“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outrè results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”
He more than half suspected that one of the things which had kept their marriage together when it seemed as if each year brought the news that two or three of their friends’ marriages had collapsed was their respect of the mystery–the half-grasped but never spoken idea that maybe, when you got right down to the place where the cheese binds, there was no such thing as marriage, no such thing as a union, that each soul stood alone and ultimately defied rationality. That was the mystery. And no matter how well you thought you knew your partner, you occasionally ran into blank walls or fell into pits. And sometimes (rarely, thank God) you ran into a full-fledged pocket of alien strangeness, something like the clear-air turbulence that can buffet an airliner for no reason at all. An attitude or belief which you had never suspected, one so peculiar (at least to you) that it seemed nearly psychotic. And then you trod lightly, if you valued your marriage and your peace of mind; you tried to remember that anger at such a discovery was the province of fools who really believed it was possible for one mind to know another.
Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold…The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.
The man who has never at any time felt consciously struck by the extreme strangeness and oddity of the situation in which we are involved, we know not how, is a man with no affinity for philosophy–and has, by the way, little cause to worry.
One walks along a street and strays unknowingly from one’s path; one then looks up suddenly for those familiar landmarks of orientation, and, seeing none, one feels lost. Panic drapes the look of the world in a strangeness, and the more one stares blankly at the world, the stranger it looks, the more hideously frightening it seems. There is then born in one a wild, hot wish to project out upon the alien world the world that one is seeking. This wish is a hunger for power, to be in command of one’s self.
I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history.