Monday, November 10, 2008

When Storied Words Make Their Way Into The World

I was reading an online article from TIME magazine a few days ago, a political article written post-election. It was one of those articles attempting to analyze how the election went and why. It was fairly interesting, but I confess I was sort of skimming along. Suddenly, a phrase jumped out at me. The author of the article was describing what she considered to be one of the more important facets of the election, the "youth vote." And what did she call it? "The golden snitch of politics..."

The golden snitch of politics. I couldn't help it: I started chuckling. It's not as though this is a highly creative or even necessarily unique use of the phrase...I've applied "golden snitch" myself when writing about the Harry Potter phenomenon (in a review I once referred to the wonderful themes of the stories, especially the ones that are so rich and ripe for fruitful conversation with children, as the "golden snitch" of the series). I daresay other people have used the phrase already in all sorts of other contexts, because it's a (literally) colorful phrase, and such delightfully handy short-hand. One knows immediately what any author who uses these words means: the big prize, the goal someone seeks or longs for the most, the elusive thing everybody is after.

Still, this was the first time I'd really noticed a Harry Potter phrase or word so casually applied in a mainstream journal dealing with a topic that was completely non-literary, so I thought I would make note of it. Because it's fascinating, isn't it, when "storied words" cross over into other areas of writing and discourse.

It got me thinking about Tolkien and Lewis, both such important writers in the 20th century. Have any of their phrases or words hopped over into common parlance? (Of course they published long enough ago now that some of their phrases might have done so and already faded from fashion...)

Not long ago I was making a written comment to a student in an online church history class. I can't remember the precise context, but I think we must have been discussing the marvelous unexpectedness and greatness of God at a certain time in history. And I wrote the phrase "Not exactly a tame lion!" fully expecting that an anglican seminarian would get that context without me having to spell it out. I don't know how easily one could use a similar phrase in mainstream culture and expect people to understand it, though given the ongoing popularity of the Narnia stories perhaps more than I think. (I do think they've tried to tame the lion considerably in the movies...though that's "a horse of a different color". Hmmm...there's another one....)

So I'm curious. Can you think of an instance where you've heard someone use language from a beloved story (Harry Potter, Tolkien, Lewis, or any other) in a completely different context? Did it surprise you to find it where you found it? make this even more fun...are there certain words or phrases from stories you know and love that haven't crossed over into common usage but you think they could...or wish they would?


Erin said...

Hmmm... I need to puzzle that out a bit! I feel like there must be some, but nothing's springing to mind immediately.

I think I might have done a double-take if I was reading that Time article. It's the sort of thing that wouldn't be too surprising in Entertainment Weekly, but it's pretty cool seeing it used in a way that's completely separate from the world of books and movies.

Beth said...

Yes, that's exactly how I felt. I was reading along, not thinking of anything remotely connected to Harry Potter, and the phrase popped up and surprised me! I guess you know you have really permeated culture when your words and phrases become common enough for people to use in very different contexts, confident that the majority of the reading public will understand it immediately. Kind of cool. :-)

Edna said...

Hi Beth!

I was trying to think of some, too, but haven't yet. It seems sometimes to go the other way around, too--words from pop culture that then make it into books.

I wanted to tell you that I finally read "March" after you had blogged about it. I liked it, though it made me realize how hopeless the world is without Jesus--that a deist faith doesn't really cut it. Just FYI!

Beth said...

Edna, glad you read March! It didn't make me comfortable, but I still found it highly creative as a riff on Little Women, such a well-known and very different kind of novel and one I've loved for so many years. I found *March* moving and powerful, though not particularly happy or ultimately hopeful.

I hope that you still found it a good reading experience (especially since you read it on my recommendation!). I know such books are not easy, but I think it's important sometimes to read well-written stories of "lostness" that really describe the deep dilemma of the human condition without God. Not that that is ever the whole story (thanks be to God!) about our world, but I think such stories, when written honestly (and not as a tribute to nihilism or despair) can keep us mindful of suffering and grounded in the need to spread the hope of Jesus.

I would guess the portrait of March's faith is at least somewhat accurate as a description of the kind of Christianity espoused by the Alcotts and some of their friends. Definitely elements of deism, and a sort of pious but sincere liberal humanism...I think for the Alcotts it was all mixed up with transcendentalism and German romantic philosophy too. When you think about it, even the faith life presented in Little Women often comes across as fairly bound to a kind of "works-righteousness." (Right as I said that, a Beth March quote popped into my mind: "I know I'll get my music sometime if I'm good.")

One of these days, I think I'd really like to read more about Louisa's own Civil War experiences...