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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Saturday, 4 September 2004
Jim, Jack and Johnny
There is no doubt that this passage from Joseph Andrews [pp.200-201]is full of action so why does it lack the immediacy we normally associate with the genre? There are a number of reasons:

  • it's in past tense. It's natural that storytelling would have evolved this way, tales told around the campfire of the day's hunt and a brush with danger. But it does put the reader at one remove from the action; and the printed page lacks the nuances that a seasoned orator could bring

  • it's in third person. Now I don't know that this impeded the immediacy of Edge...a new kind of western hero but where the characters are more mannered, it only adds to the stilted effect

  • oh those conjunctions! The fogging index put a stop to this sort of thing. Putting a whole string of thoughts or actions into the one sentence makes it harder to grasp the detail of what is going on

  • here, the novelist's stylistic quirk. He follows a superb clause: 'The poet, who was the nimblest, entering the chamber first, searched the bed, and every other part, but to no purpose; the bird was flown with a rather lesser one: as the impatient reader, who might otherwise have been in pain for her, was before advertised.' In 2004 this just looks clumsy. And the 'postmodern already' (I didn't say that)nod to the reader may not detract from the story in some reader's eyes, but it does distract from the action

    Now the purpose of all this is not to hang shit on Fielding. A non-fiction book I read had the proposition that kings and queens would have given up their cold draughty castles - and all the land that went with it - for a modest suburban home with air conditioning and central heating. Similarly the novelisation of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is less awkward in its humble construction than this seminal work.

    And this is not action for action's sake; other elements such as comedy and drama, plot and characterisation, are factors. The narrator is too reflective to have action as the central focus. There is much to appreciate:

    • the iconic characters ('the captain, the poet, the player, and three servants') presage their extensive use in the graphic medium and they are well used here as well as well 'drawn'

    • the long-winded way of having the host reveal that they possess no fire-arms adds to the comic effect

    • Joseph, despite a relatively brief part in this passage, makes his presence felt in such a way that we are left in no doubt that he is the protagonist. Having him be the only one with a proper name helps too

    • The captain and the poet - but not the player (perhaps he wasn't such a player after all) - lead the action, even if the poet does bow out at the first sign of violence


    II

    Apart from appearing two centuries later in the development of storytelling and action, comic books have an advantage when it comes to showing action. The panel showing a picture of Captain America encased in a block of ice as Cap recaps, makes the fact it is told in past tense, less distancing.

    Whether a story is in first, second, or third person narrative is rendered moot by the fact that we can see the actions as they unfold. Even in wordless narratives

    Ditto long conjunctions. Unless you make the mistake of filling your comic with blowhard word balloons and excessive commentary, everything is straight to the point. Sometimes the only word at the top of the panel is 'Suddenly..'

    Posted by berko_wills at 5:26 AM NZT
    Updated: Saturday, 4 September 2004 7:20 PM NZT

Thursday, 19 August 2010 - 1:47 PM NZT

Name: "pengpeng"

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