The Alchemy of Fear

There are two types of fear in Lives & Minds of C.W. Männe: BINGE: the fear that merely makes a moment uncomfortable…and the kind of fear that alters…

     It is the force of this second fear, the altering fear, that I’ve been most preoccupied with since reading the novel again. You can’t help but see Fear as an ever-present and powerful antagonist throughout the story, working to transform C.W. with its dark power. BINGE puts forward the profound concept of: The Alchemy of Fear.


As the alchemist ‘comes into a world of iron, to make a world of gold,” fear comes into the world to ‘transform mens’ souls.’ Fear, like chemistry, applies heat, pressure and disparate elements, to force men to a decision: ‘to either live free or die.’ Reread Chapter 5, entitled The Jaguared Edge. Our hero is plunged into a total darkness, a darkness achievable in only such a remote jungle as the Amazon. The darkness is described as a force, “exerting itself upon him with the suffocating power of a closed fist. It plumes…it moves…it insists…swallowing him whole, until he is finally stitched up in its pocket.” It is then that he hears a prowling sound in the perimeter around him, which is from a creature he determines to be a jaguar come to kill him. In that darkness, the advantage of the predator is overwhelming, and our hero is forced to choose: Either he will fight or he will surrender. C.W. finds himself unable to move. He is unwilling even to take a single step to safety, paralyzed and resigned to die in that very spot. The creature circles him “on a tightening spiral track,” and he cowardly waits to be eaten. C.W. is not merely afraid. C.W. is ‘inside the fear’…they are one, fear and man. And, it is here that Fear plies his trade, working to transform our hero’s character permanently. As fate would have it, the sunrise comes without incident, and C.W. is left to contemplate his profound weakness. And…this confrontation with his nature is what changes him forever. CS Lewis once famously said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” Perhaps fear is an arrow in God’s quiver, which he uses as required. An argument could be made that the inciting event in this narrative, is this moment where C.W. is filled with self-loathing and shame for his weakness. It is then that he commits himself utterly, and becomes The Savage. From that cowering and naked man, trembling in the darkness…to a warrior with a face painted in his own blood. Transformed overnight. This is what is meant by ‘The Alchemy of Fear.’ For each of us, as readers of BINGE, it is critical that we not merely experience the stimulation of reading, but that we get the wisdom on offer there. When I think of my own life and my greatest moments of fear, they include the worst moments of my life: A cancer diagnosis of my wife; a job loss; a near death experience; the pending loss of love. In every case, when I inventory these moments of profound fear, it is impossible not to see how the fear transformed me into something more. In this realization, instead of ‘fearing fear’ …I realize that I should instead ‘embrace it,’ as C.W. does over and again. My favorite line in all of Lives & Minds of C.W. Männe: BINGE captures this perfectly, as I marvel at his willingness to accept the pain and fear and losses in his journey, as elements that God is using to transform him. Upon painting himself in blood, arming himself with the cane spear and looking into the entrance to a waiting jungle, he concludes: “How wonderful it was to think myself a savage.” Let us each take in a deep breath of fear, and consider how life should be lived… Let us away, and read… Yours truly, Griffin aka – The Invisible Männe