28 July 2010

Angel of Mons and why there's no improbable idea this week




















[Jacek Malczewski, Wikimedia]

I'm enjoying posting the improbable ideas I have but haven't gotten around to developing into full stories. Today's a bit different.

The Angel of Mons is a famous story from the First World War with British soldiers reporting phantom cavalry/bowmen/angels coming to their aid or simply being with them in the horrors of trench warfare. Yet the article that sparked the publication of these reports (and possibly the reports themselves?) was repeatedly stated as fiction by its author, Arthur Machen.

In a living nightmare, people want to believe the supernatural is with them (God, angels, ghosts, it varies). This means writers/creative artists can tap a deep vein of emotion with a story that adds a supernatural element to a disaster. It's what people want to believe, a reassurance of survival and comfort that we enjoy in our entertainment.

But I'm simply too much a coward to take this idea and run with it. I have a superstitious horror of jinxing reality. Yes, I know I'm not powerful enough to change the world. But what if I imagined a disaster that came true? I'd never forgive myself. I've tangled with this theme of the supernatural intervening to help in a disaster once in a children's story, using the London Underground. It creates a powerful tension. But taking this to an adult story, letting the grief and suffering stand ... No, I think I'll let this post stand as a discussion of a theme, rather than imagine a disaster or exploit an existing one. Although that raises a whole different issue -- is it exploitative to explore people's experience of disaster through fiction? Surely it's really a long term human strategy of understanding via storytelling?

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