Sunday, August 16, 2015

You Are What You Read

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Have you ever overheard a conversation, followed along for a while and then realized that the people are talking about a TV series or book or movie? Up until the crucial clue is dropped, like "and then he stopped time" or "if it wasn't for his mutant healing ability..." you would swear they'd been talking about real people.

If you're an author, you take for granted that you'll talk about fictional characters as if they're real. If you're like me, you hope you'll someday hear people talking about your characters that way. Because the really good characters (not morally good necessarily) are real. They are drawn from life and lifetimes worth of archetypes that have peopled stories since the first story was told.

"The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change."
 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

One of the reasons I find mythologist Joseph Campbell so interesting is because he expresses, in a scholarly way, ideas I find intuitively true. A group of academics have done a study that supports the proposition that we are what we read. 

The Sorting Hat by Tottie Woodstock
"People use fiction and storytelling to learn about themselves and their social world. ... Fans use a feature on Rowling’s “Pottermore” website that tests their personality and sorts them into the Hogwarts house that best fits them.... Our findings suggest that fiction can reflect real underlying personality dimensions."
 Harry Potter and the measures of personality: Extraverted Gryffindors, agreeable Hufflepuffs, clever Ravenclaws, and manipulative Slytherins

In the case of the Hogwarts Houses, the study found that there was a strongest correlation was between what the individual wanted to be and their personality--regardless of how the "hat" sorted them. My first reaction to that was, "Well, duh!" Of course we'd be attracted to the House that best reflects who we are and how we want to be.

But I'm a storyteller, not a scientist. The personality archetypes that Hogwarts Houses represent can also be found in the Tarot, The Beatles and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (The last two were observed by someone even geekier than I.)

"And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
Friedrich Nietzshe, Beyond Good and Evil

That goes for Hogwarts, Middle Earth and any other world (realistic or not) that we immerse ourselves in. We read to find ourselves and find ourselves while we read.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Holiday Short from Kevin P. Thornton

Locked Room Virtuoso

Sometimes it was hard to be amusing. Adilson Edgerow had a deadline on a short, mirthful locked room story, the kind of thing that had been his bread and butter for years.

He had been bouncing the glimmer of an impossible crime around his head but after half an hour all he had was a schoolboy-ish idea that involved a bad smell, a sealed bathroom and a note that said “If you want to know more, read ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’”.

The punchline, “What is John Locke’s locked john?” was puerile, and had him in fits of unreasonable giggles for almost five minutes. This was made worse by the Wikipedia page on the philosopher which had mentioned the word epistemology. Adilson spent another delightful yet wasteful moment or two trying to decide if it was too much of a stretch to link the word to ‘he pissed ‘em off’, giggled some more and decided that he was being rather unproductive. He doodled:
John Locke,
decided at nine o’clock,
that all he wanted to be
was a student of epistemology,
and thanked God for Edmund Clerihew Bentley, whose eponymous poetic form always cheered him up.

Adilson stared out the window. The apartment was two blocks from the Dakota, a typical west-side mansion, and it looked out on a large shared balcony that doubled as the roof of the ornate reception areas underneath. The only vexing thing about the apartment was that the building, which dated from the thirties, had air-conditioning that was from the sixties.

Adilson was short, fat, old and always sweating, so he was transfixed by the nearby AC unit and the spotty faced idiot trying to fix it. It was directly across from his window, on the buttressed roof adjacent to the balcony. It had been wheezing away for two weeks, slowly getting more clogged with ice as it became less efficient. At the moment the icepack on its outside extended the full length and breadth of the unit, nearly nine feet long by four feet high. It melted a bit each day but came back stronger at night, He imagined it growing to iceberg size sometime soon, eventually causing the AC unit to crash through the balcony roof onto the marble floor below.

“And wouldn’t that be marble-ous,” he said to no one, giggling at his pun.

He watched the idiot from maintenance – all of nineteen and pierced in multitudinous places about his visage – scratch his ass with one hand while he tapped the ice with a hammer in his other. Ass-ice-pause, ass-ice-pause, ass-ice-pause, ass-ice-pause, ass-ice-pause, ass-ice-CRASH.

The entire sheet of ice thundered to the balcony and lay there, missing the butt-scratching moron by six inches and leaving a large dent in the balcony. Adilson shouted “Idiot, you’ve damaged the roof;” but he was too far away to be heard. Outraged, He summoned his apoplectic attitude and waddled out the door, ready to give him a piece of his mind.

Adilson huffed and wheezed round the corridor to the other side of the building and the balcony access. He opened it dramatically, bounced out, found the maintenance man had already left, and forgot there was a sheet of ice on the ground.

He stepped on it and with an ‘Oh-waw, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh,’ followed by a final ‘Sqwawk,’ Adilson Edgerow slid across the slippery accelerant, gathering speed commensurate with his size, and careened over the edge of the building. He landed in the dumpster in the back alley where he hit his head on the sharp metallic edge, knocked himself out and slowly started to expire from loss of blood and shock. An hour later, when the dumpster was collected, Adilson Edgerow was very nearly dead, and by the time the truck delivered it to the Port Authority Terminal, he was.

Later that day Adilson’s agent, unable to get hold of a man who went out so rarely that he even had his groceries delivered, persuaded the doorman to check on him. After the staff swore he hadn’t left the building in months, the police were sent for. They could find nothing, the cause of death having melted in the harsh New York summer sun. Thus the mystery of Adilson’s disappearance began, and the media ran the story with jokes as egregious as any he had ever inflicted on his readership. 

Hi-and-Low search for Edgerow 
Addled Adilson Gone 
Locked room writer’s key disappearance
Edgerow vanishing is apropos
 These were just some of the headlines that he received. He had in fact become more famous for his own final locked room mystery than for any he’d written, and this fame recharged interest in the sub-genre for about six months (which meant by the time everyone jumped on the bandwagon and wrote on the fad was already over).

It was left to his rival, the Canadian mystery writer Alberta Tuppence, to bequeath him an obituary/clerihew befitting his status and style.
Adilson Edgerow,
locked room virtuoso.
The mystery ace
disappeared sans trace.

A four time Arthur Ellis (Unhanged) Award Nominee, Kevin Thornton is a writer for the local Municipality, a columnist for the Fort McMurray Today and Your McMurray Magazine, a Director of the Crime Writers of Canada and a board Member of both the Northern Canada Collective Society for Writers and the Fort McMurray Public Library. He has never been known, willingly, to split an infinitve.
Further thoughts may be found at