As a new year quickly approaches, the pressure’s on to complete all the postcards. Shall we journey onward?
In January, we traveled through the galaxy to become Citizens of the Galaxy traveling through Heinlen’s book- not a well-known one, nor a common-core-canon-classic, nor frankly, the best written, still a favorite of mine. Thorby, our main guide, is found as a child slave on a planet and thrust into a place familiar to those here on Earth, one with a gulf between the wealthy who exploit those who live dismal lives of the oppressed. On a Hero’s Journey of sorts, Thorby is taken in by a mentor who makes it his mission to show him a world beyond what Thorby can see from one rather short perspective (as a child who cannot remember much of where’s he been, save the torment). It’s not a bad life for a slave that could’ve been subjected to far worse. (By the by, one year, when I taught the novel, a student stated with conviction that slavery didn’t exist anymore. Sigh. ) And like many a Hero’sJourney, his mentor bows out to leave the hero to face what comes on his own.
Along with Thorby, we were swept into and out of this first world, zooming into and out of three more, complete with their rules and language and idiosyncrasies of culture. For a clearer understanding of themes, we tracked the growth of Thorby and compared what he had experienced in each “world.” In a bit of fun, we even created our own worlds. We noted allies and enemies, resources, and other highlights of their culture, including the creation of an original document to glimpse their history. With one group, I worked on a simulation of pitting the places against each other, but the students who were interested worked out any problems behind the scenes, while another group focused on the fun of imagining a world of cheese in all its silliness. I’d like to build on the simulation in some year to come (please post in comments any reasonable ideas). Alas, we had to hurry on to the other worlds along with Thorby. Each giving us a new lens to look at our own lives. I won’t share all the fun details of his travels in hopes you’ll read this one or maybe take the clue to hop on a ship of your own adventure and head into places you’ve never been (like those places you may have been less likely to visit in your own city).
Like our cities here on Earth, Heinlein’s version of space is a busy place, what with ships and transports and negotiations and protecting one’s interests and learning all the rules. Heinlein’s novel is like life in that way. (Funny how writers of science fiction manage to reflect life on Earth.)
In the end, what we learned is the most important thing we take with us through life. The values we possess, the friendly people we’ve met, the ability to observe keenly, to analyze fully, speak languages -those are the critical things we have. (No, the iphone X and the Tesla aren’t the critical things in life. And while I’m on the subject, do we ever wonder about the people who put them together?) In the end, Thorby must tap all he has to assert himself, to face his final battle (of the novel, not of his life), using what he has learned to defeat the monster. Of course, it’s only a first step of many to defeat slavery.
By the time we leave this little known novel of space, we have been offered the most essential lessons of our lives:
- What have we learned from the people that matter the most, that must carry us forward when they are no longer here?
- What do we value and why?
- For what are we willing to stand and fight?
And the beauty of this journey is that everyone answers the questions as his/her/their conscience guides. Thank you to Heinlein and my students for such a memorable, entertaining and eye-opening trip.