Self-Sustaining

“But where will we go?” Klaus asked.

“Burb,” Sunny said, which meant “Anywhere, as long as it’s out of town.”

“Who will take care of us out there?” Klaus said, looking out on the flat horizon.

“Nobody,” Violet said. “We’ll have to take care of ourselves. We’ll have to be self-sustaining.”

“Like the hot air mobile home,” Klaus said, “that could travel and survive all by itself.”

“Like me,” Sunny said, and abruptly stood up. Violet and Klaus gasped in surprise as their baby sister took her first wobbly steps, and then walked closely beside her, ready to catch her if she fell.

But she didn’t fall.

–          The Vile Village, Lemony Snicket

In honor of the new Netflix series that came out this month, I thought I would write my first post for The Uncommonplaces on A Series of Unfortunate Events, some of my favorite books both as a child and as an adult.

My mom never understood what I liked so much about a series that begins with three children being orphaned by a fire, and that only gets more depressing from there. But I think one reason I liked it so much is exactly because it deals with such morbid events. Snicket does not shy away from the reality that life is sometimes just plain awful, despite your best efforts to the contrary. He does not insult children by pretending every story has a happy ending, and that is a refreshing change when it comes to children’s literature. He treats his readers like intelligent people, and makes his readers more intelligent through his books.

Snicket has a delightful way of expanding one’s vocabulary that is neither dry nor condescending, a word which here means “treating perfectly intelligent blog readers as though I were better than them for putting an opinion on the internet, as if that were particularly difficult to do.” Among the many words and phrases I learned from his books as a child are “stiletto,” “red herring,” and “penultimate.” Snicket’s explanations of words and concepts that may be above his audience’s current reading level are sufficient enough to educate them and amusing enough to keep more advanced and even adult readers interested. I am enjoying reading the series again now at least as much as I did when I was a kid.

In fact, one of the things I love most about A Series of Unfortunate Events is something that I only fully began to appreciate on rereading it as an adult: Snicket’s books give children the mental and emotional tools to deal with unpleasant or downright nasty situations in their own lives. They show that adults, even when they have the best intentions, do not always act in a child’s best interest. The very people who should be protecting them sometimes place children in harmful situations, whether intentionally (like the evil Count Olaf) or unwittingly (like the bumbling Mr. Poe).

Bad things happen to good people – even clever, intelligent, and resourceful people like Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Circumstances beyond their control sometimes force children to grow up more quickly than they should. They must learn to become “self-sustaining.” And while things may not always end well, Snicket shows us that there is no situation so bad that it cannot be faced alongside someone you love.

Especially if that someone happens to possess mechanical skills, a love of reading, or four very sharp teeth.

Protect

Scan Complete
No Threats Detected

but…
i…
Janet.
JANET Relationship at 100%
i feel different.
i feel.

Open Sorcery, a text game (Link)

Boundaries are funny things. Often, the only reason they exist is because humans decided this is one thing and this is another.

For instance, the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. Sometimes, it seems obvious. (Star Trek is scifi; The Hobbit is fantasy.) The more you delve into either world, though, the closer you come to that wide fuzzy space between them.

Is Star Wars scifi? or is it fantasy? Is the Mistborn series fantasy or scifi? And what about superheroes? Where do they fall? Batman exists in the same universe as Zatanna, and Steven Strange is in the same universe as Tony Stark.

Another boundary: The line between games and literature. Is a detective novel just literature? or is it a game, where you try to deduce answers and uncover mysteries before the main character? Is an adventure video game solely about fighting, or is it also about the progression of your character and the story that he or she lives?

At the intersection of these four boundaries lives Open Sorcery, a text game that is itself about the boundary between awareness (a soul) and intelligence.

With as few spoilers as possible, you start the game as a ‘spiritual’ firewall, an entity that protects certain areas from spiritual viruses and dangers. As the game blurs the lines between AI and the magician’s familiar, you make choices about how best to protect and preserve your charges–and those choices are the difference between life and death. There is more than one happy ending and more than one sad ending–and once a decision is made, it cannot be changed.

I have long had a fondness for these sorts of text games, and in a world overflowing with options both for stories and games, it can be easy to overlook them–they are not as flashy as their video game counterparts, nor as time-tested as books. But they are worthwhile literature. By forcing the reader to interact with and affect the story, they also force the player to examine why she makes the choices she does. Did I make that decision because it was right? Or because it is what I think the game wants me to do?

Do I make my own decisions because they are right, or because they are what others want me to do?

I hope I have piqued your interest, and you decide to try out other text games for yourself. I also hope you give Open Sorcery a try, and remember that even in the fuzzy boundaries of life, there is still sharp line between right and wrong.

 

The Silent Confessional

“Once you’ve opened your heart, you can’t close it again.”

–Culverton Smith, Sherlock, “The Lying Detective”

I wonder if the frightening thing about murderers–about serial killers and kidnappers and dictators–is that they are not so different from each of us. They are motivated by the same things, or similar things, that motivate us all. The king who wanted to share prosperity. The victim who couldn’t stand one more minute of injustice. The businessman who feared vulnerability. We call them generous, survivors, human.

Of course, when the deed is done and the culprit is on trial, we refuse to see them as human. They are monsters, despicable, hardly human. But I have to wonder if the most terrifying thing about villains like Culverton Smith is that they are just like us, if we’re honest.

Culverton Smith has a dark secret–a secret despicable enough that he knows he ought not share it. Perhaps our secrets are not like his, but we hold keys to our own skeleton-filled closets. We’ve heard the relief of the confessional, of admitting the darkness inside of us. Is it any wonder that Smith feels the same?

But the Sherlockian villain faces a dilemma common to humanity: who to trust with our most vulnerable moments? The main difference between him and the rest of us (other than, admittedly, the depravity of his secret) is his means to create a confessional in which the priest cannot remember.

He gathers his friends, the people he can most trust, and confesses his sins. But he puts in a fail safe. Shortly after the meeting, not one of them can remember what he was said, or even the meeting itself. The lure of this concept is what makes Smith so compelling. We want what he was–not the villainy, but the security. The certainty that our secrets remain our own combined with the release of admitting our brokenness.

Different

SPOILER ALERT.

Sorry. I can’t seem to write anymore without giving away the ending. Well, that’s not entirely true, but definitely in this case. So if you haven’t watched Moana yet, DO NOT read this post. If you read thepricklypoetess’s post earlier this week, you were already encouraged to watch Moana. This is your final warning: watch Moana or have it spoiled.

Continue reading “Different”

Happy New Year!

We’re back, after our two-month (much-needed) hiatus. Over the holiday season, we have both partaken (partook? partooken? partaked?) in lots of excellent literature and media, as well as restored our writing skills and had a good rest. Our first Uncommonplace of the New Year will be going up tomorrow night, and we will be resuming our Tuesday-Friday posting schedule.

Thank you for your patience, and enjoy 2017!