yarnspinners conjure us to different worlds
where Everyday’s reset, and tuned to Odd:
just ride the cyclone from a prairie farm
or follow that white rabbit down its hole
step through the wardrobe door to Narnia
or sail with Brendan for the Blessèd Isle …
yarnspinners do with words what Reutersvärd
and Escher do with lines upon the plane:
suggest that there is more than meets the eye –
delightful, yet enough to tantalise
as though within Life’s toil and fret and chafe
we hanker for a more conducive place
that’s just a border-crossing from our own
where all’s resolved, and we can feel at home …
To spin a yarn is an idiom for telling an improbable (and usually long-drawn-out) story, preferably deadpan … there are cycles of stories involving characters like Pecos Bill, Colorado Jack, the mythical giant Canadian lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe, and Australia’s Crooked Mick of the Speewah. Typically, such stories belong to the literary genre perhaps best known as “fairy tale”, even though they are very much set in the harsh realities of the everyday and involve no “fairies”. Mainstream Anglo-European-North American literatures include comparable yarns – I have referenced The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and the Narnia chronicles as representative.
Oscar Reutersvärd and Maurits Escher were visual yarnspinners, who drew “impossible figures” that initially appear real but when viewed as a whole cannot be “realised” (that is, physically constructed in “the real [3-D] world”, without violating the drawings), even though any sub-portion can be. When Reutersvärd was in his 70s, the Swedish Post Office issued a series of three postage stamps honouring his artistic achievement; the one illustrated features his signature.
Frederick Buechner has explored the preaching task through the genres of tragedy, comedy and fairy tale (Telling the Truth, 1977). The following excerpt helped inspire YARNSPINNERS:
(For) all its confusion and wildness, (the fairy tale world) is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run, everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name.[i]
It is perhaps this aspect of the fairy tale that gives it its greatest power over us, this sense we have that in that world, as distinct from ours, the marvellous and impossible thing truly happens. No-one speaks of this quality more eloquently (than) J. R. R. Tolkien. He writes that the fairy tale,
...does not deny the existence of...sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of the deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will), universal and final defeat...,giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
[i] Buechner references J.R.R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader (New York: Ballantine, 1966) pp 68-69