Challenge 570 Response
Bewildering Stories discusses...
Cultural and Historical Realism
with Sherman Smith
“Crazy as a Woodpecker” appears in issue 570.
Elroy’s character is inspired by Jack Nicholson’s role in The Shining. Is Vincent Price an accurate analogue in terms of the time setting, namely the late 1940’s, or is the reference to him an anachronism?
[Sherman Smith] Elroy was modeled after Jack Nicholson, who is more of a present-day celebrity. The characters in the novel are back in 1946, when Woody Woodpecker was just beginning to appear on the screen, and Vincent Price was headlining at local theaters.
Many of my readers have never heard some of the music quoted here. That is one of the pleasures of historical fiction: taking someone back to the way it was.
[Don W.] Thank you , Sherman. What you’ve described is a reliable process of fictional characterization: take the best inspiration you can think of regardless of time or place — in this case, Jack Nicholson — but make sure any historical allusions are accurate.
The setting of Two Blind Men and a Fool is in the U.S.A. in 1946-47. But the story’s audience is far removed from that place and time; now, almost 70 years later, the story has a world-wide audience. The historical and cultural allusions can play a vital role as long as the readers understand what they mean.
At the time of the story, Vincent Price was beginning a distinguished film and stage career. The reference to his voice, in chapter 46, is therefore not out of place: “Elroy cocked his head, giggled, as he mimicked the actor Vincent Price.” Many of your readers will remember him. But others won’t know of him at all, and they can only wonder what tone of voice Elroy is imitating.
Woody Woodpecker is problematic in another way. Many readers will recall the character’s raucous voice in film cartoons; many others won’t. In either case, all readers will wonder why such a sinister character as Elroy Hawks would be compared, at times, to a comic figure in cinema for children. Readers may suspect that you are thinking of the sound alone while they are thinking of the character itself.
As for the music in Two Blind Men and a Fool, the lyrics are used to great effect, even if, as you say, readers have never heard some of the songs and do not know the tunes.
In fact, chapter 16 becomes a scene in an impromptu opera. Lift Every Voice and Sing was originally composed as an anthem primarily for former slaves and their descendants. I think it unlikely that the characters would, in all realism, have heard of it at all, let alone know its lyrics as extensively as they do.
But the song has since taken its place in hymnals, at least in mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. Readers will not question historical realism; they’ll grant that the song is appropriate in its context, even if the scene in chapter 16 is unabashedly sentimental.
Copyright © 2014 by Sherman Smith
and Bewildering Stories