by Mary Jo
Taming fire was surely one of the most significant developments in human history. Probably the discovery happened numerous times and numerous places, but the results were profound. Fire provided warmth, hot food, the ability to fire pottery and bricks. Fire made it possible to venture out at night, and to drive predators away from the campfires. It enabled early humans to move from the tropics to cooler areas.
It could also be a tool for long distance communication. There’s a marvelous scene in The Return of the King, the third Lord of the Rings movie, where signal fires are lit to summon the troops to battle. It’s breathtaking to watch the fires catch on distant peaks.
Humans are the only species that learned to create fire, probably after eons of time when fire keepers carefully fed and nurtured blames because if they went out, the tribe would have no fire until a wildfire was found, which could take a long time.
But though humans may be the only species that can create fire, we’re not the only species that uses it. Have you ever heard of Arson Birds? In Australia, they’re called Firehawks. Raptors like to hang out near bushfires because the little critters fleeing the fire make tasty little snacks. They’ve been observed stealing burning twigs and taking them up to half a mile or so away to start new fires, and presumably produce more snacks.
But fire has always been a dangerous friend that could destroy homes and whole cities. Wildfires cause massive destruction of property and wildlife and human lives. In the era of open fireplaces and long skirts, women sometime burned to death when their skirts caught fire. (I had a scene like that in my book Shattered Rainbows, though naturally my hero pulled the heroine away from the hearth and managed to put the flames out before she was hurt.) But the threat was very real in those days.)
Modern homes are generally warmed and lit with electricity, but the fascination with fire seems inherent, which is why kids have to be told DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES!
Yet fire is a powerful element of many social rituals. Think of the campfires that are so much a part of many childhood memories, of ghost stories and s’mores. Think of barbecues, which allow manly men to burn meat and drink beer! <G>
I have some cherished fire memories of our two visits to South African and Botswana. There the “boma” is a fire pit that people gather around to eat, drink, and socialize. It’s such a cherished of social life that I was in several restaurants that featured indoor bomas.
Of course fireplaces are common in Western homes and restaurants as well. They’re a selling point in real estate listings. It’s also now possible to buy electric fireplaces that create a very good illusion of flames without the danger of real fires–perfect for apartments.
Which is good, because fires are wonderfully social. They offer peace, relaxation, and fellowship. Watching a fire can even lower blood pressure, Watching flames can be rather hypnotic (as is watching wave roll in on a beach.) Sitting with friends by a fire can be conducive to deeper, more intimate conversations. They’re romantic, too, because who doesn’t like the idea of curling up in front of the fire with a loved one? I’ve written a few scenes like that as well.
Heck, as soon as I finish this post, I’m going to go down to our (gas) fire to read and sip Sleepytime tea with a cat on my lap. (Princess Flufferbella, to be precise.) It’s a wonderful way to end a cold, gray January day!
Can you think of a favorite scene in a book where a fire is the inspiration for good things happening?