Why did I title my first novel “The Well”?
Prime elements of the book’s plot take place at Montezuma Well in central Arizona. The Well is a unique, spring-fed lake surrounded by ancient Native American cliff dwellings. That may seem the obvious reason for naming my book The Well, but that’s not it. (Strictly speaking, The Well is not a lake or a well, and Montezuma had nothing to do with it.)
I have vivid memories of turning a wooden crank to lower a heavy wooden bucket deep into the mysterious depths of an old-fashioned, man-made well. During suspense-filled moments, I hear the creaking of the wood, metal and rope mechanism. Will the bucket land squarely on its bottom and float, or tip and fill? Then the faint “ploosh” sound as the bucket hits the water’s surface and sinks below it. I turn the crank in reverse direction to draw the bucket upward, feeling its increased weight. The wet rope and bucket release droplets back into the rock-lined shaft; their hollow, echoing “plink” sounds are both eerie and promising. As I lean over to draw the bucket in and place it on the stone lip of the well, chill air rises to caress my hot face. With a long-handled metal dipper, I lift the crisp water to my lips, sip, feel it wetting my mouth, flowing down my parched throat. Sure, I have done that, but that’s not why I named my book The Well.
The words evoke disparate images. Does one think of Jesus and Mary at the well. . . of an inexhaustible source of sustenance. . .of an oil well gushing black gold? A well could be a symbol of the satisfaction of mankind’s most primitive needs. . .or in an opposing view, it could be a sinister pit filled with liquid poison lusting to slake the thirst of many victims. From a more esoteric perspective, water represents spirituality and since wells are fed by a spring that offers up an ineffably pure substance, a well could represent a source of deep, upwelling spirituality. But that’s not why I named my book The Well.
Images and stories of wells are ubiquitous. My beloved maternal grandmother wrote a novel which concluded with the main character falling down a well and drowning. But that’s not why I named my book The Well.
For years, on occasions of confusion or frustration, I consulted the ancient Chinese book of guidance and prophecy, the I Ching. “The Well” is one of sixty-four essays in which the I Ching’s ancient wisdom is revealed. That essay tells us that a town may be deserted or moved, but the well remains; its existence transcends the needs and uses of mankind; it is simply an element as powerful as fire, air and earth. Very often the I Ching answers my inquiry with “The Well.” It seems to tell me to go deeper for my answers, that they lie within me, at a more profound level of understanding. But that’s not why I named my book The Well. The I Ching has a part in the novel’s plot, too, but it is only one of many internal and external forces working on and through me in the self-revealing act of naming my story.