Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Literary Theory of a Remembrancer

Termites Have Literary Theory, Too, By Golly!
       Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer (Bard) of the fortress of Lo'ro'ra is the author and narrator of the Ki'shto'ba tales.  Di'fa'kro'mi invented writing and would have liked to write down his tales himself.  However, he is quite elderly and his claws don't work as well as they used to (apparently arthritis strikes everywhere in the universe, even among intelligent insects).  So he dictates to an amanuensis, an Alate named Chi'mo'a'tu.  Chi'mo'a'tu is quite young and callow, but he was very quick at learning how to make these mysterious word-images on scrolls and so Di'fa'kro'mi takes him for his chief scribe. 
       However, Chi'mo'a'tu's inexperience makes him skeptical about some of his mentor's narrative techniques.  For example, "The War of the Stolen Mother" contains an account of how the Companions steal the talisman whose presence keeps the fortress of Thel'or'ei safe (you can about read that on my Ruminations blog -- it's Chapter 22 in the book).  At the beginning of the following chapter, Chi'mo'a'tu accuses Di'fa'kro'mi of being a liar.  Here's the exchange (remember, until now the Shshi operated only in an oral literary tradition):
Now, I do not know what to think about this comment of yours, Chi’mo’a’tu!  First you say – the most amusing narrative you have ever received, and touching as well – and then you proceed to remark that it is too bad the whole thing was a lie!
This tale was absolutely truthful!  I know I was not present to take the exact words of the conversations, but – tha’sask| – Za’dut, and A’zhu’lo as well, recounted their adventures often enough!  Their versions did not always agree, but I have reconciled them here.  I thought it was highly effective!  Would you have preferred a tedious accounting of the number of missing stones in the flank of Thel’or’ei, or a complete list of the number and location of each biter sting on the bodies of our Thieves?
I do not see why this manner of narration bothers you so much.  We Remembrancers use it all the time – speaking not in our own person.  When I tell the Tale of the Battle of Mor’kwai’cha, I do not tell it as if I were engaged in it, do I?  I agree – it is an ancient tale and I certainly could not have been present to view it!  What is the difference?  I could not be present to view A’zhu’lo’s head getting stuck in the eye-hole, either! 
Of course Mor’kwai’cha is traditional!  This will be traditional, too, one day!  Besides, no two Remembrancers tell their traditional tales exactly the same – it cannot be expected.  Such tales are not meant to be dry historical recitations, like those the Teachers recount to the nymphs in the nursery.  The thing we call a galt’zi| is meant to entertain!  As long as one remains true to the spirit of the story – that is what matters.
Well, perhaps we can discuss these theories of tale-telling another time.  I need to rest now and then eat, and your claw must be tired.  Come back in three turnings of the water vessel, will you?  We will continue the dictation then.
In the next volume ("The Storm-Wing") Di'fa'kro'mi enlightens Chi'mo'a'tu's understanding with an even more entertaining bit of theory.  Ki'shto'ba has just fought a monster and the Companions are lingering at a fortress called Ei'tot, resting up before continuing their journey.
I had never told so many tales in so short a time as I did in Ei’tot.  It was the first time I ever narrated the War of the Stolen Mother in a formal setting (not that anything the ei’tot’zei| did was very formal).  I had been thinking the tale through even while we were tramping across Nu’wiv’mi.  That early version was not very like what you have been writing down, Chi’mo’a’tu …
What?  Oh, bother!  Both versions are true!    Of course, a tale can be told in different ways and still be true!  I am getting a bit annoyed at being called a liar!  Now, now, do not get upset!  It is only that for someone who started life training to be a Remembrancer, you know very little about tale-telling!  Perhaps it is a good thing you turned to this novel occupation of writing down the words of others!
       Let me give you a metaphor for the structure of a tale.  It is like the body of a Shi.  It has a chitin framework to hold it together – the basic facts of the plot, articulated in a certain cunning pattern.  Then it has the muscle – the details that move the action of the plot along.  It has the gut – the spirit, the passions of the characters.  And finally it has the fat – the descriptions, the asides, the little bits of humor and philosophy that pad the story.  Now there can be too much of that – if I have any failings, it is in incorporating too much fat!  Like this digression here, if you are writing it down!  No, do not smudge it out.  Ru’a’ma’na’ta may find it amusing, if no one else does.
       Oh, one more thing.  Sometimes one must adapt one’s tale to the situation.  If one is in a hurry or merely giving information, one can reduce it to the bare chitinous structure.  Of course, it is not very entertaining that way, but occasionally such a thing is necessary.  Sometimes one omits certain parts if one thinks the audience might find them offensive and be moved to murder the teller!  If one is speaking to a group of little nymphs in the nursery, one omits the scary parts and keeps it simple and short.  If the audience is exclusively Warriors, one emphasizes the action – the battles and the violence – for Warriors get restless if the tale is too subtle or mentally complex.  Of course, the opposite is true of Alates.  Workers like almost anything as long as it relieves the tedium of their duties – in fact they make the most enthusiastic audience.  And a mixed group – well, one tells the prime version of one’s tale and feels satisfied if no more than a third of the audience falls asleep!
That broadens your understanding, my friend?  Well, good!  Can we get back to work?  Whatever was I saying? …  An anus?  Oh, that is amusing!  That dormant twig of humor in your mind is developing a few leaf buds!  Yes, perhaps every tale ought to have an exit hole for the indigestible parts!
Pretty good advice for any writer!


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