A Certain Point of View
What if I told you all the myths of Chiloé are true…from a certain point of view?
A certain point of view?
That little phrase—and the echoing question—comes from the original Star Wars Trilogy. You may remember the classic scene from Return of the Jedi where a disillusioned Luke Skywalker accuses Obi-Wan Kenobi of deceiving him about his father’s death. Obi-Wan replies, “What I told you was true from a certain point of view.” He goes on to explain that the good man his father once was has, in a sense, died, twisted into the monster we know as Darth Vader.
So it depends, on what you call life or death, fact or falsehood. Not that we endorse the distortion of truth. But our particular vantage point and our perspective on time or circumstances greatly influences our attitudes and ability to cope with life.
One of the first elements a writer studies is Point of View, AKA POV. My high school composition teachers never touched much on it, but Point of View appeared in the first writing course I took back in the ‘80s and the concept has been emphasized in almost every one since.
So the idea is, Who is telling the story?
I am, or you are, or he/she/it is. With whom do we identify? From whose viewpoint are we experiencing the scene or maybe the entire tale?
“A writer is a person on whom nothing is ever lost.” –Henry James
In most modern fiction, the popular POVs are the deep (or close) first- or third-person. It’s common to follow multiple points of view and/or dual, even triple, timelines. But a skilled writer will generally stick to one person or narrative perspective, at least one at a time. Otherwise, we run the risk of confusing the reader.
Point of View seems so basic—and a bit boring, right? I had determined earlier not to include it in this mini-series on Foundations of Story. But funny thing, it’s also one of the hardest things to get right because we writers tend to forget we’re not God. Charles Dickens may have gotten away with writing all POVs at once from an omniscient perspective. But these days, head-hopping has become a literary taboo.
In real life, we can’t know what everyone is thinking or feeling either. We can only read our own hearts. We only observe life from a certain point of view.
Our own. Usually.
So back to Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader… How we experience and comprehend the world depends on our point of view.
The watercolor painting at the top of this post shows a perspective of the town of Dalcahue, Chiloé, from our kitchen/dining room in the early 1990’s. You would glimpse something altogether different upstairs, up the hill, along the waterfront, or from any one of the homes along the village streets.
“It is better to be blind than to see things from only one point of view.” –Sabrina Jeffries
Everything looks different when viewed from another perspective. The front looks different from the back, the inside from the outside. The brain sees differently than the heart. An eye is not an ear, nor a hand a foot. In fact, the point of view is drastically different there!
In my own writing, I’ve never put myself into a man’s POV. Many women writers do, and that’s fine. But the main character of Destiny at Dolphin Bay, and all my succeeding books, is a girl or a woman. I could never do Nicolás or Marcos, Cole or Leo.
Because despite having three brothers and a husband, I find it hard to look at life from a guy’s perspective, at least on the level of a deep point of view. An example: When asked how he felt about a certain issue, my brother replied with a grin, “I don’t feel; I think.”
However, the ability to perceive any situation from multiple points of view gives us an edge in life. This doesn’t mean the truth changes or reality shifts. It does teach us that life and understanding resemble a jewel with many facets. Everything has beauty if we look at it from the right point of view.
And if, as Tolkien and Lewis taught, all the stories point to one True Story and all the myths merely illustrate God’s reality, then those Chilote legends have the ring of truth. From a certain point of view.
In Return to Chiloé: Treasures from the Island I interweave a travel memoir about a visit to Chile’s southern islands with enigmatic stories from Chilote mythology. How can we consider these from another point of view? And what are those points of view?
Chiloé’s myths are based in historical reality. Like most ancient cultures of the world, they have a legend of origins that goes back a long way. It includes Creation—man, animals, a kind of paradise—the Fall from perfection, and the Flood, presented as an epic struggle between two serpents. The spiritual world is assumed a reality too.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” ―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
No, we don’t believe in a multiplicity of gods. The Blessed Trinity surely isn’t a duo or trio of similar creatures with good and evil manifestations. But from a certain point of view, we recognize a battle raging in the unseen world. The Creator God who began history will finish it in complete victory. “He incarnates an aggressive assault on what is wrong with the world that will finally result in a new heaven and a new earth” (Eugene Peterson).
In the meantime, God provides perspective and meaning to our universe. As in the Chilote tales, He gives “the harmony that comes from putting everything together so it fits” but “he doesn’t terrorize us with doomsday signs. He doesn’t crush us with superior knowledge: he doesn’t tease us with mysterious clues. He is here with us. In Jesus…” (Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire).
This Creator and Savior wants to make Himself known.
And He wants Chilotes to know Him and His love as well as His power. Chiloé’s myths are fulfilled in a reality of salvation and redemption, offered by the ultimate King. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and Lover of our souls, makes us His own rescued sheep, His redeemed and chosen Bride.
From that certain point of view, we recognize our inherent longing for the tender love and mercy of God. We need Him more than pleasure or prosperity, comfort or control. Whatever any of us (not just Chilotes) seek from the witches and warlocks, goddesses and goblins of our world, no one ever cared for us like Jesus.
He is the Hero who ransoms us from the Evil One, whose grace abounds, greater than every sin and rebellion of the past and every faithless choice of the present. And who will deliver us to a more joyful future than any myth could ever conjure up.
“Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.” ―Colin Powell
That hope rests more secure than the weightiest anchor. Does your POV remain alert to what God is doing all around?
“The basic, life-changing, mind-transforming, spirit-refreshing reality is not what we do but what God does.” –Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire
This God focus impacts us in the here and now. It’s not all about pie in the sky and eternal parties aboard the phantom ship Caleuche. Chiloé’s myths illustrate a reality of transformation and growth in our present tense.
From that certain point of view, we recognize that we can change. Or rather our great God can change us. This kind of radical seismic shift, from the inside out, doesn’t come from wand-waving spells or tricks to outwit the Evil One.
When the Mighty Shapeshifter touches and transforms us, our perspective—our entire worldview, every opinion and reaction—readjusts. The POV now focuses on Jesus at the center of the viewfinder, at the end of the treasure hunt.
“When we shall be where we would be;
Then we shall be what we should be;
Things which are not now, nor could be,
Then shall be our own.” –Thomas Kelly, hymn
The Christian life can be represented as a journey, a voyage, a story, and a spiritual battle. All these analogies can turn out L O N G. As I learned in Return to Chiloé, the impact may take a lifetime, even an eternity. That’s why we need to commit to the long haul and take the long view of God’s molding and shaping work.
Sanctification—that is, the maturity of holy habits—isn’t a myth. But neither does it fall on us fully formed, like magic. It happens as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit and connect within a community of fellow believers.
We need each another and the perspective that everyone brings to the whole picture. “Distance lends enchantment to the view,” Mark Twain remarked, and that may well hold true for history and photography. But Professor Howard Hendricks insists. “You can impress from a distance, but you can only impact up close.”
For most creative writing, both fiction and nonfiction, “up close and personal” carries the most emotional impact. A “deep POV” swings the door wide-open into a character’s heart.
“Genius (as a storyteller) consists of …the taste, judgment, and will to weed out and destroy banalities, conceits, false notes, and lies.” –screenwriter Robert McKee, Story
The above quote sums up why, as a missionary, I don’t write fiction in my own POV. Instead, I choose a variety of close POVs that reveal only aspects of myself. That way, I’m not (as) tempted to conceit, exaggeration, or deception, as we writers sometimes are. Besides, “fiction is life with the boring bits cut out” (Alfred Hitchcock)!
The opportunity beckons to see life through another set of eyes, too. From another point of view, you might say.
And, from my identity as a child of God, may I take the perspective of looking through my Father’s eyes:
“Let me see this world, dear Lord, As though I were looking through Your eyes. A world of men who don’t want You, Lord, But a world for which You died. Let me kneel with You in the garden, Blur my eyes with tears of agony; For if once I could see this world the way You see, I just know I’d serve You more faithfully.” –Mike Otto
Speaking of POV, if you’ve had a chance to read Return to Chiloé, would you mind sharing your perspective in a review so others can discover it too?
“Look at everything as though you are seeing it either for the first or last time, then your time on earth will be filled with glory.” ―Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn