Friday, March 6, 2009

Connecting the dots.

Last Call is full of allusions (and direct referencing) to classical myths, medieval legends, and Biblical narrative. Here's one instance of that last one.

from Chapter 2:
Doctors in white coats were scurrying around the wheeled cart they slid him onto, but before they could move him in through the emergency room doors, Leon reached out and grabbed Abrams's sleeve. "Do you know if they've found Scotty yet?" Wherever the boy was, he was still psychically opened, still unlinked.
"No, Georges," Abrams said nervously, "but I wouldn't have heard--I left the house the minute I got your call."
"Find out," Leon said as one of the doctors broke weak grip and began to push the gurney away, "and let me know! Find him!"
That I, too, may go and worship, he thought bitterly.

This is a direct quote of Matthew 2:8,
And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.

The neat thing about allusions is that you won't get them if you don't recognize them. If you don't recognize one, you won't even know you're missing it. When you do recognize one, it makes you feel good about yourself (!) and, more importantly, the intertextual connections make the story stronger than it would have been without the allusion being recognized. I'm sure that there are plenty that I'm missing throughout the book, but I caught this one.

We get the reference and we understand that Leon is as evil as Herod ever was and that this boy is as important to him as Jesus was to Herod, as a competitor to be used or killed. Leon shares Herod's mindset.

from Chapter 7:
"So I got me a deck of cards," Ozzie went on, "and I started shuffling and drawing them to see where to go, and it led me straight to Lakewood, where I found you in that boat. And I walked across the parking lot to that boat slow, with my hand on my old .45 that I had in those days, because I knew I wasn't the only one who'd be tracking you. There's always some King Herod around. [emphasis mine] And I drove to Dr. Malk's in a highly circuitous fashion."

What was implicit in Chapter 1 is stated explicitly here in Chapter 7.

What's more important than this explicit labeling of Leon as Herod is the further implication that Oliver Crane is a Wise Man, following the Star he has discerned to find a new Child King; a young boy who poses a threat to the present corrupt power (who, more than incidentally, has gained his power through usurpation instead of having it properly bestowed on him).

In all of this, Powers establishes Scott Crane as a potentially powerful Messiah without ever resorting to tired fantasy tropes about prophecies handed down and a young man learning his worth as this Saviour, earning it every bit along the way. Powers lets us know through allusion and reference (instead of hammering us over the head with it) that are all firmly grounded in the events of the story. Powers works with and subverts our received notions of fantasy kings and salvation, by establishing Crane as an accidental agent in all of this, one who will eventually choose his own way, but whose path was set down long before he was aware of it. Both fated and free.

(for some thoughts on another 20th century master's use of similar material, written in an entirely different style, listen to Kreeft

Seriously, though, I know that there are tons of allusions that I'm not getting. Have you even thought about the name Crane?

Check this out:
"Greek and Roman myth tended to portray the dance of cranes as a love of joy and a celebration of life. The crane was usually considered to be a bird of Apollo the sun god as a herald of Spring and light. Apollo is said to have disguised himself as a crane when on visits to the mortal world."

Sound relevant? Yup. Did you even think about the name? Probably not. I only started looking it up on a whim. And, as most of you know, I'd already read the book a couple of years ago and never thought about the name once back then. I'm not boasting about anything. I'm only pointing out that there is a depth of meaning ironically laying right on the surface of the words we're reading! And we're barely seeing any of it.

1 comment:

Mike & Mary said...

great stuff John, another possible allusion is on page 29 where Leon knows that his adversary will one day come from the southwest. Jesus came back from Egypt southwest of Jerusalem to conquer Satan.

I must admit that I would not have given much heed to a messianic complex with the character of Crane as he is revealed starting in page 30. But that seems to be one of the trademarks of Powers-- that people who have many quirks and faults can yet be mightily used of God.

Do you think the idea that even our stupid sinful decisions fit into God's plan is being toyed with?

Looking forward to the audio. Michael