I recently watched the final episode of Stephen Fry’s Planet Word. It was all about writing, and it was all kinds of wonderful! Stephen Fry is a writer himself, but this was mostly about the effect wonderful writing has had on him. I don’t think I’ve actually read a lot of the authors presented in the episode. It did induce me to purchase a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 and I might just read a Stephen King book. The last Stephen King novel I tried to read was Misery. I got through the second or third chapter and couldn’t continue. I could not be dragged into that horrible woman’s twisted, nasty world. Which, when I think about it, is a testament to the skill of the author. However, a skilled author ought to be read and I just couldn’t read that book! (Also, scary things keep me up at night so I’ve avoided most of his work.) The episode really is about the power of the written word to move us and connect us. One of the most interesting sections of the episode examines Homer’s Odyssey and James Joyce‘s Ulysses. The archetypal characters and themes set out in the Odyssey carried as much weight in Joyce’s story in the early 20th century as they did thousands of years ago. No doubt they will remain important to humans thousands of years in the future. The best part comes about 49 minutes into the episode. A recitation of W.H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’. A testament to the power of a lovingly, skillfully crafted poem. If you’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral you’ve heard this poem and you probably cried. I didn’t remember hearing this before. It brought tears to my eyes. Do take a listen to Stephen Fry’s recitation and watch the piece from the film, but also find a copy of this gorgeous poem and just be with it for a moment. It is awe inspiring.
Finally, writing is nothing without a reader. All the authors, playwrights, songwriters, poets and screenwriters presented in this episode are master writers. Their love of language and storytelling is evident by the persistence of some – Shakespeare’s work is presented all over the world half a century after his death – and by the awards and acclaim of others – William Goldman’s ‘Marathon Man’, ‘Princess Bride’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (to name a very few of his novels and films). Their words engage the reader, viewer, listener with their own emotions, with universal archetypes, with memories, with other humans. The written word is indeed powerful. As Mr. Fry said in closing this series, ‘Read and read some more for therein dwells the story of us all.’