It’s Friday folks, which means it’s time to embrace the inner animal and let loose for the weekend. Before we can do that, we have to crown the winner of this 22nd arena battle. This week paired a battle of Devon vs. DeVan, and kicks off our ladies month.
Entering the arena for the first time is newcomer Alyse DeVan with her story “Marshall in the Bayou.” Will her voodoo cocktail be enough to claim victory?
Fighting for the pride of New Jersey is our very own Joseph Devon. He gets primal with his story “Hunter and Hunted.” Will he remain victorious? Or did he bite off more than he could chew?
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Therianthropy. From Paleolithic cave paintings and the gods of ancient Egypt to sport team mascots and the furry fandom, the abilities and forms of animals have always fascinated human beings. Stories are all about change, so it’s no surprise that some of our oldest tales recount the change of humans into animals, or vice versa. This story trope is a great personal favorite, so I was especially honored to be asked to judge this week.
Alyse DeVan and Joseph Devon have presented a feast of entertainment for the therianthropophile such as myself. (Someone has to say it though: Devon versus DeVan? Are you trying to drive Al insane?) As is my wont, I’m going to make a few comments on the stories before casting my vote.
“Marshall in the Bayou” by Alyse DeVan – At its best, this story is a dark fairy tale, complete with the hero’s quest and the mysterious user of magical forces. I love the choice of animals too; The Frog Prince/Iron Henry is one of my favorite fairy tales. I think Ms. DeVan has a definite knack for translating the fairy tale atmosphere into the modern milieu.
I had a little problem with Witch Doctor X’s generic name. It rang false for me. And I’m sad to say that I never felt a strong emotional attachment to Marshall as a character. I understand his situation intellectually. I know that he felt he had no other resort but Witch Doctor X. But I, as a reader, never felt that urgency. Because I didn’t feel the strength of his tragedy, the ending lost much of its power for me.
“Hunter and Hunted” by Joseph Devon – Compared to its competing story, “Hunter and Hunted” is a more straightforward tale that, mutatis mutandis, could appear side by side with any tale from a medieval werewolf chronicle. I kept expecting a double bluff, a story where perhaps Murray or even Anita were the therianthrope — a story like Cabal by Clive Barker or Wolf’s Trap by W. D. Gagliani.
That wasn’t the story I got. The beast Murray expected to be the monster was in fact the monster, was more of a monster than Murray was able to handle. Yet I felt his frustration with the system. I felt his anger, his desire that the bad guys not get away with it one more time. I felt Anita’s struggle to rein in Murray and felt her grief at his death. The story could have been more, but what it did it did very, very well.
Fairy tale transformation versus man as wolf to man. Both stories have aspects that appeal to me very strongly. Both have features I found issue with. In the end, I have to vote for the story that had the most emotional impact on me. And for me, that story this week was:
“Hunter and Hunted” by Joseph Devon.
We all have an animal inside us, but this week the arena demanded a physical change. Let’s see how our authors handled it:
“Marshall in the Bayou” by Alyse DeVan – I liked the way this story started out, “The bus smelled like feet” rings a bell for anyone stuck in a crowded bus for any length of time.
I liked the idea of using the bus ride as a time to explore Marshall’s backstory a little, it gave the story a cinematic feel to it. This, combined with the descriptions of his fellow passengers and surroundings are why the bus ride is my favorite part of the story.
I liked that the Vietnam vet character started off as just part of the scenery and then became a much bigger part of our story.
Marshall’s ultimate transformation was a surprise (I never thought one of our authors would choose a giant frog) but well done. I like how he keeps trying to act like a man and run or wave but has to learn how to do things as a frog. Reminded me of Kafka a little.
There were, however, quite a few things in this story that didn’t work for me. Marshall’s quick resignation to death after his “leg cancer” diagnosis just seemed wrong. Doctor X’s Christianity/Voodoo mix likewise didn’t sit right.
To me, the pacing in this story is off, some parts seem very rushed while others drag on. Marshall has more interaction with the cab driver who declines to give him a ride than the veteran who factors so prominently into the story.
There were also a few places where it seemed like we got the abridged version of the story.”They drove for a while before they reached the edge of a bayou, where they dropped Marshall off”, “The next morning he woke up as a frog.”; these are places where we could really use more. Even what is arguably the climax of our story, Marshall’s death, is stated so matter-of-factly that it loses all impact.
All in all this seems like a draft that could really use a little more time. This story is at is at its best when Ms. DeVan observes the “show don’t tell” rule and sadly loses quite a bit when she doesn’t.
“Hunter and Hunted” by Joseph Devon – It is clear right from the beginning that Mr. Devon took a darker approach to the prompt this week, given the missing girls and the rough cops who are looking for them.
The interactions between Anita and Murray are done well, they come across as long time partners; comfortable with each other, trusting in their instincts and knowing what the other is going to do (usually).
I love how there are subtle hints that perhaps Murray is the one who will transform: “…when he found the man responsible he was going to tear him apart, and enjoy it.”, “…there was something different about him. And that thought had brought him a weary peace as he stopped fighting himself.” When it turns out that he isn’t our changling it caught me completely off guard.
The scene with the “interrogation” was fantastic, I kept waiting for Murray to change and he kept getting more and more violent. When the hyena finally makes his appearance it was fantastic.
If I had a complaint about this story it would be the ending. I wasn’t real sure just what it was that drove Anita to ruin her hand and cause herself so much damage in order to escape. Did she see something? Hear something? Or just sense something? Her arrival in the back room was just a little convenient. I was also confused why the hyena was so unafraid of her and the gun? It just calmly jogs to its death as she unloads the gun into it.
Still a strong entry and it fits the prompt well.
This week my choice seems obvious. Only one of these stories seemed a finished product. My vote goes to:
“Hunter and Hunted” by Joseph Devon
There you have it folks! A unanimous judges decision for Joseph Devon! Congratulations Joseph!
Let’s take a look at how the voting turned out:
It looks like our audience agrees. It was a hard fought battle in this rumble between Devon and DeVan, but this victory belongs to the English pronunciation over the French.
Be sure to check in next week, as there is a storm coming!