Saturday, 7 November 2015

More than three chickens and a fox by Bill Kirton

The author's displacement activity
I want to share with you a very personal yet truly illuminating experience. Earlier this year, around Easter time in fact, I received an email from my son, whose own son, Axl, is surpassing his grandfather with ease. It read:

"I thought you might be interested in reading Axl’s first ‘book’.
It’s a simple tale that touches on a variety of themes, innocence, violence, hunger, parental devotion and, without giving away the ‘ending’, murder.
Of course as with many of his works there is a subtext.  It skilfully deals with sensitive issues of religion and, for me, reading between the lines, its conclusion surmises that there is no afterlife and, controversially at this time of year, absolutely no possibility of resurrection.  The author leaves one in no doubt of his view on this final point.
It’s a real page turner."

My son had attached the story, formatted as a four page book. Here it is in its entirety:

The 3 Chickens and Fox
By Axl Kirton

When it was morning Tru, Pat and Coter decided to go to the playground.  At the playground there was a fierce fox.  He was called Plat.

The fox said to Tru, Pat and Coter, ‘do you want to eat in my house?’.

‘Yes’, they replied.

When they finished their lunch it was getting late.  The fox said ‘I will eat you’ to them.

Tru, Coter and Pat yelled to mum and dad.  They ran home and dad killed the fox.

HE WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN

THE END

Having rushed through this masterpiece, I, in true self-indulgence and grabbing the excuse of a unique displacement opportunity, started to write a quick answering email which began to grow out of all proportion into the following proof that the simplest of fictions invites interpretations and thereby brings the most complex meanings to a world empty of truth. It also confirms that academic training is the sign of a wasted youth. My email ran as follows:

A true page-turner indeed, structurally reminiscent (with its clipped, spare sentences) of the early Hemingway or later Beckett.

I agree completely with your analysis. You mention the tale’s ‘simplicity’ and thematic layerings, which do indeed bring an edgy tension into the narrative, but the real source of the existential anxiety which grips the reader is the underlying metaphysical angst which you apprehended so perceptively.

The importance and inevitability of temporality is established in the opening phrase and the time pressure drives relentlessly onwards. Near the end, there comes the menace implicit in ‘it was getting late’, and then we experience the devastatingly abrupt and unquestionably terminal upper case conclusion. Flowing through these points on the time-space continuum, the tale develops without ever acquiring the psychological density and structure of a conventional story. Of the enigmatic Coter, Pat and Tru (the latter so cunningly named to hint at the tale’s underlying veracity), we know little. Their idiosyncratic names are worthy of Beckettian archetypes and, like his characters, their back stories are unknown and their relationships unspecified and fluid. They are entities which can only be given substance through their actions, and the only evidence of actions we get from them relate to hunger and fear. It’s the most complete allegory of the human condition I’ve ever read.

Baptising the fox Plat is a masterstroke at so many levels. At its simplest, being derived from the French word for ‘flat’, it confirms the character’s two-dimensionality, challenges novelistic conventions and, in the dynamic implicit between it and the name ‘Tru’, questions the whole notion of reality. Indeed, placing a character named Tru in a fiction is a direct challenge to our perceptions of the world. They contradict and cancel one another to leave us with … nothing, the void.

Next, there’s the near parallel between Plat the fox and Pat, one of the other characters, the only difference being the addition of ‘l’ which, when spoken aloud, gives us ‘Hell’.

And, as a final cryptic association, if we take his void, his zero, and add it to his name, we have Plato, whose rejection of the ‘real’ (or ‘Tru’?) world is well documented. What richness in a name of just four letters!

The final twist is worthy of Edgar Allen Poe himself. Having brought his protagonists to the brink of destruction, mere nutritional items destined to be consumed by Plat (i.e. to be re-absorbed into existential ‘flatness’), they yell to the shadowy parental figures, run home, and the ‘flatness’ is peremptorily eliminated. At this stage, lesser writers might sign off with the escapist balm of ‘and they lived happily ever after’. But this author has no intention of offering such a false vision. He prefers to confirm the absolute, comprehensive victory of nothingness:

'HE WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN


THE END'




13 comments:

Mari Biella said...

Also a tale that, for all its apparent simplicity, hints at a rich underlying Chaucerian inheritance, utilising a simple narrative structure involving chickens and a fox to explore the nature of existence itself, though the author's conclusions are infinitely more nihilistic than those drawn by Chaucer...

I have a feeling that your grandson may be following in your footsteps, Bill!

Leela said...


Perhaps your grandson is unconsciously following the ancient 'Panchatantra Tales' tradition, based on oral storytelling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchatantra

Great blog.

Wendy Jones said...

This made my day. The end

Susan Price said...

A masterly analysis, Bill. I hung on every word.

I might add that I often adopt the illustrated position when my writing hits a tricky bit.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, all.

Mari and Leela, I'd toyed with the idea of introducing Aesop, but not Chaucer and certainly not the Panchatantra. Thanks for extending my allusive range and for revealing the terrifying scope of my grandson's cultural awareness.

Wendy, what an admirable attempt to parody Axl's economy of expression.

Susan, I don't suppose you have pictorial evidence of your claim...

Lydia Bennet said...

How elegantly and with so much deceptive simplicity does the author depict the human dilemma - to cling to the parental archetypes for safety, leading to a life of infantilism (the 'playground'), and yet the implicit threat of the feral, the violent, the predator which life away from the familiar authority figures, even with sibling cooperation, brings. These three siblings ventured into adulthood too soon - and almost paid the ultimate price. One can only hope that the oh so final obliteration of the predatory monster (sexuality? society? government? responsibility? all of these) means that in a future time they may make this universal transition out of the playground and into the conflicts and threat of adult life successfully.

Bill Kirton said...

In the absence of the term 'mistressful', may I say, Lydia, that your exquisite sensitivity to the epic subtext of this deceptively artless tale has produced a masterful exegesis which puts my own analytical fumblings to shame. Thank you.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Thank-you, Bill - and everyone else. Northrop Frye could not have done better.

Enid Richemont said...

Oh I LOVE this! And even more, the follow-up comments - brilliant, and SO funny.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, Enid. (See, Catherine, it's funnier than Northrop Frye.)

Reb MacRath said...

I'm so glad I read this on the day after my birthday. Otherwise, my week might have been ruined by the devastating explication proving how much I'd missed in my childlike enjoyment of the tale as just a tale.

Bill Kirton said...

Don't despair, Reb, the world needs wide-eyed innocents such as yourself. (Aye, right.)

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