Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Choose Your Utopia

People have always dreamed of utopias -- ideal places.  Shangri-La  (an artist's vision pictured above) is one such -- a remote valley in the Himalayas where people live for hundreds of years, surrounded by beauty and indulging in every artistic and philosophic pursuit.
The Garden of Eden is one of the earliest -- an earthly paradise where man need not work for his food (is that a fried egg floating in the sky?)  -- a place of innocence where sin is unknown.

The Land of Cockaigne  -- a fantasy from medieval times -- was a place of abundant food and drink and idleness -- the dream world of a hard-worked, always hungry peasantry.

"The Big Rock Candy Mountain,"  -- the dream of a Depression-era hobo, complete with cigarette trees, lakes of stew, and whiskey trickling down the rocks -- is a direct descendant of Cockaigne.

The Heaven of the Bible, with its streets and gold and pearly gate is yet another sort of utopia -- for some. (In Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth, Book II, Twain points out that this sort of Heaven is a lot like an eternal church service  -- and many who pay lip service to the idea of Heaven as a goal manage to avoid the weekly services here on earth.)

Utopias have fascinated many a novelist -- from Hilton's Lost Horizon ( in my opinion, a much better book than the films it inspired) telling of the hidden valley of Shangri La . . .

. . . to James Gurney's wonderful land of Dinotopia -- where intelligent dinosaurs and humans coexist. These are wonderfully imagined and gorgeously illustrated children's books that more than a few adults will adore.

In fact, many children's books are set in utopian or near-utopian lands -- Oz and Narnia come to mind.

Here's one of my favorite fantasy lands -- Islandia is a strangely compelling work to me -- I find myself wanting to revisit it now and then just because I love the simplicity of this utopia -- a land of isolated farms when travel by horse or boat is the norm, a land that keeps itself apart from 'progress.' a land where manual labor and handicraft is valued -- as I said, this is a utopia that speaks to me.

What's your idea of a perfect place --your own ideal utopia?
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evalinn said...

We all need to dream! :-)

Brian Miller said...

without hunger, without war, we live together in harmony...i struggle with utopia as it seems at times in order to achieve it tere must be a gobal conciousness...

Mr. Stupid said...

That would be a great life to live. No war, no sorrow and nothing sad. I liked the "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" a lot. I sang along...:)

Have a good day!

June said...

I spent the better part of last week in my Utopia, right here at home. Nice weather, good books to read, a chair in the sun, green and birds everywhere I looked.

KarenB said...

on a merely personal level - a place where someone else does the laundry and cleans the bathrooms!

More seriously, the concept of utopias make me consider the necessity of struggle for human development. I think we need to strive, to work, to feel achievement in order to grow and become better people.

Martin H. said...

I'm a 'Neverland' boy, myself. After all, who wants to grow up?

Paul C said...

This is an excellent introduction to the utopian genre. I love the image of Shangri La you provide. Shangri La appeals to me because it's so far removed from our frenetic lifestyle. And the philosophical perspectives of moderation, toleration, and good manners are appealing.

Liz said...

Do you get Wordsmith's word-a-day? These words were all recently featured there. I remember when I was a little girl there was a book called "Baby Island" an island filled with pudgy, happy babies - nirvana for a little girl. Thank God we grow up! Now my nirvana is Horse Knob!

willow said...

My first "thick" book was Ozma of Oz in second grade. My idea of utopia would be a huge fried egg in the sky. Mmm-mmm. Over easy, please.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Not just no hunger and no war , I think , though that would be wonderful .
No malaria ,no cancer , no pain. No prejudice ,no fear , no petty meaness . No cold , no fatigue ....
But how far would you go ? Without any sensation at all , are we really there ?

Miss_Yves said...

Great subject !
Humm..I'd choose the first one...but only as a picture (or as a dream).

Utopia may become worse than reality.
It's the meaning of lots of books (and movies)about this topic(Brave new world , for instance)

Vagabonde said...

Congratulation on finishing your book – that is an achievement – and writing about 3,000 words in a day, and words that are well chosen and fit into a story, as we say in French “chapeau!” which means my hat to you (don’t know how it translates though.) The people in your book Islandia (which I don’t know) sound like the neighbors of my friends at The Farm in Tennessee. They are Hamish. My friend’s wife, who is a midwife, goes there to help birth their babies. She says they have no electricity, no running water and so on, go everywhere on foot or with horses or boats. They live a simple life – no phone, TV, etc. I would miss reading my blogs too much!

Friko said...

My utopia would be the place where I don't have to take me along.
Or maybe it could be the place where I take the perfect me along.

Vicki Lane said...

It's been a long day and I may not go visiting till tomorrow -- oh wait, it's Wednesday already. Well, after I sleep.

Way to go, June! How wonderful when your utopia is your home.

Good point, Karen. And that raise the question, can there be a utopia in which not everyone is happy and living well? Probably there have been slave holders in the past who may have felt they lived in an utopia...

Started to add Never Never Land, Martin, then I remembered the constant threat of the pirates and the fact that most of the Lost Boys really wanted to go home.

Thanks, Paul -- yes, Shangri La was pretty appealing "Here we shall stay with our books and our music ..." while the rest of the world was going mad.

Caught me, Liz! That's where I got the idea for this post!

I've been a huge fan of Oz from early on, Willow -- and Ozma of Oz is probably my favorite.

Excellent point, SandS! It it possible to really appreciate perfection if one doesn't have and occasional reminder of the other side?

Oh, yes, Miss Yves -- Brave New World was an AWFUL so-called Utopia.

Thanks, Vagabonde. In English we say "I take my hat off to you!" Probably similar!

The people of Islandia seemed to have more fun than the Amish -- they weren't so very strict.

Another interesting question, Friko! Would it, could it be utopia if we were our same old raggedy selves?