Tuesday, August 15, 2006


We are decended from them.
Any examination of the ferocities of death and destruction that man and nature can inflict upon a population can make one feel extremely lucky to be born at all.
Plagues, famines, earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, shipwrecks, floods, pestilence, drought.
And of course, war and massacres in abundance tend to wittle down the genetic tally stick.
Apocalypse has been around a long, long time.

Perhaps this inchoate memory is one cause of the popularity of Survivor and its spin-offs. A subtle self-interest in not only the who but the how.

Survivor tales strew historical records with persistence.
Richard II escaped to Scotland. Edward II fled to Ireland. Le Dauphin was smuggled to America. Hitler decamped to Argentina. Elvis lives in Albuquerque.
Setting aside the political and propaganda efficacy of such stories and the associated and equally thematic distrust of the "official" explanation by the cynical and the unwashed, these tales persist because they are plausible.
Miraculous escapes have and do occur.
People given up for lost have returned from harrowing adventures - to the joy or dismay of their associates.
Naturally, possibilities abound for frauds and imposters as well.

In fiction, this theme was once both overt and popular - the lost heir, the stolen child, the resurrected hero - in tales like the Mysteries of Udolpho and the Graustarkian type.
Variants like the amnesiac's secret baby have also kept the theme alive in modern romance.
Unwary novelists, tired of a popular character and killing them off, have been forced to create come-backs - the Sherlock Holmes effect, I suppose - a Rocky road.
Seems to me it's a useful device - ostensibly kill off a character, engender sorrow and agony and then by devious means, re-intoduce him or her.
EA Monroe of Shadows of Time is adept at this.
Such a plot-extender has a long and respectable history, in both fact and fiction.

This has been a Tami Parrington inspired post.


Erik Ivan James said...

Um, John. Hmmm...John?

S. W. Vaughn said...

Fascinating topic! Amazing, when you think about it, that we're all still here.

I think my favorite survivor-themed novel is Misery (even though as a rule I hate novels with authors as protags), because it has kind of a theme-within-theme approach.

Man survives crash he should not have survived, and can only remain alive by resurrecting a dead character from his novels for a rabid fan (with a big sharp axe).

The book was a hundred times better than the movie, BTW, for anyone who's seen but not read.

MissWrite said...

What an interesting spin on what makes us so fascinated with 'survivors', and the realities of life that need to be overcome; and how it relates to us in fiction.

Much food for thought. Thanks for the mention, too.

Scott said...

It strengthens my belief that we are just animals like all the rest of nature, expendable but adept at replenishing our losses.

Zinnia said...

I have to agree with s.w. vaughn. Misery is one heck of a suvivor title. Too bad the movie didn't follow the book exactly as it is.

Bernita said...

Seriously considering it, Erik...

Think a geanealogist would find that blood lines tend to converge after a few centuries, Sonia.

Always nice to blame it on you, Tami.

That's the Playboy Bunny effect, Scott!
Even though we have four children I refuse to consider myself a rabbit...

Jaye Wells said...

This got me thinking about the Romanovs. The story of their demise is so horrific that it's not a surprise so many people wanted to believe Anastasia (or Alexei or Olga, etc.) survived. Perhaps it is the same with other fictional survivor stories. We like the idea of someone overcoming things we have no control over. It makes us feel better.

The show Lost is another good example. What is scarier than a plane crash on a deserted island with some crazy secret group kidnapping the surviviors and freaky black mists trying to get you? Watching the mensch survive makes us feel as if we too could make it too.

Bernita said...

Movies tend to be like that, Zinnia.

Agreed, Jaye, and Anastasia is another good example.
We are attracted, I think, to both the concept of hope and the evidence of means and methods.

EA Monroe said...

Bernita, you're the best! Yeah, I've got all kinds of chicanery tucked up my sleeve. Must come from the DNA of all those ancestral survivors who escaped the lion's den, St. Bartholomew's Day, Oliver Cromwell, the Revolutionary & Civil wars, the Klu Klux Clan chasing their tails from Tennessee, and made Belle Starr and the Younger Gang rein their horses to the other side of the road.

What better mystery than the stuff of life and death and the curiosity to peek behind the curtain and wonder, is that guy real, a figment of imagination, or a "ghost" seeking revenge?

I hope the "idea virus" spreads and sparks the creative imaginings for everyone who cruises through today!

Bernita said...

"rein their horses to the other side of the road" - what a great line!
Hee, EA.
The adventures of our tough and/or lucky ancestors provides infinite inspiration.
I have a few Huguenots too.

Flood said...

There are some survivor stories about people in my life I would like to write about, but I am not ready yet.

The last issue of Writer's Digest had an article about the ethics of fictionalizing tragic events for in a novel. The author's example was his experience in the aftermath of the Tsunami last year.

It's probably easier to write about someone you've never met, than to dramatize your life or someone close to you. Although Jamie Ford did a great job, writing about his grandfather's life in I am Chinese.

My favourite survivor story is about that Rugby team's plane that crashed. Recreated in the film Alive,, the books and bios written are far more chilling.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree with S.W....the book was way better than the movie, but isn't that always the case. In the printed word we get to see inside the characters heads and feel their thoughts...don't forget her wonderful sledgehammer!

And then again....there's always the device where someone is thought dead...or alive for that matter, and a year later you find out it was all a dream...bleaaaa!

Bernita said...

A certain distance is required, I think, Flood, for the more biographical type of story.

There have been a few, Bonnie, where the movie surpassed the novel.
Dreams, though, need to be handled with excruciating care, else the reader feels cheated as all get out.

Gabriele C. said...

We don't have to go as far as the Germans kicking Varus out, lol. My grandfather survived fighting in Italy, my father the firestorms in Braunschweig, and both my parents fled from the GDR in 1953, or I'd never been there. My mother said she would not have got children while living under a tyrannic regime.

Robyn said...

Gabriele, your parents sound very brave. Wonder why I've never read that in a book- "Darling, I love you, but I'm not having a child here. Don't touch me."

Jaye, I thought of Anastasia, too. Also the mysteries of our day- how fun would it be for Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, or D.B. Cooper to walk in the door after all these years.

If J.K. Rowling kills off Harry Potter in the last book, she may have to write another one to bring him back.

Bernita said...

Makes one appreciate how unique one's birth may be, Gabriele, when set against events of the time, whether cataclysmic or local.

Wonder if paranormals and historicals are the easiest genres to manage re-appearances, Robyn?

Of course, there are the stories which begin with re-appearances and the mtsterious disappearance is delt with in clever backstory.
Thinking of Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, which is something of a classic.

M.E Ellis said...

I started watching Misery and got bored. I expect the book must be better!


Jeff said...

I think in some ways survivor stories help take our minds off, if only temporarily, our own mortality.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Like Jaye, my thoughts turned to Anastasia when I read this post. Such a heartbreaking and horrific happening. I’ve always wanted to believe she and her brother survived. Your post also brought to mind the meager handful of Titanic survivors. I’m forever drawn to survivor stories and yearn for the elusive happy ending.

Another excellent post, Bernita. It always amazes me how, after a long day of writing and staring at the monitor--when the last thing I feel like doing is reading anything else--I can come to your blog and feel refreshed with a renewed energy to read. Thanks for that. :-)

Oh and could you please send me the address for Elvis in Albuquerque? ;-)

Bernita said...

If it was boring, Michelle, would it tend to turn one off the book?

Triumph over it, Jeff?
Seems to me they might be inclined to focus our minds on that very subject.

Daisy, you are a darling.
Thank you.

MissWrite said...

I think, perhaps besides allowing us to forget about our own mortality, they help us believe (as we so desperately wish to) that our lives just ain't so bad... after all, if so-and-so on that danged island can eat worms, I surely can face another meatloaf this week. LOL