Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin combines fact and fiction during an expedition to the Australian wilderness.
Chatwin is himself the narrator and a character in the book, and he takes us through his own personal adventure through the Outback with his companions, and he speak with many real individuals but interweaves tales and pieces from a metaphysical, fictional world.
Arkady Volchok, an intellectual Russian, is an Australian citizen and countryman who is tasked with leading Chatwin through the wilderness for their adventure. Volchok acts as a guide and somewhat of an expositor when discussing the cosmological theology of the region. He informs Chatwin of the "Songlines": paths traveled by ancestors as they sung and created the world.
Chatwin also speaks with Father Flynn, an Aboriginal and ex-Benedictine monk. Flynn explains to him that the influences of settlers and the departure from a nomadic existence has unraveled the thread of ancestral tradition that included things like "The Walkabout," an individual experience to explore the land and continue to sing it into existence.
Many authors and philosophers are quoted and referenced but are not actual characters in the story—such as Buddha, Shakespeare, Otto Jespersen, and many more. They are used to contextualize the theological differences and similarities between Western culture and the Aboriginal religion and culture.
At the end of the story, Chatwin witnesses three Aboriginals in the throes of death together. They congregate together behind a large rock that is a shared Songline for the three of them and are planning on dying together. Part of the experience of death, they explain, is that they are returning to the place their society began. Now, they will be the Ancestor, and they can continue to sing the land into existence, completing a circular theology of birth, death, and resurrection.