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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 614 Response:
Bewildering Stories discusses...

“Monster Divine” Stories

with Gary Clifton

In Gary Clifton’s “Monster Divine”: How might the story be appropriate as a humorous footnote or example to the lesson of Pagans?

Hello, Don,

I enjoyed your review of Professor O’Donnell’s Pagans. I agree heartily that my “Monster Divine” would fit as a footnote. Your analogy to the effect that a religious man here might be a pagan elsewhere is spot on.

The thrust of my story “Monster Divine” was twofold. First, as I’ve seen over many years, the human mind can be induced to convince itself to think or do nearly anything.

Secondly, as religion is a subject as sensitive as the surface of the human eye, I was trying to describe the references to religion in generic terms: no denomination, no named belief structure, and hopefully no disrespect to the ideas of anyone.

Since the dawn of recorded history, religion, of course, cannot escape being the catalyst for certain improbable and sometimes tragic occurrences. Although it is a nice fulcrum on which to rest the lever, religion has no exclusive toehold on irrational human behavior. Indulge me an analogy:

Years ago, I was part of a whiskey still raid at a site operated by a father and son. Both guys were mean enough to eat furniture and had lengthy histories of violent crimes. Working from the same neighborhood for years, both had bragged long and loud that they would commit all sorts of mayhem if and when the Feds ever showed up,.

Finally, we found them and walked in on them. I chased and handcuffed the father. The son — paradoxically known as “Pop” — dropped deader than good manners. The coroner said it was due to heart failure aggravated by many years of bragging, subconsciously inflating bureaucrats to the status of bug-eyed monsters. “You scared him to death, boys,” the old doc said. And who could deny that, on occasion, government might indeed loom catastrophically large to some of its citizens.

I was simply trying to tease the readers’ minds a bit, by having the villain who scoffed at the idea of a Supreme Being find, in the end, a conclusion he did not anticipate. Did he inflate his fears to critical mass or did a Higher Authority engineer the circumstances?

Gary Clifton

Thank you, Gary! Your story about the moonshiners adds a lot of local color! And it bears out one of our mottoes: “There is no story so truly bewildering as reality.” Both of your “scared himself to death” stories remind me of a folk tale.

A traveler stops into a tavern in eastern Europe on a late fall night. He’s passing through, on his way to the next town. His barmates tell him of a haunted cemetery on the road. One of them offers the traveler a dagger: “Go to the center of the cemetery and push the dagger hilt-deep into the ground and leave it there. If you do that, no ghosts will ever bother you.”

Sure, why not? The man takes the dagger, wraps his cloak around him, and sets forth into the early winter weather. At the cemetery, owls hoot in the dimly moonlt night. A bat flaps by, and snow begins to fall. The place is spooky, all right.

He tiptoes fearfully to the center of the cemetery, kneels on the ground and, with all his strength, forces the dagger hilt-deep into the soil. He tries to rise but fails. He’s suddenly being strangled. He flails about in panic, to no avail. The next day, he’s found dead with a look of horror on his face and his dagger plunged into the ground through the folds of his cloak.

Were Mandek, in your story, and the traveler pagans? Yes; they each mistake a coincidence for a sign of his worst fear.

The ancient pagans were great engineers; otherwise, they seem to have had only a dim grasp of cause and effect. They invented “gods” mainly in human form to ward off bad luck and to explain as signs events that we would call coincidences. Confusing fiction and reality can be charming in children; one expects adults to know better, but they often don’t.

Professor O’Donnell observes that the ancient pagan rite of divination — fortune-telling — is alive and well, although in different forms. Today, we cook and eat chickens rather than peer at their messy entrails; astrology — among other things — is the modern version of augury. Otherwise, little has changed since the dawn of time.

I appreciate your taking pains to offend no one inadvertently; you’ve done well. However, we do have a story that would offend just about everybody if it weren’t so funny: “You Are Whom You Eat.” It’s a really old one. I suspect it was clandestine oral literature — a dangerous joke — in the Paris salons of the 17th century. And it is one of the stories that got Cyrano into big trouble.


Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton
and Bewildering Stories

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