From on High…A Downward Glance at Human Culture

By Frank Eagle, PhD

Under review today is not a particular work of literature written by a human being, but indeed all works of literature written by people. That’s right, in the next few paragraphs I intend to assess the quality and importance of human literary output as a whole. In subsequent columns, I shall take up the other major arts practiced by people, namely music, painting, sculpture, theater, and dance.

Today’s topic is literature, excluding works written for the stage. Where to begin? I have spent the last ten days, perched in a vacation nest, reading through every poem, novel, and short story ever penned or scratched on moist clay with a bone tool. Upon setting down these books and clay tablets, my first response was exhaustion and sore eyes. People are longwinded. They can speak and write and are not afraid to go on doing so, ad infinitum. They may take 450 pages to say what an eagle says in a few squeaks, cries, and screams. Eagles and raptors in general do not have the time or patience for long narratives with a lot of detail, especially when the subject matter does not call for such treatment.

Speaking of which, the essential subject matter covered in these human works is similar if not identical to what any raptor experiences throughout life. In each case, it’s mainly the saga of infatuation, courtship, love, marriage, children, and horrific family troubles. Additional material may involve war and battle, courage and heroism; or poverty, work, ambition, failure and suffering—followed by illness and death. Why do human authors stretch out such topics to intolerable length when the material can be summarized in…well, I just did it in a single paragraph.

More to the point, we raptors or birds of prey (owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, ospreys) do not care to read about fictional raptors, no matter how real they may seem on the page. (And on the page, by the way, they never seem very real, based on the few depictions of raptors by people that I came across in my reading.)

It would never occur to a healthy falcon—let’s say—to read about a fake snowy owl and its fabricated, nocturnal struggle to identify and capture a fictitious red squirrel. Nor would a sane hawk concern itself with the made-up descriptions of an osprey’s love life, even if the text included an account of the behaviors and vocalizations that signal readiness for copulation. We raptors simply have no desire to imagine these events while breathing heavily into a book, devouring mere words with our eyes. No eagle or vulture with any dignity would wish to participate in such experiences vicariously. We want the real thing, man!
In conclusion, my recommendation to human authors of fiction and poetry is that they stop writing for ten years.  Take a break. They should reassess their lives and think about whether they’d like to try living for a while rather than writing. This might help them come up with some fresh material, or it might persuade them to give up writing altogether. My only other advice is—if they insist on writing—that they stick with active, precise verbs, as raptors always do. There is no way to caw, shriek, hoot, whistle, or scream in a lazy, passive voice.