The Fourth Wall Fiasco
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Prologue

Figment speaks… 
     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 interrupted exasperatedly.
     "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 loose." 
     "It'd sure boost your book sales." 
     "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." 
     "And?" 
     "Gone." 
     "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 Carrie." 
     "That would be quite dangerous…" 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!" 
     "Sorry." 
     "… and Charles can't locate Oliver." 
     "Hmm, I see your point." 
     "But worst of all, Oscar, the great canon has been affected as well." 
     "No, not…" 
     "Yes, I'm afraid that William has lost Macbeth and Hamlet…" 
     "Oh my god!" 
     "… Romeo, Juliette and King Lear!" 
     "No, no, no!" Oscar wailed. 
     "I think you'd better check, Oscar." 
     "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 ................
     "Roald?" 
     "Yes." 
     "I have been targeted as well." 
     "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 years!" 
     "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… Oh forget 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." 
     "Oh." 
     "Nothing works, Macbeth!" Duncan complained. "I've tried everything: Counting sheep, chamomile tea…" 
     "Really," Macbeth replied impatiently. 
     "It's, it's just…" 
     "What?" 
     "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, Duncan." 
     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?" 
     "History? 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 after." 
     "What?" Macbeth was horrified. "How do you know all this? You make it sound like a story and you've read ahead!" 
     "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 the corridor. 
     "Quick! Hide!" 
     "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 minutes early." 
     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, Trixie?"  "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 demanded sharply. 
     "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. 
     "Oh my…" 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 of Hobbits. 
     "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?" Homer demanded. 
     "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 their chapters!" 
     "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 protested. 
     "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 said stubbornly. 
     "I won't negotiate with these, these… !" 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 without incident?"  
     "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 King prompted. 
     "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 enticing." 
     "How do you preserve your immunity to the phenomenon you say is afflicting mankind, this… 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 Beatrix Potter.
     "What's the matter?" 
     "With the advent of electronic entertainment, people have allowed the cerebral muscle of imagination to atrophy." 
     "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 Jane Austen. 
     "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 editor expectantly. 
     "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 issue." 
     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 assured him. 
     "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. 
      

Epilogue

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 Figment. 
     "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 editor. 
     "Remember when I made my entrance at the authors' meeting, quoting the foretelling that imagination would be redundant in the coming millennium?" 
     "Yes." 
     "Lucky it all worked out. I was lying."





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Copyright © 1994 Ilanit Tof, All Rights Reserved.