dichotomies: God and Devil, the Son of Man and fallen man, salvation and damnation, within and without. Judith, the protagonist, is an artist, albeit a child, is mortal, yet (arguably) divinely inspired, laid low yet touched with fire. Recently I read that a guilt-based mentality goes along with one based on salvation; as does claustrophobia, delusion, paranoia - and expansive creativity, faith, and enlargement of the self. Opposites seem to fuel each other indefinitely. Adults who are violent were often bullied as children. The external is internalised. Then externalised again. That which is in, will out.
Opposites have historically inspired lots of poets too; Hopkins, Donne, Marvell, Dickinson, Emily Bronte and Blake, to name a few. Rereading George Herbert's poetry recently, a metaphysical poet that can ba dded to the list, I recently found a number of theme and phrasing that reminded me of TLOD, stemming from the Bible, from which both my novel and Herbert's poetry germinated. There is similar preoccupation with faith, prayer, sin, doubt, words, dust, with one thing approximating another (Herbert's poems often take the form of the thing they are talking about - an altar, for instance, as Judith makes replicas of her world in miniature in her bedroom) - and most surprisingly, something I then remembered from reading Herbert at university: a fascination with size and scale:
'If bliss had lien in art or strength,' Herbert writes, None but the wise or strong had gained it: Where now by Faith all arms are of a length; One size doth all conditions fit...'
'I tell myself that small things are big and big things are small,' Judith says, in my novel, 'that veins run like rivers and hair grow like grass and a hummock of moss to a beetle looks like a forest, and the shapes of the countries and clouds of the earth look like the colours in marbles from space.'
'Faith makes me any thing,' Herbert writes, 'or all That I believe is in the sacred story:
And where sin placeth me in Adam's fall, Faith sets me higher in his glory.'
'And I know that I am enormous and I am small,' Judith says, 'I go on forever and I am gone in a moment, I am as young as a baby mouse and as old as the Himalayas, I am still and I am spinning, and if I am dust then I am also the dust of stars.'
The concept of size did not seem to me to be obviously related to faith until after I had finished writing TLOD and saw that the two ideas often occur simultaneously. Judith lives within a matrix built of faith, which, in its close alliance with her imagination, makes it possible for her to perceive figurative mountains as molehills, mustard grains great trees, snowflakes an avalanche, and the model world stretching from the skirting board to the radiator in her bedroom, the whole world entire. The idea of a relative and subjective reality wherein 'one size doth all conditions fit' reminds me of Andrew Marvell's poem 'Upon Appleton House', Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World, and of course, Gulliver's Travels, each of which describe worlds effectively cut off from the 'real'. Faith is a leveller, of mountains and of people - or rather, only those who have already been 'levelled' can attain it, since there seems to be a certain emptying of the self out that is necessary before it can submit itself to putting faith in an Other.
I was amazed to even find in both a similar conflation of God and the adherent's identity: In 'Clasping of Hands' Herbert writes:
'LORD, Thou art mine, and I am Thine, If mine I am; and Thine much more Then I or ought or can be mine. Yet to be Thine doth me restore, So that again I now am mine, And with advantage mine the more, Since this being mine brings with it Thine, And Thou with me dost Thee restore: If I without Thee would be mine, I neither should be mine nor Thine...'
'There you are,' Judith says, very near the end of TLOD.
Then I stopped. 'It is You, isn't it?'
God said: 'Who else would it be?'
'I don't know,' I said. 'You sounded strange for a minute.'
'Different,' I said. 'Well - sort of like me.'
'Don't be silly,' God said. 'You're you and I'm Me.'
'Yes,' I said. 'Sorry. A lot has happened tonight.''
Judith, as for the poet, the ultimate desire (whether conscious, on Judith's part) is to embody the divine impulse completely, a complete and final enmeshing of 'I', 'You' and 'Me'.
Judith McPherson and George Herbert
Reading from The Land of Decoration