Thursday, March 03, 2005

Recalling the Splendor of Mythic Rats

I awoke this morning thinking of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. For those who may not be familiar with this creature, he grew in mythic fame for my generation as a result of the efforts of Firesign Theatre.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought this Sumatran rodent into being with a passing reference in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire;

"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
Speculation regarding the identity of this strange creature has ranged from the African giant rat, which has been known to grow to three feet long, to the moon rat, which can be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The moon rat seems more closely related to a hedgehog than a rodent, but can grow to two feet long, from snout to tail tip, which some might feel qualifies it as a "giant."

I prefer to envision something along the lines of the depiction found on the album cover; a huge monster that would cause even the most mean-tempered grizzly to turn tail and scamper back to his cave. My version wouldn't be quite so cartoonish, though. Matted, stinky fur, with patches missing. One eye almost swollen shut from a previous battle. Sharp teeth protuding from a drooling mouth. And hissing...lots of hissing.

It seems that today "truth" has become a slave to empiricism. We're only interested in facts. We are losing the ability to think mythically; a loss that will make this a much more dreary world. Limiting creative expression hobbles our search for truth, and keeps the new thing that may be happening among us forever just beyond our reach.

Demi, my dear; when you left for school this morning and I advised you to beware of the giant rat of Sumatra, I was grieving the loss of the power of myth. I haven't completely gone over the edge...yet.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

- Wm. Wordsworth

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