Scribbler’s Saga #115 – Because I Said So…

Posted: September 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

You ever have to deal with a reader/listener heckling the story? Depending on when the hecklement happens, it’s either a thing of beauty or a good time for – “Fuck you, too, the story’s the story and the clay/ink/stone just dried!” Knowing when to choose between your options is something we all learn, relearn and once again, just to be sure, because there’s always Thag in the back sitting under the painted antelope on the wall who’s pretty much just throwing hard elbows because he can.

Thag, whom the rest of us assume is five, coked up on sugar, a poster child for undiagnosed ADHD or horrors all of the above, usually can’t help it. Of course, naming this cranky gent (or lady) after one of cartoonist Gary Larson’s caveman characters, famously eviscerated by the pointy end of a stegosaur tail and, true story, that caused real-life paleontologists to name the previously unnamed anatomical structure after Mr. Thag, is unquestionably an intentional act. And then, I sometimes figuratively (people don’t offer the good stuff, anymore) smoke a bowl and relax, an act that allows me to eventually and grudgingly admit Thag isn’t always wrong.

For me, Thag was a tag team of three good friends left over from my hilarious attempt at film career. Much beer and in the spirit of In Cerveza Veritas and suddenly I’m going on and on about mostly true events in my life since the last time we gathered to drink beer and whine about the assholes that made those attempts at a film career so hilarious. I’m pretty sure Thag doesn’t like my slightly rambling speaking style that adds detail where it wasn’t requested and so blow Charge and the hecklement is off to the races.

Short version, 90-precent of all Thag-induced drop-ins ended up adding all kinds of slightly freaky sexual acts to the narrative (Thag likes what he/she/they likes). I’d dig the hole deeper trying to edit out these digressions that I thought didn’t belong in the story. A day or day and a half later, yeah, story’s actually better usually set in. No, I don’t remember any of the modified stories for – “Strong drink giveth the desire but taketh the ability.” – always reigns supreme and, really, just because the sex improved the story doesn’t always mean it was all that great from jump.

If you must know, I’m much better on paper precisely because editing helps eliminate silly digressions. My story and I’m sticking to it.

In a broader sense, the process described above seems to be the reason for the persistence of Jungian Psychology and the related contributions to the study of folklore given by Joseph Campbell and continuously foisted on us by Mssrs. Field, Vogler and Snyder (I still maintain read their books after you lock a draft). The theory is that over the multigenerational life of the story, Thag heckled – “Boring! Come on! Maybe the iguana breathes fire! No…better idea, have the girl take off her shirt!” – and then the story with its basic underlying structure hardens into epics where iguanas become dragons and heroines start to look like Wonder Woman.

The theory continues to make a few assumptions. The good, exciting parts of the story left behind by Thag create a physiological reaction to which we become addicted. How many of us seek out a scary movie precisely for the feeling of jumping out of the seats? The other main assumption is that all humans once shared the same cook fires and told the same stories, so that all narratives that really work are universal constructs and that even the structure (put a sword fight on page 50 and/or have the hero crash and burn having to reevaluate the whole journey on page 80) is assumed to be equally universal. Put another way, the story about the iguana turned dragon isn’t all that different from the story of the tall guy turned giant, even if they appear to come from opposite sides of the planet.

The folks making money selling the how-to-books have always rested their pitch on this presumed universality of certain types of stories. And they’re not always wrong. Why is it that people doing Samurai movies borrowed from Westerns only to find that the next batch of filmmakers doing Westerns borrowed from the earlier Samurai films and everybody everywhere with a Blockbuster card understood all versions of the same story as specifically exemplified by Seven Samurai and both versions of The Magnificent Seven?

Some academics build whole careers out of refuting the previous academics’ work. To my limited understanding, they do better asserting other story structures than the According-to-Hoyle Hero’s Journey as a way to get to the same place, rather than refuting the basic psychology and the work of Thag that plays out underneath. My problem with the how-to books has always been the cookie cutter mentality of follow this recipe without trying other things, but that’s a post for another day.

Thag heckled a story and depending on the opinions we take above, maybe we eventually give him/her/them credit for forcing great storytelling out into the air. Thag isn’t always wrong.

Thag isn’t always right, either.

Sometimes, the heckling is just fanboy competitiveness that takes the form of – “You did it wrong! You really should’ve had X do Y!” I’m not immune though I usually stifle this stupid shit before asking a question…or I just skip the author reading.

Recently, I’ve started to re-read Tolkien. Seeing the story again with the eyes I have now, I have questions. The biggest one I have centers around the whole structure of The Lord of the Rings…a magic ring of great and terrible power must be carried to the place of its birth and destroyed in fire to break the power of the angry being that created it.

I know why Professor Tolkien made up the rule that the Ring must go back to Mt. Doom for disposal; it creates the quest. But I can see the crankiest version of myself that really wants to know how the magic works and this or that arcane knowledge asking questions like – “wouldn’t any volcano be good for destroying the Ring?”

I could argue that a volcano, any volcano, acts as primal force of the ongoing cycle of creation and destruction and that Magic as a part of that cycle would be satisfied anywhere. Now we have a different sort of quest, one that plays out like six-dimensional hard elbow combat chess – “well, let’s see, my good buddy Gwahir (FYI, the eagle king) reports from his latest reconnaissance overflights of southern Middle-Earth that there’s, like, twenty full regiments of orcs camped out at the base of Mt. Doom, so Sauron must be expecting us. Anyway, his nephew went further south well past what we think of as the Southron lands and there is an equally suitable volcano that should serve our needs and there aren’t any orcs or southern men nearby, so maybe we adjust the plan…”

I think readers of the above seeing orc armies march back and forth between various volcanos, while the good guy armies countermarch all to deke out the other guys trying to guard the net might close the book about halfway through…no payoff soon enough. Or I might be wrong and all of this frustrating march, march, march until the marching’s done might be the basis of a really great war buddy story (something that already exists between Frodo and Sam) and we shouldn’t let my possible failure of imagination steamroll someone else’s classic literature. Either way, the story’s the story and, except as an illustrative example, I have no interest in re-writing it. If for no other reason than if I want people to respect my story as it lands on the page then I should do the same for theirs…respecting the moment when “because, I said so” becomes Canon Law.

To summarize, early on when things aren’t fully set Thag heckling the story is a good thing. Iguanas become dragons. Tall warriors just able to go above the rim on the slam become creatures for whom regular dudes named Jack or David dispose of with the greatest skill and cleverness. But once the author figures out where to put the good parts that give epinephrine hits that keep them coming back for years – “the story is the story…because I said so.

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