Showing posts with label Fables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fables. Show all posts

20 April 2020

The Starless Sea



Although most of my writing has been mystery novels and short stories, I have also published a number of contemporary novels, as well as short stories in other genres. For this reason, I am always interested in novels that combine genres or generally break the usual compositional rules.
Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea, a love letter to reading, books, and stories of all types, is a fine example. Distinguished by an intricate plot that mixes myth, fable, adventure, and mystery, its greatest strength turns out to be an incredibly detailed and imaginative setting.

That's right, setting.

We like to say that character and plot are absolute keys to success and normally they are. In the case of The Starless Sea, however, while the plot is effective and the protagonists, likable enough, what one is apt to remember is the creation of an alternate world, dominated by books and stories, far beneath our feet.

Clearly this world, without sun or visible means of ventilation or food production has many, many implausibilities, not to mention the sea of honey, the bees, the Owl King, the seemingly wise cats, and the immortal Keeper. But never doubt the power of a good storyteller. The Harbor where Zachery Ezra Rawlins enters (via an elevator in New York's Central Park) is described with such precision and such a wealth of detail, that it is easy to suspend disbelief. And well worthwhile, too, because that alternate world is where the various stories, some no more than a page or two, some newly-invented fairy tales, and some full-fledged adventures, all come together.

Zachery is a graduate student in Emerging Media, who finds that all he really wants to do is read after a romance goes sour. Scanning his university library's bookshelves, he chances upon Sweet Sorrows, an anonymous volume from a mysterious donor, that recounts an incident in his own life. This triggers a bibliographic mystery, which, in turn, leads him to adventures with members of a mysterious society and their enemies; to Dorian, to whom he will lose his heart, and to Mirabel who may be human or may be a metaphor, but who knows her way around the starless sea and its harbors.

Zachery winds up below ground, while in the upper world, life goes on for people like his friend Kat, an aspiring game designer also enthralled by fiction. At the same time, in another dimension, one of fables and myths, various stories unfold, interesting oddities what will all be eventually pulled into the overall narrative. This complicated structure must have presented many challenges for the author, but the breaks have a useful function. They interrupt what might have become an overly claustrophobic and precious atmosphere of the vast libraries of the starless sea venues, whose very physical structures are sometimes devised from stories on paper.

The narrative spine is provided by Zachery's adventures, interwoven with the experiences of the heroic Dorian; of Eleanor, who literally fell into the Harbor as a young child and of Simon, later her lover and man lost out of time, along with appearances by the enigmatic Mirabel and her antagonist Allegra, the Painter, who wants to preserve a world that both Mirabel and the Keeper know is in decline.

Erin Morgenstern
The line of the novel only becomes clear in its closing stages, but the adventures of the main characters prove strong enough to support the weight of fantasy and myth and, yes, the many metaphors, that fill the book. A clue to the author's ambitions comes when Kat reflects on the type of game she would like to construct: " Part spy movie, part fairy tale, part choose your own adventure. Epic branching story that doesn't stick to a single genre or one set path..." She concludes, "A book is made of paper but a story is a tree."

So speaks the video gamer.

But in The Starless Sea Erin Morgenstern has done something similar the old fashioned way with print on paper.

10 December 2015

Fables in Crime


by Robert Lopresti

I wonder if you have ever heard of George Ade?  Probably not, for most of you.

He was a nineteenth century Indiana humorist and Chicago newspaperman from Indiana.  While he wrote all kinds of stuff his longest-lasting material seems to be his Fables in Slang.  He capitalized all the slang words to show that he knew they didn't belong in proper English.

I learned about the man from the radio show of Jean shepherd, another Indiana humorist, the one whose tales led to the classic movie A Christmas Story.  The following Fable seems to have enough criminal element to belong on our blog.  Ade had a dry sense of humor and a rather grim view of "modern" society, as you will see.



THE FABLE OF THE INVETERATE JOKER

WHO REMAINED IN MONTANA


The Subject of this Fable started out in Life as a Town Cut Up. He had a keen Appreciation of Fun, and was always playing Jokes. If he wanted a few Gum-Drops he would go into the Candy Store and get them, and then ask the Man if he was willing to take Stamps. If the Man said he was, then the Boy would stamp a couple of times, which meant that the Laugh was on the Man. It was considered a Great Sell in Those Parts.

Or else he would go into a Grocery with another tricky Tad and get some Article of Value, and they would pretend to Quarrel as to which should Pay for it. One would ask the Proprietor if he cared who paid for it, and if he said he did not, they would up and tell him to Pay for it Himself. This one was so Cute that they had a little piece in the Paper about it.

Or they would go and Purchase a Watermelon to be paid for as soon as a Bet was decided, and afterwords it would Develop that the Bet was whether the Saw-Mill would fall to the East or the West, in case the Wind blew it over.

It was Common Talk that the Boy was Sharp as a Tack and Keen as Brier and a Natural-Born Humorist.

Once he sold a Calf to the Butcher, several Hours after the Calf had been struck by Lightning. As for ordering Goods and having them charged to his Father, that was one of the Slickest Things he ever did.

About the time the Joker was old enough to leave Home, he traveled out through the Country selling Bulgarian Oats to the Farmers. When the Contract for the Seed Oats got around to the Bank, it proved to be an iron-clad and double-riveted Promissory Note. The Farmer always tried to get out of Paying it, but when the Case came to Trial and the Jurors heard how the Agent palavered the Hay-Seed they had to Snicker right out in Court. They always gave Judgment for the Practical Joker, who would take them out and buy Cigars for them, and they would hit him on the Back and tell him he was a Case.

One Day the Joker had an Inspiration, and he had to tell it to a Friend, who also was something of a Wag.

MANUFACTURING SUBURB
MANUFACTURING SUBURB
They bought a Cat-Tail Swamp remote from Civilization and divided into Building Lots. The Marsh was Advertised as a Manufacturing Suburb, and they had side-splitting Circulars showing the Opera House, the Drill Factory, Public Library, and the Congregational Church. Lots were sold on the Installment Plan to Widows, Cash-Boys, and Shirt-Factory Girls who wanted to get Rich in from fifteen to twenty Minutes.

The Joker had a Lump of Bills in every Pocket. If asked how he made his Roll, he would start to Tell, and then he would Choke Up, he was so full of Laugh. He certainly had a Sunny Disposition.

Finally he went to the State of Montana. He believe he would have a Season of Merriment by depositing some Valuable Ore in a Deserted Mine, and then selling the Mine to Eastern Speculators. While he was Salting the Mine, pausing once in a while to Control his Mirth, a few Natives came along, and were Interested. They were a slow and uncouth Lot, with an atrophied Sense of Humor, and the Prank did not Appeal to them. They asked the Joker to Explain, and before he could make it Clear to them or consult his Attorney they had him Suspended from a Derrick. He did not Hang straight enough to suit, so they brought a Keg of Nails and tied it to his Feet, and then stood off and Shot at the Buttons on the Back of his Coat.

Moral: Don't Carry a Joke too Far, and never Carry it into Montana.