Wasted yet, then go out and buy a copy. At once. I say this, not because Nicola is the first Google result for "Crabbit Old Bat" and therefore I'm terrified of her awesomeosity and crabbitness (though obviously I am), but because it's a book I wish I'd written myself. Jess and Jack's story is set firmly in the modern day world, but there are ancient echoes within it, echoes which have everything to do with Destiny and Fate and all those things we inhabitants of the 21st century are meant to dismiss as hokum and bunkum, fit only for the feeble-minded and charlatans. But I say to you: just try playing 'Jack's Game' for a day (or choose not to--it's up to you, of course). But if you do so choose, toss a coin (beautifully, of course) to decide your every move. It's scary and powerful stuff. I know. I did it. Now I've spent too much money I couldn't afford and eaten something which disagreed with me. But I've also rung an old friend I hadn't talked to for years and caught an early train where, by chance, I had an unexpected conversation and found out something I needed to know. There are many more such stories of chance (including one of mine) over at Nicola's Wasted Blog, which I urge you to visit at the earliest opportunity. Now, that's quite enough from me. You'll be wanting to hear from Nicola, who I welcome to Scribble City Central for her first (but I trust certainly not last) visit. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, O Crabbit One, and over to you for a bit of musing on the Oedipus myth.
The Oedipus story goes like this. King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes were expecting a baby. The prophet Teiresias predicted that their son would kill his father and marry his mother. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the best news they’d had all year, but they had a solution: they gave the baby to a shepherd, with instructions to leave him on a distant hillside, making sure he couldn’t escape by driving a wooden stake through his foot. (As if the baby was going anywhere…) Inevitably, the shepherd couldn’t bring himself to leave the baby, and took him to another city, Corinth. Somehow – by a series of coincidences that a modern story-teller couldn’t get away with – the baby was brought up by the king and queen of Corinth. Lucky baby. Or not so lucky, because they called him Oedipus, meaning “swollen foot”. (Be glad your parents didn’t give you such a silly name.)
When Oedipus grew up, he heard rumours that he wasn’t the true son of the king and queen, so he foolishly went to ask the oracle at Delphi. (This was foolish because the oracle was famous for giving unhelpful answers.) Sure enough, the oracle didn’t tell him what he wanted to know but did tell him something he didn’t want to know: that he would kill his father and marry his mother. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the best news he’d heard all year, but he had a solution: a very long journey.
On this journey he got into an argument and killed a man. And carried on, arriving at the city of Thebes, where they were having some trouble with the Sphinx, who kept eating travellers who couldn’t solve a riddle. Oedipus solved the riddle and the Sphinx committed suicide. So far, so good. The queen of Thebes (Jocasta, you remember, and Oedipus’s mum) forgot about being terribly upset about her husband’s recent unsolved murder, and married the hero. Everything would have been fine, but the truth about Oedipus’s identity came out, including that he’d killed his father and married his mother. Jocasta was so appalled that she killed herself. Oedipus was so appalled that he poked his eyes out with a burning stick and wandered around the country for some years while other innocent members of his family also came to unpleasant ends.
So, what’s the problem with this story? The problem is that it’s supposed to tell you that you can’t escape your destiny and that you have no real choices, no free will. It gives us no hope at all.
But it doesn’t tell us this at all – it just pretends to. It’s a fairy story, not a story of something that happened or might happen but a “what if” story, a “thought experiment”. All it really does is ask us to think, “What if you were told your future? Here’s an example of a made-up story of how someone tried to avoid their foretold future and ended up fulfilling it.” So??? It couldn’t happen because it is impossible on any level to know your future. It’s impossible because there are so many permutations of tiny combinations of events that there are an immeasurable number of possible futures, because each result depends on what comes before, and what comes before depends on what comes before. Etc. Etc. Etc.
When one of my daughters was small she used to ask questions like, “What if you woke up in the morning and you had two heads? What if you woke up and the sea was made of cucumbers? What if chickens spoke French?” I was frustrated by the questions and she was very frustrated by my answer, “But it couldn’t happen.” I wasn’t being obstructive – I genuinely couldn’t answer the question because it was literally impossible in this world, therefore it was philosophically impossible in this world to say what “I” would do because “I” am in this world.
When I studied philosophy at university, one essay question in my final exam was something like, “Can you know what it would be like if you were a scorpion?” Basically, my answer would be, “No, because if I was a scorpion I wouldn’t be me and it wouldn’t be this world.” I think I probably made the essay a bit longer than that….
So, ignore the “what ifs” of the Oedipus question: if you believe the story and think it has any meaning, it will wreck your self-belief. It loses all its power if you refuse to acknowledge it.
You do not have to worry about whether you can avoid your “Fate”, because there simply is no such thing. Like a sea made of cucumbers. Or chickens speaking French. It’s not in this world.
This is what Jack needed to discover in Wasted. I can’t tell you whether he does. Because it depends how the coin spins and you’re the one who has to spin it in the end. Also, the first chapter seems to foretell the end – but it doesn’t. Because the message of Wasted is that nothing is until it is; everything is possible until it isn’t. Oedipus came to a terrible end because a) he was foretold a future and b) he believed it. But a) is the false bit.
If Oedipus had known that, he could have ignored that silly oracle. Just as Jack and Jess ignore Farantella the Famous Fortune-teller. Even though she got it right….
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Lucy! I know you love the old stories as much as I do. Keep up the good work!
Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2010
More about Nicola:
Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author for teenagers, with successful titles such as Fleshmarket, Deathwatch, Blame My Brain and Sleepwalking. She prefers to forget that she also used to write Thomas the Tank Engine Books.... When she's not writing, she loves speaking in schools, and at festivals and conferences in the UK and Europe, She also enjoys messing around on Twitter or her blogs. Nicola blogs for writers HERE and has set up a special blog about her brand new book, Wasted - you can join the activities and contribute in lots of ways HERE