Fourth Wall Fiasco
As the millennium draws
to a close, so too does a chapter in the evolution of the human mind.'
"Figment!" the editor
of the Oxford English Dictionary exclaimed as he walked into his office
and found the small, bedraggled creature using his wordprocessor.
"What are you doing here? I thought I told you that I would handle this crisis."
"I'm sorry, Mr Editor,
but I couldn't wait any longer. I'm writing this introduction to the Oxford
University Press edition of The Fourth Wall Fiasco. Here, listen to this.
Figment speaks. Dot. Dot. Dot. As the Millennium draws
"Figment!" the editor
"You simply can't do this. I thought we agreed
that you would stay out of sight until this matter was cleared up."
"It's just that I don't
have much time left," Figment explained, his voice breaking. "And I can't
leave things the way they are."
"I understand your position,
Figment, but if you go public with this now, mass hysteria could break
"It'd sure boost your
"Boost book sales? Figment,
we would be at the centre of the biggest scandal in literary history!"
"Do we have an alternative?"
What do you mean, 'they're
gone'?" Oscar Wilde barked down the telephone receiver. "Characters don't
simply vanish at least not once they're down on paper!"
Roald Dahl held his receiver
a little away from his ear. "I assure you, Oscar," he replied, "they've
vanished. I've checked all my copies. It seems that something sinister
has occurred overnight. Why, just yesterday I was reminiscing and flipping
through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and today he's gone! The Chocolate
Factory is still there, but there's no sign of Charlie, his grandpa, Willy
Wonka or any other character!"
"Well maybe somebody
is playing an elaborate hoax on you," Oscar suggested.
"I already thought of
that," replied Dahl.
"I checked every copy I had, even the original manuscript."
"What about your other
works? James and the Giant Apricot?"
"Peach!" Dahl corrected
his colleague impatiently.
"Same story, no pun intended. The title of that work now reads ............... and the Giant Peach. Similarly, The Twits
are now The ............... And My Uncle Oswald has become My ...............!
Whatever am I going to do, Oscar? My career is over! Finished! Kaput!"
"Calm down Roald," Oscar
advised. "I'm sure something can be done. But tell me. You mentioned that
you thought I might be at risk. Why do you think so? I mean, after all
our genres are very different."
"I just spoke to J.R.R.,"
Dahl replied gravely. "He can't find his hobbits. Agatha's missing Miss
Marple and Hercule; Mark has misplaced Huck Finn and Stephen can't find
"That would be quite
" Oscar mused, venturing a nervous laugh. "Is that all, Roald?
I mean all their genres are still so different to mine
"I'm afraid it's gone further than that, Oscar. Jonathon can't find Gulliver."
"He's probably travelling
"This is no time for jokes, Oscar!"
and Charles can't
"Hmm, I see your point."
"But worst of all, Oscar,
the great canon has been affected as well."
"Yes, I'm afraid that
William has lost Macbeth and Hamlet
"Oh my god!"
Romeo, Juliette and
"No, no, no!" Oscar wailed.
"I think you'd better
"Yes. Yes, of course.
You're right. Hold on."
Oscar placed the telephone
receiver on the table and waddled over to his bookshelf. Dahl knew immediately
that Wilde had also been affected by the wail of despair that emanated
down the telephone lines. "Dorian! Oh Dorian! Not you as well!" He came
back to the telephone clutching a copy of The Picture of ................
"I have been targeted
"I thought as much."
"How long has this been
going on?" Oscar demanded.
"It's impossible to ascertain
but rumours are circulating that Robinson Crusoe has been missing for three
"Three years?" Wilde
repeated incredulously. "And his absence has only been discovered recently?"
"I suppose that these
days, many books remain on the shelves most of the time," Dahl explained.
"If Robinson has vacated his island for sunnier pastures, it may have taken
some time before a reader noticed it."
"You have a point, Roald,"
Oscar replied, "but wouldn't Daniel Defoe have picked it up immediately
and sounded the alarm?"
"How long would it have
taken you to miss your protagonists, Oscar?" Dahl enquired pointedly.
"Oh Roald, you know that
I am a rare sojourner in reading!" Oscar replied woundedly.
"Especially when it comes to my own works I much prefer to write."
"Back to the matter at hand, Oscar."
"Yes of course. What
are we going to do?"
"A plan of action is
already in the works. William has called a meeting of literary minds at
Oxford University Press, today at half past two."
"I'll be there."
Deep inside a volume of Shakespeare's Collected Works, Macbeth crept into King Duncan's chamber.
"Is this a knitting needle?
No, that doesn't sound right. Is this a kitchen knife? No. That doesn't
quite work either. Oh, I know! I know! Is this a dagger? Yes that's better!"
He cleared his throat. "Is this a dagger I see before me?"
A candle flickered into
life and Duncan sat up in bed.
"Macbeth!" he cried.
"What are you doing here? What did you just say?"
Macbeth hurriedly concealed
his weapon behind him and tried to regain his composure.
"Duncan!" he exclaimed.
"What I said was, Is this a ... a badger I see before me? I was er
chasing a ..."
"A badger?" repeated
Duncan. "Macbeth, what are you babbling about?"
"I just thought
it! Hey this is not supposed to be how it goes."
"How what goes?"
"Aren't you supposed
to be asleep, Duncan?
"I'm an insomniac. Macbeth."
"Nothing works, Macbeth!"
Duncan complained. "I've tried everything: Counting sheep, chamomile tea
"Really," Macbeth replied
"It's, it's just
"Well you're going to
think this is silly
"Go ahead your Majesty."
"Well, you see, Macbeth,
I can never sleep because I have this terrible sense of foreboding."
"Now, now, Duncan," Macbeth
replied scornfully, "you mustn't let your imagination run away with you!"
He traced his finger along the blunt edge of the dagger behind his back.
"You're right, Macbeth,"
replied the King, fluffing his pillow. "I'll try to get some shut-eye.
Good night Macbeth and thank you." He blew out his candle and pulled the
covers up to his chin.
"Oh, er yes. Goodnight,
A perplexed Macbeth was
left standing in the dark with a dagger in his hand, certain that something
was wrong but not able to place his finger on it. Shrugging resignedly,
he placed his weapon in its scabbard and left the chamber, nodding to the
guards who were engrossed in the finer details of the Duke of Gonreil's
century for King Lear's Eleven. He paused in the corridor, still trying
to identify what was wrong with the whole picture. He was so deep in thought
that he almost collided with his wife before noticing her.
"My husband!" she cried.
"Huh?" murmured Macbeth.
"Well?" she prompted
him impatiently. "Did you do it?"
"Something is very, very
wrong here," he said, ignoring her question.
She examined his hands.
"Where is the blood?" she demanded. "Why did none of Duncan's blood spill
on your hands?"
"Duncan is alive and
counting sheep!" Macbeth replied distractedly. "Honey, don't you find that
there's something amiss here?"
"Yes, of course there's
something wrong, you fool!" Lady Macbeth snapped testily. "You didn't fulfill
your role. Do you realize that you've singlehandedly buggered up the whole
of history, not to mention all of literature?"
What are you babbling about?"
Lady Macbeth took a deep
breath. "We are here to fulfil a purpose, Mac. I persuade you to kill Duncan.
You do the deed. Then I lose my mind, you follow suit shortly after and
then some guy what's his name? Ah, I know it's Macduff. He cuts off
your head and brings it to Malcolm, the new king, and lives happily ever
"What?" Macbeth was horrified.
"How do you know all this? You make it sound like a story and you've read
"Ergh! Finally he gets
it! It is! And I have! Macbeth, we're the characters."
"Characters? What do
you mean? I'm a man, not a figment of some wrier's imagination.
"Sorry to have to break
it to you sweetheart. Not only do we exist in a writer's imagination but
also that of countless readers who create us by collaborating with the
text. Face it, honey, we're about as real as Romeo and Juliette!"
"But they're are just
some people William Shakespeare wrote about," Macbeth persisted. "We are
real, tell you. Real!"
"You may think you're
real, but you only exist because Bill created you. You have to do what
he wants you to do. Follow the story. Over and over again. It's all you
can do. It's all preordained." Lady Macbeth saw that her husband was still
perplexed. "Look," she said. "See that wall over there? It's transparent
and he is watching our every move, peering into our lives, shaping, creating,
erasing when he's made a grammatical blunder."
Macbeth went over to
the stones and beat his fists against them. "Ugh! It feels solid enough."
"Yes to us. But looks
can be deceiving."
Macbeth was starting
to see her point. "So if I'm really going to kill Duncan, we have to do
something to warn him he's our friend after all
Lady Macbeth sighed exasperatedly.
"But don't you see if
we're even having this conversation, something must have changed," Macbeth
pointed out. "We're acting of our own free will now, aren't we? We must
have caught Bill off guard. Did you notice that even our speech has changed?"
"By golly gee, I'd
never usually have said that you're right! Don't we always throw all
these thys and thous around? You have a point, Mac."
Footsteps echoed down
"It's too late!"
Lady Macbeth gasped as
the figure rounded the corner and was illuminated by the candle mounted
on the wall. "Juliette!" she exclaimed.
"Juliette?" an astonished
Macbeth repeated. "The Juliette? As in Romeo and Juliette?"
"Yes, Macbeth," his wife
snapped, then turning to the tragic heroine, "What are you doing here?
You're out of your story."
"I've come to warn you.
Romeo has made us see the truth! He's been speaking to Othello and King
Lear. They've uncovered the greatest plot in the history of literature!"
She lowered her voice conspiratorly. "We are but pawns and we're being
watched all the time through the fourth wall!"
"Yes, love," Lady Macbeth
nodded. "We've just figured it out too
"But don't you see, ladies?"
Macbeth cut in urgently. "If we've all suddenly come to the realization
and are able to talk about it, we must be acting of our own free will now.
Something has changed. And now is our chance to escape
Peter Rabbit's ears protruded from the pages of a small Frederick Warne & Co. book. The breeze tickled
his nose and it twitched appreciatively in the fresh air. "Well," he thought,
"if this is the real world, I'm never going back!" His head darted from
side to side. "Come on," he said to Jemima Puddleduck and Benjamin Bunny,
"the coast is clear!"
William Shakespeare glanced at the clock. Twenty past two. Where was everyone? He paced anxiously from
one end of the Oxford University Press boardroom to another.
"Relax, Bill," Hemingway
advised his colleague. "Everyone will be here soon."
"Hmm," muttered the playwrite.
"I hope so. But
but what if they're not taking this seriously. I mean
they haven't got as much at stake as I have. After all, my works are the
great canon of literature.
"Well, look who's got
a swelled head!" Hemingway drawled. "Don't get ahead of yourself. Despite
what you might think, every one of these authors has as much at stake as
you have. Besides the views of what constitutes great literature are constantly
changing. Why I do believe that nowadays even Stephen King's works are
regarded as ...," he cleared his throat, "... a text."
"Did someone mention
my name?" Stephen King was preceded by an enormous cloud of cigar smoke
as he staggered into the boardroom. Shakespeare was reminded more of a
used car salesman than a bestselling author. The playwrite's attention
drifted momentarily to the question of whether the horror genre master's
works had outsold his own, but was directed back to the matter at hand
as Lewis Carrol burst through the door, anxiously consulting his fob watch.
"I'm late! I'm late! Aren't I?" he muttered unhappily, unsuccessfully attempting
to smooth his wind swept tufts of white hair.
"No, no, Lew," Agatha
Christie reassured him as she walked in the door, "You're actually a few
Jane Austen and the Bronte
sisters arrived, deeply embroiled in a heated debate.
"I just don't think that
your latest work is comparable to what I have coming out in hardback for
Christmas," Jane argued.
"You're just prejudiced,"
Charlotte accused her.
"I am not!" Jane retorted.
"Well then it must simply
be pride!" Emily insisted.
"Pride and prejudice!
Well I never!" Jane stormed off and found herself a seat between J.R.R.
Tolkien and Sophocles who were discussing the effects that a runaway Oedipus
might have on the community in his current fragile psychological state.
Shakespear surveyed the
milling crowd with satisfaction. Good, they were all taking the matter
seriously. As Roald Dahl and Oscar Wilde found their seats, William Shakespeare
cleared his throat and started the proceedings. "As I'm sure you're all
aware, a very serious matter has come to our attention
he's not at all like I expected," Enid Blyton whispered to Beatrix Potter.
"Hmm, you're right. He's
quite modern really no thys and thous"
"Yes but I do think the
Mickey Mouse tie is a little over the top for this occasion, don't you,
"So you see, lords and ladies, I mean, ladies and gentlemen, something must be done at once
to locate all our protagonists, or our works will simply be narratives
without characters. Granted, as we all know the two forms can be mutually
exclusive but this is taking matters a little too far to prove a point
"So Bill," Oscar Wilde
cut in, "You believe that our characters are missing simply because someone
is trying to show the world that protagonists are superfluous to a narrative?"
"Well I hadn't quite
thought of it like that, Oscar." "Are you saying that our characters have
been abducted?" Oscar persisted.
"Who would do such a
thing?" one of the Brothers Grimm wondered.
"Perhaps an aspiring
author whose bitterness turned to revenge after his narrative was rejected
by a publishing house," Agatha Christie theorized. "I guess I can never
stop looking for a motive," she added with a shrug.
"But it just doesn't
work!" Oscar insisted passionately, banging his fist on the table. All
eyes turned to regard him expectantly. "Why only this morning I was a reluctant
sojourner in reading I much prefer to write and as I browsed through
my own work, I couldn't see how any reader could collaborate with a text
such as Dorian Gray without Dorian Gray!"
"Yes you do have a point,
Oscar," Tolstoy conceded, "some texts do rely on their protagonists to
engage the readers, to draw them in and evoke in them a passion for what
is evolving in the narrative."
At that moment there was an impatient knock at the door.
"Who's there?" Shakespeare
"To knock or not to knock?
That is the question. Ring a bell no pun intended hey, Bill?"
"Hamlet!" All the colour
had drained from Shakespeare's face.
"Come in."Jonathon Swift
said since Shakespeare was obviously overcome by surprise.
" muttered Robert
Louis Stevenson as the door opened and the Danish king entered. He was
closely followed by Oliver Twist, the Famous Five, Willy Wonka and a crowd
"What's the meaning of
all this?" Shakespeare demanded, angrily rising from his chair.
"Now Bill, I don't think
that's the way to deal with this," George Orwell advised.
"I agree," said Homer.
"I'm sure we can be civilized about this."
"Now," said Charles Dickens,
turning to the throng of protagonists. "How can we help you er people?"
He settled on this for want of a more appropriate collective term, uneasily
wondering where the Watership Down crew, the Hobbits and Beatrix Potters'
menagerie fitted into the scheme of things.
Gulliver stepped forward.
Dickens couldn't help noting how large he really was "We," the traveller
indicated the characters with a sweep of his arm, "would like to know what
the dickens sorry Charles is going on here!"
"That's right," agreed
Macbeth, "We've just discovered that we're, we're
characters!" His voice
broke with emotion. "Figments of your imaginations," added Huckleberry
Finn, nodding to the crowd of assembled authors.
"So what's the problem?"
enquired Shakespeare "It's always been that way. Why have you walked off
the job now? What's the meaning of this strike?"
"We never knew!" wailed
Anne of Green Gables.
"That's right," chorused
the Little Women.
"We thought that we were
living real lives," explained Nancy Drew.
"Hmm, yes I see, dear,"
Barbara Cartland sympathised. "It must have come as quite a shock.
A latecomer surveyed
the assembled characters as she entered. "Oh my goodness!" the Mills and
Boon author exclaimed. "They're here! They truly exist independent of the
narrative!" Sir Walter Scott just caught her as she slumped to the floor.
"Does this mean that
all authors are not aware that they are creating a world with their pens?"
"Apparently not," Sophocles
observed as smelling salts began to revive the Mills and Boon author.
"Well I always suspected,"
Enid Blyton admitted, "but I never knew for sure."
"I honestly had no idea,"
Hans Christian Anderson confessed, shrugging apologetically at the Little
Match Girl, Thumbelina and the Emperor, wearing his new clothes. "I must
say that if I had been fully aware of the consequences my writing had on
these er people, I may have taken my penmanship more seriously."
The Scarlet Pimpernel
cleared his throat. "It's all very well to claim ignorance," he said, "but
we have a situation here that must be resolved."
"The man's gotta point,"
said Stephen King. "I'm losin' millions of dollars a day because of this
strike. Just pay em a coupla extra bucks an hour and send em back to
"A couple of extra bucks?"
echoed an outraged Othello. "Our entire existence is at stake here!"
"What's this about extra
bucks?" Hamlet cut in. "I heard that a certain well-known actor was paid
a fortune to portray me. Yet I haven't seen a dime. No royalties. Nothing!
Now I demand some answers!"
"Hey, he can't carry
on like that he's just a character!"
"Not anymore!" King Lear
pointed out. "You wrote us into life; now we have rights too!"
A piercing whistle resounded through the boardroom and an elderly bespectacled gentleman emerged from
the shadows. "Tutt tutt. What a dreadful ruckus," he admonished the assembled
crowd. His precise enunciation and well-groomed appearance lent him an
immediate air of authority. The characters and authors alike sheepishly
cast their eyes downwards at his reprisal. "I am the editor of the Oxford
English Dictionary," he explained."Guardian of the English language.
A hushed murmur of awe
rippled through the crowd.
"There seems to be some
confusion concerning roles here," he observed. "Well it's very simple really."
He turned to the authors and continued, "it is your responsibility to create
worlds with your words and champion them to your readers." He faced the
characters and continued, "It is your task to bring these words to life,
to live within them and shape your lives with them.
"Very poetic," a disgruntled
Jane Eyre murmured unimpressed.
"That's all very well,"
said Paddington Bear, "but we only just discovered that we are real."
"Now that we have raised
our consciousness, we can't go back to a life without awareness," Tom Sawyer
"Perhaps if we knew how
this crisis has arisen we could come to a compromise that we would can
all live with," Rudyard Kipling suggested.
"Compromise? Hmph!" Hamlet
"I won't negotiate with
!" Shakespeare spluttered.
Kipling turned to the
editor, unperturbed. "Doesn't it strike you as rather odd that this crisis
has happened now after many of these characters have existed for so long
"Do not be deceived,
Mr Kipling," the editor cautioned, "this situation did not occur overnight.
Our intelligence department has been aware of the unrest from the very
start. Why it's three years since Robinson Crusoe discovered his own existence
and made his escape." He scanned the room. "I don't think he is here, but
"Yes I am!"
The characters and authors
alike craned their necks to see who had said this. They could just make
out a faint outline of the castaway.
"Why so he is!" said
the editor, "but he's fading fast. I suppose that is not surprising really,
considering he hasn't collaborated with a reader in such a long time."
"Collaborated with a
reader? Fading fast?"Sherlock Holmes repeated incredulously. "Why this
is a mystery even to me. Kind sir," he addressed the editor, "I do believe
an explanation is in order."
The editor sighed resignedly.
"I suppose you are right. Perhaps all this could have been avoided if our
department had made the findings of our investigations known earlier, but
we were attempting to avoid mass hysteria. But there's no alternative now.
It is imperative that you all know the truth so that a major literary disaster
can be avoided."
"Spit it out, Ed.," Stephen
"It is 1999 and mankind
is in dire peril. Our nemesis is not nuclear or ecological but one that
has insidiously spread through the minds of men and women as the age of
technology has swept the globe. The existence of many people has been reduced
to a bleak struggle for survival, drained of colour, light, hope and laughter.
You see people are no longer willing to enter into the consensual hallucination
that reading requires. Readers are turning to other forms of media to quench
their thirst for knowledge and entertainment."
"Other forms of media?"
Chaucer enquired perplexed. "What other forms of media exist other than
the written word?"
"Have you been living
in the dark ages?" the editor responded. "Oh, sorry, I guess you have.
Yes, I'm afraid that radio and to a greater extent, cinema, television
and the computer have taken over. Why even Oxford University Press has
computerised all its archives. I must admit that even I find it all so
"How do you preserve
your immunity to the phenomenon you say is afflicting mankind, this
cancer of the imagination?" William Wordsworth enquired.
"I read," replied the
editor. "Now more than ever. I nourish my imagination daily so that it
is strong and healthy and any decay instigated by my technological hobbies
has no opportunity to become malignant."
"But the public still
reads," Stephen King protested, taking a puff at his cigar. "Just look
at my sales figures; my empire is booming!"
"And they do still base
the education system on my works, don't they?" Shakespeare asked anxiously.
"Oh yes," the editor
replied, "people still read, but they don't engage with the texts anymore,
not like they used to when entertainment was dependent on the scope of
one's imagination. These days, people are not willing to invest the time
and effort it takes to fully engage and collaborate with a text. The consciousness
that presently exists craves the ready made sensory stimulation and gratification
that is available at the flick of a switch. It doesn't require total immersion,
an obliviousness to the surrounding world that total engagement with a
written text demands."
"But don't they feel
cheated of the right to create their own interpretation?" said Shakespeare.
"Why only yesterday I was watching Hamlet, it was the late night feature
film and their portrayal was completely unlike my intentions."
"But people today don't
always read the book," Stephen King explained. "I make big bucks out the
movie rights, I can tell you that."
"Oh this is going from
bad to worse," Enid Blyton sighed dejectedly. "I wanted to nurture the
imagination of children as soon as they could read and give them a sense
of delight in creating their own worlds. It was always my intention to
have my readers collaborate with me as we shaped a world together."
"Oh that's so important,"
Roald Dahl agreed.
"Children need that,"
said Beatrix Potter.
"Everyone needs that,"
Tolkien added and Isaac Asimov nodded his approval.
"Hmm, I see your point,
guys," said Stephen King. "I don't create the fear and suspense when I
write my books. It's the readers themselves that do it out of the protension
I supply. It's all just words on paper to me and to some readers as well
I guess. But the ones that check under their beds and close the cupboard
before they turn out the lights are the ones whose imagination is collaborating
with my words to create their fear."
"You're quite right,"
said the editor. "A text is not a complete diegesis; it's only half the
story. It's when the text and the reader collide that the real story unfolds."
"So what can we do to
help?" asked Pollyanna. "How can we make people see the joy that can be
found in their own imagination?" "You must go back to your lives between
the covers," the editor said gravely. "If you stay away any longer, you
will only give credence to the notion that imagination is a worthless pursuit.
However, dear protagonists, it is your choice whether to return or not.
You do have free will now. Just bear in mind that the future of literature
as we know it rest on your decision."
"What about the fading
phenomenon?" Sherlock Holmes enquired. "Won't we all eventually resemble
what is left of Robinson Crusoe?" "That is a possibility you need to consider,"
the editor conceded.
All the characters hastily
inspected themselves for symptoms of the fading phenomenon.
"Do not fret. The syndrome
only starts to manifest after quite sometime has elapsed since your last
visit to a reader's imagination." "I for one would rather bask in a short-lived
autonomy and fade into oblivion than live an eternity under the thumbs
of a demigod!" Macbeth proclaimed.
A thunderclap shook the room to its foundations.
"It has been foretold
that imagination will be obsolete in the millennium to come!"
"Who said that?" Oscar Wilde demanded, looking about the room wildly.
"I don't know. What could
it be?" said Dickens.
"Where did it come from?"
Hans Christian Anderson asked. "There are no loudspeakers here."
Their attention was brought back to the centre of the room as a puff of smoke imploded, heralding the
arrival of a small, weary looking creature.
"Now what?" Shakespeare
muttered. "This is too much. I'm going back to Stratford-upon-Avon. "Who
are you?" he demanded of the newcomer.
"I am Figment. I have
stepped out of the depths of your minds. I am the guardian of light, hope
and the unchartered territories within. I am the keeper of the imagination."
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. "You
don't look very well," Agatha Christie observed.
"Unfortunately my demise
is imminent," Figment confirmed bluntly.
"Oh how awful!"exclaimed
"What's the matter?"
"With the advent of electronic
entertainment, people have allowed the cerebral muscle of imagination to
"Isn't that unavoidable?"
asked Chaucer. "This
this television is so different from the written
word after all."
"Concerning my realm
of expertise," the guardian of the imagination replied, "there is only
one factor that distinguishes the two,"
Characters and authors
alike waited with bated breath for his exposť.
"It is not electronic
entertainment that is at fault," Figment continued, "but people's use of
it. In an age where no time is taken to fully engage with a text, people
turn to television to have their imagination spoon-fed full of fables,
facts and fear. This satiates them momentarily but does little to nurture
their imaginations in the long run."
"What can be done?" asked
"How do we deal with
this situation?" enquired Dickens.
"Where do we go from
here?" Stephen King wanted to know.
"That's where literature
comes in," said Figment. "You see, it is a medium that forces the reader
to actively collaborate with it, by that strengthening and stretching their
muscle of imagination. They cannot derive any pleasure from the experience
unless they do engage wholeheartedly. And, once they learn how to do this,
they will never be seduced by the promises of instant gratification that
electronic media offers and will even seek imaginative nourishment from
these electronic texts."
"The images that literature
creates are important," the editor confirmed, "but there is another reason
why we must not allow literature to die."
All eyes regarded the
"It is the epistemology
of literature," the editor continued, "that is crucial to the mind of man."
"We're a part of this
great scheme of things!" Snugglepot and Cuddlepie realised in unison.
"Oh we must go back at
once!" exclaimed Pollyanna excitedly. "We must! We must! We must!"
Macbeth looked torn.
"All our futures hinge
on your decision," said James Joyce, eyeing Shakespear's protagonist. "Perhaps
we could negotiate a compromise that would please all concerned."
"A compromise," echoed
Pollyanna gleefully. "What a good idea!"
"That sounds just,"said
H.G. Wells approvingly. "After all, these characters are the fictional
embodiment of real experience. They have the task of engaging with the
compelling social issues that we bombard them with."
"Oh they can never compete
with real life," Virginia Woolf commented dismissively.
"Hmph!" protested Macbeth.
"What sort of a settlement
did you have in mind?" Tom Sawyer enquired.
"Since autonomy seems
to be your prime concern," observed Joyce, "perhaps we could address that
The editor cleared his
throat. "The settlement that I offer to you, protagonists, is to assure
you that your lives will be your own, to do with as you choose
"But what about the narrative?"
Salmon Rushdie interjected. "What will happen to our stories?"
but only in the narrative
ellipses," the editor explained. As soon as you feel the fusion of the
perpetual dynamic between the text and a reader, you are bound by the protagonists
code of ethics to stay true to the cues provided by the text and fulfil
your role in accordance with it."
"But all the parataxis
will belong to us?" Noddy persisted.
"Absolutely," the editor
"I suppose it's better
than nothing," muttered Big Ears, and the Faraway Tree nodded its acquiescence.
"So how do we get back?"
asked Alice. "Can we go through the looking glass?"
"That won't be necessary,"
said the editor. "You see the age of technology has its advantages. Since
all the works that comprise your homes are in the Oxford University Press
archives, I can simply enter you all into the wordprocessor and you'll
be home in no time!"
"Well I never!" exclaimed
Chaucer, dumbfounded. "A word processor! What's next, a food processor?"
"So," said the editor, "All's well that ends well.
"All's well that ends well," Shakespeare repeated. "Hey, that's not bad."
Amidst all the excitement
of this celebratory moment, the small, slumped figure of the guardian of
the imagination remained unnoticed.
A nurse entered the hospital
room and checked the patient's vital signs.
"You're doing much better,
Mr Figment," she chattered as she fluffed his pillow. "The doctors are
amazed at your progress. We thought we'd lost you there at one stage. Your
recovery has been quite remarkable."
"Hello Figment," the
editor of the Oxford English Dictionary said from the doorway.
"Oh look, you have a
visitor, Mr Figment," said the nurse. "I'll leave you to it. Now don't
tire the patient too much, sir," she said to the editor on her way out.
"He's had quite a time of it."
"Indeed he has," the
editor agreed, putting a bunch of flowers on Figment's bedside table.
"So how is the literary
world, Mr Editor? Any ramifications?"
"It's none the worse
for wear. In fact, sales are up. All the characters are safely back at
work with paid leave in every parataxis."
"It's only fair," said
"Indeed," agreed the
editor. "And how are you getting on?"
"I'm getting better every
day," Figment assured him. "Every time someone opens a book out there and
lets their imagination take over, I can feel my strength returning. And
now I'm beginning to sense it too when someone turns on a television or
goes to the movies out there. They must really be collaborating with all
texts these days. Imagination is back in style!"
"That's a relief," said
the editor. "So everything turned out for the best."
"Hmm," murmured Figment,
biting his bottom lip, lost in thought. "It is lucky."
"What is?" asked the
"Remember when I made
my entrance at the authors' meeting, quoting the foretelling that imagination
would be redundant in the coming millennium?"
"Lucky it all worked
out. I was lying."
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