Sunday, November 9, 2014

As Promised: Vital Lies, vol ii

The name he gave was John Manderville.  Sir John Manderville, because, well, because he claimed to be a knight.  

This ambiguity gets you to thinking how the famed knight who was the teller of the first tale, "The Knight's Tale," in The Canterbury Tales, may have not been a real knight, but the equivalent of a page or squire who'd hung around the real knights, picked up on some of their speech mannerisms and traits, then told all and sundry he was a proper night.  Or, because of his language and manners, perhaps others thought he was a knight, and who was he, under the circumstances, to disagree.

This remarkable John Manderville, er, Sir John Manderville, published a memoir around the late 1350s.  Called it The Travels of Sir John Manderville.  Made a tidy sum from the sales.  Might be argued to be one of the early memoirists, earning himself a place in history along with the remarkable Japanese poet, Basho, who also wrote of his travels.

Except for the fact that Sir John was no more real than another memorable Sir John, who may also not have been anything close to being a real knight.  You mean sir John Falstaff, the great Shakespearean reveler, whom in fact, Shakespeare could not kill off, not quite yet, in spite of having given him an amazing send off to death.  The audiences wanted him back.  Thus The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Theories about "Sir John Manderville" abound, some of them positing he was not English at all, rather French.  At least one historian has the Manderville identity pegged as belonging to a woman.  Other historians posit his having spent some time in the clergy, a second or third son of a noble, acquiring an education and an urge to make his way on his own.

Probabilities are slim that "Sir John's" true identity will ever be learned, leaving us with the delicious wondering  if the author did not take on yet other nomes d'plume, or to be more pointed, nomes du guerre.  Although this was not an actual war, "Sir John" was pushing a battle authors have been advancing for thousands of years.  

Because these "travels" contained characters, settings, and local customs, you see some potential for arguing it to be a novel.  The strongest argument you can see is the artful attempts to leave the reader with the impression that this individual was actual, that he--if he was, indeed, a he--traveled to many known places and a considerable number of places, and experienced a number of events that only happened in Manderville's creator's mind.

In one of his lesser known works, the collection Handcarved Coffins, which is your favorite of Truman Capote's works, we see Capote trying to retain his reputation as an enchanter, playing with our delicious suspense of wondering how much or how little of this alleged true crime case was fact and how much invention.

For starters in your own case, you know quite well the degree to which all your fictions are inventions.  This was deliberate in the face of your own student days, your early writings, the things you heard in writing classes, and many of the things you had to cope with in your progress up the ladder from an assistant editor to a senior editor or editorial director.  In particular, the oft-repeated phrase, "But it really happened that way" from students and from writers under editorial scrutiny.

Disclosure:  You understand the enormous degree to which you and other writers use actual events and persons to create story.  But these events and persons are armatures about which you wrap the sorts of details you believe are consequences of the dramatic genome.  

There are in fact some events in your stories and novels that are close replications of events in which you participated.  Even in these, your guiding force is the magnetic north of invention rather than the true north of the compass.

Story is invention to a greater degree than history or nonfiction, yet therein resides the fact:  narration is invention to some degree.  The writer of each strives to deal with the truth in a relative way.  In fiction, the characters are each true to their assigned visions.  The character who, in Reality, wishes to fly or make perfect omelette's or write entrancing stories, has a better sense of realizing his or her level of potential than the characters with similar goals in story.  Characters in story do desperate things in order to preserve the potential of their dreams.

Whoever he or she might have been, Manderville, sometimes rendered Maunderville, thus giving reason to suspect French antecedents, remains a favorite of yours.  She or he had the vision to cause as many individuals as possible to think that Mandeville was a real person.

Stories are inventions allowed to run away from themselves or with themselves, causing the moral equivalent of a Central Coast weather condition known as Marine Layer, where edges become blunted, colors tend more toward watery pastels, and imaginations tend to forget authenticity for dramatic effect.

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