All the Light We Cannot See and the Power of Imagination

hedge rabbitCreativity lurks in unexpected places. Instead of trimming these bushes into the usual rectangle or oval, someone decided they’d look better as a caterpillar and a rabbit.

hedge caterpillarEncountering these animals on a quiet side street made me wonder why we don’t do this kind of thing all the time.

The wonderful thing about reading and writing is that both are chances to use our imagination.

In All the Light We Cannot See, Marie-Laure and her Uncle Etienne turn a couch into a flying machine  to escape France during World War II:

“They visit Scotland, New York City, Santiago. More than once, they put on winter coats and visit the moon… ‘Here, try some nice fresh moon flesh,’ he says, and into her mouth goes something that tastes a lot like cheese.”

My brother and I used to do that kind of thing all the time. We’d hop from the couch to the coffee table to a rocking chair because the living room rug would suddenly turn into an ocean or a lava pit.

Then we grew up and the rug was just a rug. We forgot that we could turn it into something much more fun and interesting.

In All the Light We Cannot See, when Werner and Jutta hear radio broadcasts like this, the world opens up for them:

“The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?…Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

After hearing those words, their world is transformed:

“…and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.”

Unless we’re constantly reading or writing, we’re probably not using our imagination enough in daily life. After reading All the Light We Cannot See, I’ll try to imagine more often. Maybe the next traffic jam will turn into a parade full of characters and clowns.

I’m enough of a dreamer to believe if we change our perception of the world, the world will change. I know that’s a silly thought but silly thoughts might be the best kind.

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

What do you think the world would be like if we used our imagination more often?

64 thoughts on “All the Light We Cannot See and the Power of Imagination

  1. I love how you took a concept from this wonderful book and expanded on it. I thought the novel was great–beautiful writing AND a page-turning story.

    My brother and I used to be so good at creating make-believe stories. Once we took a train ride from Seattle to the Midwest and created an entire murder mystery on that train. Every passenger was a potential suspect, and every passenger was a potential next victim. Not sure if we ever solved it, but it was a great way to spend the ride. You’re right. We don’t do this enough as adults, if at all. Thanks for reminding us to pull those imaginations out and put them to good use (outside of our writing).

    Thanks for the retweet, by the way. 🙂

    • That sounds like so much fun – I’ll have to do a murder mystery like that the next time I’m on a train! I loved All the Light We Cannot See too and for some reason all the imagining that the characters did was what stuck with me. Thanks for making me smile with your post – love that newspaper ink too!

  2. Beautiful thought! I enjoyed that book heavily as well. I’m curious as to how my imagination can be utilized outside writing. I’ve been thinking about using it in photography. Anyways, awesome post!

    • Thank you! Photography is great for that kind of thing. I keep thinking it would be fun to try painting too just to see what happens. At least they’re all a chance to use that creative side of our brains. Thanks for visiting!

  3. I’ve been staying up late the last two nights reading this and I’ll finish it tonight. Such a masterpiece! I know this is a book I will reread again, because there is magic hiding within its many layers.

    Love the animal bushes! I’d totally do that if I had a house. One of my all-time favorite movies as a kid was Edward Scissorhands. 😉

  4. This is a magical post Sheila, about finding magic in the everyday. I hope I still use my imagination a lot, but I do miss that childlike ability to completely suspend belief 🙂

    • Thanks so much! It’s too bad that we have to grow up eventually, but if we keep imagining then maybe we’ll notice the magic more often. I also recommend coloring and playing in the rain. 🙂

  5. I use my imagination a lot in my writing, but often I leave it (my imagination) at my desk when I get up. My husband (and others) have pointed out that I can be “too serious.” I wonder what would happen if I expanded my imagination into everyday life? Challenge accepted!

    • Yay – I hope you’ll find all kinds of magic out there! Grown ups are much too serious so maybe we should act like kids every once in a while for the fun of it.

  6. What a wonderful post, Sheila and one of my favorite books. I’m trying to use my imagination more in composing my still life photos and lately I’ve taken part in couple stylized fashion shoots where we choose a theme and come up with appropriate dress, accessories and settings. I find it so much fun and sometimes very challenging.

    • That sounds like a lot of fun – it makes me think of designing a set for a play. I remember some you did of a family member in a flowing dress with everything glowing all around. Those were breathtaking. Your photos are always so creative and they make me look at everything differently. I’m glad you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See too! I’m already thinking of reading it again.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, too, Sheila. Sometimes I think my imagination can veer dangerously close to overactive. A smell, a chance simile used by someone else, the taste of something, or a few bars of music and I’m away, often to a place where the flesh may very well taste like cheese.

    • That’s true that our senses and music can really ignite the imagination. It’s great that you pay attention to that kind of thing since that can be hard to do while we’re running around in our regular lives. Thanks so much for visiting – it’s always fun to find more book lovers out there!

  8. Indeed, how interesting it would be if we used our imaginations a bit more. I am sure I had a great imagination as a child, but I took this aphantasia test the other day, and the score for the vividness of my visual memory was quite low. Probably explains why I find interior decoration or garden planning hard to do.

    • It’s funny how children are encouraged to use their imagination all the time, but then it’s not encouraged as much once we’re adults. It would be hard to picture what something like a garden would look like because in reality it’s probably going to be much more wild or different than the picture in our heads (at least mine is anyway)!

  9. I loved this post, Sheila. Funny, I was just thinking about the movie Edward Scissorhands, the other day. 🙂 I love the caterpillar bushes.
    I try to use my imagination daily, some days more than others. It seems if people got their noses out of their smart phones, they might use their imaginations more often.

    • Thanks Jill! The funny thing is I had forgotten about that movie but now those pictures make me think of it. That’s true about the smart phones. I still don’t have one and I’m kind of scared to get one. So for now, I’ll keep trying to imagine more often!

  10. If we used our imagination more often, asked what if we did this, I can envisage this, can we make it happen, the world might be less of a powder keg than it is today. Instead of resorting to violence and nastiness, if we considered what the other possibilities were that might change stances or attitudes, then we might live more harmoniously. But that requires more thought than merely lashing out.
    One of my favourite books when a child (my first primary teacher used to read to us from it) was Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘A Childs Garden of Verses’. As a child who was often ill, spending much time in bed he used his imagination to amuse himself. His bed became a boat, whatever he wanted it to be. Imagination fed the child who became the adult writer and traveller.

    • I love your vision of the world. And I agree, if we imagined more we’d look at all the possibilities and imagine different scenarios before launching into war after war. We might even imagine things from the other side’s point of view. That’s a great story about Robert Louis Stevenson. I haven’t read that one but I loved Treasure Island. After reading that, it makes sense that he turned his bed into a boat. 🙂

  11. Sheila it is not a silly thought I believe we should use our inner child more than we do. The craziest ideas can become amazing stories. Such a enlightening post, have a great creative day.

    • Thanks Kath! Grownups really should act like kids and play more often. At least it would be more fun that way! 🙂 I hope everything’s going well with you and that you’re letting your inner child out to play.

  12. I often wonder what it would be like (and what a fabulous place the world would be) if we kept that imagination we have as children. I watched a fantastic talk by John Cleese about comedy, writing and painting and his take on how to be more successful as an artist was to think like a child. It was very inspiring 😀

  13. I love this post…and will have to put this book on my to read list. It sounds awesome. Imagination is so amazing. I love watching kids and their exuberance as they play and make believe. I feel their same joy when I create my own stories in my mind and get them down into my computer. It’s fun!

    • Thanks Char! It’s one of those books that’s more than a great book because there’s so much to think about between the pages. I love how reading and writing give us that chance to use our imagination more often.

  14. we need inventiveness, to see that joy and beauty in even the most mundane. It’s the best way to look at things, it’s either that or be an adult and I don’t want to be that!

    • I don’t want to be an adult either – maybe we can take vacations from being adults every once in a while. Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality, after all.

      • We have a local kids play centre that opens its doors for adults in the evenings sometimes. That keeps me youthful, there is a ball pit also!

  15. This book is on my tbr list for a while. Thanks for showcasing this aspect of it. Makes me want to read it more! I think I may use my imagination too much. I’m always scarying myself with what might lurk in the shadows. 😉

    • It’s a great book – I think you’d love it! There’s all kinds of ocean imagery in it, and of course I loved that too. I probably don’t use my imagination enough in my regular life, but then it goes crazy in my writing so maybe that’s not so bad. 🙂

      • I love ocean imagery. 🙂 Did you ever read Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Street–it’s really beautiful too. LOL.

        I have such an overactive imagination, I’m always imaging killers and creepy monsters around ever corner. Taking a walk with me is an adventure if you ask, “What are you thinking right now?” 😛

  16. Growing up is painful in this regard — for some reason, we let go of our desire for childish play. How many adults get up and dance to music when no one else is dancing? (Not counting the inebriated ones.) I think imagination and creative thinking is a natural part of our beings, but adulthood somehow makes us feel like we’re fooling around too much and not getting enough done if we go to that creative center too often.

    Imagination is my salvation for a lot of things, and I think this world would be a better place if we imagined different ways to solve problems.

    Thanks for introducing us to this book!

    • That’s so true, and that might be because imagination is encouraged in children but not in adults. Probably because we have to be productive and all that, but maybe we would be even more productive if we used our imagination more (either that or we would just run off and play somewhere, which sounds good to me too). It’s a great book – I hope you love it as much as I did!

  17. I had forgotten how my brother and I would jump from couch to couch imagining that the floor was dangerous in some form (I wonder if that’s a universal children’s game).
    We have a huge ewe in our front garden and every time we prune it, we are tempted to shape it into an animal. But the idea of a huge rabbit in my front garden… well…. I don’t know!

    • Hahah – I wonder if a giant rabbit or chipmunk would scare the regular ones away. That’s great that you used to play the couch-jumping game too – it was always a fun excuse to jump on the couch. Sorry I’ve been out of touch – just got back from Michigan – I hope you had fun in Mexico!

  18. “Creativity lurks in unexpected places”….
    So true… I guess we only have to look a little bit closer….
    Beautiful words. A great message…
    All my best wishes. Aquileana 🙂

    • Thanks Aquileana! Sorry I was out of town earlier – hope you’re enjoying your summer and finding that lurking creativity everywhere!

  19. I loved the way you saw the caterpillar in the shrubs. Sometimes I laugh out loud at the things I see in nature that others overlook.

    I like the photos of your dog. I have a Brittany but the person we bought her from bred English setters so I think she is a bit of a mix.

    • Thank you – that sounds like a great mix to me! English setters are full of crazy fun. I hope you’re able to bring yours out into those Oregon woods for lots of running around.

  20. This is a wonderful post, Sheila. One of my favorite reads, I agree that we should all use our imaginations more…especially these days when there’s some pretty devastating things going on. One of the best things about writing, photography and the arts is the opportunity to let our imaginations go free!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See as much as I did! Your photography makes the world a better place because it makes us appreciate so much. I’m happy to be the recipient of a freed imagination any time.

  21. Hi Sheila,

    Good to be back and love the post!

    Our occurring world exists in the sphere of language. It is indeed the latter which can shift our occurring. And I suppose predominant aspects of creativity and imagination get correlated to the language we use. That is why reading a book gives such a free rein to imagination and creativity.


    • Thanks Shakti – that’s why I love books so much – because they have the power or potential to change the world by making us see things differently.

  22. I love this post! And I’m putting that book on my reading list right away! Someone just gave me the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert which is all about creativity and the courage to be open to ideas that are knocking on the door of your imagination. Such fun stuff!!!

    • Thanks so much! I love any kind of magic and will have to take a look at Big Magic. It sounds like it goes along with All the Light We Cannot See. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  23. Imagination is wonderful, isn’t it? I look around and sometimes think some people would be all the better for dreaming a bit more 😉 ❤

    • Yes! Me too – I’m happy to have met so many fellow dreamers here. Now we all have to funnel those dreams and change the world. 🙂 Thank you for the Twitter share!

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