February has rolled in with the morning sun, and so have our judges. Their gavels gleam in the most loving month’s gentle light. It’s time to see if Albert Berg’s return to the arena is triumphant, or if he will fall to Gabriel Necochea.
The prompt itself is unique for the arena. It focuses on a single man, who was both real and still on the outer edges of fantasy. This memorial battle is of course about the late David Bowie. His incarnations and legend will only continue to grow after he has left this earthly plane.
Let’s look at the stories:
Albert Berg came into the New Year with “A Curiosity.”
Gabriel Necochea looked to the past with “The Goblin King.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
David Bowie touched everyone in some way through music or movies or just his life. It seems right to honor the man however you can. For the Arena, that is done through this week’s prompt; The Goblin King. Let’s see how our authors handled it:
“The Goblin King” by Gabriel Necochea – I actually laughed the first time I read the first line of this story. It seems like the set-up for a pretty weird joke.
I like the idea of a story in memory of Bowie being about people watching Labyrinth in memory of Bowie. The author can’t watch the movie with us all, but he can share his feelings about it through the words and actions of his characters.
Full disclosure here, I have never seen Labyrinth. I don’t think I missed anything in this story because of it, but I wanted to get that out there.-
The interaction between the athlete, the stoner, and the student felt, for the most part, natural and normal. I got the feeling that these characters are not lifelong friends, but have been thrown together by that great mixer called college. Roommates from diverse backgrounds who have become friends almost just through proximity.
My favorite part is that I’ve lived this story more than once. You find out that a new-ish friend hasn’t seen a favorite movie of yours and you feel the need to rectify that. You arrange a viewing and your friend’s first viewing exposes the rose colored glasses you have been watching through for so long. That comes with a certain amount of sadness, and I think that is captured well here.
The issue I have with this story is one common to the arena, but not often with a story as short as this one. It needs to be expanded. There are a couple times in the story where it felt like someone pressed the fast forward button, most noticeably in the second to last paragraph.
All in all, it is a fitting story that feels personal and heartfelt.
“A Curiosity” by Albert Berg – I really like the choice of voice in this story. The childish innocence fits so well, especially the way the story starts. When we get to the “ghosts trapped in the walls” I did a double take and reread it to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.
It quickly became obvious that it was no mistake, that we were dealing with a world beyond our own. Yet that child-like simplicity made it all seem normal. Set against the green goo spitting creatures coming up from the floors and the glitches that let you pass through walls, a missing cat seems minor. To Ecila though, Mr. Boots is everything.
This story is one of those times where we need no explanations. We roll with it and we accept things like jubjub bug infestations, fourblebents, and tears falling up to the ceiling without question.
When Ecila finds out where Mr Boots has gone, and that he has fallen into a story, it seems natural. That she should go in to rescue him and that this does not bother her mother at all also seems completely ordinary. To me, this is one of the signs of good storytelling, be it in movies or books; that you can get the audience to completely suspend disbelief and buy into what you are selling.
My favorite part of the story is when Ecila writes herself into the book. She has excellent penmanship and the margins were “rather large” so she has no difficulties at all. The edited section that follows is wonderful. as is the perfect fairytale ending.
There is a strong Lewis Carroll feel to this story and I love that. Mixing the absurd with the mundane can be hard to pull off, but it is done beautifully here.
This week’s battle was interesting to say the least. Though inspired by and meant as a tribute to David Bowie, he was not the prompt. The Goblin King can mean many things to different people and that is shown here. Both stories were strong, well written tales but one shown a little brighter that the other. This week my vote goes to “A Curiosity” by Albert Berg
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, 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).
What a great prompt for the Arena this week! Labyrinth is such a delightful fairy tale, and David Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King is a large part of what makes the movie work. So our combatants this week were given the difficult task of writing a story inspired by the character. Like Labyrinth itself, both of our writers concentrated on the power of story to change who we are and the world around us.
As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on both stories before giving my vote.
“The Goblin King” by Gabriel Necochea – The premise for this story is absolutely brilliant. Three very different people share the same experience, but what they take away from that experience is colored by who they are as people. What they get out of the viewing depends on what they bring to it.
But I don’t feel that this story lives up to the potential of the premise. The characters feel to me like…placeholders more than real people. I’m not even sure why these three are friends. Are they trying to re-live the friendship they knew in high school but have gone beyond? There is definitely a strong taste of nostalgia turned bitter in the mouth toward the end of the tale. But I’m not sure whether that’s what I’m supposed to take away from the story or not.
I kept wanting there to be more substance to the story.
“A Curiosity” by Albert Berg– This for me is a paradigmatic Albert Berg story. Yes, there are the meta-narrative techniques, shades of House of Leaves and all that. But the techniques serve the story rather than the other way around. In this tale we have an almost classic fairy tale but in a postmodern dress.
Even the name of the main character lets us know that this is not the normal world with its normal rules. (A looking-glass world, if one will?) The point in the story that highlights this the most is when Ecila asks for something to eat, and she is given a piece of paper with the food on it. We are reading a fairy tale about a fairy tale world where one of the characters is trapped in a third fairy tale. This level of recursivity shouldn’t have worked; yet all the elements combine to tell a charming tale.
And I dig on the gratuitous (or is it?) reference to Robert Chambers.
Two very different approaches to the challenge of this week’s theme. In the end, the Arena crowd knows that I will always cast my vote for the story that made the greatest emotional impact on me as a reader. And for me, that story this week was
“A Curiosity” by Albert Berg.
That is two votes for Albert! Congratulations Mr. Berg! Or Mr. Bert as it said earlier this week.
Let’s see if our audience agrees:
There you have it folks! Albert Berg has won a shutout with his first bout of 2016. That makes two Arena regulars in a row. Will Tony Southcotte make it three? We’ll see what he can pull from the depths tomorrow in his bout with Stephen Long!