Welcome one and all to the Random Writer's Showcase. I apologize for frightening you, friends. But as you can see, I am a ghost.
In this series, we perform a deep analysis on the selected works of a lesser known author on the wiki, with the goal of discovering what meaning might be able to found there. This special Halloween installment will revolve around the work of Diexilius . Despite being with us since 2014, and accumulating a not-insignificant 3,278 edits since that time, Diex has only two stories, of which we will be discussing all of them.
Last time we showcased Kolpik, you can read that showcase here.
We will be reviewing Diexilius' entire released catalogue (two works), so if you have the time or motivation to read both this blog post and his stories, great! However if you have a more selective opportunity to read, please favor the actual stories in question over my pretentious analyses. We will be covering the respective stories in a lot of detail. The number of words for the respective stories is next to the title, as well as an estimated reading length.
In other words, everything I say beyond this point may spoil the stories involved. You've been warned.
(Heather in Silent Hill 3 is Harry Mason's daughter!)*
On the surface, Predicting Something is as straightforward as a moral tale goes. A young man named Jason steals from an old, blind man, and then slips and dashes his head on some rocks as he tries to run away. The moral purity of the old man, and through contrast the moral repugnance of Jason, is even made stronger by the old man's attempt to warn him of the oncoming accident, despite the the implication of knowing he was being robbed.
The irony of the old man's fortune including Jason's soon-to-come death enhances the moral argument in the work. Both as a prophecy and a narrative device, this foretelling of his death shifts Jason's death into an unavoidable result of his own bad decisions.
When looking a bit closer, this read seems to hold up relatively well. Both Jason and the old man's pasts get revealed to the audience. Whereas the old man grew up,
"in a small village in the good old days where people were simple and honest"
The old man describes Jason's upbringing like this:
"Well, you come from a rich family that spoiled you very much."
Jason, it seems, is painted as a slacker, yearning to go through life the easy way. This aligns with his stealing from a blind man -- possibly the easiest, least dignified robbery imaginable -- and his slightly ominous declaration that he came to this circus to "have fun." In general, it doesn't seem like the reader is meant to actually like Jason very much as a moral character. Even more benign jokes still come at his expense, like this exchange early on:
"I'm blind son. If you think that I won't do a good job, there's no problem. You can go to somebody else for this."
"No, I was just curious... how did you know that I was a guy?"
"I smelled the odor of Nivea Men. I could have been wrong, but it was worth a try."
The characterization of Jason is, on the surface level, entirely negative, and this strengthens the moral argument of the work: Don't steal from old blind people. Not only will you possibly die doing it, but you'll be a little like this guy, too. And nobody wants that. The death of Jason, forewarned by the fortune teller in a delightful piece of irony, solidifies his general dislikability. Not only is he morally bad, but both the thematic-narrative elements of the text, and the forces of the universe itself, conspire to get him killed for his actions.
This analysis will form the backbone of our conversation about Predicting Something.
Literarily speaking, the circus can represent a lot of things. On one hand, it's often portrayed as a collection of real, yet unbelievable things. Within The Circus one might find an astonishing display of talented performers performing inconceivable stunts, or human abominations unheard of before, too bizarre to be believed. Animals doing things you don't see at the zoo, performances you won't find in a theater, and curiosities you wouldn't imagine within a typical museum.
On the other hand, these traits can turn a circus into a funhouse mirror reflection of the actual, real world, outside the circus. If such human freaks exist, what does that say about humanity as a whole? When you gaze upon the preserved, unborn fetus of an unknown species, you might wonder about the unsolved mysteries of the universe around you. The lion tamer shows lions as they might really be, and our perception of the species is undeniably changed as a result of the dramatic, life threatening displays they created.
By being, in every way, larger than life -- more theatrical, more fantastical, more expressive, more, more, more -- the circus has no choice but alter our sense of things in regards to the world at large, even outside of the context of a circus itself. In some ways, a circus can be viewed as the most human lens of the earth. The earth as it should be, or depending on your perspective, how it might not be able to help being, at times.
And yet, on the (inscrutable) third hand, The Circus is also a business, which often, possibly chronically, finds itself profiting off cruelty and exploitation. A freakshow might be a chilling display of the far extremes of the human form, but one must also acknowledge that it is a freakshow: a harrowing display of the far extremes of merciless human cruelty, and monetized humiliation. The lion tamer may give us a ludicrous, exciting, dangerous show, but it cannot come without us first depriving animals of basic needs, to keep them reliably hungry, irritable, and miserable.
And before The Circus' absurd curiosities from strange, foreign lands can reasonably alter our perceptions of reality, these inexplicable relics need some precedent of being genuine which, I'm sorry to inform you, they almost categorically lack. The Circus thrives at the expense of gullible customers, gathered to witness inhumane acts.
So when Jason steals from a blind man, the moral context of the act is skewed by Predicting Something's taking place at The Circus.
Who Does Jason Steal From?
The opening line to Predicting Something reads as follows:
The night was unusually quiet and the animals were singing a silent melody as Jason was walking though a circus.
It is worth acknowledging that this circus has some form of animal show, and although this opening line lays the scene for the upcoming death quite nicely -- sort of a quiet, preemptive mourning. "Unusually quiet" -- it also, to me, paints the circus in question as being lower rate. Untrafficked, quiet. Although one can imagine it is probably much louder and active during the day, our story begins as the circus is more stretched out and laid to rest for as little as it can. We exist, here, in almost a circus out of time or space. That one line is the only descriptive imagery we get of the place. It is nighttime, it is quiet, and the animals are singing a silent melody.
It is, in every way, the antithesis of what The Circus should be. It is not loud, it is not dramatic. The animals don't roar or perform exotic stunts. And yet, in some ways, it is a more effective reflection of reality than it otherwise would have been, because the mechanisms it uses to try to reflect reality are currently out use, effectively replaced with regular old, typical reality: the nighttime sky, the sounds of nothing, and a person walking looking for something to do.
The dressing and theatrics are torn down, and all that is left is the final, elusive quality that Jason will soon leverage to try and maintain moral superiority in the face of his actions. If a circus isn't a big, loud, absurd manmade display of extraordinary feats and curiosities, what is it? Well, Jason even pontificates on this himself:
Suddenly he had an embarrassing realization. He left his wallet home. He wanted to explain this to the man, but he thought that, if they were all telling lies to naive people to get their money, it wouldn't be such a problem if he would do something bad for once.
When Jason steals money from the blind man, from his own point of view, this line shifts the victim from the blind man himself, specifically, to the circus, in general. "They" were all telling lies to naive people to get their money. This invokes another level of irony, considering Jason himself is profiting off of his blatant manipulation of a supposedly unaware victim. But it does pose a genuinely interesting question. Before we can condemn Jason for his moral despicability, we need to consider whether the particular framing of his robbery to take place in a circus changes the nature of the crime.
Had Jason robbed an unfortunate blind gas station clerk, the moral ambiguity simply wouldn't be there. But unlike a gas station (usually), Jason entered the circus in general, and the House of Fates, specifically, with the tacit understanding that he was there to be entertainingly lied to (to quote the story itself: "Jason sat down with interest and disbelief at the same time"). More pressingly, he didn't enter the House of Fates with the express purpose of stealing necessarily. He realizes he forgot his wallet, and its this realization that gives him the opportunity to steal, and critically, the motivation to (ie: the quote above). He would be wasting the blind man's time, either way, but from Jason's perspective, I'd argue his time was being wasted anyway. An inauthentic transaction was going down; a phony fortune teller giving a fortune to a "paying customer" with no money. This levels the playing field, theoretically, as neither are technically indebted to anyone's money. So, says Jason, why is it so bad if he steals from the supposed fortune teller?
This, of course, ignores the fact that, aside from the fact that in real life, accurate fortune telling doesn't exist, the reader is given very little reason to doubt anything the blind man predicts. He claims to have seen Jason's death coming, and indeed before his seeming demise the blind man definitely has something important to say. Yet, an important pillar of our interpretation in the introductory analysis was the blind man's description of Jason's upbringing, yet we don't actually receive any confirmation that this insight was ever accurate at all. The description that our narration gives us of Jason's upbringing goes like this:
He was an only child from a good family and he liked visiting new places.
It certainly doesn't conflict with anything the blind man says on the matter. But, tellingly, it doesn't necessarily repeat anything either. There isn't any provable, in-story precedent for the fortune teller's supposed abilities. In fact, the only prediction the fortune teller makes that we do get proof of -- Jason's manhood -- get's explained away as his smelling Jason's deodorant. An educated guess.
When asked why he was so confident in his ability to be trusting, he chalks that up to his good upbringing. Wouldn't a third eye be enough?
Taking all of this into consideration, is Jason's crime really so black and white as we made it out to be in the beginning?
But let's suppose the blind man really is honest. Within the complicated web of morality that is The Circus, the fortune teller that resides inside the House of Fates is an authentic, real-deal psychic. A medium between our plane of knowledge and the forces beyond that manipulate fate, ourselves, and what comes next. This provokes another question regarding Jason's morally bankrupt thievery. Had not been in such a rush to leave, he would have heard the fortune teller's warning, and likely not have died. And critically, the only reason he was in such a rush to begin with is because he was eager to get away with the money he'd pocketed. At the end of the story, too, the medium describes to the police the full extent of his warning, like this:
"The part where he trips and cracks his skull on a rock after stealing from a blind man."
If both Jason's death and his actions leading up to it can be predicted beforehand, did he ever really have a choice to begin with? Or is free will an inherent necessity to moral responsibility? If Jason's every action is either pre-planned, or alternatively, so meticulously interconnected that his present and future actions can be seen as the unavoidable results of thousands in a chain of falling dominoes, how can he be granted the opportunity to decide not to take the money?
Or, in other words, to argue Jason could have simply chosen not to steal at the last second, and drop the money back in the box would almost create a plot hole within the story's general moralistic framework. That is, either the fortune teller is honest, and Jason's sin was inevitable, or Jason had a choice in the matter, and the fortune teller is not a true medium. Neither of these perfectly align with the black and white implication our initial reading put across.
This can be easily swept away, of course, with a convenient third option; that being that the medium can see not the future, but a future. Possibly the most likely one, possibly not. Either way, his predictions are not infallible, merely well educated. This would cheekily align with what actual, real life, phony psychics tend to claim -- "Just a possible future. No need for a refund if it doesn't go as predicted." Yet the blind man states he "tells people what they are paying for and they put some money in the box." A sort of bizarre statement considering he does not, in fact, tell Jason the particular nature of his prescience.
For want of an in universe clarification, one is forced to go back and examine the implications of the text. As a moral tale, Jason's death is painted from square one as being pre-fated, unavoidable, incoming. His accidental fall is a karmic reaction to his thievery, yes -- once the deed is done it is implied the universe will react, especially where the mystical are involved such as the presence of a medium. Yet, even before he's decided he wanted to steal, the animals are silent at the beginning of the tale, and at the end,
The night was quiet again. In fact, quieter than before.
A direct comparison to the beginning, where the only difference is the absence of our protagonist still walking.
If his death was the result of deterministic cosmic forces, was it really an accident? Or was it, from a certain point of view, murder from the universe itself? And on that same thread, can his thievery be entirely put on his own conscience? Or was Jason the unfortunate accomplice of an unalterable cosmic machine, coded out of predestined mistakes?
Here we can see how even within a seemingly prototypical story about a morally repugnant character facing swift, ironic justice, the introduction of small, meaningful details, such as the setting of a circus at night, our protagonist's light internal narration, and the presence of a mystical, paranormal character, can subtly twist a moral story both in plot and theme into something more nuanced than it previously appeared.
To Be Continued**
And yet, it's possible the majority of reader's did not interpret the story as such. I designed my initial read on the text to be what I consider to be the one most people engaging with the story will come away with. Yet, the entire bulk of my essay is founded on what one might uncharitably label...overthinking, or contrarianism. It may appear, to some, to be an exhaustive exercise in coming away with the wrong conclusion.
How can one prove the merit of a critical interpretation? Is it enough to provide evidence, or are there other elements that are necessary to provide a meaningful analysis of a seemingly straightforward story? Perhaps the bullet lies in the chamber of authorial intent, or popular opinion?
In the next installment of Random Writer's Showcase, we'll take a look at another of Diexilius' works, and see if we can answer these questions on our path towards breaking apart the meaning hidden there as well.
** (and as for that asterisk up in the spoiler section....you'll have to wait till next time!)