Besides the Ocean of Time: reflections on the book

by frankbeswick

There is sometimes a book that captures you, and this is one that did it for me.

Occasionally you read a book in which the central character is one with whom you can identify. This is the case with me and Thorfinn Ragnarson of the imaginary island of Norday in the Orkney Islands. Thorfinn is a quiet boy. Given to dreams, he seems to be not the kind of person who rises to the top in a profession. But he makes something of his life. George Mackay Brown has produced an enchanting character whom the readers will love.

The image above shows Orkney and is courtesy of Eleonora 1402

Aliens and the Pencil Monitor.

In infant school, aged six, I had a Thorfinn moment. My teacher had made me pencil monitor, but I had paid scant attention. So next day when work  was being allocated my body was in the classroom, but my mind was in deep space, leading star fighters in combat with an alien battle cruiser, a huge ship heavily armed with powerful death rays..Then my reverie was interrupted by a little girl who very kindly reminded me that it was my job to  give out the pencils. I wandered around a bit, not knowing where they were, then the girl took pity on me. "You don't want to be pencil monitor, do you?" she asked. I said that I didn't, so she rushed to Miss McLeish, and told her that I didn't want the job and asked could she have it. So the girl became pencil monitor and I returned to commanding Star Fleet. 

"He's a dreamer!" Miss McLeish told my mother. Thus when I encountered the fictional character of Thorfinn Ragnarson, who dreams through his lessons and prefers the fictional world to the real one there was an instinctive sympathy. Early in the book Thorfinn is having a history lesson about Norse expeditions through Russia, and his  teacher despairs that he is looking out of the window and taking nothing in.But his mind is alert and using the  lesson to make an imaginary world in which he is a participant, constructing a story out of what the teacher is saying. But he gets into trouble nonetheless.  

The book begins with the line, "Of all the lazy and most useless boys ever to attend Norday school, the laziest and most useless was Thorfinn Ragnarson" No one expects anything of his career, and his father doubts that he will have much success and worries what will become of him. Everyone thinks that he is useless, though the women say that he is a nice boy. Thorfinn progresses through life,enduring the miseries of prisoner of war status in World War Two,where in his confinement he  turns to writing, where his imagination is allowed to blossom and he finally finds what he can do. The book is a cry from the heart for the education system to recognize the sensitive and imaginative child and refrain from imposing a pre-determined career pattern on him/her. 

Thorfinn eventually returns to the now deserted island of Norday, wed now to the dreamy and beautiful young woman who seemed to be out of his reach, and he commits himself to the work of writing the ultimate poem. He has come full circle. Not only has he returned to Norday, but to the self sufficient lifestyle of his ancestors. 

Besides the Ocean of Time

Beside the Ocean of Time

The Sensitive Boy

One almost entirely overlooked aspect of sexism is the plight of sensitive boys. Women can be sensitive, they can weep and  gain sympathy for it, but sensitive lads have it hard. Their macho fellows deride sensitivity and look down on the sensitive male. These lads are not top sportsmen, and they are not alpha males. Often the sensitive boy is neglected in sports, even when he wants to take part. When the lads are picking the teams the sensitive lad is selected last. And even then the ball is never passed to him, but he is blamed when the game  or a chance is lost, I know from personal experience. The sensitive boy has to hide his sensitivity. I at times read poetry in a quiet corner of the school library, hoping that the other lads would not see me. Alpha males get all the kudos. 

Thorfinn is a sensitive boy fortunate to be in a tolerant community where he is not bullied. But he is alone, and no male friend is ever identified in the book.  When we read the book with this idea in mind we see that the book  is  a plea for tolerance of sensitivity and individuality, for the individual who is simply different from other people around him.

Recognizing Individuality

Some years ago I was working at a college on a short contract. It was the college which my son had attended shortly earlier. The principal came into the staff room and delightedly read out the official statistics that measured the positive destinations that our college students had taken up on leaving.There were so  many in university,so many in training, but my son was not recorded, for his career destination did not fit into the official pattern. My son had set off to work on an estate in Norway, where he had positive experiences and learned estate working skills, along with some Norwegian. But the official recording system could not cope with anything out of the ordinary; and it is enforced by OFSTED, the inspectorate, who are composed of people who have risen up the system  by conformity to conventional norms. Not my favourite people, in fact no one's favourite people, and I speak as one who has come through OFSTED inspections very well. 

Modern societies tend to ram children into a  straitjacket. Any child who says that he or she does not want a career is frowned on. Society expects people to measure the value of their lives through the job that they do and their success in climbing the career ladder. The individual who wants to create his or her own career path cannot be comprehended by the conformists in education. Furthermore, there are targets. Currently the "egalitarians" have set targets for boys to go into care work and girls into engineering, so as to equalize the gender balance in these trades. But these zealots of political correctness never ask the boys and girls what they want. I have never met any of them who ever asked what makes a child happy, for they are driven by goals to be imposed on children. Not have I ever met any of them who promote individuality, and they try to fit the children into a procrustean bed to suit their ideological or political  goals. 

The story of Thorfinn Ragnarson is a cry for the individual to be respected for who they are and allowed to flourish in doing their own thing, seeking their own goals and simply not fitting in.It is a book worth reading.  

Updated: 11/11/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 03/08/2024

All true. Primary physical education involvesbgymnastics and sports. Girls get netball and rounders, boys get cricket and football.girls care now taking to football.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/08/2024

Thank you!

Primary-school instruction in art, music and religion topping traditional learning of maths, reading and writing certainly gets students prepared for "higher" education.

Might "Tec" be such technology as computers and drones and mobiles?

What might "physical education" involve for primary-school students (with what age ranges)?

frankbeswick on 03/08/2024

The curriculum has changed since
I was in primary school. The focus is still on basics, reading, writing and maths, but art, music religio, physical education Tec are also taught.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/07/2024

A six-year-old attends first grade, the entry, first level after kindergarten.

That causes me to consider the subjects that do and do not draw a six-year-old.

What is the curriculum? One of learning mathematics, reading and writing?

frankbeswick on 03/07/2024

Francis works well at subjects that he likes, was another being a dreamer has its drawbacks, though I am happy to be one and would be nought else.

Another comment came when my mother spoke to the head teacher, who told her that the younger one, my brother, was doing well, but that I was deep and would take a slower path.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/06/2024

Thank you!

It appears to me that a six-year-old imaginative and intelligent and sensitive enough to be considered a dreamer must have been quite impressive.

Must that have been how Miss McLeish and your mother opined that?

frankbeswick on 03/06/2024

I n\ever asked, but even when dreams are interrupted we dream again.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/06/2024

That's an interesting, an understandable inclination toward leading space fighters over losing school-room pencils ;-D.

Who won that war between alien battle craft and squadroned space fighters?

frankbeswick on 03/06/2024

I used to daydream. Once when Miss McLeish made me pencil monitor I forgot where the pencils were, as I was daydreaming about space travel. A girl immediately ran and told Miss that I did not want to be pencil monitor, which I did not, so she took over and
I went back to leading a squadron of space fighters against an alien battle craft.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/05/2024

It's interesting that your teacher mentioned you as a "dreamer" to your mother.

What behavior or what speech motivated that teacher noting that to your mother?

(It seems quite precocious and prescient for a six-year-old!)

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