Never Here, Always Somewhere Else

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I was just reading in C.S. Lewis The Discarded Image (yes, that C.S. Lewis), when the concept of the Earthly Paradised came up.

I've heard of that before, of course, in the lectures at university. There is almost no mediaeval map where the Earthly Paradise isn't pictured at the top of the map - which is to say, somewhere in the east. Many of the travelers of this time were looking for that elusive place, without any success.

The paradise seemed always to loom just around the corner, and whenever they came around, it was still farther away – a Fata Morgana, or rather: an illusion of Fata Morgana, as "fata" is Italian for "fairy", which translates the Fata Morgana into Morgan the FairyMorgaine la Faye, cast as a Goddess of Illusion and Deceit.

When reading those tales of searching and not finding, I had a sense of déjà-vu. I knew the story already, and it took some time until I found out who had retold that story of a lifelong search in such a way to affect me until today.

It is Michael Ende, in a short story called Einer langen Reise Ziel (roughly translated into A Long Journey's End). It is in fact the main character's long search for a home – a home he finds depicted in a painting. First, he longs to get the picture, and soon after, he longs to find the place itself.

As could be expected of Michael Ende, this place can be found in one of the blank spots on the world's maps, and it is never clear whether this place has always been there or if it was the main character's imagination or wish to have it placed there. And it is clear that finding this place can't come without paying a price …

It is Michael Ende's mastery that blends the realistic and the fantastic so well that I adore and get lost in whenever I re-read his tales. The story is told in a dreamy fashion with just a hint of melancholy, a basic minor key that permeates everything. It is a tale about someone who wants to leave this world as fast as possible, because it makes him feel uncomfortable, but when he finally finds his destin[y/ation], it isn't clear whether he found his Earthly Paradise or his Personal Hell.

I guess that this is the main characteristic of the Earthly Paradise, wherever you go: It is always somewhere else.