Questions for Introspection


There is a sort of post I sometimes see on Facebook. You are supposed to answer a series of online questions, and then it tells you something about yourself. Possibly which Hogwarts house you would be in, making in a stealth personality test. I don't fill these out myself. I already know that I am an incurable intellectual, and would thus be in Ravenclaw (although I'm willing to consider Elf if available). Sometimes there are amusing results, of course. I know a guy who is apparently going to Hell because he is too strong to be allowed in Heaven.

However, there are a few questions like this that float around in my brain and I do find useful. Given that this is me, they're all from books, of course, but still. I'm allowed to use books. These are presumably easier to understand if you have read the books in question, but I hope there is enough here to make sense of for people who haven't. As a side note, all of these books are well worth reading.
  1. From Momo, by Michael Ende (who also wrote The Neverending Story):
    The Grey Gentlemen argue that people waste a lot of their lives. Instead, they try to convince people to do things faster (and not do some things at all) so as to save time which can be used to do the things they want to. Until then, the time can be deposited in the Time Bank (which the Grey Gentlemen run). The Grey Gentlemen tailor their sails pitch to the individual (to a creepy degree), and they can convince almost everyone to do this. So the question is, what do they Grey Gentlemen say to convince you to save your time?

    My answer: I don't have a clear idea what I am doing with my life (except aging). So the Grey Gentlemen tell me that I am not making good use of my time at present, but if I put it in the Time Bank, I would still have it when I had a good use for it.

  2. From The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis:
    The damned of Hell sometimes get holidays on the edge of Heaven (most opt for Earth instead). While they are there, the saved try to convince them to stay. The catch is that whatever character flaws caused them to wind up in Hell usually keep them from traveling to Heaven proper. For example, an apostate theologian would rather debate theology, an oversexed woman keeps trying to seduce her guide, and a self-righteous man refuses to go to a Heaven that admits (repentant) murderers. Each of the damned has become a caricature of his/her former self, with his worst vice consuming his personality. (It's implied that the process continues until there is nothing of the original person left.) The question here is, assuming that you were one of these damned, what would make it hard for you to follow the person who came to guide you?

    My answer: In order to reach Heaven, I would first have to choose to do so. But I find decisions of any sort difficult, and they get harder the more is at stake. So I would probably be sitting, curled up in a ball, and repeating "I don't know what I am supposed to do" while my guide said "If you want to come to Heaven, it's this way". In this case, the loop is breakable by a simple claim to authority -- "You should come with me" -- but the allegorical natural of the question probably precludes workarounds like that.

  3. From The [Original] Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (a trilogy), by Stephen Donaldson:
    After a head injury, the protagonist finds himself in a fantasy world that appears to be a complex and distorted reflection of the protagonist's mind (an major question is whether he is hallucinating it). In the real world, the protagonist is has lost his sense of touch and is a social outcast, but in this world he has a new almost-telepathic sense and is greeted as a mythical hero. He was a bit scared of horses, and here the horses are big and scary. His wife abandoned him, and here he meets an order of men who have each abandoned their wives in order to protect the land from evil. This time the question is, if a world was built the same way out of your mind, what would it be like?

    My answer: Much of the world doesn't make sense to me, so I mostly try to stay with the bits I do understand. Blowing that up to world size, I wind up with what I tentatively call the Darklands. In the Darklands, there is only light in a few places, each the sight of a medieval-style town. When you are in the light, the world is much the same as ours, except that there is magic (because it's a fantasy world). But as you venture out into the darkness, the rules start to break down. Geography becomes variable, as does time. Physics becomes unreliable. There are wraiths and monsters. About the only thing you can do in the dark is look for a light on the horizon and try to find your way back to where the world makes sense again.

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