Sunday, October 16, 2005


There's a practice called "interlacing" that's followed by many fantasy writers as it naturally follows a tradition practiced by medieval writers. Basically, if you have a story about a character, say King Arthur and his knights, anywhere in the story where there's a lapse of time, you're free to create a new story that takes place during that time with the characters that are out of scope. Say Lancelot wanders off to look for the grail and is gone for a year? Well, something must have happened during that year other than "came back with the grail", so you can write that story. In another section, perhaps Gwain has wandered off to pursue his lost love. Well, there's a story too. But hey, in the Lancelot story writer X wrote, there's some blank space, so why not have him meet up with Gwain in your story, and he'll be looking for the grail and doing the things in writer X's story. Throw in another story by another writer (Z) about Gwenivere, who stays at home and is pining away without Arthur or Lancelot and is bored because it was Gwain that used to play checkers with her on Thursday (k)nights. She must be involved in something too; so add a story about a new knight, and have him meet her and she can explain how bored she is because all the men in her life are gone, and he can explain how he's met all three of them in his travels and reference back to the complete body of literature generated so far.

Tolkein has a complete essay on the practice, and you can certainly see it at work in how he crafts The Ring series. It also makes an appearance in most Cthulu-esque novels where authors reference horrible books from other writers' stories, weave them and their history into their own story, and add a book of their own. It's a fascinating process. But there's another process that isn't quite as obvious for which I'm not sure if there's a name - the process by which everything you read and watch, books and movies, seem to tie together sometimes by referencing all the same works.

For instance, Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow has the following fatherly advice for a son, "You can't fuck a crazy girl sane" (whether I agree or disagree is another post). I immediately followed this with Christopher Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun in which the main character, Tucker Case, exhorts himself, "I will not get drunk and bone the crazy woman." Both books are very good. Eastern Standard Tribe is just so different, in almost a cyberpunk style that's not cyberpunk, that it's interesting, for the writing if not for the story. And Island of the Sequined Love Nun starts out slow, but is a good story by the end, although the redemption of the main character is always a little in doubt in my mind. However, I think that's part of what Moore intended, so well done.

Then the other day, Pooteewheet and I watched The Seven Samurai [1954] (I should say the other days, because it took us quite a while to watch a three and half hour movie after Eryn's bedtime). After that, I find myself reading Stephen King's Song of Susannah (book VI of the Dark Tower Series - not a great book, but I've been reading the series since high school, when I got the first book as a gift, so I feel compelled to finish. I actually started the book a year ago and was interrupted by a work project, so I was only now getting back to it). King makes reference to how much of the book/series can be seen as structured around The Magnificent Seven [1960], a remake of The Seven Samurai. There's more to tie all of them together, but it's an interesting study of culture that it's so pervasive that you can play X Degrees of Separation games with all of it - i.e. you can do more than relate Kevin Bacon to Sarah Silverman, you can relate Eastern Standard Tribe to Kevin Bacon to Sarah Silverman if you really work hard. Sure, integrating King is perhaps a bit of a cheat as he's the amoeba of cultural writers - if it influenced him as a kid, you'll see a reference - but maybe that's just him recognizing something that was already there.

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