Friday, September 16, 2011

Deus ex Machina, which I'm still not comfortable pronouncing aloud

I've been pondering a BLOG ENTRY I read a couple of days ago, by an author I haven't actually read yet.  His name is Peter V. Brett.  My sister-in-law recommended his books, beginning with "The Warded Man", and I went to and read the first few pages they have posted as samples.  It is very good, Wheel of Time-ish fantasy.  I think I'll enjoy them when I get my hands on the books.  Anyway, I was reading his blog on, and he was discussing a book by a new-comer that he had been asked to read and comment on (or "blurb") for the back cover.  Read the blog, you'll see what I'm saying.  That other book sounds really good, too... I'll be reading it one day, as well.

In the blog entry, he mentioned that he will pass on "blurbing" new books if he finds literary taboos such as deus ex machina, flat characters or flaws in the story.  This is the second time in a month that I've gone looking for the definition of deus ex machina.  The first time was while watching "Lost", which I chat about in my other blog, found HERE. There is an episode titled "Deus Ex Machina", and I didn't think I had ever heard that Latin phrase before, so I looked it up.  This is what I found on :

De-us ex ma-chi-na
[dey-uh s eks mah-kuh-nuh, dee-uh s eks mak-uh-nuh]
1. (in ancient Greek and Roman drama), a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.
2. any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.

1690–1700;  < Neo-Latin  literally, god from a machine (i.e., stage machinery from which a deity's statue was lowered), as translation of Greek apò mēchanês theós  (Demosthenes), theòs ek mēchanês  (Menander), etc.

So, all you fellow would-be authors, keep this in mind as you are writing.  A good example of deus ex machina is how Glinda magically appears (twice!) to save Dorothy's hide in "The Wizard of Oz", first with the snow to wake them in the field of poppies and again at the end to free Dorothy from Oz, by telling her simply to click her heels together and she'll go home.  There are a long list of other cinematic, as well as book and comic examples if you are interested, HERE is a good site.


Chris said...

I went to the site with examples, all cleverly covered. Still, it can work, and I would suggest that in fantasies, such as "The Wizard of Oz," a Jiminy Cricket character, such as Glinda, is around for just such a purpose, and we all realize it from the beginning. And in the case of "The War of the Worlds," I love that ending, especially as it follows such complete despair. I don't feel everything needs a happy ending, but when it offers a twist like that, I'm there. (Similarly, I found the twist at the end of the movie "Limitless," with Bradley Cooper, just as satisfying.)

Steph said...

You're right, of course; in films it often works. I think in novels, though, it's much more interesting and develops characters better if we don't just produce a sudden solution out of nowhere when our protagonist gets him- or herself into trouble.

I suppose, like any literary device, there are times when it's better for the writer to break the rules. When it works...