The comment said, in effect, that writing a few novels won’t stem the tides of darkness and the threats facing Western Civilization. The writer was, and is, quite correct, except . . . there have been a few times when a book changed enough people’s minds to tip a close balance. And there have been a few cases in history when one person made such a difference, or inspired such a movement, that it shifted societies and cultures, sometimes for the good, sometimes for ill. I don’t aspire to be that person – I’m not Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Paul of Tarsus, or Siddhartha Gautama. I’m just a writer and a teacher, a historian and occasional blogger. But if one spark touches two candles, and they touch four more, and another sixteen, and so on, the whole world might be lit. The first match will have burnt out, but the fire started somewhere.
One candle appears in a lot of places, as does a lamp. “Don’t hide your lamp under a bushel.” The parable of the woman who lost the coin, cleaned the house and lit lamps, searching until the lost was found. “It is better to light a lamp than to curse the darkness.” The Wall Street Journal’s annual Christmas editorial, “In Hoc Anno Domini” about Paul of Tarsus spreading the ideas of Jesus about individual worth in a world made peaceful by the armies of Rome – peaceful only so long as you were a friend of Rome. I grew up humming Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Light one Candle (for the Hebrew Children)” about the Feast of Lights, and going to the big Hanukkah festivities at the local Hebrew School, and reading Susan Cooper’s books about five children who helped defeat the forces of the Dark. (And singing “It only takes a Spark” about ten dozen times too often.)
I’m not a great writer. I’m not David Weber, or Susan Cooper, or Robert Heinlein, or Dave Freer, or Geoffrey Parker, or Donald Worster, or Stephen Runciman, or Charles Dickens, or George Orwell. I write stories, some better than others, about people who try. They might not always succeed, and sometimes they pay high prices, but they try, and they do their best to live with honor by their lights. The stories I tell are just stories, just novels.
One novel will not turn back immorality, spiritual emptiness, hatred for the idea that all men and women are valuable for themselves and not because of who they were born to or for, and other ills. One novel probably won’t stop ISIS and its ilk from committing evils that would make Vlad Tepes stare in awe and wonder. One novel won’t convince society that individual responsibility is the first step to true independence and personal security. One novel won’t stop a bullet (unless it is the leather-bound hardback of the first Game of Thrones book, or War and Peace in German translation). One novel won’t convince the people of the Western World that more, larger government is not the answer to everything that ails them, from rude neighbors to climate change to paying for education.
But if one person reads my novels and is able to hang on a little longer . . . If one person reads a novel, or a history book, and feels a kinship with someone who survived and grew from trials and tribulations . . . If an audio book buys someone mental space and a brief escape that allows them to try once more to help a loved one or to face a miserable job that pays the bills with a little left over and that lets them stay near someone they love . . . If a story plants a seed that blooms years later in a heart grown bitter and opens it to love and hope . . . If a story shows a child that there’s a better world and they can get to it if they reach and strive . . . If a story gives pleasure, tickles laughter in a dark time, brings a smile when smiles seem impossible . . .
How many more sparks will that laughter, that smile, that hope, throw off? How much farther will that child reach, knowing that the dragon-princess could do it, or that Florence Nightingale did it, or Ben Carson, or Jim Thorpe, or Eugen von Savoy, or Lessa of Pern, or Honor Harrington, or Johnny Rico, or . . . Elizabeth von Sarmas, or Rahoul Khan, or Alexi Zolnerovich, or Rada Ni Drako, or Rigi Bernardi?
Writing one novel, or a few novels, won’t save the world that I value so much. I agree completely.
But I can plant a standard where a standard never flew. I can strike a spark. I can light a candle. One candle.
And perhaps, just perhaps, ” . . . the Darkness overcome it not.”
Edited to add: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for stopping by.