Small but Knotty Problems
Sometimes the smallest problems can be the hardest to unravel. Sandra Miller has agreed to ask you, the readers, for your input on one of them, which appears in the opening scene of “The Enemy in the Mirror.”
The story begins with a crisis: an Allacore commander is conducting what amounts to a press-gang raid, capturing a crowd of human beings for work as slaves. Trevyn opposes the Allacore unarmed, but Ellena summons up seemingly magical powers to defeat and kill the raider.
Ellena’s engaging in combat and her momentary victory have to happen; they are necesssary to set the plot in motion. But where does Ellena get her apparently unique powers? And why does Trevyn seem not to find them very unusual? If you were writing the story, how would you forestall those questions?
One could give Ellena conventional weapons, but the Allacore appear to have had too much success to expect that bombs, guns or grenades might be effective. Ellena needs special weapons that she could presumably use more skillfully than anyone else. What might they be, and how might they be introduced?
* * *
In “D is for Evil,” Will, the subway conductor, meets a fantastical figure that appears first as a man in a black suit and then, on the rail line, as a goat. Both are death figures.
Angelo explains that the goat is taken from the the Hebrew Scriptures. There’s only one problem there: the scapegoat tradition has two goats: one is a “good” goat that is treated royally and then sacrificed; the other is the “scape” goat, which is charged with the nation’s sins and forced out into the desert as an expiation. Both goats are doomed, but neither is a death figure, nor is either intrinsically evil.
Angelo also explains that the brand name of Will’s medication — Pan — is an allusion to a pharmaceutical company in his country. The company, he says, had recalled anti-depression pills that were causing hallucinations. Well, that doesn’t work either: symbols cannot have referents outside of the story because they amount to “in-jokes,” and the readers cannot be expected to recognize the allusion.
Readers are more likely to associate the brand name with the classical pastoral god Pan. And Pan did resemble a goat. However, Pan was not a death figure, either; on the contrary, as a piper in the procession of Dionysus, Pan was a one-man band for a festival of riotous revelry and an all-around good time.
What figure would you use in the story instead of a goat?
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories
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