Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Sword in the Metaphorical Stone

After a day at a writers' conference in which you taught a three-hour class on How to Write the Modern Short Story, then. after a cup of awful hotel coffee and even worse hotel lemonade, you interviewed a screen writer who had adapted the works of James Michener, Ann Rice, Robert B. Parker, LarryMcMurtry, and John Jakes for television.  Taking a few brief moments for coffee before moderating a panel discussion of six literary agents, you would think to have had as much truck with talking about writing and publication as you could handle.

You would probably think such a day would turn off anything additional to consider, but such is the nature of the human brain and the writer's mind that you'd be wrong.  Somewhere during your feed of questions to the literary agents, you began to experience a vision of a well known mythic sword, embedded in a large stone.

The object of your thoughts  was the famous sword of Excalibur which, depending on the sources of mythology you follow, was the sword of the true king of England.  Only, the myths tell us, the true king could pull the sword from its rocky sheath.  Many who considered themselves somewhat of a candidate attempted to pull the sword from the stone, and thus claim sovereignty over the kingdom of England.

This is a myth well embedded in our European-based cultures.  No surprise to us that Arthur found the task no real task at all; he barely broke a sweat withdrawing the sword.  If anything, the sword appeared to work its way free the moment it felt Arthur's hand on the pommel.

Myths being myths, the details vary according to which storyteller told it and whether his ancestors leaned toward Welsh, Irish, or Scandinavian.  But the myths all agree on one thing, it was indeed Arthur Pendragon who withdrew the sword, in some myths given the name Excaliburm from the rock, which as nearly as you're able to find was not given a specific name, rather a regional name suggesting the source of the tale.

Much as you favor democratic republics rather than monarchies, you had no trouble taking in the Arthurian legend at the appropriate age, which is to say you opened mind and heart to the Arthurian legend in the same ways young boys take in stories with iconic magicians and at least three lesser knights on the Arthurian food chain, who merit dictionary definitions,, Lancelot, Galahad, and Gawain.  Each of these three seem to ooze particular human qualities, and while Gawain seems to you most human of these three and of the roll call of the Knights of the Round Table, Galahad and Lancelot embody identifiable qualities among readers of the Arthurian mythology and adventures.

Your fondness for this aspect of Arthurian legend is less for the seeping appearance of the myth and more for the side issues by which we may begin to visualize what life was like during those times.  This appreciation for Arthurian legend and the sword embedded in the stone applies to myth and legend involving such things as the true legacy of a lineage, to authenticity, and individuality.

If you equate narrative voice with the stone and the sword as being locked in place until the true storyteller removes it, you satisfy you sense that each writer approaches story with a sense of authority.  The authority bogs down when the teller cannot remove the sword from the stone, the story from the concept or the culture or the politics.

There aren't that many story types, more variations on themes and combination.  You like to argue for three or four max mum to the point where you believe you can listen to a plot, then categorise it as either a heroic journey/coming-of-age, or of the construct of a stranger appearing in an otherwise tightly knit community.

The writer who embarks on one of these iconic forms in effect pulls the sword from the stone, opens the magic or tragedy or humor or that unequivocal sense of menace so often associated with memorable short fiction.  We humans want story in all its recognisable forms and we wish to be made aware, as only an alert writer can make us, of the alarms, disasters, and flat-out joys.  We wish to be warned about impending dangers, whether the astronomical chances of being hit by a rogue comet, abandoning astronauts by accident, or pursuing flight in yet unexamined ways.  We wish to be alerted to flaws and strengths in out own ability.

He or she who pulls the sword from the stone has taken the first step in the maturation process inherent in becoming a writer, a teller of stories and/or a reminder to us of the potential for story everywhere.

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