Monday, January 08, 2007

Beating of Drums, Breasts, Etc.

A portion of Archibald Willard's The Spirit of 1776.

One of our oldest instruments.
Thunka-thunka, THUNK, from the time Grog, the Neanderthal, repetitively applied a stick to a log and liked it.
One of our oldest metaphors.
For heart-beats, hoof-beats.
A method of message over estuaries and deltas.
Drum talk.
Our warnings of war.
Dim drums throbbing in the hills half-heard...

Marching to a different drummer, beating the drum, drumming up support for...

Drumming as music and rhythm has become complex, a weaving of beat and bass, timpani and tom-tom, tenuto, marcato, brush sweeps and rim shots and snare.
While I like a good drum solo, I don't want an entire concert of it.

Which is one of the reasons why, I suppose, we get very irritated when a piece of fiction seems dedicated to pounding and over-powering our psyches with an Important Message.
It's a primitive method of communication.
It insults our sophisticated ears.
And we revolt.


Erik Ivan James said...

But sometimes, a primitive method is needed, to capture our sophisticated attention.

Bernita said...

True, but can soon deafen the audience, Erik.

Ric said...

Curious as to what provoked this post?
Yet, this seems to be an apt analogy. The agents/editors want the drums - loud and raucous - to grab attention, but the placement of the violins and oboes must come quickly with the melody clear and inviting.

December Quinn said...

Nothing makes me put a book down faster than "message fiction". I don't buy it if I know, and if I made a mistake and bought it, I put it down immediately. Bleh.

Bernita said...

Thinking of the "issue" dominated examples we've seen on the Crapometer and elsewhere, Ric.
Was re-reading a Modesitt last night.
Environment is clearly one of his concerns - yet he doesn't beat us over the head with it.

Me too, December.
I like being led - not pushed.

writtenwyrdd said...

Ah yes, the story as vehicle for an Important Message. Aren't they loathsome? I can't think of one which didn't irritate the shit out of me while I was reading it, because my first reaction was to be insulted that the author thinks I am that stupid that I'll miss the point. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead come to mind immediately...

One of the reasons I think that much of the christian fiction out there gets panned is that a lot of them appear to be full of message and short on story. But I'm sure that the genre will continue to sell and improve. Not that I care, I only read the stuff by accident.

Robyn said...

The Big Spiritual Lesson is one of my biggest peeves with Christian fiction. Thankfully, it is growing dimmer.

MissWrite said...

Well the thing is, the very best fiction really does deliver an important message of some sort, subjects may vary, lol. What makes them great is they deliver it without you really knowing it. I agree 100% with you that there's nothing worse than reading something where it's painfully obvious an author is trying to shove his point-of-view down your throat by using your eyes.

Great fiction makes you think without even realizing it, and lets you draw your own conclusions.

Rowan said...

The message should be enveloped in the story, not the story wrapped around the message. Sometimes this means your message must be diluted. Astute readers will get it. Those that don't will still enjoy the story, and maybe you'll kick their subconscious.

As a big Modesitt fan, I find him the master of embedding things.

On the other hand, I find the last few Terry Goodkind ones have been higher on the soapbox than is necessary. Characters spouting 'message dialogue' rather than logical words for the character speaking. Fortunately the story has sufficient legs to overlook the message-heavy volumes in the series.

Kate Thornton said...

Great image, Bernita - I have always loved the expression on the drummer's face.

It reminds me of Vachel Lindsay's "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven"

(Bass drum beaten loudly)

BOOTH led boldly with his big bass drum—
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
The Saints smiled gravely and they said: “He’s come.”
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,
Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,
Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale—
Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail:—
Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death—
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

I am not a fan of The Message in literature - if I want a message I'll call Western Union. But poetry, of course, is different.

EA Monroe said...

Sometimes the drum beat may only be drum sticks beating a cardboard box. Much can be "manipulated & disguised" (ie, sound and by word engineers depending on the medium). Average Joe & Nancy Q. Reader may not always discern the difference. Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, with its social themes and "don't use drugs" message, comes to my mind. Yet, it won awards in its day. Would the story win awards today?

Bernita said...

Exactly, Written, I dislike overt evangelism of any kind, whether it's Christian, aetheism, environmentalism,abortion, gun control...

A little more parable and less preaching, Robyn.

Certainly, Tami.
They don't push the beat.

That's well put, Rowan.
I really like Modesitt. Technically, his writing is sometimes clumsy, but I find myself reading him over and over.

I agree about Goodkin.
He lost me as a reader after book three or four.

Poetry, fortunately, is also usually short and too the point, Kate!
And not as intentionally deceptive.

Bernita said...

Never having read it, I couldn't venture an opinion, Elizabeth.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Now i must say that once a year I do enjoy the Drum and Bugle Corps competitions that are held here. LOL...and that is far more than a drum solo!

But I do agree on reading books where the message is pedantic. It gets boring after a while, and I just want to scream, "Enough already!"

writtenwyrdd said...

I own every L.E. Modsett book, but many of them are too overbearing in the message dept. for me. Not all of them overdo the message, but some do, especially the most recent ones.

that said, he writes great stories.

writtenwyrdd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernita said...

That would be absolutely thrilling event, Bonnie.

He's still on the plus side for me, Written...perhaps because it seems a natural part of the worlds he has built.

Steve G said...

I can take a beating by the drum as long as the beat is something I like. I don't want to know how an orange tree grows and the insects that live off of it, if the cool taste of the fruit is all that is needed.

Bernita said...

You mean in a generic sort of way, Steve?

Steve G said...

Yes, smile.

Anonymous said...

As drums are the heartbeat of music, so should the subtle hint of the main message be in writing.

Bernita said...

Nicely put, Anon!

raine said...

Agree with Rowan. Wrap your (subtle) message in a wonderful story, and it'll not only get through, but be more effective.
I dislike being hammered. I tend to strike back.

Bernita said...

The thud you hear is the sound a book hitting the far wall....
Gets my stubborn back up, too, Raine.

anna said...

drumming ... the beating of the earth's heart.
and a piece of fiction that's preachy is reason to revolt hah!

writtenwyrdd said...

Have any of you ever literally thrown a book that annoyed you? I did. It was ERAGON.

Bernita said...

People are sometimes revolting, Anna.

Literally? Probably not, Written, since I'm not given to tempermental displays.
Verbally though,I'm likely to say "What a piece of sh...."

Rick said...

Damn, I didn't see today's post till I refreshed - and a line from "Lepanto," no less!

I like being led - not pushed.

Which sums it up nicely.

On some level, almost any work of fiction has a message, because it reflects the author's outlook. You are, among other things, making a point about the sexuality and sexual attractiveness of women over 40, but the story makes the point simply by being, without beating the reader over the head.

Anent your Lepanto reference, though, the drumbeats aren't always of our own making. When I first invented Catherine and her world, my characters' attitudes toward "Monites" - read Muslims - mattered only in story terms. Now the contemporary overtones are inescapable, and I have to think about what message I might be conveying.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I never made it through Goodkind's first book - not because of messages but because I didn't like his style and could care less for his characters.

MZB lost me on her later Avalon books with her tree hugging good women pseudo-Celts. And her Darkover series never reached its pre-Avalon level when she took it up again, either. Clearly, she had become an Institution.

writtenwyrdd said...

Alas! May I become so popular I am a victim of my own success like MZB, LKH or others.

I know people who know people who know MZB (one of those connections) adn I gather that a lot has been going on in the personal life in recent years.

As far as book tossing goes, I only ever threw the one, and it was more like dropped it to the floor a few feet away rather than a forty-yard pass. I paid too much for it to really give it the heave ho.

spyscribbler said...

writtenwyrdd, I've thrown two books in my life. One because of the haphazard last quarter of what WAS an awesome book, and I regularly throw John le Carre's work. His work has a way of getting under my skin.

But I keep reading him, because by Chapter 7 I'm completely fascinated and I can't put the book down, and also because they challenge me.

Bernita said...

True, Rick, and my heroine has certain rather rigid attitudes about terrorists as well.

Gag me, Gabriele. So tired of noble savages and flowers-spring-up-where-they-walk pseudo-paganism.

There's usually a clear line between keepers and non-keepers, Written.

Anonymous said...

The Catcher in the Fu%@ing Rye! Tossed it right out the window the second time I read it and couldn't figure out what was so great about it.

Bernita said...

"...couldn't figure out what was so great about it."

I have never figured that out either, Anon.Thought it was crap.