Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Tortoise and the Eagle

I read a lot. Most days, I'll down fifty or a hundred pages. Sometimes more. Reading this fast means I run out of books quickly, so I've learned to reread books. Those that I like, I'll reread often. Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, which is probably my favorite book, I've read at least a dozen times, but most likely more.

Since I reread my collection fairly often, I find there's parts that I keep coming back to. My favorite passage, the one I think about a lot and have even tried memorizing a few times, is also from a Pratchett book. It comes from Small Gods, which is not only an amazing book, but also probably my personal explanation for my religious feelings.

The particular passage I love is from the first page and a half. It doesn't have a title, but if it did, it would probably be called "The Tortoise and the Eagle." Or possibly "Making Friends. Then Eating Them." Terry Pratchett's a weird guy.

Now consider the tortoise and the eagle.

The tortoise is a ground-living creature. It is impossible to live nearer the ground without being under it. Its horizons are a few inches away. It has about as good a turn of speed as you need to hunt down a lettuce. It has survived while the rest of evolution flowed past by being, on the whole, no threat to anyone and too much trouble to eat.

And then there is the eagle. A creature of the air and high places, whose horizons go all the way to the edge of the world. Eyesight keen enough to spot the rustle of some small and squeaky creature half a mile away. All power, all control. Lightning death on wings. Talons and claws enough to make a meal of anything smaller than it is and at least take a hurried snack out of anything bigger.

And yet the eagle will sit for hours on the crag and survey the kingdoms of the world until it spots a distant movement and then it will focus, focus, focus on the small shell wobbling among the bushes down there on the desert. And it will leap...

And then a minute later the tortoise finds the world dropping away from it. And it sees the world for the first time, no longer one inch from the ground but five hundred feet above it, and it thinks: what a great friend I have in the eagle.

And then the eagle lets go.

And almost always, the tortoise plunges to its death. Everyone knows why the tortoise does this. Gravity is a habit that is hard to shake off. No one knows why the eagle does this. There's good eating on a tortoise but, considering the effort involved, there's much better eating on practically anything else. It's simply the delight of eagles to torment tortoises.

But of course, what the eagle does not realize is that it is participating in a very crude form of natural selection.

One day a tortoise will learn to fly.
I don't know why I like this so much. I appreciate the wit and the creativity, and I like how this passage ties together much of the book, but in a way that you don't realize until you finish the novel. But I can't explain what it is about this passage that draws me back again and again. Its possible its the message of getting back for betrayal, or that what the bully does eventually will come back to bite them in the ass (it seems that everything comes back around to the mental anguish I suffered in middle school). Possibly I just like Aesop-like fables. Or maybe I really like the transition (or lack thereof) from "What a great friend I have" to "Then the eagle lets go." But whatever it is, I keep reading the passage and I keep enjoying it.


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