The Definition of Love

“Very well, Ben. You have uncovered your trouble.”
“I have?”
“What element was changed?”
Caxton looked unhappy. At last he said, “You’re right, Jubal—it was because it was Jill. Because I love her.”
“Close, Ben. But not dead center.”
“ ‘Love’ is not the emotion that caused you to flee. What is ‘love,’ Ben?”
“What? Oh, come off it! Everybody from Shakespeare to Freud has taken a swing at that; nobody has answered it yet. All I know is, it hurts.”
Jubal shook his head. “I’ll give an exact definition.”

When I joined the Science Fiction Book Club at age 13, my initial haul of books included not only Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, but also Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

Heinlein Stranger Original Cover

Both books rocked my world, albeit in very different ways.

I’ve written about Asimov before (and will again), but I want to say a few more words about Heinlein’s Stranger. (If you recall, it includes a passage that makes some critical comments about the Bible (I wrote about it here), the first time I had come across anything like that.)

Stranger revolves around the character Valentine Michael Smith, who was conceived during the first expedition to Mars. The infant Michael is the sole survivor of that expedition and he is raised by the native Martians, until after 25 years he is brought to the earth. Heinlein uses Michael’s unfamiliarity with earthling ways as a means to comment on society.

And I found that mind-blowing.

As a side note, in my initial reading of both Stranger and Foundation I got bogged down and put them aside. In the case of Foundation, I found the first few stories rather repetitious and a bit dull; it wasn’t until I picked it up again and got to the story involving The Mule that I really fell under Asimov’s spell. Stranger, on the other hand, was a great read for the first half, but I got bogged down when the story shifted in an unexpected direction about half way through. I did come back to it, however, and as with Asimov’s stories, I’ve read it several times since then,

By the way, if you’ve ever heard anyone use the term “grok”, that’s a Heinlein invention; it’s a Martian word meaning to have a deep understanding of a concept (to give it a very unsatisfactory definition; it also means to drink water with someone, water being a precious commodity on Mars because it doesn’t have any—or in Heinlein’s conception of the planet, very little).

Oh, by the way, although I enjoyed much of Heinlein’s fiction when I was younger, I do have some difficulties with some of it now, as his extreme conservative views (he was a staunch anti-communist) are often in evidence. According to Asimov, Heinlein used to be politically liberal when he was married to his second wife, Leslyn, but that changed dramatically when he divorced her and married Virginia (aka Ginny) in 1948.

And yet another by the way, when I talk about Stranger, I’m referring to the originally published version from 1961. Heinlein’s original draft was nearly twice as long as the published version because he went through it and carefully excised the unnecessary duplications and slow sections. In the process he actually revised it and added some entirely new passages, such as the one quoted above where he has a character define love.

After Heinlein died, Ginny showed what a money-grubbing conservative hack she was by claiming that Heinlein’s original manuscript had been censored (it had not) and published it, hoping to goose the sales. Sadly, she succeeded, and even though she published it against her late husband’s wishes, many people think it is a better and uncensored version. It is not. The 1961 published version is better. That’s my opinion—and Robert Heinlein’s.

Just as a for instance, the original version, even though it’s twice as long does not have Heinlein’s definition of love, which I think is the best I’ve ever come across because it is very succinct. If you know of a better definition, let me know.

If you wish to read it, stick with the 1961 original published version. My Amazon links take you to that version.

“ ‘Love’ is not the emotion that caused you to flee. What is ‘love,’ Ben?”
“What? Oh, come off it! Everybody from Shakespeare to Freud has taken a swing at that; nobody has answered it yet. All I know is, it hurts.”
Jubal shook his head. “I’ll give an exact definition. ‘Love’ is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”


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