“Here’s what we’ve seen people make up: Skyscrapers. Countries. Cures. Ships that fly to the moon. It took a dream to make the first house. The first language. Made-up things make the world.”
– The cloud shepherd, The Memory Thief
Thirteen Witches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
The cloud shepherds are a people who watch over all the world from the skies above, and they remember everything. Usually, they do not interfere, but this time, some of them stepped in to assist a young girl, Rosie Oakes, as she was threatened by an evil witch, against which she was helpless, despite her best efforts. Now they are giving her what guidance they can, to help her gain the means to protect herself. But the enemy, the witch, is an ancient spirit of greedy, malevolent darkness and terrifying power. Against that, Rosie doesn’t know what she can possibly do. All she’s ever been good at is making up stuff, little nonsense stories that seem so very trite and useless now.
That’s when the cloud shepherd tells her this.
And it’s not just a pep talk, to lift her spirits with little platitudes. What he’s really saying is not simply that she is more powerful than she realizes, but that she already has exactly what she needs. She just needs to find a way to channel it. See, the witches are entities which spread darkness of every kind across the world. They are such darkness, and darkness is not repelled with martial strength, and it is not dispelled with clever stratagems.
Darkness is expelled by light.
In other words, all we need to do to fight the darkness of the world is to add light into the world.
That is done through acts of kindness, through determination and long-suffering, and most of all by the act of unselfish creation. Love and imagination go hand in hand, and so to create is to add light to the darkened world. To imagine, to create, and to love what we make, this is powerful in a way many do not understand.
To build cities and towers of invention, to forge countries and communities through shared values and new ideas, to craft cures to diseases of body and mind and soul, to fly to the moon and beyond even as we explore the depths of our own consciousness, to build homes and fill them with families, to bridge the wills of untold billions with everlasting words… it is the passion and power of the living human soul which accomplishes all of this and so much more.
It is the power of stories, of knowledge, of art, of devoted labor given in the hopes of making things just a little bit better in our own way.
It is the human ability to make things up, and it is wonderful.