There’s a literary device that’s been used for centuries. It’s called deus ex machina, a Greek phrase that literally means “a god from a machine.” In English literature, it relates to a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, or movie and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve.
Think Perils of Paulene. If you’re old enough to remember Saturday serials at the movies, picture a woman bound up in a cave and a dynamite fuse is lit. Just as the burning fuse gets closer and closer to the cave, a voice says something to the effect of, “Come back next week to see if she survives this terrible fate.” You go to the movies the next Saturday afternoon only to find that there was a back entrance to the cave and she walked out unharmed. That’s deus ex machina. And a huge letdown.
If you’re old enough to remember movie serials, then you most likely remember the Coasters and their song, Along Came Jones. It seems Jones was a lanky guy who always showed up in time to save the day. The group sang:
Along came long, lean, lanky Jones
Jones, of course, always saved the girl in the nick of time. Deus ex machina.
You could say the same thing about Superman, Batman and any other super hero who are fun to watch (I especially like Superman), but do they teach us how to solve problems? No, because they solve all our problems for us.
I much prefer a book or movie about a character who gets in a real-life situation and must figure out how to solve the problem using his own wit, brains, and stamina, and not have some supernatural being swoop down and get him out of trouble. What good does that do me should, by chance, I find myself in the same predicament some day? Neither Superman nor Jones are going to come along and get me out of the situation; therefore, I need to know how the protagonist got out of it.
Do you want to be rescued by a deus ex machina? Or do you prefer books where you mentally put yourself in the protagonist’s place and try to figure out how the conflict will be resolved? Which one will benefit you in life?
Quote of the Day: Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition - such as lifting weights - we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. Stephen Covey