Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Oracle's Twist Is Future Magic

 April 22, 2021

   I am reading "Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature," by Angus Fletcher, and I just finished reading about the invention of the "The Oracle's Twist"  and how powerful it is, which "sends the riddle from the future." Then we get this: "For storytellers to fashion themselves into oracles, they needed to invent their own future riddles; ones that the audience couldn't answer—yet." And, "the groundbreaking answer of how to stimulate active wonder without one. The answer is to talk in a voice that interjects the audience's future into the narrative's present." Like this:

Dusty "The Oracle" Springfield
and her singing compadre Petula Clark
sending people "Downtown"

"Listen to my words, you who want to know;  by my mouth you will learn the history of Mali. By my mouth you will get to know the story."
—The Epic of Sundiata, 13th century

   As I read it, we are wired to want information and when a storyteller teases us with a riddle, "the reward center of our brain does a sneaky thing: we get a dose of dopamine. It's like a nibble of cake. It tastes sweet, but it doesn't satisfy our appetite. In fact it makes us more hungry, wracking our brain with a ravenous curiosity."

   For example, "how can a defeat be victorious?" "How could a lame child sprint like a lion?" It is generated by a "future-hinting voice: You will get to know the story." And, if the narrator, acting like an oracle, knows an ending the reader does not, it fills us with suspense and longing. This may be old hat to you guys, but the science of it is new to me.

   Here's a 14th century Arthurian Tale that does this:

 "But of all the British kings, I've heard tell that Arthur was the most noble. And so I will show you something that's astonished the eyes of many, an outrageous adventure of knightly wonder, and if you will listen to my song for oh just a little, I will tell it as I heard it in town." 

   This Brit may have heard it "in town," but here it is, put another way:

"Lord take me downtown,
I'm just looking for. . ."

   The key thing is the last line, which is a "Riddle voice" and is a rhetorical sleight of hand. Tom Wolfe even used it in non-fiction (The Right Stuff), "There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die."

   Isn't that damn cool?

   The key is to offer glimpses of the hours ahead, like this racking riddle: What do you get when you put a Sharps next to a Ripped Man?

The Oracle Twist On The Newsstand

   Jim Cross put True West magazine at eye level so that Quigley is taking aim at something next to him, to which the Oracle and Cross person says, "I can neither confirm or deny involvement."

"Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?"

—Steven Wright


  1. Anonymous5:42 PM

    When did Dusty Springfield release "Downtown" and on what label?

    I only recall Petula Clark's hit with the song.

    Thanks, Bob!

    1. Thanks. Yes, Old Man Syndrome, conflating the two songbird octegenarians with the big hairdos. Fixed it, for now.


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