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Bewildering Stories

Norman’s Choice

Challenge 320 Response

by John W. Steele

I’ve learned that your point of view has merits I don’t sometimes don’t see immediately. Having said that, here is my point about the hallucinogen in the wine. Don’t think the word “blasphemy” doesn’t frighten me; it does. And I labored over that possibility rearing its ugly head in this story. It was the hardest thing for me to understand. I thought long about it. But I think sometimes reason shows up in places that some people wouldn’t look, and when it does, its effect can be powerful.

Anyway, Norman is slowly losing his mind. He hears voices and the voices are coming from his conscience. The paradox I wanted to create and this theme run through the story.

Because your conscience (heart) whispers something to you, does that mean you should act on it? In the end, Norman knows he’s wrong to harm others. Since his life has lost its meaning, he kills himself rather than those he feels are evil, even though the conscience (heart) in him is begging him to destroy the congregation.

In my opinion, a better question is: Can the heart be trusted? Because everything comes from your own heart, including war, hatred, bigotry, etc. Even if the feeling or emotional response is popular and accepted as reasonable and sane, does that make it right?

“That’s not just sabotage, it’s blasphemy from Norman’s point of view.” Maybe so, but I think what I meant to convey here is more like revenge or retaliation for what he considers to be gross hypocrisy.

Hopefully, it will be an interesting ride.

Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele

Thank you for the Challenge response, John. You’ve provided an excellent example, and we wish more of our contributors would follow it. Norman does face a moral problem; you’ve depicted the character with painstaking care and obviously given his situation a lot of thought.

“Can the heart [or conscience] be trusted?” Good question. When it comes to individuals, the answer, as you say, has to be No. Case in point: Norman stands ready to massacre the entire congregation of St. Michael’s for a reason that seems good to him: “They’re all hypocrites.” And yet he’s not personally threatened, nor is he a policeman; rather, he’s turned his inner torment outwards and become a self-appointed moral vigilante. As observant a Christian as Norman seems to be, he can’t have been paying much attention to the lessons of scripture to take such a wrong road.

Norman needs to ask himself: “I know a lot about these people, but in the end, I can’t know everything; therefore, who am I to judge? Isn’t that God’s job?” Norman may not formulate those questions in so many words, but it doesn’t matter; in the end, he answers them correctly.

Many of your stories feature characters suffering from delusions. That’s nothing to be concerned about; your natural mode is tragedy, not comedy. Readers have one primary interest: are the characters depicted convincingly and consistently? In the case of Norman Whipple, I’d say you’ve done a good job. And such characters have made fascinating stories, from Faust on down. Keep up the good work.


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