Friday, June 12, 2015

Stories about St. George are NOT about cruelty to crocodiles!

Wow, I read that line in GKC some years ago - it is in a most excellent little study about adventure stories, a study which could easily be said to be the foundation-stone of my Saga. I will give you just the concluding paragraph:
Thus a real adventure story cannot be made on a certain moral or immoral model not uncommon in modern books. I mean the sort of story in which the hero is the villain. The hero need not be directly dealing in morality, but his own moral position must be by implication secure and satisfying; for it is the whole meaning of adventure that his soul is the fixed point in a wildly agitated world. Stevenson, who can be quoted so profitably about all romance, may here be quoted against himself. The adventures of the Master of Ballantrae among pirates and hunters are not adventures in the boy's sense, and do not satisfy any boy. And that is simply because he cannot sympathise with James Durie as he does with David Balfour. And if we cannot make such romance out of the Master, who was at least a gentleman and a fighter, we need hardly look for it in the miserable modern attempt to make a romance of business out of the tricks of hucksters and swindlers. A man may make excellent comedy out of the evasions of a rascal; but a comedy is a totally different conception from an adventure story. There must not obviously be any irony in an adventure story. When I read in my boyhood books like those of David Ker, or like those of Kingston and Ballantyne, they had to be read with the single eye with which a man sees danger, and not with the stereoscopic squint with which he sees incongruity. I rejoiced whole-heartedly when the brave English sailors captured the slaver; and I was right, because bravery is a good thing and slavery a bad thing. With fuller historical knowledge, I can easily find irony in the incident. I have come to know something about the English Press Gang and the English Poor Law. But that has nothing to do with it, any more than sympathising with St. George against the dragon has to do with cruelty to crocodiles. The child or the boy is quite right in believing that there really is a dragon somewhere, and that the harder he is hit the better.
[GKC ILN Sept 23 1922 CW32:453-4]

Now, anyone who knows about fantasy stories and dragons will understand, as GKC did, that we often need to have dragons in our adventures, even if they are the far more nasty sort which look like human beings from the outside. There are other things which we also need, and some of them are well worth spending serious time examining, just as any computer scientist has to spend time examining the theory behind the algorithms and data structures which he intends to use in an actual piece of software. Sometimes (ahem) yes, SOMETIMES, these things work a little differently in practice.

But we were talking about dragons, and of course whether we consult Tolkien (whose grandmother, I believe, taught him that we always say "the great green dragon" not "the green great dragon") or Chesterton (who taught us that "if there was a dragon, he had a grandmother" - whoever we consult we learn that dragons must be used with extreme caution, like recursion.
Us computer guys like to point out that using recursion requires what is known as the "terminating condition", which no less an authority than GKC also declares:

...if in the course of his adventures he finds it necessary to travel on a flaming dragon, I think he ought to give the dragon back to the witch at the end of the story. It is a mistake to have dragons about the place. [GKC "The Strangeness of Luxury" in Alarms and Discursions]

Just to give you an example for your study, you can see one way of handling these creatures

in my short story, How Mark Earned a Dragon, courtesy of Loome Books - or you can get the tactile edition here.

And if you want to know more about recursion, check out my Case Studies The Problem with "Problem-Solving Skills". Remember, you have to know how to give the dragon back when you're done... or you may risk - ah - confronting an army of brooms carrying buckets full of water.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and I quite agree, but what about having the hero face the dragon of moral choice, or having Saint George hesitate for instant before the mortal blow? (I find I am faced with having this happen to the Hero of my own Saga.)