Saturday, July 22, 2017

On "Exposition-Dumping"

I'm still reading Dracula. Yesterday I came to my very favourite part of the novel, an extract of which follows. Feel free to skip it when it becomes tiresome to you....

When we met in Dr. Seward’s study two hours after dinner, which had been at six o’clock, we unconsciously formed a sort of board or committee. Professor Van Helsing took the head of the table, to which Dr. Seward motioned him as he came into the room. He made me sit next to him on his right, and asked me to act as secretary; Jonathan sat next to me. Opposite us were Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, and Mr. Morris—Lord Godalming being next the Professor, and Dr. Seward in the centre. The Professor said:—

“I may, I suppose, take it that we are all acquainted with the facts that are in these papers.” We all expressed assent, and he went on:—

“Then it were, I think good that I tell you something of the kind of enemy with which we have to deal. I shall then make known to you something of the history of this man, which has been ascertained for me. So we then can discuss how we shall act, and can take our measure according...

All we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions. These do not at the first appear much, when the matter is one of life and death—nay of more than either life or death. Yet must we be satisfied; in the first place because we have to be—no other means is at our control—and secondly, because, after all, these things—tradition and superstition—are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them? A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century? We even scouted a belief that we saw justified under our very eyes. Take it, then, that the vampire, and the belief in his limitations and his cure, rest for the moment on the same base. For, let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India, even in the Chernosese; and in China, so far from us in all ways, there even is he, and the peoples fear him at this day. He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar. So far, then, we have all we may act upon; and let me tell you that very much of the beliefs are justified by what we have seen in our own so unhappy experience. The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty...

Reader, does this kind of thing make your spine tingle, as it makes mine?

"Exposition-dumping" is a term that some novelist coined to describe clumsy, all-at-once exposition in a work of fiction, as opposed to deftly dropping exposition throughout the story, like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs. I don't like the term, because I love scenes where there's lots of exposition, like the one above.

My favourite chapters in The Lord of the Rings are "The Shadow of the Past" and "The Council of Elrond", scenes that are almost entirely devoted to characters talking, and filling each other in on backstory.

My favourite part of every single Sherlock Holmes story is when the client comes to 221B Baker Street, and tells Holmes and Watson their very singular (even "grotesque") case.

I was never a huge fan of Biggles, but my older brother read him, and so I read some of the books. The only part I liked was when Raymond, the air commodore, briefs Biggles and his chums on their next mission.

In Harry Potter, the Pensieve sequences were my favourite.

In The Wicker Man (I mean the original-- and if you haven't seen it, watch it NOW), it's the part where Sergeant Howie goes to the public library of the weird pagan island and reads up on their traditions. The way the camera lingers on the creepy etchings in the book is delicious.

Why do I love such sequences?

Perhaps it's the cosiness of the characters being in no immediate danger. Perhaps it's the excitement of a new horizon opening up. I don't know.

In horror, there is usually the added element that the protagonists are learning about something supernatural, paranormal, or monstrous. There's nearly always some variation on Hamlet's famous words, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." How far the incredulity of the characters is maintained is a tricky subject. Too little incredulity, and the characters seem unreal. Too persistent an incredulity, and we get irritated at them. ("For goodness sake, you've already seen a man disappear...") Then again, how often do we feel the same thing about the disciples' persistent incredulity in the gospels?

No comments:

Post a Comment