Saturday, March 09, 2019

Archer City

In this post I'll briefly revisit an issue I've discussed before, using a different illustration this time around. I'm going to deploy an a fortiori argument (from the lesser to the greater). Unbelievers contend that the Gospels aren't reliable history. Suppose, for argument's sake, that we classify the Gospels as fiction. However, that doesn't say a whole lot because fiction ranges along a continuum. For instance, some fiction writers mine their childhood for plots, setting, and characters. Although technically these belong to the genre of fiction rather than autobiography, they are often very close to life. Historical fiction that's one step removed from autobiography. 

Take Larry McMurtry, who wrote a trilogy situated in his hometown of Archer City, Texas. These memorialize his boyhood in a postwar oil town in North Texas. A small town where everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows who is sleeping with whom. Who has a drinking problem. Who has a gambling problem. 

Suppose, after reading the trilogy, you step into the time machine and go back to Archer City, circa 1950. There's a lot you'd recognize. The diner, pool hall, movie theater. And you'd meet the people on whom his characters were based. It would have a very familiar feel to it. Even though the novels are technically fictional, the realty frequently surfaces. Even if you couldn't tell exactly which boy in Archer inspired Sonny or Duane, there'd be boys like Sonny and Duane in Archer City. Not to mention McMurtry himself. In fact, by observing who teenage McMurtry hung out with, you could match up the characters with their real life counterparts. 

In wouldn't surprise me if some locals were offended by the unflattering novels and cinematic adaptations. And that would be dramatic irony in reverse. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something a character doesn't–but in this case the locals know something the audience doesn't. The locals can see themselves mirrored in the characters. They can spot which character stands for an actual resident. 

So even though the novels are filed under "fiction", they provide a window into what it was like to live at that time and place. People, buildings, landscape. Both ethos and individuals. Representative events.  

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