On stories

Apr. 15th, 2009 11:50 am
avevale_intelligencer: (Default)
"I wonder," said Zander, "is it true to say that some stories are life-changing while others are life-reflecting?"

Robin Fayne looked up from his book. "How do you mean?"

"Well, that some stories force you to look at life differently, make you in effect a different person, while others merely give back to you what you put into them."

"The narrative cosmos is a mirror," said Ethan Powers, who was casually juggling hedgehogs. "When an ape looks in, no superman looks out. Or is that Lois Lane's bedroom window?"

"Too many variables," snarled Timmaeus Agrael. "You might just as well say that some people read stories in search of a life-changing experience while others read them merely to confirm their prejudices. Take this one here." He twitched the book out of Rob's hand.

"Um, hello, reading here," said Rob.

"The Cornelius Chronicles," Zander said. "I found that fairly life-changing."

"Whereas this fellow who wrote the introduction--" Agrael said.

"Ah yes, the mighty Clute."

"We know from his other writings that his favourite reading matter concerns the collapse and decay of cities and civilisations, the failure and breakdown of all human relationships, and general doom and despair," Agrael said. "Indeed, whereas Aldiss talks about 'a decent despair' as being the proper theme of good sf, he takes a delight in it which verges on the indecent."

"I say," Zander murmured, "that's pitching it a bit strong, old boy."

"Thus," Agrael pursued, "he takes the view that only the last part of the story is 'real' and all the rest simply the daydreams of a grotty little nobody in a world composed of grotty little nobodies, implying that the first three books were no more than a colossal waste of time. His smug refrain is "But of course it doesn't work" and the implication is that we the readers should have seen that from the start, rather than being immersed in the exciting and dramatic doings of Cornelius the hero. This man insults our intelligence right there at the beginning of the book, and he insults the author as well."

"Well, maybe Moorcock agrees with him."

"In that case," Agrael said simply, "he is wrong too. At most the books should be taken on an equal footing, as alternate views of equal validity. In one version Cornelius is the anti-hero, in another the victim, in another still the inhabitant of a world fully as depressing as the real one, but each is as 'real' as the others. The saga, after all, was not written in one go. I would be prepared to wager that when Moorcock began the first book he did not do so with the idea that he was chronicling the pathetic and pointless fantasies of a penniless nonentity stuck in a depressed London suburb."

"I might take you up on that," Zander said. "He and Clute have always been prone to that contempt for fantasy which they fancy puts them on a higher plane than 'the fans.' He helped to start the New Wave because he thought most sf at the time was just that kind of thing, pathetic and pointless whatever you said."

"But you don't see it that way," Rob said.

"I never have," Zander replied. "I loved the way the first three books played with narrative structure and causality, and I loved the idea of the multiverse and the eternal characters recurring in various alternate forms. Hence," he gestured around, "all this. Moorcock was a seminal influence on me."

"I didn't even know he was an Injun," Magus A Realtime remarked.

"Native American, please," Rob said, alarmed.

"Belt up, Realtime, adults chatting," Powers said. "But," he went on, turning back to Zander and simultaneously slipping all three hedgehogs back into their pen, where they jumped up and down going "whee!" and shouting for him to do it again, "did you find the idea so appealing because it was new, or because you had always wanted the world to be that way? In other words, was it really a life-changing experience for you or did it merely reflect the way you already saw the world?"

"I--" Zander stopped and considered. "I don't know. It was a long time ago for me."

"So," said Gautama R Melies, "when someone reads a book in search of a life-changing experience they may also be searching for justification for their established beliefs. Not so much to change the world as to put the world right." He smiled, his eyes twinkling. "The question is, what's wrong with that?"

"Well," Agrael said, determined to have the last word, "thankfully, this is not a problem that will ever crop up with your stories."


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