PETER CAREY – BLISS – NOVEL & MOVIE




NARRATIVE DEVICES

In the novel, BLISS, Peter Carey used a number of narrative devices to facilitate the conveyance of the story.  The most significant of these was his use of storytelling – he created narratives within a narrative, or what Robert Scholes called fabulation in his book ‘FABULATION AND METAFICTION’ (Scholes, cited Dovey, 1983)  For example, by the means of Vance’s story of New York:

In New York there are towers of glass.  It is the most beautiful and terrible city on earth.  All good, all evil exist there. . . . If you know where to look, you can find the devil.  That is where he lives. . . . But New York is full of saints, they . . .” (Carey, 1982 p. 18).

Carey was able to introduce the ideas of power, evil, goodness, and fascination with America generally, and New York in particular into the story.  This fabulation was varied and involved many of his characters.

Primarily the stories told to Harry by his father, Vance, then retold by Harry to his family, friends and work associates, were the basis for Bettina’s dreams and aspirations of success, while they became a security blanket for Harry in times of stress.  From them sprang the lies and dreams of his son, David, who wanted to be able to tell stories like his father.  When he discovered that he had no talents for narration, he determined to live out a story of his own devising, even though it led to his death.

Alex Duval’s secret, truthful reports were another variation of storytelling, and another device for bringing the theme of cancer and corruption to the attention of the reader.  It also re-introduced the message of punishment for wrong-doing which gradually built up within the story.

Honey Barbara’s stories of her commune home, of Krishna and folk-law, and even of the ‘dream police’, were also a form of fabulation.  They suggested an alternative lifestyle to the corrupt, degenerate one that Harry was currently living – a tempting Paradise as a foil for the Hell in which he felt trapped.

Bettina’s advertisements, and her dreams of New York, were also fabulation, providing her character with substance and a sense of reality.  At the asylum the old man, Nurse, who wrote down his memories so he wouldn’t forget them after treatment; the matron, Alice Dalton, who told the boy scouts about the business of running an asylum; at the restaurant Aldo, with his  story of his cancer and its treatment with marijuana; from the circus, Billy de Vere, who told the elephant story which became a reality, and a nightmare for Harry – all added their individual stories to the composite narrative.

By using these individuals to tell their separate stories, Carey was able to present the reader with a variety of viewpoints, despite the fact that he had the overall narrative being presented by a single narrator, who was eventually revealed as one of Harry and Honey Barabara’s children.

In the movie this use of narrator was altered, although it was still a device used to draw the viewer’s attention to the theme of storytelling throughout the movie.  It opened with Harry (in the present) telling a story, which he called ‘The Vision Splendid’ as told to him by his father.  This immediately introduced the viewer to the religious nature of the coming movie, yet what followed didn’t initially seem so.  Rather the next scene showed family and friends at the aftermath of a dinner-party, drinking, smoking, swearing and appearing generally debauched.  This device of visual gluttony and degradation was used as a device several times in the movie to draw attention to the Hellish nature of Harry’s existence.

The next narrator, who we recognised as an older Harry, then took over the narration to tell of Harry’s deaths, madness, and final move to Paradise.  At this point the narration changed from third person to first as Harry’s identity as the narrator was affirmed.  But the final scene was narrated by his daughter, as he was unable to tell of his own final death.

Carey used this story-telling device to work for his characters as well as against them.  When Harry got caught up in the elephant story he lost control – he was in a story not of his father’s making or of his own telling.  But it was significant that he solved the problem by telling the only original story he was ever to tell.  Unfortunately, this clever use of the device was omitted from the movie, with Harry’s reward of freedom being attributed to the relinquishing of the marijuana to the police.  Ultimately, however, Harry was able in both book and movie to attribute his freedom to being good, and thus begin his ascent out of Hell.  This was indicated in the book when ‘ . . .  the taxi drove him across the bridge, the river below appeared as black as the Styx.’ (Carey, 1982, p. 73).

Carey used shift in time as a device to introduce Vance’s stories from the past, and to take us into the future to see David’s demise.  However, although the directors had the ideal medium for exploiting time-shift scenes, they rarely took advantage of it, showing the adult Harry with his father as a dream rather than a true jump back in time.  By contrast, Carey’s adroit use of this time-shift device, linked as it was to the story-telling device, kept the reader involved and gave them a hindsight for what was to follow.

While sex and cancer were themes of the story I believe that they were also devices which were used as markers in the story.  Initially sex was graphic and rampant, used to mark people’s relationships with each other, and thus to the whole story.  The fact that Harry was unaware of the debauchery around him was used to heighten the shock experienced by him when he did see it.

Sex was also a commodity, to be bought and sold – Lucy with David to buy her drugs, Honey Barbara with Harry for the first time as a means of giving in to the Hell in which he lived, Bettina with Joel as a mark of power to be gained in their prospective futures.  But sex had a double edge – it could be used for good or evil.  Honey Barbara represented the good, wholesome capacities of sex, while Bettina and Joel’s led to self-destruction.

The text was marked by sexual episodes, both in the book and the movie, until Harry found Honey Barbara in the car on his front lawn.  That episode marked the attaining of sexual bliss, and after that sex was only implied for the rest of the story – even when Harry finally reached Paradise and won Honey Barbara back with his tree-planting love-letter we only knew they’d had sex because we discovered the offspring as a narrator.

When sex ceased directly to mark the text, and as the arguments slowly disintegrated the household and Honey Barbara’s strength, we saw her reduced to her original status as a commodity.  Sex as a device was supplanted by the device of money as a power to be controlled in the lives of all at Harry’s house.

Cancer was a very important marker in the story, creeping insidiously into the story, as it would through a body.  It was used three times specifically to make the reader more aware each time of its importance to the story.  Aldo was the first cancer victim to mark the narrative.  His case was dealt with in a low-key way.  The second cancer marker was the wife of Harry’s client, Adrian Clunes, who described quite graphically how his wife had cancer.  “She weighs four stone and six pounds and everyone comes, like ghouls, to look at her.  Our friends are nice enough to stay away, . . . ” (Carey, 1982, p. 117)

At this point the Cancer Map was introduced, a device which strengthened Harry’s resolve to fire his client as his first constructive step towards being good and getting out of Hell. The map was the concrete evidence of the cancer symbol that was used to show that life in the city, and in society, was like a cancerous growth festering and nurtured from within – fed on foul air, drink, smoke, pollution, petrol fumes, in fact most commodities.

Bettina’s cancer was the final marker, closest to home, affecting the reader directly because she was one of the main characters – not just a friend or an associate’s wife.  Her explosive death, and Joel’s subsequent suicide signalled an end to Harry’s Hell, and his enslavement by Bettina to the advertising business.  He escaped to Paradise and safety, yet seemed to take some of his Hell with him, as he found the rainforest initially unreceptive, and Honey Barbara hostile.

Death was not only a theme throughout the narrative, but was also a device with which Carey manipulated both his characters and the reader.  We knew in advance, for example, that Harry would die by the end of the story, as the opening lines were “Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him,. . .” (Carey, 1982, p. 7)  This statement/opening device prepared us for the story to follow, though not for the extremes that it would take.

The text was liberally sprinkled with deaths which were either drug-induced, cancerous, or suicidal – all unnatural deaths.  Even the final, ultimate death of Harry was caused by a branch of one of his beloved trees falling on him – even in Paradise he wasn’t really safe from death.

In the movie symbolism was used as a narrative device implying by its presence the presence of its associate.  An example of this was the use of cockroaches which first appeared emerging from Harry’s chest after his open-heart surgery.  They represented, by their connotation of the lowest-of-the-low, the embodiment of Hell.  Later they were to appear crawling across Harry’s bedroom wall, with its pseudo-Paradise mural, in the scene where Honey Barbara was reduced to her commodity status – Harry told her that she knew how much she cost him to keep, so she was not to say she didn’t love him.

Another device used in the movie to represent the presence of Hell was a musical motif – a sliding down a semi-tone on a violin string, slightly distorted, creating an unnerving, uncomfortable yet sad feeling.  This was effectively used during the period of time following Harry’s operation, and his second imagined death, until his escape to Paradise – the rainforest.

The movie directors were able to use many devices symbolically.  Apart from the cockroaches, music, and sardines to represent the evidence of sexual misbehaviour, they were able to show visually the degradation of the city, its traffic, its pollution from smoking chimneys, car fumes, rubbish, and its greyness.

Allied to this the degradation of the people was seen by showing the stained linen, both bed and table, the clutter of unwashed plates, cutlery, glasses, full ashtrays that filled a scene, with the people an integral part of the debauchery.  All characters were shown smoking, a symbol of cancer, continually, during meals, meetings, sex, arguments, parties, and working.  This device showed how evil and Hell had pervaded all of society.

Against this the directors were able to portray the rainforest as green, glistening, clean, filled with singing birds and rippling streams.  When Harry entered this Paradise he had to pass through a fire, symbolic of cleansing, to reach safety – the precarious nature of which was noted-by-device of having a burning branch fall directly behind Harry as he thought of safety.

The ultimate movie device was the viewpoint of the camera – used most effectively to show Harry’s out-of-body experiences at his first death, including the Heaven and Hell visuals, and his final death as he rises to the tree-tops to be inhaled by the trees.

Carey in his book endeavoured to present the narrative by using devices as a movie director would – cutting from scene to scene, shifting in time, using markers as a director would use symbols.  And most effectively, he allowed the story-telling of his characters to tell the story for him.

(C)  Jud House  28/08/2005

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Carey, P. (1982).  BLISS.  London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Carey, P. (1981).  EXOTIC PLEASURES. London: Picador, Pan Books Ltd.

Dovey, Teresa “An Infinite Onion: Narrative Structure in Peter Carey’s Fiction”, ALS, Vol 11, No 2, Oct 1983, pp. 195-204.

Sibree, Bron “Carey Faces up to Fame”, WEST AUSTRALIAN paper, Saturday August 10, 1991

Turner, Graeme “American Dreaming: The Fictions of Peter Carey”, ALS, 12, 4, 1986, pp.431-441.

Willbanks, Ray. (1992) SPEAKING VOLUMES: Australian writers and their work.  Melbourne: Penguin.

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IBSEN – ‘AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE’


In An Enemy of the People Ibsen deals with the conflict between the various perceptions of ‘truth for the public good’ – the altruistic blinkered perception of Doctor Stockmann; the political, social and financial interest of his brother, Mayor Stockmann; the “editorial opportunism” (McFarlane/Ibsen, 1994, p. xiii)  of the local paper’s editor, Hovstad; the political timidity/moderation of the printer, Aslaksen; the blatant dishonesty of the tannery-owner and foster-father, Kiil; the clear-sighted vacillation of Stockmann’s wife, Katherine; and the idealistic zeal of his daughter, Petra. These perceptions result in personal attitudes, some of which are status driven, some financially driven, some idealistically driven, and yet others driven by the need for social acceptance and political safety.  Thus, as each character sees and deals with the situation from his own perspective, the personal and the social/political are interwoven within the play.

While the universal themes of pollution, official corruption, and materialism are explored within An Enemy of the People, we can’t take anything at face value in Ibsen plays.  In the public sphere this play deals with public issues of health, politics, honesty, proberty in public life, and both public and personal responsibility and irresponsibility.  But the polluted water of the baths stands as a metaphor for the political and ethical pollution in the Norwegian society within which the play is set.  It deals with both internal and external issues, and the interplay and tensions between them.

The internal issues deal with the ramifications within the Stockmann family – the interactions between the various family members, their division, and their effects on each other.  In particular, it forefronts the difference between the brothers and the tensions that causes.  Doctor Stockmann is socially generous, physically vigorous, is not political, and embodies idealism, honesty, and integrity. His impetuosity, and passion for the truth proves counter-productive in the political town environment to which he is a newcomer.  Fond of young people, “with initiative and minds of their own” (ibid, p. 9), he believes, ironically, that he has finally come to a community to which he can belong.

“I can’t tell you how happy I feel, surrounded by all this growing, vigorous life …. [T]hink of me, living all those years in the North, cut off from everything, hardly ever seeing a new face, never the chance of any decent conversation … for me it’s like coming to some great metropolis.” (ibid, p. 8)

However, he does not understand the machinations of its society.  The Mayor is mean and frugal, with poor digestion and no apparent family, lives for politics and business, and links his fortunes with the town’s prosperity.  He is “the influential representative of entrenched authority, not without courage … and horribly experienced in the manipulation of others … masks self-interest and self-preservation as ‘the common good’”. (ibid, p. xiii)

The external issues revolve around the pollution of the burgeoning tourist attraction, the public spa-baths that offer ‘cures’ and social activity to tourists and townspeople. As the Mayor remarks to Hovstad:

“Mark my words!  The prosperity of the town will come to depend more and more on the … splendid new Baths. ….Just look at the quite extraordinary way things have improved in the last year or two …. with plenty of visitors, and lots of convalescents to help give the place a reputa- tion…. recommending the place generally as a very healthy spot.” (ibid, p. 5)

With the threat of closure to this lucrative attraction, the external issues broaden into a very real conflict between public health and public and private prosperity. As a nineteenth century doctor, Doctor Stockmann is a researcher, representing rationality, scientific method, rejection of superstition, and a commitment to clear sight, truth in one form or another.  His discovery, that the water piped to these baths is polluted, triggers the action of the play and the revelation of the various personal perspectives of what constitutes the ‘public good’.  Before learning of this discovery, the Mayor ironically and prophetically lectures his brother on following the correct procedure when dealing with public issues:

“I cannot permit any dubious or underhand methods. …. You have a chronic disposition to take things into your own hands … And in a well-ordered community, that can be equally reprehensible.  The individual must be ready to subordinate himself to the community as a whole; or, more precisely, to the authorities charged with the welfare of that community. …. [T]hat’s just the thing you don’t seem to want to learn.  But mark my words; one of these days you’ll pay for it …” (ibid, pp. 10-11)

As a rationalist with a scientific issue at stake, the Doctor cannot foresee the political twists and turns:  the actions of Hovstad and Aslaksen, the Editor and Printer of the newspaper; the fickleness of public opinion, or even the vehemence that his discovery arouses in his brother.  Based on turning Stockmann’s idea of the Baths into reality, the Mayor jealously guards his reputation as an astute and practical business man with always the public good in mind.  Besides, the cost of mending the pipes and the sewerage system is prohibitive, the task will take two years, and a neighbouring town could easily entice away their tourists.

Believing in the urgency of warning the public about the health-risk of the pollution, Doctor Stockmann notifies Hovstad. Favouring an article on the findings, the editor suggests “[t]he sooner the public hears about this, the better”. (ibid, p. 20)  Billings, the journalist, ironically adds: “[y]ou’ll be the leading light of the town, Dr. Stockmann,” (ibid, p. 20) and asks Hovstad to initiate the town “to organize something to show its appreciation “ (ibid, p. 20) of the Doctor.  Aslaksen, agrees, putting the weight of the compact majority, comprising the Temperance Society and the Ratepayer’s Association, behind the Doctor.  Initially Hovstad wants to use the information to further his:

“intention of breaking up this ring of obstinate old buffers who’d got hold of all the power …. a certain group of officials …. [their] friends and hangers on … – the wealthy ones of the town, and the well-connected …. the people in control.” (ibid, pp 27 & 26)

But upon discovering that the Mayor – the most influential – is against its release, and will use his position to their detriment, they change their minds to agree with him.  Motivated by the necessity for a viable paper, reliant on the public for sales and advertising – a public, who, according to the Mayor, will be irate when they discover that their prosperous baths must close – Hovstad buckles.  Aslaksen, through political timidity, and fear of the Mayor’s power, withdraws the support of his compact majority.

Believing in her husband’s integrity, and his need to prevent an epidemic, Katherine Stockmann can, however, see the inherent dangers to her family’s prospects by opposing the Mayor.  More practical than her husband, she acts as a reality check – her common-sense responses indicate how little Stockmann understands the situation, politically.  She is prepared to compromise – not to preserve political power like the Mayor, or to stay inside of authority like Hovstad, but to maintain the status quo and possible safety of her family.  Wary of the fickle support of the compact majority, she correctly gages the Mayor’s reaction to the news, even suggesting that her husband “share the credit with [the Mayor, and]…. drop a hint that it was he who first put you on the track…” (ibid, p. 22)

As an independent woman with a reputable teaching job, Petra, with more commonsense than her father, has a social conscience that aligns her with his cause.  When he is threatened with dismissal from his Baths employment, Petra berates the Mayor: “Uncle, this is a disgraceful way to treat a man like Father!” (ibid, p. 40)  With her mother’s sensitivity, and knowledge of society’s fickleness, she supports both parents alternately.  However, at the end of the play, Petra, for having “extremely advanced ideas about all sorts of things” (ibid, p. 89), and being her father’s daughter, is given her notice by Mrs Busk, who ”didn’t like doing it.  But she daren’t do anything else.” (ibid, p. 88)

A form of blackmail to force Stockmann to withdraw his claim that the tannery has polluted the Baths, Kiil locks the inheritance funds of his foster-daughter, Katherine, and her children, into shares in the Baths.  Bought while low, he intends to profit when they rise again.  To his family’s detriment, Stockmann refuses to be bought off, putting his naive social interests for the good health of the town before the vested financial interests of the townspeople, Kiil, and the ruthless Mayor.  Ironically, as a man standing up against corruption, Stockmann stands alone – except for the unusual support of Captain Horster, in whose house the meeting is held, and who suffers ostracism from the community for his alliance with the Doctor.

But if we see Stockmann as a lone embattled admirable figure with the courage of his convictions against all society, we’re overlooking his political naiveté, his misreading of the signs. An erratic character, Stockmann gets carried away, zealously rushing into publication of his findings, and when thwarted sees only the political ramifications in terms of corruption and vested financial interests of his brother and foster-father-in-law.  Finally disillusioned by them and all they stand for, Stockmann states: “[w]e live by peddling filth and corruption!  The whole of the town’s prosperity is rooted in a lie!” (ibid, p. 41)  As with his narrow-focuss when discovering the pollution, he still does not see the complete or personal picture of financial ruin.

Towards the end of play, Stockmann’s character becomes more complex and ambivalent.  His sense of intellectual superiority erupts with his anger at his impotence at the public meeting which he called but could not control.  In fact, Stockmann internalises the external issues – takes personally the social/political perspectives – when he castigates those he wants to sway to his side of the debate.  Instead of talking about the “petty business about the water-supply being polluted and the Baths standing over a cesspool” (ibid, p. 73), he belittles the “so-called leaders … [as] a lot of goats in a young forest – there’s damage everywhere they go” (ibid, p. 75), then attacks the compact majority, which he says is “[t]he worst enemy of truth and freedom in [the] society …. trying to prevent [him] from speaking the truth.” (ibid, p. 76)

His speech develops into a dangerously elitist, anti-humanist (with his analogies to mongrels and poodles) diatribe which alienates both the audience on stage at the meeting and the one in the theatre watching the play.  The latter still believe he is right to publicize the water-pollution, but are appalled at the politically Fascist nature of his speech.  As an intelligent man, he believes he has a right to judge his audience.  They, in turn, form into a mob, jump to conclusions driven by the emotive speeches given by the Mayor and Hovstad, and very quickly turn to violence.  Thus Stockmann and the fickle mob are manipulated by the tensions created by those in power to behave outrageously.

In contrast with their opulence at the beginning of the play, where they show their enjoyment in their new-found wealth, and their generosity in sharing it with others, at the end of the play the Stockmann family have no jobs, no money, no house of their own.  Their home is barren, with broken windows in stark contrast with the warmth of the house in the opening scene.  Taken in by Captain Horster they plan a future based on impracticality and idealism, of which Katherine is skeptical but which Petra embraces with her father.  After the curtain goes down the audience is aware that more action is to follow.  The play, with its interplay and tensions, an interweaving of the personal, social and political issues, ironically highlights the idea that possession of the truth, “its establishment and its promotion” (ibid, p. xxiii) does not equal or entail the public benefit.

(C) Jud House  26/04/1998 & 30/10/2012

BIBLIOGRAPHY

McFarlane, J. (trans. & ed.) (1994) Henrik Ibsen – An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

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SETTINGS – REALITY SURREALITY AND UNREALITY


According to Abrahms A Glossary of Literary Terms the: “overall setting of a narrative … work is the general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which its action occurs; [while] the setting of a single episode … within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place.” (Abrahms, 1993, p 192) (my italics)

The fantasy texts, The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson, and The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline Macdonald are both set in our world – Wrightson’s book in Australia, Macdonald’s in New Zealand.  As a literature:

Fantasy … reflects reality through unreality, life through illusion …. makes visible the invisible and illuminates the darkness.  It brings the wished for and the imagined into the rational world….  [and] arises from the human desire to penetrate the unknown and to venture beyond the here and now. (Saxby, 1997, pp. 231-2)  

Established in the opening chapter/segments, the overall settings set up a familiar, yet uneasy, ‘comfort zone’ for the reader – uneasy due to the fantasy element each contained.  To the reader, all was not right with the narratorial worlds, which both reflected reality through unreality.

In Wrightson’s world, making visible the invisible, there existed an ancient earth-element – the Nargun, a stone that consumed carnivorously when the chance arose.  Moving “on stumpy limbs” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) it made its way, over an eighty year period, from Victoria to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.  Wrightson described the gorges, mountain and swamp of Wongadilla, where the Nargun came to rest, and further fantasy elements – “a chuckle” in the swamp (the Potkoorok), and “ancient tricksters” (the Turongs) that threw sticks from the trees. (ibid, p 14)  On the final page of the opening chapter, the human characters were introduced, reassuring the reader by their presence in this familiar yet eerie landscape. They were Charlie and Edie Waters, the owners of Wongadilla sheep run, and “Simon Brent, the sullen boy who was a stranger [like the Nargun]”. (ibid, p 15)

Macdonald informed the reader in the first two sentences that her world was not as it should be: “They told me there was nothing left outside.  They said the world was empty, finished.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 1)  As the narrative moved from Hector to Diana, chapter by chapter, Macdonald introduced the environments of both protagonists, and the reader penetrates the unknown, venturing beyond the here and now.  Facing similar worries – of infection from “the illness” (ibid, p. 2, 9) and of survival in a polluted world – their communities had sought different solutions.  Hector’s community had retreated underground away from the contaminants, and were not permitted to return to the surface world. Residing beside an unusual possibly-poisoned wilderness lake, Diana, her mother, Beth, and her injured disabled father, Evan, with “his poor twisted leg” (ibid, p. 19), survived by growing vegetables.  Free, but with no supporting community, they were all lonely.

Caused by their differing environments, Hector and Diana’s contrasting physiques were established by their reactions to and descriptions of each other.  To Hector, Diana was “like a super-being, her physical self developed in the wilds …. [with b]lack hair… brown jawline …. angry red and brown face …[and] white teeth. (ibid, p 9, 8, 18)  For Diana, Hector’s appearance and behaviour led her to ask: “[w]hy can’t he bear the light?  Why is his skin so pale and spongy-looking?  Why does he speak so strangely …?  Why has he fallen apart physically after a little three-hour walk?” (ibid, p. 35)

Both authors continued to reveal their social settings and landscapes as their narratives unfolded – Macdonald by a slow unravelling of details, Wrightson by vivid consolidation.  Using many details of rural life: of the farmhouse, the swamp, the mountain, and the tree-felling, Wrightson’s physical setting took shape.  During Simon’s  car journey to the farm, he saw:

[t]all hills and ridges advanced and retreated, turned about and changed places, in a great slow Morris dance. High rocks and shadowy hollows hung with blue; green humps and ridges; slopes the colour of hay or of moonlight; the frown of forests. (Wrightson, 1975, p. 18)

Examples of the continual establishment of Macdonald’s world throughout her narrative are:- descriptions of the bird-life of the lake read by Simon in the journal at the hide (Macdonald, 1995, p. 45);  the stories told to him about the peculiar nature of the lake by Diana, Beth, and Evan (ibid, pp 38-9, 53-5, 74-7);  the letter concerning the plight/social circumstance of the cave-dwellers that Diana found and read (ibid, pp 152-4);  and the avenging nature of the lake which drowned the Counsellor thus freeing them (ibid, p.181).

Interesting was the use of caves by both Wrightson and Macdonald as important settings within their narratives. To shield the inhabitants of Wongadilla, including the Turongs and Potkoorok, from further harm, Wrightson used a cave to entrap the Nargun.  And as the Nargun was of their ‘dreaming’, the Nyols (cave spirits) were placated for their cave’s closure – they alone could tend to his needs.  Macdonald’s cave was also used as a means of entrapment, and as a shield – between the inside and the outside world.

Vital to both narratives is the setting of water – Wrightson’s clean swamp and underground stream, and Macdonald’s mysterious lake and underground flood. The Potkoorok used his swamp to hide the grader taken by the Turongs, and both he and Simon used it as a means of access to the cave for the climax of the plot. While Diana and Hector used the lake to water their vegetable garden, the Counsellor tapped into it to expel pollutants from the cave.  Because the lake had mystical powers of its own – it had previously caused a couple of developers to drown – it permitted the protagonists’ innocuous activity.  But it rose up against the pollution attempt, flushing the cave system to drown the source of evil – the Counsellor.

While the tunnels could be read psychoanalytically as birth canals from the womb-like caves, as facilitators for access and escape, they differ in both narratives.  In Wrightson’s book, the tunnels to the Nyols’ cave, varied in length – the longer “twisted and curved, rose and fell, with winding ways leading up and down.  The floor was heaved into humps and hills of stone.” (Wrightson, 1975  , p 111)  The shorter tunnel, was “a wide passage, low roofed and sloping upward steeply …. [that] seemed to twist through solid rock”. (ibid, p. 116)  It led past the bulldozer, hidden by the Nyols, to the entrance on the side of the mountain. Assisted by the Nyols or alone, Simon found negotiating the tunnels was relatively straightforward.

In Macdonald’s book, the tunnels were a maze, “twisting upwards in a jagged spiral and branching off in other directions at every turn.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 133) For two of the captured community, fleeing with a message to the outside world, it proved too difficult – becoming lost, they died.  Thus Macdonald used the maze as a barrier between the cave-dwellers and the outside world of probable pollution and possible freedom.  Only with his Basset hound, Stewart’s guiding sense of smell, could Hector negotiate the maze to reach the surface and return underground. When rescuing Hector from the barricaded tunnel, Diana needed Stewart’s guidance. On a later trip, returning to the surface with antibiotics for her mother, she scratched her initial with a rock on the tunnel walls to mark the way.  She wondered: “why Hector and [she] weren’t intelligent enough to make some sort of marks to show the way we came through the maze…. [like] the children used in the fairy tale.” (ibid, p. 133)

As a setting, the barricaded tunnel, shutting Stewart out in the maze to die, caused Hector to question the life that he lived with the cave community:

We are a people of peace.  We would never kill any living thing except for food or in compassion.  The whole idea of our community is to keep life safe.  But still, that is what happened to Stewart.  This is what I could not understand.” (ibid, p. 31)

It also caused Hector to “follow her blindly through the night without considering the consequences.” (ibid, p 30)  The hide that Diana took him to was a place of isolation – not just from her family or for quarantine, but a place to think, quietly, alone – a place to learn about his new environment.

For Simon, in Wrightson’s book, initially the log by the swamp fulfilled this purpose, until he became aware that he was not alone.  He then took his thinking to the mountain. There, to mark his identity on the farmland, he scratched his full name on two boulders, one of which was the Nargun.  He climbed the mountain to “sort out the things he wanted to think about” (ibid, p.61) but found himself communing with nature instead.

He sat there … feeling the strength of the mountain surging behind him.  He felt the earth rolling on its way through the sky, and rocks and trees clinging to it, and seas and the strands of rivers pressed to it, and flying birds caught in its net of air. (ibid, pp 61-62)

Ultimately, he had to submit to nature, to trust in the protection of the swamp spirit, Potkoorok, and travel underwater through the mountain stream to the cave.

The setting of ‘home’ and ‘food’ were important in both texts.  Wrightson described the physical setting of the house, the peace of the place at night with Edie sitting “moving her rocking chair …  knit[ting] a sweater for Simon … [while] Charlie sat in an old leather chair … [by] the fire … his feet … almost into the ashes … listen[ing] to the news [on the radio]” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 21)  There was good plain food on the table, lunch bags, and constant offers of cups of tea: “Edie supplied bread and butter and cake to stop the ache inside him” (ibid, p.118) when Simon was hungry.  This social setting was used to create a haven for Simon, one that he did not want threatened by the Nargun.  When the time came to deal with the ancient stone, as preparation for their long night ahead, Edie served the meals “all wrong… Lunch was a hot dinner so that Edie needn’t cook later in the day, and afternoon tea included fried eggs in case it was really late before they could eat again.” (ibid, p. 139)

Macdonald used the strained ‘normality’ of Diana’s home and the artificial ‘home environment’ of Hector to highlight the importance of stability and routine no matter what the adversities.  At Diana’s, the nightly routine of winding the three clocks, marking the day off the calendar, radioing the no longer responding other communities, and preparing the vegetarian meal kept their family functioning in their total isolation. (Macdonald, 1995, pp. 3-5)  As a necessity for their survival, the tending of the vegetable garden established that Diana and Beth were physically active, and that their setting was a rural one.  It also established the nature of their restricted diet: “tiny carrots … {mixed] with hot beans  and smother[ed] … with cheese”, with no “meat or bones”, “potatoes with rosemary and tomatoes …. rice with some dried fish” (ibid, pp. 19, 34, 37). Stored in the grain shed were stockpiles of supplies, such as food, clothing, and equipment, which Diana drew on to mend her wingset, clothe Hector, and construct the irrigation pipe system from the lake to the vegetable patch.  By using the library books, rescued by Beth, Diana established an education of her world (ibid, pp 5-7), while her mother used them to relieve the tedium.

Underground, Hector’s community, augmented by many births of which Hector’s was the last, in 2025 comprised a hundred and two individuals.  Their ‘home’ environment was far from a nurturing, safe haven. Although they continued to advance scientifically, they had deteriorated physically, being pale and weak from lack of sunlight and exercise. Speaking in whispers, they lived in a gloomy atmosphere that was gradually, ironically, becoming toxic from “waste products from the generating system.” (ibid, p132) They too had routine, “[w]ork, food, rest, study, in a perfectly regular cycle” (ibid, p129) vital for the retaining of sanity in their supposedly doomed existence.  Their food was grown hydroponically, their families split up, procreation organised, and education controlled rigidly (revealed in the letter, p 152-3).  Mundane physical tasks were taken care of by caretakers who cleaned their rooms and provided clean tunics daily.

The animals in both texts were also important in the establishment of social setting.  On the farm there were obviously farm animals: sheep, dogs, horses, a milk-cow.  Wrightson portrayed the importance of these to the family – the loss of one sheep, a victim of the Nargun, was not just horrifying by its grizzly nature, but had implications of loss of income if the sheep were not immediately moved.  Obviously proud of his working dogs, Trig, Tess and Nipper, Charlie told Simon: “there’s nothing the old boy [Trig] can’t do, he’s a wonder. – Go out, Trig, you blockheaded old dingo! …. [H]e’ll hold them all night. – Stay, Trig, you bludging old hound!  You’re getting as silly as a wet hen.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 72-3).  Once the Nargun is discovered, the horses are kept away from the mountain, the tractor taking their place as mode of transport, and the animals shut in their sheds at night for protection.

As companions to the lonely teenagers, Diana’s cat, Matilda, and Hector’s dog, Stewart, add a degree of domesticity to a setting devoid of most animals.  The only other surviving species seem to be the birds of the wilderness lake, endangered species brought there by Evan in an attempt to preserve them.  It was ironic that these birds, so close to extinction should survive when the prolific species appear to have all been destroyed.

By her use of dual first-person narratorial voices, Macdonald was restricted to describing the world only through the eyes of her protagonists, as each learnt more of the other’s world. Also seen through their eyes, the supporting characters were described emotionally and physically from two individuals’ points of view.  As the audience identifies first with Hector then with Diana, their involvement with the text grows ever more intimate.

By Wrightson’s use of omniscient third-person narrative, the overview provided allows the emotional elements of fear, love, hate, courage, demonstrated by the characters, to be experienced vicariously by the reader.  This device allows multiple points-of-view to the action – not least that of the Nargun itself.  His setting, “a gorge, deep and dark and filled with rain-forest, but where there was food and where the earth kept to its old rhythms”, (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) was of great importance to him.  “In its cold, heavy way it loved the mountain.  It had come to love distance and sky and high rocky places;” (ibid, p. 77)

While both narratorial worlds are in reality our ‘ordinary’ world, by nature of their fantasy each has an extra dimension.  Wrightson’s world is our rural world, with a magical dimension.   “Wongadilla is a pastoral utopia …. [highlighting] the imperfections of the here and now … where Simon meets the spirit world and where his healing takes place.” (Saxby, 1997, p 242)  The setting is a recognisable Australian farm with recognisably Australian characters – Edie, Charlie, Simon and the grader driver.  As already established, their world is enhanced by the indigenous spirits of the Potkoorok, the Nyols, the Turongs and even the Nargun which evokes ambivalent feelings of fear and pity for Simon, Edie and the reader.

Macdonald’s world is our ‘ordinary’ world projected into a possible post-disaster future, after our land has been destroyed by pollution, and erosion – by progress. “Macdonald’s book create[s] dystopia ….a world gone wrong, where there is dysfunction and disharmony …. by taking human exploitation and individual weakness to the limit in our own highly industrialised and technologically exploitative era.” (ibid, pp. 242-3)  However there is the little pocket of wilderness with at its heart the mystical lake, protected and fostered by Diana’s family.  They, the wilderness lake, birds, Diana’s family, and Hector’s cave-community, are the only apparent survivors of the devastation that wiped out the land, the cities, and most of the inhabitants, both animal and human.  The difference between the fictitious world of Macdonald and ours is that our world is still surviving but with signs of pollution build-up that are ominous.

These settings were used by their respective authors to under-line the importance of the ideology embedded in the narratives.  For Wrightson the quiet ‘utopian’ rural setting “characterised by a kind of innocence and by simple, even homely values” (Stephens, 1992, p 128) acted as a foil to the noisy mechanised world of the cities.  There Simon’s parents were killed in a car accident, and from there the bulldozer and grader were brought with their noise and destruction.

The theme of noise and silence are integral to the setting: “And what’s wrong with a bit of noise? thought Simon sullenly” (Wrightsons, 1975, p. 19) while on his journey to the farm. There the farm noises, “dogs … whimper[ing], hens cluck[ing] … magpie’s call … a hard nasal cry [of a sheep], … [were taken by]  the silence [which] … out of them built more silence.” (ibid, p. 19)  This theme abets the conservation message within the text.  Not only is deforestation (by noisy machinery) bad for our environment globally, but locally offends and rouses the spirits of our land to revolt.

Macdonald used noise and silence as indicators of setting.  The silence within the underground community caused its inhabitants to gradually quieten, until they spoke in whispers, and loud noise hurt their ears as bright light hurt their eyes.  In Diana’s story about the lake, noise: “of screaming kids and fighting couples and televisions and rock music and pneumatic drills from council workers doing overtime” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 39) was equated with the crowded life of the cities and towns.  The noise of “the frogs … roaring and the birds in great flocks … shrieking” (ibid, p. 39)   equated with the peace of the lake.  Silence meant solitude, isolation, a thing she and especially her mother, Beth, dreaded.  Using the radio at night, Diana wanted another community to be still out there but Beth had virtually given up hope.  So in Macdonald’s ‘dystopia ‘noise was a good thing, silence repressive.

Wrightson used the rural setting “to evoke [and reveal ] the mythic past not of the European Settler people but of the indigenous Aboriginal people” (Stephens, 1992, p. 126) in the form of carefully researched non-sacred earth spirits.  She wanted to show the Australian reader, who have only had access to European mythical creatures, such as dragons, elves, etc, “that indigenous magic did indeed have powers of conviction and interpretation unmatched by the imported kind.” (Wrightson, 1980, p. 615).  As her spirits are of the trees, the swamps, the mountain, of stone, of nature, it was necessary that Wrightson used their landscape to bring the imagined into the rational world.  They “were part of the earth and this mountain.  People might come and go … but those others …had belonged here always.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 61-2)  She wanted us to believe that they really exist in our world, as they do for the Aboriginal Australian.  But today’s world of the white Australian is one of mechanical and social progress which leaves little room for fantasy.

Both authors used the environmental warnings of our world to give meaning to their stories.  They used them as the foundation for the overall setting, of social functional and disfunctional circumstance, historical time of here and now and beyond, and general locale, ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’, of mountains and lakes, retreats from metropolitan life, in which their protagonists operated.

(C) Jud House  23/10/2012

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abrahms, M.H. (1993) A Glossary of Literary Terms Sixth Edition.  Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Macdonald, C (1995)  The Lake at the End of the World  Ringwood:  Puffin Books / Penguin books Australia Ltd.

Saxby, M. (1997)  ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, in Books in the Life of a Child: Bridges to Literature and Learning  (231-247), Melbourne:  MacMillan.

Stephens, J. (1992)  ‘Post-Disaster Fiction: The Problematics of a Genre’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, Vol. 3(2): 126-130

Wrightson, P (1975) The Nargun and the Stars  Ringwood: Puffin Books / Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Wrightson, P. (1980)  ‘Ever Since My Accident: Aboriginal Folklore and Australian Fantasy’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 56(6), December: 609-617

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

Nargun and the Stars (1975)

Gilderdale, B (1978)  ‘The Novels of Patricia Wrightson’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 9(1): 43-49

Murray, J. (1991) ‘Hurtling into Freedom: Patricia Wrightson’s ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, Papers, Vol. 2(2): 75-86

Norman, L. (1994) ‘Patricia Wrightson: A Dreaming’, Magpies, No. 5, November: 18-20

Wrightson, P. (1974) ‘Hurtling into Freedom’, Reading Time, Vol. 52: 6-7

Wrightson, P. (1986) ‘The Geranium Leaf’, Horn Book Magazine,  Vol. 62(2): 176-185.

Wrightson, P. (1987)  ‘Folklore and Fantasy’,  Orana,  May: 76-83.

The Lake at the End of the World (1990)

Gilderdale, B. (1991) ‘Caroline Macdonald’, in Introducing Twenty-One New Zealand Children’s Writers (94-98), Aukland:  Hodder & Stoughton.

Plato (1987) ‘The Simile of the Cave’, in The Republic, (book Six) (316-325),  London:  Penguin

General

Alexander, L. (1971) ‘High Fantasy and Heroic Romance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 48(6), December: 577-584.

Bettelheim, B. (1976) ‘Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation’, in The Uses of Enchantment (143-156), New York: A. Knopf.

Hughes, T. (1970) ‘Myth and Education’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol.1, March: 55-70.

Tymn, M., Zahorski, K. & Boyer, R.J. (eds) (1979) ‘On Fantasy’, in Fantasy Literature (3-38), New York: Bowker & Co.

Wrightson, P. (1977) ‘The Nature of Fantasy’, in Robinson, M. (ed.) Readings in Children’s Literature (220-243),  Melbourne: Frankston State College.

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