Patterns (was Re: Wilkins' Tooth (was Re: Introductions))

minnow at minnow at
Wed Jun 25 09:12:37 EDT 2003

Melissa replied to me (and to Jennifer Rowland's response):
>I was thinking how much fun it is later on to suddenly realize what all
>those references were.  Like being in your tedious English Lit class and
>meeting an old friend in the textbook.

Patterning, isn't it?  One of the basic human things seems to be a pleasure
in finding patterns, or even a *need* to find them.  All the ink-blot stuff
about the significance of what pattern people make out of random splodges,
and all the stuff about people seeing faces in the crater-pattern of the
moon and in water-stain on ceilings is related to that.   (This is *huge*
subject to wander into casually like this, but let's live dangerously...)

If, like DWJ, one is playing with the patterns, subverting the template, it
is as well to offer a substitute pattern onto which people can latch as
they read.  Charlie mentioned *Finnegan's Wake*...  That plays with the
expected patterns so much that it fair frightens people off it unless they
are very determined indeed (or fifteen-year-old pseuds, I suppose).
Navigating with no map and no road-signs can be frightening, so if one is
burning the map, as DWJ more-or-less does at times, it's a kind thing to
provide landmarks and the occasional sign-post just so the reader doesn't
feel completely lost.

>Some of DWJ's books, though, really are less...accessible, I guess, than
>others.  I try not to give _Hexwood_ to anyone who isn't mentally up to the
>challenge, because the complaints I've heard about it are almost universally
>of the "it was badly written because I couldn't understand what was going
>on" variety.  With that one, understanding Arthurian myth makes a huge
>difference because it gives you something to hang on to while you're putting
>the puzzle together.

It helps to have been baffled by the Lily-White Boys as well!  That-there
is an interesting part of patterns coming into play: I do not, and DWJ does
not, *understand* that extraordinary song/poem ("Green Grow the Rushes-O")
-- I don't know whether anyone really does.  Who or what are the Six Proud
Walkers?  How do they tie in with the Seven Stars in the Sky, or the Nine
Bright Shiners, and which stars are either anyway: the planets?  The
Plough?  What are the five Symbols At Your Door?  Yet somehow, the
reference to the (April) Reigners (April Rainers?) is reassuring because it
harks back to a "known thing", even if the known thing itself is

Seemingly, the unexplained that doesn't fit any known pattern is
frightening on its own; but as soon as it has been given a label, and put
into a known-category, it becomes "safe" -- even if it is still essentially
very unsafe indeed!  Eg, objects start to fling themselves about the room
for no reason: terrifying.  Call it "poltergeist activity" and it is still
a frightening thing, but it is somehow less frightening because it has been
"explained" and made to fit in with a pattern of other scary strangenesses
-- even though the "explanation" is entirely without substance.

I think I need a cup of coffee...  My brain hurts...  I am beginning to be
overwhelmed by cosmic patterns...


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