Friday, November 11, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen - At the End of All Things

It's hard to say when the battle ended, given the sun's unsteady progress through the sky, but when we rejoin Mike it's close to midnight.  He's managed to drag himself out of the sea and up the hill overlooking Nombre de Dios.  The town itself lays in "smoldering ruins" after being ruthlessly sacked by the murderous pirates, and in the process of slipping past it, Mike figured out why the coastal defenses switched sides - "Bristol had landed a force to take them from the fortified rear while the Spanish fleet was sucked into the trap from the sea."  Have to say, that sounds like what a Hubbard Protagonist would do in this sort of situation.

So everything's gone horribly wrong, what should have been a no-brainer victory has instead turned into a crushing, catastrophic defeat... and I guess Mike just lost a naval battle too.  Anyway, Mike figures he's off-script now, he can't hear the typewriter clacking above him.  I'm not sure about that, though - the typewriter seemed to approve of him going into the water at the end of the last chapter, and while the narration claims that Mike crawled onto the shore "only because of his own endeavor," well...  I guess it depends on how bad a writer you think Hackett is, if he's the sort to end the final encounter between the hero and villain in an anticlimax where the bad guy falls overboard without so much as crossing swords with the hero, or if he's the slightly less bad sort of writer who would do that just to have the villain reappear one last time in a "shocking" end-of-book twist before being defeated for good and in a more satisfying manner.

As far as Mike can tell the story is over - which isn't to say that the pirates aren't busy sacking the town and debauching themselves.   More to the point, the minor characters Mike's been living with for the past months are all dead, and he's lost the affections of the Lady Marion after all the progress he made with her was so cruelly retconned.  But he's still alive, he's still got his sword, and he still has all the skills that made him an effective antagonist, so Mike's headed towards his villa to pay its new owner a visit.

Now, we might question this, ask why Mike is persisting, maybe speculate that he's been consumed by the role he fell into.  But what else can he do in this sort of situation?  Electricity won't be invented for another couple of centuries, the same with indoor plumbing.  He's stuck in this crappy pirate story, so he might as well play his part to the very end.  Plus by now he has a very legitimate reason to hate Bristol.

There's a sentry out front, sprawled on the ground drunk, so Mike helps himself to a pistol and kicks the manor's door in.  This quite ruins Bristol and Lady Marion's romantic candlelit dinner, as you might imagine, and they both shoot to their feet in astonishment.

"Gog's wounds!  Who's this?"

"I'm Mike de Wolf.  The fellow you call Miguel St. Raoul de Lobo.  Can it be," he added with sarcasm which had become habitual, "that I am not welcome in my own house?"

"Damme!" said Bristol.  "Ye're a ghost!"

"No, m'lad," said Mike.  "It's you that are a ghost!"

Meh.  See what you're going for, Mike, but you'll have to do better than 'no, you!' to impress me.

Lady Marion was white as she looked from Mike to Bristol.

"But ye're dead!" said Bristol.  "With my own eyes I saw it!"

No, you saw him fall into the water and assumed he was dead... interesting, Bristol is the story-within-a-story's hero, but he's acting about as intelligent as a typical Hubbard Villain.

"You've got the same eyes now," said Mike.


"But why - have you come back?" said Bristol.

"To kill you," said Mike.

It had no great effect upon Bristol.  He had led a charmed life for so long that he was afraid of nothing.  He reached towards his rapier which lay on the arms of a chair beside the wall.

You can just imagine how this would read if it was following Bristol's point of view, how it would say that he was utterly fearless and confident and inspired to fight for his beloved and yadda yadda.  It's refreshing for Hubbard to admit that this hero has no reason to be afraid because this world goes out of the way to make him win.

Mike's first instinct is to just shoot Bristol then and there.  Mike may be the very best character to appear in any Hubbard story.  But though he "ached" to do the smart and straightforward thing, he also doesn't want to upset the Lady Marion, so even though he's exhausted and not in shape for a duel, he says he doesn't want to fight before a woman and invites Bristol onto the front porch to murder each other like civilized people.

So the protagonist and antagonist step outside for the final battle.  But first, Mike, "humanly prey to jealousy," asks how glad Marion was to see Bristol again, and surmises that he asked her to marry him.

"So I did," said Bristol.

"And she accepted," said Mike, "and then, amid a very touching scene, she said she could see you marching in triumph through the streets of London with your name on every lip and that at last she had found a man brave enough to command her humbleness and that she would be content to spend the remainder of her life worshipping you.  And then she kissed you."

"Of course," said Bristol.  "But - how did you know?"

"There's a lot I know."

Ah, so close, Mike.  At this point you might as well tell Bristol the truth, that he's the designated hero of a shallow and poorly-written adventure story whose every success is due to contrivance and the mandates of a dull and predictable plot.  Then when he's having an existential crisis you can shoot him in the face.

It's set up to be a standard swordfight, with the oddity that Bristol first removes his boots, "the better to grip the floor with his feet."  They make their last boasts about killing the other, Bristol shouts "Guard!" and lunges, the rapiers clash...

Well, this music is certainly appropriate.  It even fits the scene in this book, too.

Mike shakes from the impact of Bristol's attack before realizing it's not just him, the whole world is violently quaking.  Lightning splits the sky, thunder roars so loudly that it "seemed capable of tearing Mike apart."  And in a terrible crash the front porch collapses upon Bristol the buccaneer and that nameless and incompetent door guard.

Huh.  Almost an anticlimactic as "de Lobo" getting offed by falling overboard.

There's no time to exult in this unearned victory, Mike hears cries of distress and sees Marion at the door trying to force her way past the debris.  He drags her out and tells her to come along, and even though Mike's still the villain as far as she knows, she's weeping in terror and complies.  They can't make any progress, though, between the torrential rains and violent earthquakes they can't even stay upright.  The best the two can do is cling to each other.

A terrified Marion asks what's going on, and Mike insists that it's nothing but an earthquake and a storm.  But let's stop to think about this - this weather probably isn't part of the book's ending, right?  The typewriter stopped, and this isn't the sort of story-within-a-story where the triumphant final battle is followed by a sudden natural disaster that kills the protagonist.  So my guess is that this cataclysm is the result of either Mike trying to change things too far... or this is just what happens to a literary universe after the author types The End and sends the manuscript off to the editor.  Which is kind of depressing.

At any rate, I think it should be more than a storm and earthquake, something incredible and apocalyptic - the seas draining away, the stars falling from the sky, the horizon being swallowed by a void that grows swiftly and terrifyingly closer.  Or maybe something less disastrous but no less final, like an unnatural stillness when everything in the concluded narrative comes to an eternal stop.

But that might be too much for Hubbard, and we should really just be happy that the story we've had is so not-awful.  Mike reveals that Bristol is dead but that he didn't kill him, then has to ask an important question.

"Yes.  Marion, look at me.  Have you no memory of loving me?  Have you no thought of all the months we were together?  You were happy with me-"

"Mike!  Hold me!  Hold me, Mike!  I'm frightened!"

He held her close to him.

I guess that's a 'yes, unless she remembers how 'Miguel' introduced himself when he made his entrance minutes ago.  So hurray, in literally the last moments of this world, Mike got his girl back.  Just in time for a tree to topple directly towards them, prompting him to try to shield her body with his own.  But then with one last earthquake the tree vanishes, the storm around them vanishes, and finally Marion vanishes.

And then, in the next and final chapter, Mike is lying on a street while a cab driver asks if he's alright and needs a ride home.  Mike pushes himself upright and steadies himself against a streetlamp and insists he's fine, notices from the cab's license plate that it's the same year he remembers before ending up in a pulp novel, and when he asks the cabbie he's relieved the hear he's in "N'Yawk."  So Mike decides to walk on home.

At this point you might be tempted to wonder how Mike wound up back in the world he's originally from without the benefits of an electrical short in a bathroom, and why he ended up on a street instead of his point of departure.  Don't.

Mike thinks as he walks, about how glad he is to be back, how he'll have another try at joining the Philharmonic, and of course he'll see all his author friends again like LaFayette and Winchester and Hackett.  Mike almost considers telling Hackett about his ordeal in an attempt to prevent anything like it from happening again, but decides against it - not because he's afraid of being sent to an asylum, I guess Hubbard hasn't developed his proper hate-on for psychiatry yet, but because it would cause "Hackett's already gigantic opinion of himself" to "probably expand beyond endurable limits," since the guy always likes to prattle on about "the powers of an author."

No mention of warning Hackett that every time he writes a story, he's creating living, breathing people who bleed and die horribly as the plot demands, and once the story is over they're all consumed by a catastrophic storm and earthquake before disappearing into nothingness.  Huh.

Mike tries to keep his thoughts clear of a certain subject, but can't avoid it forever, and has to face the fact that "He had lost her," and will never see her again.  It's a thought so horrible that he has to stop and lean against a wall for a moment, until an uncaring policeman orders him to move along.  It's a moment, I think, that would be more effective if Mike referred to "her" by her actual name.

So he walks along, bitter and angry with the world he just left and the world he's back in, and the cruelties of fate.

Ah, yes.  The fate.  It was his luck to meet somebody in a story and then return without her.  It was his luck.  But you couldn't expect the breaks all the time.  You couldn't ask luck to run your way forever.  He had had her for a little while, in a land ruled by a typewriter in the clouds.  And now he was out of that and there was no type-

And now, the punchline.

Abruptly Mike de Wolf stopped.  His jaw slacked a trifle and his hand went up to his mouth to cover it.  His eyes were fixed upon the fleecy clouds which scurried across the moon.

Up there--


In a dirty bathrobe?

At first I thought Hubbard was implying that capital-G God is another slob writing the sad story of our world in his pajamas, but the intention is probably that Mike has somehow realized that he's escaped one story but is still just a character in another, and is looking up at L. Ron himself from the business end of a typewriter.

And since that's the end of Mike's story, presumably this version of N'Yawk and everyone in it are then swallowed up in a hellish storm before being consigned to the darkness beyond the last page of the book.

Good night, everybody!

Back to Chapter Twelve

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