Challenge 495 Response
with Noel Denvir
“Spancil Hill” appears in issue 495.
Are any of the three characters alive?
[Noel D.] The two main protagonists are “alive.” The third one maybe.[BwS] If Peter McGiven is dead, Sam may not realize Peter is a ghost, but that’s perectly okay. Lots of ghost stories have characters whose reality is ambiguous. And after meeting Sam, Peter pretty much disappears from the story anyway.
Why does the story not overstep Bewildering Stories’ guideline about plots that end with the narrator’s death or with “but it was all a dream” or the equivalent? What kind of story is it, then?
[Noel D.] I managed to slip through the net because the protagonists are neither dead nor dreaming. They have both suffered a stroke or a heart attack. They are in a “recovery” state, or coma. Maybe they’ll get better; maybe not.
[BwS] At the end, Sam seems to hint that May McGiven’s place hasn’t changed since his previous visits because he’s either dead, dreaming, or in some kind of time warp.
The “no dream ending” rule doesn’t apply, because Sam does not wake up and say, “Aw, shucks. That would have been a nice story, but it was only a dream.” And the “no dead narrator” rule doesn’t apply, either, because Sam is not the narrator. The reader can settle for a time warp, if we want to get really technical about it. The time warp is a dramatic device frequently used in Twilight Zone episodes.
Bonus question: How does the song “Spancil Hill” relate to the story?
[Noel D.] They are united by a song they both love, “Spancil Hill” This Irish folk song deals with the theme of “homecoming.”
I was learning this song when I got the idea for the story. I was also prompted by a letter from Nancy Pratt mentioning reworking of an old folk tale.[BwS] Citing songs is risky, because readers will not necesssarily be familiar with them, and authors have to beware of the “embedded footnote” effect. However, the quote from the song makes it clear what the song is about and what it would mean to Sam and May.
[Noel D.] I am glad that the story at least prompted interest and puzzlement.
[BwS] It is a sweet story, all right. And any puzzlement is really quite mild.
Copyright © 2012 by Noel Denvir
and Bewildering Stories