Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stories Don't Hold Still

I found the following essay by Ed Pacht to be thought provoking. When it comes to story endings, some people prefer to be left hanging because this allows the mind to explore the possibilities. As Ed Pacht reminds us, "Stories don't hold still..."

Often the novel's ending disappoints because it seems disconnected from what came before, or what came before has not been sufficiently explored by the author.

The task of  Biblical Anthropology is to pull back the veil of time and track antecedents, like the ancestors of Abraham.  Who were they?  Where did they live, what did they believe? Such investigation usually reveals that there is a connection between what those people believed about the end and the New Testament writings about the end. The New Testament writers make it clear that even that story doesn't hold still.

There is His glorious appearing, the final judgment, a marriage feast, and an eternal kingdom of peace. Sorrow will be no more and every tear will be wiped away. And that is only the beginning.-- Alice C. Linsley

Ed explains that, "The essay came from having read a review of a story I haven’t read which begins with the words, “The End.” What is the end? What is the beginning? Just exactly what it the now? Yes, the Bible and Christian tradition take a linear view of time, but this has to be seen in the light of One who created time itself and stands entirely outside of it."

The End

The end. Is that any way to begin a story? Shouldn’t a story have a beginning and a middle before it gets to the end? That’s what you and I have always been taught. It’s what we’ve always believed. It’s the way life is, or is it?

Well, there is always a beginning, but we don’t always know how the story begins. In fact, when we think we know the beginning, there’s always another beginning further back, and another before that one, all the way back to the beginning of everything that is; and even that is not the real beginning, for the infinity from which everything came has no beginning at all. Furthermore, if we do think we know the beginning of something, that may be all that we will ever know, and, so far as we can see, this beginning is the end of the tale.

So, it seems as though, whatever story we are telling, we’re really jumping into the middle of it, no matter where we start; and, you know, trying too hard to start at the beginning can get us so bogged down that we never manage to tell our story at all. And when we have begun our tale in the middle of the action, well, this is like life, isn’t that the way it is? We seldom really know how things started, and can’t really know how they’ll turn out, but here we are, right in the middle, where the action is really happening. We are taught, probably rightly, that a good work of fiction ties up loose ends and comes to a conclusion, but that really isn’t how life works at all, and sometimes a tale just has to leave the reader hanging in the middle of events.

Which brings us back to where we started: the end. Well, yes, every story will have an end. The writer or teller will eventually stop. Will it be an obvious ending? Will the ends be tied up and the plot resolved? Perhaps so, but life is not like that. There’s always more, and rarely do we understand the implications of what has gone on, rarely do we know where it will lead; and often what we see as the end of the tale may be all that we will ever see, the whole story in itself, so far as we can know it, or it may indeed be the very beginning of the tale we hear, leading us to look back to the middle and even the beginning of it all.

Stories don’t hold still for the pattern we want to put on them. They develop a life of their own and our efforts to force them where they don’t want to go can make them wooden or confused.

ed pacht
11 May 2016

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