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#48: One Thing Leads to Another

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue.

I love how one thing leads to another. Writing about plants in Traveller led to trying to learn a bit more about botany so I could write convincingly; that led to enough of an interest to bother picking up Flora of Middle Earth (Judd & Judd)1 which I might have otherwise laid aside; that in turn contained a bibliography which mentioned a book called Tolkien’s Sacramental Vision (Bernthal)2 which caught my eye enough to buy it; and next I’m reading a quote which inspires writing this for Freelance Traveller.

“The Catholic sacramental view of life is one that sustains and supports at every turn the vision that the storyteller must have if he is going to write fiction of any depth” – Flannery O’Connor, quoted3 in Bernthal.

Bernthal argues that this is a particularly Catholic view, different “in degree and kind” to even Protestant views of the world having a sacramental dimension. I’m not convinced he makes his case as some Protestants do indeed have high views of life and the environment but I’ve written previously about the way nature draws me closer to writing better Traveller and Traveller draws me closer to God as I explore different acts of ‘creation’. I don’t think I would go as far as saying I write fiction of any “depth” … but it can be a goal.

Bernthal goes on to say: “the tendency to see the numinous in the world is prevalently Catholic” (p.14). I’m understanding numinous to mean ‘having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity’. And I can see how Catholicism encourages it, but I’m pretty sure it’s been encouraged in my upbringing as well.

This is beginning to sound like a digression into the Protestantism vs Catholicism which isn’t my intent. I simply wanted to point out, or perhaps reiterate, the numinous in Traveller. ‘Seeing’ individuals, either as characters or NPCs and crafting their physical selves and personality; thinking up worlds and designing their ecosystems and cultures; looking for story and the betterment of life. (Maybe not always!)

I’m fully aware that you can enjoy, play and referee Traveller without any reference to God or spirituality at all, and that’s fine – it’s a broad church. Witness all the different rules, eras, alternative universes and so on. But in the act of creation – as a referee in creating worlds, NPCs, plots, or as a player in creating character, relationships and story – we’re demonstrating that we are indeed ‘made in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27) as he first showed himself to us a creator and sustainer of life (Colossians 1:16-17).

I started with Tolkien so I’ll finish with him and his wonderful character Barliman Butterburr for whom “one thing drives out another”. It’s all too easy in our busy lives to let the ‘next’ thing drive out the ‘better’, but more desirable is one thing leading to another as we seek out the numinous in our day-to-day existence, in our gaming, in our lives.