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Tony Grist

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The Accidental: Ali Smith [Sep. 29th, 2013|02:17 pm]
Tony Grist
It's almost a genre, but maybe not quite. A mysterious stranger comes to town and transforms every life he or she touches. Works in this almost-a-genre range from Mary Poppins to Brimstone and Treacle, from An Inspector Calls to Teorema. A number of westerns- including several Clint Eastwood westerns- qualify. In Smith's treatment of the theme the angel is an ageing hippie chick and the people she turns over are a middle-class family on holiday in Norfolk. I liked the 12 year old daughter best- Smith does a grand job of getting inside her head- and the womanizing husband least- she makes him awfully soft- and has him think in verse- which is something no novelist should ever attempt. You want to lose your readers? Try tossing them a sonnet.
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[User Picture]From: porsupah
2013-09-29 07:02 pm (UTC)
Of that genre, one of my favorites remains The Music Man - a role Robert Preston truly owned, and arguably, reprised in The Last Starfighter. ^_^ It's such a delightful transition to witness - at first, he's simply executing the same strategy as he's employed countless times before, viewing the town as just another bunch of amiable marks, but winds up being led by them instead.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-09-30 07:58 am (UTC)
I don't know that one. It sounds interesting.

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[User Picture]From: raakone
2013-09-29 08:07 pm (UTC)
So what would you call this genre?

I can think of another example...I forgot its name, but it has "Chocolate" in the title, the premise is, in 50's France, a "Gypsy" woman and her daughter wander into a town, and open up a chocolate store...during LENT, of all times. And yes, they end up touching everyone.
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[User Picture]From: negothick
2013-09-30 12:18 am (UTC)
Folks, this is no genre: It's one of the ONLY TWO PLOTS of fiction: "A stranger comes to town" and "Someone leaves town." (Cory Doctorow played with this in his novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town).
Really: even long epics like Beowulf or The Aeneid are combinations of the two (Beowulf comes to town; later on, a Dragon comes to town, Beowulf leaves town).
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[User Picture]From: negothick
2013-09-30 12:19 am (UTC)
Of course, while Beowulf DOES improve and transform the lives of the Danes and cleans up Heorot, we can't say as much for the Dragon.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-09-30 08:03 am (UTC)
I'll have to think about that. I suppose you could say that Pride and Prejudice is about Darcy coming to town and Great Expectations is about Magwitch coming to town.

But, if G.E., for example, were properly to conform to the pattern of the mysterious stranger narrative Magwitch would have to have a decisive effect on people other than Pip- and I don't think he does, not really.

Are you saying anything more than that every story involves people meeting other people?

Edited at 2013-09-30 08:37 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: negothick
2013-10-02 10:07 pm (UTC)
I'm just repeating a critical truism--of course it's reductionist, and it works better for shorter narratives--but it surely does work for folktale and myth--and most YA novels.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2013-09-30 01:24 am (UTC)
I can think of another example...I forgot its name, but it has "Chocolate" in the title, the premise is, in 50's France, a "Gypsy" woman and her daughter wander into a town, and open up a chocolate store...during LENT, of all times.

It's Chocolat (1999), by Joanne Harris. There was a film version in 2000, but it softens things; it's more of a romance and its magic is not as strong or as strange.

Edited at 2013-09-30 01:24 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-09-30 07:59 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, I know that. I saw the movie, starring Juliet Binoche. It's simply called Chocolate.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2013-09-30 01:19 am (UTC)
Works in this almost-a-genre range from Mary Poppins to Brimstone and Treacle, from An Inspector Calls to Teorema. A number of westerns- including several Clint Eastwood westerns- are of the company.

I've seen everything you name except An Inspector Calls. Which I believe has Alastair Sim, so I don't really have an excuse.

I assume the stranger needs to be supernatural, or we're just in Manic Pixie Dream etc. territory?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-09-30 08:09 am (UTC)
I don't think the stranger has to be supernatural. Smith's stranger is explicable in other terms (she may just be a con-artist). One of examples I've been thinking of is Shane- where the stranger has unusual powers (fast on the draw etc) but they're not supernatural.

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[User Picture]From: negothick
2013-10-02 10:10 pm (UTC)
The mythological versions of that visiting stranger (could be Odin, could be Loki, could be the angels that visited Abraham, could be the semi-divine Orpheus) invests even the most realistic films and novels you cite with a numinous quality. Professor Harold Hill--or his twin, the con-man hero of the play (and film) The Rainmaker have trickster ancestry for sure.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-10-03 08:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, you're right.

I'm thinking of Magwitch ambushing Pip in the churchyard- and how Pip sees him as some kind of an ogre.
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