Bewildering Stories

A Dissenting Opinion

by John Thiel

John Thiel replies to the Discussion in issue 83:

Kevin Ahearn has been in the letter columns of SF Weekly often enough for another letter writer there to mention it, and I was surprised to see him saying that its editor, Scott Edelman, was a thrall of a totalitarian regime, if I have understood correctly the essence of his comment in the letter you published.

It's been my own observation that Edelman is anything but that; his statement that readers of Lord of the Rings should take a stand against evil has the courageousness Ahearn asks for. Possibly Ahearn is impatient and wants Edelman to do more than that. Well, perhaps Edelman has done more — he's gotten several letter writers motivated with that particular editorial.

Thank you, John. The Discussion was intended to be provocative, and we were hoping that readers — and contributors, like yourself — would have their say in the matter.

John also declines Challenge 83:

Your latest issue is likely mighty, as you claim, but I notice the characters in the stories are generally in the passive mode, entirely subjective toward the plot elements. This was particularly evident in the story you highlighted with a challenge. The characters in that one were too passive for me to appreciate that story very much, or accept the challenge.

Best wishes,
John Thiel

Thank you for your feedback, John. Good points, and well made. I agree that “mighty” may be a case where my enthusiasm got the better of me. At least issue 83 is one of our largest.

Your point about passive characters is well worth discussing. Does your description fit Julian Lawler’s Lord Noral, Craig Snyder’s hero, or Gerald Sheagren’s Frank Marino — let alone Clint Venezuela’s quixotic football fan? They all take action, each in his own way, in an effort to make the best of bad situations. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t; such is the nature of conflict. But that may not be what you’re thinking of. Can tell us more about what you have in mind?

Just to make sure we’re clear on Challenge 83: it does not ask anyone to write a “larger story” for “She Waits in the Moonlight” ; such a story would be either sinister or tragic, and very likely a thankless task. Rather the challenge is to do something every reader is going to do anyway: imagine a larger story.

“Moonlight” is a kind of Devil’s advocacy: the tableau is described by a partially omniscient narrator whose account reeks of bias and insinuation. Challenge 83 is intended to show that “Moonlight” itself challenges the reader to resist its manipulation.

Such a reading begs a larger question: is the author intellectually dishonest? Nothing justifies that conclusion; we have only the story itself to go by. Is it a bad thing to set a trap for the reader? The strategy does have a precedent: one of André Gide’s best-known novels, La Symphonie pastorale, is narrated in the first person by a character who, at the end, is exposed as a pathological liar.

As our Information page says: “The opinions and ideas published on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of Bewildering Stories or its editors. For that matter, works of literature may not even reflect the views of their authors.”

Copyright © 2004 by John Thiel and Bewildering Stories

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