History, Podcasts and the Craft of the Metanarrative
Episode seven of “The Magnus Archives” has been one of my favorites, weaving together the horror of war, historical figures and folklore in a tragic haunting manner.
Set during World War I, “The Piper” tells of the narrator’s experience with Wilfred Owen, who was an English poet and soldier. He was one of the leading poets of the First World War, writing on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare. His poem “Dulce et decorum est” condemns the rallying cry that “it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.”
Owen was killed in action during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice, which is fictionalized in the archive statement in this episode along with the calling of the Pied Piper as almost a god of death who stalked the battlefields. It is said that his mother received word of his death while the bells of the nearby church tolled for the end of the war.
I haven’t read very much of Owen’s poetry but this episode did a great job capturing the bleakness and horror of which he wrote.
“The Magnus Archives” is not a new podcast, but while I may be four years and about 180 episodes behind, just in case I wasn’t the last person to ever hear of it, I wanted to share how creepy, thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable the show has been.
I hope more of the episodes begin to play with historical events or figures as connections between archive statements and subjects begin to appear as this episode was one of their best. From a pure entertainment standpoint, this podcast has been great, but even more than that, the structure of it and the storytelling had been excellent with a fine balance between the individual stories and the connecting story arcs.
Definitely worth checking out as much as a short story anthology as a lesson in crafting narratives.
I came across a post the other day referencing the Biosphere 2 project and a surprising discovery scientists made during the experiment. Within the completely perfect and balanced contained world of the biosphere the trees appeared healthy and thriving but none would grow to maturity. Before they could reach maturity however, the trees would topple over.
The scientists realized that within the biosphere there was no wind, there was no pressure or adversity exerted in the trees. They grew without resistance, without hardship, without adversity. The easy explanation is that the wind forced the trees to grow stronger, deeper roots to fight the outward forces of nature and their surroundings, but the truth goes far deeper than that.
It was more than strong roots the trees needed to rely on and develop, it was a tougher skin. There is a layer of wood known as reaction wood, or stress wood, that the biosphere trees were not developing. This layer allows the trees to adapt and to branch out in directions and at angles that would otherwise not be structurally sound in order to find the sunlight and other resources they need. In a perfect world they didn’t need that stronger layer, that muscle and fortitude. They grew fast and straight and collapsed under their own weight, too weak to maintain themselves because they had never faced any adversity, had never had to fight. They could never reach their true potential because they had never been challenged to do so.
I was reminded of this a few days later when lookin through my materials on Alice Childress, an author, playwright, actress and woman of color who worked fiercely for four decades in theater and on Broadway addressing social issues through her work during a time when she was denied basic civil rights. She began her career in 1949, writing and starring in the one act play, ‘Florence’ which touched in many of the themes that would define her career and the social causes she would fight for; the empowerment of black women, interracial politics, working-class life.
“My writing attempts to interpret the ‘ordinary’,” she said, “because they are not ordinary. Each human is uniquely different. Like snowflakes, the human pattern is never cast twice. We are uncommonly and marvellously intricate in thought and action, our problems are most complex and, too often, silently borne.”