Apr 11

Day 10 of Positive Impacts – Fictional Character Saltheart Foamfollower

Writer Stephen R. Donaldson created a tense, dysfunctional world called only “The Land” in his epic saga The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The main character, a leper who finds himself in a magical land that he rejects, stands alone in this sort of literature because he not particularly likable despite being interesting.  However, there is a character in the series who spoke to me as a young man, and still influences me today: The Giant Saltheart Foamfollower.

The last giant of Seachreach, Foamfollow is a bastion of hope and acceptance in a world that sees his people slaughtered, the return of an ancient evil known as the Despiser, and the ending of all that is stable and peaceful. He befriends Thomas Covenant on two quests in the saga, and returns as a spirit to provide advice later in later novels.

He was a deceptively simple character who appeared to just be a jolly, angelic conversation partner for Covenant. In truth the character was a complex amalgam o guilt, hope, despair, and resignation.  He was a stoic’s stoic…not a faux-spartan parody of stoicism, but a soul struggling to live in the classical apathea–creating his responses without respect to what the external pressures would expect.

Two things the character says in the first of the Chronicles, Lord’s Foul Bane, stick with me.

The first is that we gain a sense of hope not from our strength, but from what we serve. It is not that hope is internal, nor even external, but hope arises from the interaction of our being in service to something greater and truer than ourselves. Bob Dylan famously wrote that we “gotta serve somebody/it might be the devil/it might be the lord/but we gotta serve somebody.” When I came across the Dylan tune, I was already aware of this concept from Foamfollower.

The second, which actually paved my road to understanding and accepting Stoic teachings, was clearer, “Laughter is in the ears of those who hear, not in the mouths of those who talk.”  Foamfollower exposes a belief among his people that we are not responsible for the words that come to us, but we are responsible for how we respond to them.  Laughter, they believe, is the response to all news no matter how good or how bad it is.  To hear any tale of woe or any calamity, one responses best with laughter.  We create the world with our responses…create it with glee.  This is not being insensitive, not being dismissive. It is controlling the only thing we need or can control: our contribution to the world.

I have usually tried, and often fallen short, to serve those concepts and precepts and even deities that are worthy of my service, because they are fuel for hope.  I have tried to embrace the pain and suffering of existence with a hearty laugh and a creative response.  Both of these traits I learned from a fictional character in a fantasy book about unbelief.



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