Saturday, May 28, 2011
This picture is my excuse for skipping last Saturday's blog. The orange stole, in case you're curious, is for being in Phi Theta Kappa, the cords are for academic achievements, and the metal is for blowing up the Death Star. (I wish. Actually it has to do with taking Honors classes and writing decent papers, but blowing up the Death Star sounds cooler.)
Speaking of people who -ahem- color the facts, today I wanted to talk about unreliable narrators. Unfortunately for me, my favorite example is lost due to a remodeling project, so I'll have to try to explain why the book is awesome without the help of quotes. (Sigh.)
`The Complete Brigadier Gerrard' by Sir Arthur Connan Doyle, which can be found here on Amazon, is a book of short stories set during the Napoleonic wars. Etienne Gerrard is a French Hussar who firmly believes he's the bravest hero to ever live. Years after the wars end he's hanging around cafes telling his adventures to anyone who will listen -including the nameless person who writes down his stories.
Gerrard's adventures are pretty unbelievable and he often comes across as more buffoon than hero (in one story he escapes from a Dartmoor prison and gets chased all over the English countryside. When he's finally recaptured, he discovers that the message he accidentally intercepted and was too honorable to open was, in fact, an order for his release). On the whole, Gerrard comes across as a naive man who thinks he's suave. His overly idealistic notions of honor get him into trouble and prove exactly how worldly-wise he... isn't.
As the stories progress, though, you stop seeing him as this poor bumpkin and start rooting for him. You realize you want to believe he's as heroic as he makes himself out to be. Doyle makes chivalry and heroism something worth striving for, and the fact that Gerrard so often falls short only makes him all the more lovable.
Doyle is always a master of style and he gets his readers right where he wants them. By making Gerrard so over-the-top with his ego Doyle invites us to suspend our disbelief. Then, while you're chuckling at his humor and completely off guard, he hits you with scenes of chivalry and courage that leave you with your throat tight, desperately blinking to get the blurry wetness out of your eyes.
Pretty devious for a nineteenth century writer.