Friday, March 24, 2017

Getting Out of Trouble

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: 

Salty Sam was tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack
He said, "if you don't give me the deed to your ranch
I'm gonna throw you on the railroad tracks!"
And then he grabbed her (and then)
He tied her up (and then)
He threw her on the railroad tracks (and then)
A train started comin' (and then, and then!)
And then along came Jones
Tall, thin Jones
Slow-walkin' Jones
Slow-talkin' Jones
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


Margaret Harmon said...

I, too, prefer SOLVING problems instead of anesthetizing their pain. In fact, the reason I write modern fables is to provide intriguing stories that trigger insights to help us figure out how to live our own favorite life.
Well done, Linda!

Tammy Sue Willey said...

What good perspective. I love the way you explained this. I do like a challenge and prefer to figure things out for myself. Kind of like MacGyver! However, if I was stuck somewhere and John Wayne or Sam Elliot were on the horizon, I'd let them help me!