The 29-Day Blogging Challenge: Q is for Quest For Fire
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Most people have considered this question at least once. Common answers are the ability to read minds, to fly, to be invisible (at will, I’d assume), teleportation, and a raft of other comic book and Heroes-inspired skills. I always wanted to be universally fluent – that is, have the ability to speak any language, any time, anywhere. Or similarly, I’d like to be able to master any skill when needed – e.g. be able to pick up a guitar and wail like Angus Young, or sing like Pavarotti, or skate like Tony Hawk, or do some wicked Kung Fu Fighting like Bruce Lee; maybe cook like Jamie Oliver, dance like Gene Kelly (the baddest dancer ever, bar none), dunk like Michael Jordan, unicycle like <insert name of famous unicyclist here> or twirl my pen in my fingers like that guy that sat in front of my in economics class. Anyway, the ability to speak any language or summon any skill at will would be fun, and would open up a whole world of possibilities in terms of travel, employment, reality shows… But the one ability I would trade or all others is time travel.
Having the ability to slip effortlessly through time, back to another era, is something I’ve always dreamed of. Imagine having the opportunity to witness first-hand the building of the Great Wall or the pyramids at Giza or Aztec temples; watching epic battles by the likes of Alexander and Wallace and Napoleon; sitting in a village pub, hundreds of years ago, before the steam engine and electricity and refrigeration and iPods, and experiencing the human condition in raw form, devoid of technological advancements and encroachments, when transportation was powered by either beast or wind, fire the main source of light and life, and a person’s whole world extended but a few miles in every direction. It would be quite a contrast to today, when within hours one can be on the other side of the world and still have real-time communication with people back home, where dinner is microwavable and hermetically sealed and perfectly portioned, where the internet and satellite TV and radio and newspapers lay the world at your fingertips, neatly, orderly, in searchable, indexable, referenceable.
But for all of the historically significant events, there is one period I would most love to visit; and more specifically, one person I would love to meet. As with most people I have a list of my favourite movies – The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, Clockwork Orange, even The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But at the top of the list is a film that went relatively unnoticed, unacknowledged, unsung in the award ceremonies; but for me, it’s the most brilliant movie of them all, in part because it allows me – sadly without the use of superpowers – to experience a period of time long since past but right at the top of my list of temporal vacation destinations.
Quest For Fire, released in 1981,c tells the story of a Neanderthal tribe some 80,000 years ago that, after an attack by rival homo erectus assholes, lose their source of fire. These days, that wouldn’t be much of a big deal – strike a match, flick a lighter, even strike some flint, and voila – heart-warming, life-giving, food-cooking fire. Those days, however, early man had to steal fire from nature, and tend it lovingly to keep it going. Without a source of fire, and no way of popping down to the local corner shop for a Bic lighter, three members of the tribe get sent out on a, well, quest for fire. Spoiler alert – all ends well, one of the lads finds love, everyone’s happy and fed, Paleolithic fun for the whole family.
Most fascinating about this movie is that no modern language is used. Anthony Burgess – ironically of Clockwork Orange fame – invented fictitious languages based on early-human physiology and social development. Most of the communication is situationally understandable, a logical ‘fill in the blanks’ as to the specifics of these prehistoric conversations. As such, you take this film to the backwaters of any country and people would understand it; perhaps it is the most universally accessible film out there. Some tribes use basic grunts, others utilize a more structured, evolved language; but each is easily understood, as though they were speaking some inherently-coded language that predates our own but is still hardwired in our collective psyche.
There is one scene that I could watch over and over again – and have, in the course of 25+ viewings of the film. If I were able to time travel, it represents one event that I would love to see. At one point in the movie a member of a more advanced homo sapien tribe shows the film’s ‘hero’ character how to make fire. This is mind-blowing, life-altering, game-changing information – he’s been trudging around the barren wastelands and dangerous swamps looking for a natural source of fire, and suddenly he is presented with a way of taking control, domesticating, mastering the greatest mystery and source of life known at the time. He watches in sheer amazement, disbelief, confusion, elation, the whole spectrum of emotion, as he is shown how to make fire. No longer is he a slave to its whims, forced to protect and nurture and tend his tribe’s source of warmth, light, life itself. The quest, it seems, was not merely for fire, but for the knowledge and ability to create and control it.
I’ve been asked who I would most love to meet, living or dead. Of course certain people top the list, but if I could only meet one historical figure, I would choose that first guy – or gal – to create fire. Say what you will about electricity or the internal combustion engine or the silicone chip or sliced bread – there is no greater leap in humanity’s intellectual evolution and mastery of his natural environment than the intentional creation of fire. As someone who has created fire himself, and danced maniacally at the overwhelming sense of atavistic accomplishment, I can only image sitting in some cave, about 100,000 years ago, before complex language and stone tools, when most were still trudging around grunting like our ape cousins and wrapped in stinky animal pets, and watching that first time that early man created smoke, then a spark, then a smoldering ember, and finally, with care and attention and I’m sure no small amount of praying to whatever god concept they had at the time, poof! Fire.
So keep your ability to fly, or read people’s minds, or spoon-bending mental tomfoolery; as fun as they would be to have, I’d definitely choose time travel as my superpower. There are so many historical events and periods of human achievement that I would love to see, to experience, to just spend a day blending in, observing, living that life and moving on. But the one event, the one experience, that I would most like to witness is that first time man created fire. Alas, Quest For Fire is the closest I’ll come to that damp cave floor, but it is a worthy substitute for the real thing.
And plus, just to be an asshole, I’d probably show up a day before the ‘1st fire’ guy made his epic discovery, and whip out the Zippo to the amazement and adulation of all around. I would be their god, they would fear me, and scamper away to do my nefarious bidding lest I light their pelts a-flame. Perhaps it’s better I don’t have superpowers…
Previous posts: Introducing the 29-Day Blogging Challenge; A is for Anonymity; B is for Busses; C is for Canada; D is for Dogs;E is for Expatriate; F is for Failure;G is for Google; H is for Hedgehog; I is for Indian food; J is for Jill, obviously; K is for Kurt Cobain; L is for Listerine; M is for Mac&Cheez; N is for Night; O if for Olfactory Dysfunction; P is for Photography