Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Fiddler on the Hut

There is a certain device that some writers have used wherein they populate an otherwise natural story with a character so unique as to be wholly unreal. The classic case of this is the title character of "The Fiddler on the Roof". The Fiddler plays a very real role as being one of Tevya's village-mates, but yet has a more important role as an otherworldly symbol as well. It is almost as if the Fiddler is the very conscience of the play. What he plays upon his violin, is the pure ethereal thread of hope and light that sustains. Even though it is not a speaking part, it is an essential role - one that is part mime, part soundtrack, part Greek Chorus, and every bit amazing as a unifying element.

There are similar character elements throughout literature - from the Fiddler to Beatrice in Dante's "Il Purgatorio" to Jiminy Cricket.

In Disney's "Pinocchio" (as opposed to Collodi's "Pinocchio" where the cricket gets squashed) Jiminy Cricket plays that same type of role. He is the spiritual conscience of the mischievous, little wooden boy. He verbalizes that inner morality which we all share. In many ways, Jiminy Cricket pleadings are not unlike the still, small voice of God that we yearn to hear. It is no coincidence that the name, Jiminy Cricket is alliteratively that of Jesus Christ. In fact, when uttered sotto voce, "Jiminy Cricket", is often viewed as a euphemism to forestall the blasphemy of taking the Lord's name in vain.

In "The Missionary and the Brute" there is a character that fills a similar role in the narrative - (Maybe more than one, but we'll leave it at one for now... not going to spoil that fun for you...) And that is the character of little Godsend. Throughout the story, this beautiful child of Africa retains her spiritual integrity and light while all around turns dark. She is pure and innocent and exists in that beatific place between heaven and earth. Truly angelic in nature, she nonetheless acts as a real character with a true role in the story as told.

There are several scenes where Godsend centers the hope of the story as none other could. In one harrowing scene a grieving Tanzanian mother is wailing at the loss of her baby. She is in physical and emotional pain as she slumps upon a filthy mattress inside a dark, shadowy hut. Surrounded thus by sadness and horror, her breasts painfully engorged with milk no longer to be suckled, she cries out the deep suffering cry that only a mother facing such a loss can imagine. Whilst many characters in the story witness this agony and sympathize, they feel helpless against the weight of the tragedy and turn away. It is only our beloved little Godsend who beautifully and heart-breakingly soothes the cries with her silent, innocent, insistent goodness.

Godsend is such a profound character to me that I have since used her in other short stories (including the one I shared on this blog) that take place in Africa. I know that there is a power of goodness within her that I will revisit time and again throughout my writing. She has not wearied her stay just yet. In fact, I have already begun writing a tale that will even more fully incorporate her special gift. (Don't look for it until 2013 or 2014 though... other works coming first!)

It begins thus:

"The plane crashed.

But of course it did.

With neither word nor warning, bombs carefully placed somewhere near the back of the aircraft exploded in a series of fiery blasts that illumined the night sky with its raw horror. Mercifully most of the passengers aboard were killed instantly in the blast while most of the rest died upon the impact as the tailless airplane hurled out of control and plummeted into the famed grachten-gordel of Amsterdam. The buildings lining the canal shook violently - dangerously - to their foundations as the deathplane miraculously missed the houses and slammed instead into the very center of the waterway sending forth a wall of flame and water that cascaded over the tops of the buildings onto the cobble-lined streets on the other side sending the evening walkers scrambling to escape the falling apocalypse. 

That anyone survived the devastation was a mystery to all who witnessed the twisted wreckage on the incessant TV news coverage that followed. That two people had survived was a miracle beyond all reckoning. Unbelievable!

For his part, Jadwin Ross most assuredly believed it. He remembered every excruciating detail of the crash with crystalline clarity. And it was no mere irony to him that the only other survivor of the crash was someone he knew personally and had interacted with in Africa...

...it was Godsend."

No comments: