by Keith Miller
“one cannot relive a moment of life save in memory, save in dreams” (Miller, 246).
After facing the desert, or more precisely, the Valleys of the Country of Death, Pico wakes up in the Morning Town.
What’s interesting about this chapter is that it opens in the present tense. The first chapter actually also starts in the present tense, which I didn’t even realize until this chapter. But here, the present tense continues throughout the entire chapter. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s supposed to convey a sense of immediacy, in-the-moment kind of experience.
The entire city hearkens back to an earlier time or civilization. The remains of gigantic statues and buildings lay scattered and half-buried in the sand. It feels like a place outside of time.
As Pico wanders among the ruins, after beginning to recoup, he wonders where the statues came from or “whether those ancient sculptors [had] been winged?” (243). I wondered the same thing and whether it the answers will matter. (spoilers: They won’t, as far as I can tell.)
Oh. I should mention that the Morning Town is populated by winged people. When asked if he’s here to get his wings, Pico answers that he is. To gain them, he must read the Book of Flying. But first, he sleeps and eats and generally recovers from his journey.
The entire ambiance of the place is very surreal; it feels not only out of place, but almost dream like. In fact, it’s said that the winged people who live there only dream of flying. And that got me thinking: is that a good life? To be always dreaming of the same thing? Do they have varied and fulfilled lives if the only dreams and motivation they have is flying? Since they have no past, as when Pico asks the winged man who greets him, who appears to have no memory of who he was before he came to the Morning Town.
But maybe I’m looking at it from a human perspective; maybe having wings creates a different type of cognition and way of relating to the world that is different than how I think.
Overcome with his own desire to have wings, Pico is taken deep underground where the Book of Flying lies. As he reads it, I believe the idea is that he’s reading his own story. Or specifically, the story that motivated him his entire life. It’s right there. Somehow. It’s the story of his life.
One piece of this reminded me of a new animated miniseries I’ve discovered called Over the Garden Wall. The basic premise is two brothers are lost in the Unknown and are trying to find their way home. Along the way, they encounter a talking bluebird, the Beast, a woodsman, and an assortment of strange, eerie, and amusingly asburd characters.
In one episode (Chapter 4: Songs of the Dark Lantern), the two end up at a tavern where everyone is known by what they are, e.g. tavern keeper, butcher, baker, master and apprentice. While trying to figure out what the older brother is, they eventually conclude he’s a pilgrim – someone who is on a journey to discover their own path.
Similarly, while Pico is reading the Book of Flying he feels that he has wandered without a destination “or perhaps like a pilgrim who begins a journey to a distant shrine but, distracted by strange lands and marvelous characters, arrives elsewhere and has forgotten why he has set off” (246).
Here, I think the idea is less that Pico is determining his own destiny and more than he always had a goal in mind. As he lived his life and went on his journey, he lost sight of it, but now that he’s found The Book of Flying, he has been reminded of what it was he really wanted and needed.
Do I necessarily think this makes sense? I’m not sure. It makes sense that someone could have an undercurrent drive that they’re not aware of that feels as if everything has conspired to bring them to a specific place. But I guess I felt that Pico’s journey was valuable to him than whether he actually got his wings or not. But, again, I guess, his desire for wings was really the important thing. I think.
After reading The Book of Flying, he sleeps and dreams. In his dreams, he believes he has wings and so he does when he wakes up. He also has no memory of how he got there or who he is. He flies and lives on the air and the sun and is content.
This lasts for a long time until he, by chance, finds his old notebook of poetry. After reading it and remembering, Pico “thinks it is more beautiful than his life of flight in the morning town, because it is sad” (250). And I wonder if that’s because the accompaniment of sadness is an indication of a life worth living. There’s challenges and experiences and variety. It’s not a single constant.
So this made me pleased, because I felt that it was confirming that yes, Pico’s journey had it’s own beauty too even if every story was leading him to one single story.
But because he remembers his journey, Pico also remembers why he came to get his wings: Sisi, the winged girl he loves.
I have to admit why does he love her? I don’t feel any interest or investment in Pico’s love for her because it feels more like the story is telling me he loves her. She feels like more of an inspiration than a character.
Additionally, “he realizes that her kiss is worth more than his wings, worth more than a lifetime of flight” (250). So…what does that mean? Is he going to give up his wings because he realizes what is truly of value? Because his journey’s taught him that love and respect is what make individuals full of life?
Finally, the chapter ends with the assertion that “[t]his act of remembrance is holy” (250). And I ask: why? how?
source edited for better definitions
- spindling: v or adj. 1.
- susurration: n.
- gilt: adj. 1. ; 3.
- interstices: : n.
“But what is the book about? you clamor. Tell us the story, show us those marvelous illustrations. Oh I could say it is about a thief, a sword, a dream, a whore, and wings of course, wings, and it is, but what’s the use? A fragment would tell you nothing for fragments of that book is in all books. The Book of Flying may be read only once, from beginning to end, at the far side of a journey undertaken for love, on which death is tasted” (246-7).
And my question is why? Why does reading this book give someone wings? How is it supposed to work??
Miller, Keith. The Book of Flying: A Novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2004. Print.