Monday, June 8, 2015

The Writer as Sorcerer's Apprentice

The writer in you, moved by early, significant encounters with reading, has rewarded you with an image of yourself as Mickey Mouse, during the illustration of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the motion picture Fantasia.  

You could not have felt that connection when you first saw the film, nor later, on rewatching, nor later still when you watched it yet another time, when your wish to experience the things being a writer meant to you were in place.

And what a fine metaphor for storytelling The Sorcerer's Apprentice, whether from the Goethe poem or the Disneyfied version of it, becomes after you visit its many implications now, all these years after seeing the movie for the first time.  You are still, in many ways, the apprentice, itching for the opportunity to address your chores, once the true sorcerer--those books of other splendid writers--is away.

You in effect set some of the equivalents of brooms to the tasks the sorcerer has left for you, chores such as providing characters whose speech, goals, thought, and motives resonate with heart-tingling plausibility.  This, of itself, is a kind of magic because of the unalterable fact of most readers coming to a story with the certainty of the characters being imaginary.  

How to make imaginary beings appear a significant step beyond the relationship between the boy, Calvin, and his imaginary playmate, Hobbes, the tiger, both of whom are themselves unreal?  How to make some, many, most readers drop the rational Post-it Note advising us These people are imaginary, the place where they live is imaginary, and the times in which they purport to behave are no less unsubstantial.

Yet this activity has been repeated numerous times for hundreds of years.  Of course there were pilgrimages to places considered holy in the 1400s; there are still such pilgrimages today.  Of course there were likely groups of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury, but were there actually those of whom Chaucer wrote in so vivid and convincing a manner?  And how is it these individuals, now six hundred years old, seem so vital and real?

Other of the Sorcerer's charms came to you from books, some from self-proclaimed Sorcerers, much of which you took for a certainty, as though you'd seen it at first hand.  What you in fact saw was the result of the Sorcerer's work, not the skills behind the various charms such as point of view and dialogue and narrative, nor indeed of interior monologue or that mysterious spell called free independent discourse, which is a mystical combination of interior monologue.

In the Goethe poem and the Disneyfied versions, the apprentice, inadequately prepared, loses control of the spell he has cast on the brooms, causing them to bring bucket after bucket of water, turning the sorcerer's study into a lake. 

In your apprenticeship days, you lost power over such things as narrative, point of view, dialogue, plot points, scenes, and characters, along with that most vital of all presences, the one of plausibility.  Your efforts were not only awash with descriptions and asides, they betrayed a complete unawareness of things that were supposed to be present as well as things that were by no means meant to be seen.

Could your eagerness to become the Sorcerer led you past any attempts at understanding the skills necessary to control the forces put into effect by the Sorcerer?

The Author, among other things, is setting forth in the workshop or laboratory, setting characters, themes, and problems into motion, watching them closely to see how and where they are going.  The Sorcerer does not merely deploy characters at whim, such as the Creator and Satan did in the Book of Job.  The Sorcerer is curious to see how the characters will react so that he might learn from them, thus bringing his observations from under the surface to the surface of surprise.

Because this is your narrative, the Author is not a contestant in arguments of deconstruction or post-modernism.  The Author takes responsibility for the creation of an alternate reality unlike any other, imparting to that reality a sincerity of intent and a commitment to nudging and bustling his characters to stress points from which they must somehow find ways to cope. 

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