Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time, Wizards, and Story

Of this you are sure:  No matter how remarkable a thing is, there is always a price to be paid for it.  You may well be able to see things other persons cannot, but for each one of those things you are able to see, there is an opposite number which other persons readily see but you do not.

You take these visions for granted.  You also take their consequences for granted.  This goes some distance along the way of reckoning why you are often distracted with the beauty of some connection you've only moments ago seen, as if for the first time, and so apt to bump into fixed objects or miss entirely some vision, some meteor shower everyone else about you can see with no difficulty at all.

Your favorite example of this phenomena in vivid action is Cassandra, the most beautiful daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy.  Cassandra was well able to see things others could not.  She could, in fact, see future events.  In greater fact, she spoke of these visions, all of which proved accurate.  Her price to pay; no one believed her.  

She did not seek this all-powerful gift of vision.  Call it a gift from one of the gods, Apollo, whom, you might now guess, had a thing for her,  Cassandra, so the story goes, would have him not.  Wouldn't look good for a god to take back a gift--any gift, and so Apollo tempered his revenge by adding that bit of boilerplate to the gift.

Such mechanisms fascinate you to the point where you look for traces of the wires, ropes, and pulleys behind the scenes, the devices by which magic, Reality, and everything in between are manipulated with the consummate skill of a wizard.  These special effects, even in the most exaggerated fantasy, are often quite simple, often a mere flick of the that-s-the-way=things-are head.

Fond as you are of wizardry, of the Arthurian Merlin and the unabashed T. H. White wizardry of The Once and Future King, the wizardry you have been at work tracking down as though you were off on some hero's journey, is the wizardry of bringing a story to life to the point where no amount of argument will convince you these characters are not real flesh and blood, engaged in purpose and motive.

There are times when it seems to you how, in the midst of so many other dramatic pairs of opposites, there is this one, in which the two types of persons in the universe are those who are given brief visions of uncommon things and those persons who recognize these individuals as incredible naive narrators.

A favored play of yours is John Frayn's Noises Off, an absolute romp which reveals the strings, wires, and behind-the-scenes operations of the performance of a live play.  Watching it in performance, you are reminded of automatic wrist watches with a glass lens permitting the user to watch the wheels, cogs, springs, and levers in full play, powering and moving the watch along without the need for winding or, heaven forefend, a battery.

When story works, to preserve the analogy of the automatic watch, you know what time it is.  You know the issues, the hidden agendas and springs, the jewels of the mechanism, and the way the elements are meshed together to produce a result you find even more dramatic than a battery-driven watch.  

In the automatic watch, which depends on the movement of the wearer to power it, time becomes more personal, more immediate, more an integral part of a larger organism, and, thus, more authentic. Of course this is flawed logic.  

Automated time is no different than battery-powered or spring-driven time.  But there is that effect.  You at present have all three, including a pocket watch that needs to be wound by inserting a key into a special slot.  You have an automatic and several battery-powered watches.  More often than not, when selecting a watch, when tiring of a face you once thought was the more exciting, you reach without thinking for the automatic.  

A few shakes of the wrist, if it is not already ticking away, and it sets forth with an alert and eager pace, reminding you less that time is passing, perhaps even getting away from you, but rather that time and story are both eternal.  They were here before you and will outlast you.  They mesh events, one against another, causing yet other levers and jewels and dials to wake up.

Story and watches are devices, taking the pulse of the universe and those who live within it, both real and invented.  Depending which page you are at in a novel or short story, characters stir into life, acting out the destiny of planets in orbit, levers of gravity and balance in play, seconds meshing with minutes and hours, all the while a character or a real person draws out the response to a question, Do you love me?  Do I matter to you?  Isn't it wonderful?

And you wait, spellbound, for the answer.

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