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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 818 Response


In Ed Blundell’s The Myth of the Mermaid, readers can say that the story is “predictable” when the two schoolboys first discover the mermaid. Is “predictable” a fault? What point does the story make?

An anonymous reader says:

Predictability is not a fault if a story engages the reader through the characters. Predictability can make a story more relatable, which I think it did in this case. For me, this story illustrates the self-serving or apathetic nature people can show when faced with a situation they do not wish to deal with or to be blamed for.

Quite agreed: the story does drive home the point — both humorously and sadly — that personal preoccupations can result in a woeful loss of perspective. Are any of the self-absorbed characters’ excuses more important than discovering a mermaid? Gotta be kidding! The story is a deft satire in social-realism mode.

Over the years, I’ve sometimes seen readers in on-line forums and elsewhere commenting that one story or another is “predictable.” And that’s all; that’s it. Meaning what? Are they saying merely that the story doesn’t contradict itself? That’s hardly worth noting. Maybe it’s a roundabout way of saying, “I would have preferred a different story, but I don’t know what it would be.” I’d be glad to listen but, first, someone must say something.

Let’s look at the structure of “The Myth of the Mermaid.” The opening scene with the two schoolboys sets the stage for similar events. But that’s not all. One character — to her credit — does report the discovery, but her report is lost on account of conditions beyond anyone’s control. The result is a parable on the theme of overcaution and missed opportunities. What else could it be? Change anything and the story moves to an entirely different genre.

What is “predictable”? Every story — from fairytales to Homer and Sophocles and even life itself — depicts characters making choices that fall somewhere along the line that links comedy and tragedy. Pick a story and make a choice.

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