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What Ludlum and Austen Have In Common

Whether or not a person recognises it, they are endeavouring to sanctify their experiences.

People enter the world and what visibly occurs is normally growth, learning, maturity and ageing, then death. What invisibly occurs is sanctification - in other words, the product of processing the experience of Life. For some, Life is overwhelming and they fail to gain any kind of coherent integrity; for others, things come together in a wholeness.

That group of people called artists, which includes writers, could be called those people who attempt to take their own processing of Life and communicate it to others, usually with the intention of bringing about a similar kind of sanctification for the recipients.

All human beings strive to become whole by taking what is alien - experiences from ‘outside’ themselves - and making it part of themselves. Some triumph and become whole; others partly succeed and are largely at peace. Part of humanity is at first overcome by its experiences but then conquers them; another part is caught up in the processing and barely survives. Some are submerged into the flow of experience like drowning swimmers, and others are indeed drowned and do not endure.

Transmitting that sanctification or attempt to sanctify is what we call art. Writers do this through that strange blend of verisimilitude and fantasy called ‘fiction’.

That impulse to communicate in this way breaks down into four components for writers (and to some extent all artists): writers seek to convey confidence about what will happen next in life (perhaps even after death); they desire to explain what is really going on in the field of experience, as far as they can see; they assert what they feel is ‘right’ in that context; and they strive to relay what they have concluded things are ‘really all about’. To be successful at conveying all these things, it is normally a good idea for writers to have established for themselves some answers to the above. Highly valued authors usually have relatively firm ideas about the nature of reality, based on their own process of the inner sanctification of it: they feel a sense of prophecy, a knowledge of what to many remains invisible, a morality in relation to events and a grasp of the meaning of Life, even when those things might be beyond simple statements in words. Triumphant authors communicate all of these things through fiction, by blending together experience and individual imagination, to produce a recognisable whole.

On a mechanical level, one can find evidence of this in any successful story. Good plots, for example, will contain the question ‘What will happen next?’ as part of their make-up - it is, in fact, part of what makes them ‘good’ as plots. The reader is constantly challenged by a perpetually presented ‘unknown’ - what will be the next event in the chain of events? Similarly, effective plots contain the question ‘What is really going on?’ Though we are reading about the surface of events, a master author grips us by hinting that there is another level at which things are occurring, which prompts us to continue reading to see if we can see the whole. Questions of rightness and wrongness are also posed through interactions with characters and events. These are all ‘binding spells’ which compel us to keep reading until we can discover what the whole is attempting to communicate to us.

Obviously, best-selling thrillers apply all this differently to literary classics. Robert Ludlum, author of The Bourne Identity and many other action-orientated novels, has processed reality quite distinctly from Jane Austen. Ludlum has not plumbed the depths of human nature quite so attentively as Austen, or, if he has, it is not his intention to transmit much of what he might have found through his thrillers. Action novels, like the vast bulk of popular fiction, ‘sanctify’ only in the sense that they take raw experience and gloss it with active imagination. The product is a faster-paced and more pulse-pounding version of the recognisable world than the one its readers actually live in. More literary authors like Austen are intent on conveying a more subtle blend of reality and non-reality so that readers feel a communion with reality as it is lived.

Both have their place in the fiction world - but it is interesting to note that both use the same kind of mechanisms in their work.


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