2 February, 2014
Hidden Twisted World

I'm fond of stories that basically take the world around us and twist it in some way. There's just something really cool about it or maybe it just feeds into the whole notion of more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in philosophy. Sure, we've got a pretty good idea of the shape of things what with science and all of that. Yay, science. But, wouldn't it just be cool if. So, yeah, there's something very escapist and exciting about imagining things being other than what they are in some way or other. Just to pick at one example, the X-Files was a hit for more than one reason, and it's really hard to escape from vampire shows, superhero movies and assorted whatnot these days.

Now, having said all of that, there is one big problem with movies and television shows, comic books and novels, that attempt to twist the world just a little bit, and that problem is the fact we have twisted the real world in some way or other while trying to ignore how that twist would actually affect the real world. I mean, once you've got that twist in there, you've basically said goodbye to the real world, but you still kind-of want it to be the real world or almost the real world.

It kind-of defeats the whole escapist dream that the real world really is more interesting than what we see around us if the twist actually causes the world to be too different. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dragons lobbying congress and holding rallies and whatnot would get noticed, I'm sure. Also, hard to ignore all the news stories about how—say—Fresno was burned to the ground because their sacrificial offering to the local fire-breathing lizard turned out to be slightly less than technically a virgin or whatever. Then, you've got to check the local news for updates as all of Wyoming and Utah are on high alert because Lord Ragnishthok the Black is feeling particularly cranky today and there's a 70% chance he'll be flying around looking for random people to charbroil. Nothing like that in real life.

So, one way of resolving the whole escapist real world is actually more magical than we think thing is to make the magic world a secret world that only a select few people can actually see. Turn the whole twist into a bit of an Emperor's New Clothes type-of thing.

This is a technique I've applied twice, The Faire Folk of Gideon: Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and Pyrrhic Kingdom, basically because I thought it was cool. In each case, I obsessed more than a little over how well hiding the twisted world was working and how likely it actually would be that the twisted world would remain hidden.

A common approach to keeping the twisted world hidden is to claim that people are stupid and resistant to accepting the twisted world so they only see what they want to see. Those vampires that attacked everybody yesterday were really just a bunch of punks and it was only mass hysteria that made us think they were anything more than a bunch of punks. This approach annoys me more than just a little because it feels very hand-wavy ignore the guy behind the curtain to me, if that even makes sense. It feels very just ignore the incongruity of it all and enjoy the rest of our story to me, if that makes any more sense as a way to describe it. Or call it, shut-up and enjoy the show.

Another approach is to have conspiracies working very hard to keep the twisted world hidden. This is okay, I guess, but really relies on the twisted world being very small scale. There are only so many vampires, for example, and they ruthlessly police their own. Yeah, that's got its points but has to be seriously small scale. There's a book I read recently, which lost me on the hidden twisted world front exactly because of its scale. There were simply far too many unusual things running around. Sure, governments were working to keep it all quiet, but I just didn't buy that all world governments would have some kind-of secret agreement to keep everything hidden. I just—yeah—I just didn't buy it. Too many weird things running around in public. Too much covering it all up. And why would every single government of every single country in the world agree to keep the secret anyway?

Anyway, this all got me thinking about my reasoning and attempts to have hidden twisted world stories. Enough to make me wonder just how good I did at establishing the hidden twisted world.

Well, basically, I took two completely different approaches. The Faire Folk of Gideon can be explained quite easily. Maybe even a little too easily. The narrator is crazy, you see. Don't believe a word he says. Pyrrhic Kingdom is a little harder to explain. Basically, it's not a secret. Everybody believes in ghosts and goblins and assorted whatnot. They're just so incredibly rare that people have a hard time taking them seriously.

So, yeah, The Faire Folk of Gideon is slightly more complex than the fact the narrator is crazy. After all, it's possible he isn't crazy. If he's not crazy, then why don't people notice? Because it's not strictly speaking happening here. Once you've been touched by the twisted world, you kind-of sort-of slip into the twisted world, leaving reality behind. You've entered a world where giant spiders build webs between skyscrapers. You can occasionally drift back into the real world, but you don't get to stay. Some people back from the twisted world just keep quiet about it. The one's not keeping quiet are all in hospital or busy being ignored on the bus. Nobody listens to the weird guy talking to himself and quite possibly smelling like pee. That's more-or-less my reasoning behind The Faire Folk of Gideon, anyway.

Pyrrhic Kingdom worries me a little more because it's attempting to be so much closer to the real world. It plays up the fact that tons of people kind-of sort-of do believe in ghosts and goblins and whatnot. Television shows about mysteries of the unexplained are not new. I remember watching Bigfoot shows when I was a kid. This is balanced out in the novel by the fact that the actual unnatural creatures are incredibly rare. The main characters are freaking out because there have been two maybe three incidents in six months. Also, it may be slightly less obvious, but the twisted world is trying to keep to itself. Critters don't react unless poked and go to a lot of work to keep people away. They build buffer zones that people just kind-of sort-of drift away from without really understanding why they are staying away. I've no idea how well this approach worked especially since I went to such lengths not to draw attention to it.

Anyway, those were my approaches, more-or-less, and that was my reasoning. Ultimately, these twisted worlds are not the real world, and there is only so much one can do to have the real brushing up against the fantastic.

copyright © 2014 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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