Studies in Change: A Book of the Short Story

Studies in Change: A Book of the Short Story

Studies in Change: A Book of the Short Story

Studies in Change: A Book of the Short Story

Excerpt

Narrative, the recital of a chain of happenings, has held the Western imagination since Homer the Singer of Tales: it is the oldest creative use of language of which record remains. Five of us (says Odysseus) drove the smoking pole down into the Cyclops' eye; and as my weight bore it down they twisted it to and fro, as shipwrights drill a timber, till his eye's blood boiled up around the burning wood, and his eyestrings crackled in the heat. . . .--a sailor's tale, told in port. Or the hunter in the Grettir Saga tells how he knocked off balance the bear at the cliff edge, lopping one of its paws with his axe. A tale is a thing told; tale and tell are nearly the same word; there are marvels in the world, says the tale-teller, which, having known them, I can bring before your mind, if you will surrender yourself to my voice. My voice shall be your summons to belief. I shall relive the thing again in the telling, and shall talk as I relive it, and it shall be as if I were making the words up as I go along. I shall make you see what I see, and feel what I feel; we shall be astonished together, terrified together, valorous together. I shall submit myself again, for your enjoyment and my own, to dangers once already undergone (do not tax me with being a great liar), and no one, when we come past the crisis of the tale, shall see the Cyclops safely blinded, or the bear disabled, with more relief than I. Once upon a time. . . .

His art, in tavern or bivouac, by a small night fire or on the deck of a ship, wherever men have time to kill and attention to divert, is always the same: to unite our imaginations, instant by instant, with events made real. His art is at the core of the story-writer's art; but the short story is something different. Story is nearly the same word as history: a methodical record, something with system to it, very likely not told but written down; and the writing reread, and revised and improved. In it, happenings are related--but more than that, something is examined. Many a short story, but no tale, is a kind of case history. The genre as we understand it today was developed within a century or less . . .

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