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Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 11:41AM
It occurred to me recently that one of my favorite CAS stories, "The Double Shadow", is especially effective because the tone of the tale, once set, runs undeviatingly towards what appears to be a predestined conclusion.

It might be argued that even Avyctes's dogged exploration of the object found in the wrack after the storm, is predictable from what we are told of his inquiring nature, and hence even that part of the tale is predetermined, but certainly it seems that after the invocation, which at first seems ineffective, *everything* henceforth proceeds on a fixed track and can only conclude as it does: there is *no* possibility that it can end other than it does. This is as much as overtly stated by the narrator (who echoes "Call me Ishmael." at the beginning) as I recall.

I'd certainly be interested in any other CASer's thoughts and/or ideas on this aspect of the story.

--Sawfish

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"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
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Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 04:34PM
Personally, I do not like the lack of dynamism in very many of CAS's stories. In THE DOUBLE SHADOW, for instance, what I like most is the setup. After that, all the tension drains out of the story. The protagonist is DOOMED DOOMED DOOMED, and every subsequent paragraph re-echoes this theme.

Is it a metaphor for philosophical determinism? Well, if CAS intended it that way, it might help explain its weakness as an actual story. Allegory and good storytelling often work against each other.

But on a logical level, the metaphor-as-message makes no sense. Real stories, set in the real world, have dynamism, and real conflicts often have give and take, thrust and parry, twists and turns, and excitement. No philosophical determinist would concede that, if dynamic stories are true stories (as surely some are), then that disproves philosophical determinism.

But CAS does the DOOMED DOOMED DOOMED thing so much that it can be a relief to read a story, like THE MASTER OF CRABS, where the conflict has a bit of give and take. But even that conflict is rather static compared (say) to the Sam + Frodo vs. Shelob + Gollum battle in Tolkien's TWO TOWERS; or the Narrators fight to escape Innsmouth in HPL's THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH.

Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 04:51PM
Good, thought-provoking points.

Let me consider them a bit and response.

For what little it's worth, a good post.

OT: I'm reading Mencken's essays on various literary figures (esp Dreiser, Conrad). He comes at his critiques in a way that's different from most. Causes a sort of mental reboot.

--Sawfish

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"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
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Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 05:45PM
I read pretty much everything CAS wrote in my teens and twenties. Then I read nothing by him for pretty much my entire thirties. As I was turning forty, I came across a musty old paperback on my bookshelf and started to read. I was transfixed. How could I have neglected such a superb writer for so long? Five stories in, and the answer was all too apparent. CAS is one of the great stylists of the fantasy genre, but on a very basic level his stories are all the same - somebody goes somewhere they shouldn’t or does something they shouldn’t and the penalty for that transgression is death. So I guess all his stories are deterministic in nature, given that the reader will have a pretty good idea about how they’re going to end. You read CAS for his opulent prose style and his visual inventiveness, but not for his plots.

Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 05:54PM
In fairness, I think this is a defining feature of most pulp fiction. You basically served up variations of the same dish again and again (hardboiled detective fiction being another case in point) and as these stories were separated by an interlude of at least a month and presumably just one story amongst others, the element of repetition wasn’t an issue.

I remember having a similar experience, visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam years ago. One Van Gogh painting of some sunflowers is pretty impressive. A whole roomful of them, and the law of diminishing returns set in.

Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 06:50PM
Yeah, that's the answer, all right: these stories are essentially the same general plot as many fairy tales. I'm not looking so much for a novel plot or unique interaction so much as a new wrinkle to the same old, same old.

And you'll note how important repetition is in his stories!

The Seven Geases does it ad nauseam--seven times, like the title promises.

For Double Shadow, you've got the three repetitions, for King Euvoran, the attempted seductions in Witchcraft of Ulua (BYW, she's really pretty hot stuff, isn't she?), the increasingly dire tortures i the Isle of the Torturers, the worship ritual of the Coming of the White Worm, the repeated return of the pernicious puffball in Weaver in the Vault, etc.

This happens a lot.

But I'm reading CAS for things like the hammerblow of the mummy's reaction when touched by the shadow--it's identical to that of a living man, and removes all hope in release by death. The smallest bit of valorous manhood springing up in Zotulla in The Drak Eidolon when he avenges the mortal mutilation of his favorite concubine--who's little better than a street-walkin' ho!

To me, this is enough good, new stuff in the comfortable old plots of my childhood to please my desire for escape.

But Platypus' two comparisons--from the Two Towers and from Shadow Over Innsmouth (that's the one with the fish-looking townspeople, right?)--it's for sure that they're structurally different, but 'm not sure how this would make them any more attractive to read, since I'm less sure that I can connect with the characters than I am with most of CAS's central characters. Somehow or other, he really gets me to connect with their motivations and foibles in just a few short pages, in his more effective stories.

But the characters in stuff like Vulthoom are very pedestrian and predictable, so he tends to lose me there.

--Sawfish

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"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
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Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 07:29PM
I guess there’s always something in a CAS story that makes it worth reading? I mean apart from the obvious? So that bit about the mummy being just as vulnerable as a living man to the shadow’s invidious influence struck me just as it did you. Also the story’s point of view. CAS wrote countless stories about wizards who get their comeuppance by dabbling in some forbidden lore, but here we get that familiar story told from the perspective of the wizard’s apprentice.

So I think he did try to mix things up a bit, even when the premise was instantly familiar to the reader.

I’ve always reckoned The Maze of Maal Dwebb and The Empire of the Necromancers to be two of CAS’s best stories for the same reason - ie, they’re atypical. Maal Dwebb halts the transformation of the hero before it’s complete - he’s bored and he decides to change the outcome of a familiar situation in a fundamental way, this in turn being a reflection of CAS’s own frustration with the exigencies of an overly familiar plotline (or so I reckon). And The City of the Necromancers is about how a prince orchestrates the deaths of the two necromancers who have enthralled him and his subjects - ie, it is a rare example of a positive outcome in a CAS story, even if it could hardly be classified as a happy ending.

Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 08:06PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I guess there’s always something in a CAS story
> that makes it worth reading? I mean apart from the
> obvious? So that bit about the mummy being just as
> vulnerable as a living man to the shadow’s
> invidious influence struck me just as it did you.
> Also the story’s point of view. CAS wrote
> countless stories about wizards who get their
> comeuppance by dabbling in some forbidden lore,
> but here we get that familiar story told from the
> perspective of the wizard’s apprentice.

The choice of POV and how the tale unrolls is masterful, in my opinion.

As regards the mummy's susceptibility to the double shadow, as a means to underline, double underline, in red, that all hope is futile, there were two sort of comic precedents that I also liked, one in Catch-22 and one in Slaughterhouse 5.

In Catch-22, the main character, Yossarian, tries to get out of combat by malingering in a hospital. He is in repeated times.

One time he is in with the "soldier who saw everything twice", who appears to Yossarian to be a great master malingerer, and whom Yossarian has resolved to emulate for beneficial outcomes. So every time the other patient screams out with a new symptom, Yossarian waits a day and does the same.

After a few days like this, the other patient screams out "I see everything twice!" This causes a lot of doctors to cluster around and Yossarian thinks it masterful and resolves to try it the next day, and Yossarian does.

However, the patient dies in the following night, and Yossarian decides that he has followed his hopeful example far enough, and declares himself fit for combat.

The other story, the POV was a US POW being shipped by box car to Germany. It gets super cold at night and one guy dies. There's one older soldier who had been a hobo, and he told every one: "This is nothing, no problem. I've slept thru lots worse conditions than this and I've made it just fine."

So the rest of the younger soldiers take heart in this desperate situation.

However, the former hobo dies of cold the next night.

WHOOSH! Hope evaporates... :^)


>
> So I think he did try to mix things up a bit, even
> when the premise was instantly familiar to the
> reader.
>
> I’ve always reckoned The Maze of Maal Dwebb and
> The Empire of the Necromancers to be two of
> CAS’s best stories for the same reason - ie,
> they’re atypical. Maal Dwebb halts the
> transformation of the hero before it’s complete
> - he’s bored and he decides to change the
> outcome of a familiar situation in a fundamental
> way, this in turn being a reflection of CAS’s
> own frustration with the exigencies of an overly
> familiar plotline (or so I reckon).

Yes.

Interesting that boredom of a super-endowed main character also comes up in that one about the serpent scientists and the flower women. The wizard (whose name I forget) decides to tackle these very competent and dangerous reptiles with only what amounts to a wizard's equivalent of a Swiss army knife, just for the challenge.

And so you might think the wizard is sorta *saving* the flower women, but really, he sees them as simple-minded objects and is there simply to alleviate his own boredom.

> And The City
> of the Necromancers is about how a prince
> orchestrates the deaths of the two necromancers
> who have enthralled him and his subjects - ie, it
> is a rare example of a positive outcome in a CAS
> story, even if it could hardly be classified as a
> happy ending.

Boy, when you really think about that one, it's unspeakably foul!

The two necromancers, besides the general yuckiness of dallying with corpses, have taken the most dignified, formal, and respected members of a ruling dynasty, and forced them to debase themselves in a variety of ways, solely for the gratification of the two maladjusted miscreants.

UGH!

So yep, they had it coming, in spades.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
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Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 08:32PM
That Yossarian story is pretty funny!

Your second story - the one about the hobo - reminds me of a true story the English writer John Mortimer used to tell to illustrate just how horrible English public schools could be (he was also the one who pointed out the essential irony of English public schools being actually very private and very expensive).

An English POW had been captured by the Japanese and was part of a work gang being frogmarched through the jungle. En route they encountered another work-gang as emaciated as themselves, and as one work gang tramped by the other, the English guy heard somebody pipe up - ‘Cheer up, George - it’s not half as bad as Marlborough!’ - Marlborough being some elite English public school. It was an old school mate.

Re: Can "The Double Shadow" be read as statement on determinism?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 February, 2021 11:28PM
Hah!

Good one!

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
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