Friday, September 26, 2008

The Thorn Birds

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've been meaning to write about The Thorn Birds for quite some time now. I read it a few weeks ago, just at the beginning of August, my last read before diving into the Twilight saga. It wasn't my first time to peruse the pages of the epic story of forbidden love set against the starkly beautiful background of an Australian sheep station. (By the way, I just learned that "station" is the term used in Australia, just like we use "ranch" here-not that this is relevant at ALL to my thoughts on the book :) )

I'd had a vague, distant memory of my mom and dad walking up to my grandmother's house to watch the miniseries based on The Thorn Birds, starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward, and I knew that my mom loved the book, but for some reason, every time I picked it up, I just couldn't stay involved long enough. I can't imagine why not, because it is both a wonderful and fascinating read. The characters are all rich, well-developed, and incredibly strong in their own ways, particularly the women. While the central story is based on the impossible love that develops between Ralph de Bricassart, an ambitious Irish Catholic priest and Meggie Cleary, daughter of the station foreman, it is supplemented tremendously by the tumultuous and loving relationships within the Cleary family and the inner turmoil in Father Ralph's conflicted soul.

At its core, the novel is about what it means to really love someone. Those are simple words, but the funny thing about love is that it's equally as easy to fall in love with someone, swept up in the throes of passion, as it is not to realize how much you love someone in your life that you've always taken for granted. Even though the real, true love between Ralph and Meggie is at the story's heart, it's impossible not to be hugely impacted by the other love stories, particularly between Meggie's parents, Fee and Paddy.

My favorite passage from the book is at its conclusion, which references the Celtic legend of the the title. The legend refers to a bird that only sings once in its life, once it has found a thorn tree. The bird immediately impales itself upon the longest thorn, and sings its only song, "one superlative song, existence the price." The lesson of the legend? "For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain." The final words of the book bring us back to the legend of the thorn bird.

The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it.

I'd like to think that I live my life in this way, despite the pain of difficult things. I don't find these final words to be bleak, rather, they speak of what is real and true, and that anything worth having in this life is usually obtained at great cost.

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