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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 347

Redeeming the Fig Tree

  1. In Bertrand Cayzac’s “On the Road to Bethany”:

    1. What is the significance of “Bethany” in the chapter title?
    2. While whittling, the beggar says or thinks, “Alleluia! To us a child is born!” The words are familiar from Handel’s Messiah, which in turn quotes Isaiah. The literal meaning of the sentence is common knowledge; what is the figurative meaning, the one the beggar gives it?
    3. How does the beggar’s story fulfill the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30)?
    4. Jesus’ blighting the fig tree (Mark 11:13-14, 20-21) seems unfair; the fruit is not yet ripe. And yet the story frames that of the cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11:11-18). Why might the author of Mark have felt no need to explain the connection between the two stories?
    5. At the end of “On the Road to Bethany,” the son refrains from telling his father about Jesus and the fig tree. In light of Jesus’ own explanation of the story (Mk 11:22-26), what do you think of the son’s omission: is he wise, or is he missing an opportunity?
    6. In what way is the beggar himself a redeemer? Can Bertrand Cayzac’s Floozman itself be viewed as a set of parables?
  2. In Gabriel Timar’s “The Hades Connection”:

    1. What jokes does the author make about lawyers? About engineers? About the spy thriller genre in general?
    2. If the story were made into a film, whom would you cast in the various roles, and why?
    3. The cause of George Pike’s transition from the First to the Third Dimension remains a mystery, although nobody — including Pike himself — seems to worry about it. How might the author tie up this loose end in the conclusion of the story?
    4. Earths 1 and 2 are hard to keep straight. How might the plot benefit from having two similar but not identical worlds? Could the same effect be achieved by having two countries at odds on the same planet?
  3. How does Ron Van Sweringen’s “The Back of the Bus” avoid the risk of depicting characters as stereotypes?

  4. At the end of Alex Moisi’s “The Name of the Tree,” the tree thinks that Merlia has set him free. Free from what, exactly? Is the tree’s sacrifice necessary or arbitrary, and is Merlia justified in asking for it?

  5. In Ben Bamber’s “Caitlin Invisible,” why do the space aliens overlook Caitlin? At the end, Caitlin and her mother seem to exchange roles, at least to a certain extent. What causes Caitlin’s mother to see what Caitlin has been observing?

  6. In Rod Hamon’s “The Man Who Came From Nowhere,” what happens to Claudia? Does she poison herself in a fit of absent-mindedness or unadmitted guilt? Or is there a hint of mind control, as in the opening of the story? Does Claudia differ essentially from the other female figures in the story?

  7. In the conclusion of Julie Wornan’s “The Muttery Man,” Ruth seems to make a sacrifice to spare someone else her neurosis. In light of the context, does she really have a choice?

  8. List the elements of satire or sarcasm in Channie Greenberg’s “Opening Remarks at the Sociology Department.”

  9. Questions on Sandra Y. MacKay’s “Hell’s Fire” generally:

    1. What would be the age of the readers most likely to enjoy this story?
    2. Review readers have pointed out that the story relies heavily on clichés. Do the commonplaces seem to run to a type or do they vary in nature?
    3. Does the author use stereotypical characters? If so, what makes them stereotypes?
    4. Review readers have also noted that characters come and go inexplicably and that the point of view often shifts. Is the protean nature of the plot a fault or a virtue?
    5. Writing challenge: Rewrite the story as a radio play or a TV script.

Responses welcome!

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