Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Call Me Joe again

I think "Call Me Joe" by Poul Anderson might be my new Misery. By that I mean it's the piece of so-called genre fiction that explains the entire world, or at least the literary world. To recap: a scientist named Ed Anglesey remotely controls, via telepathy, an artificial life form named Joe on the surface of Titan. Joe is a sort of macho lizard who drinks methane and battles monsters; Anglesey is paralyzed. At the end, Anglesey's consciousness gets sucked down into Joe, from the emasculated white-collar worker to the blue (literally) collar laborer, fighter, and pioneer. Anglesey's paraplegic body then dies. It all strikes me as a paradigm for character creation, both by writers and readers. Readers and writers do this in similar ways, I think--we give the characters our emotions and thoughts, our consciousness, which the characters use to function in their own worlds. If the character is successful we lose ourselves in them and see their world through their eyes. Their emotions become ours as opposed to the other way around. It's like method acting. When we come back out of the character, we don't come all the way back. Part of us stays on Titan (or wherever the story's world is), and part of Joe (or whomever) comes back with us. And of course there's fantasy involved, of either more or less power than we really have.

Characters like Joe are especially revealing doubles for writers, whose work forces us to be sedentary at least at the time we're doing it. Come to think of it, Stephen King's Annie is another version of Joe, a superhuman monster who kills on behalf of the paralyzed writer Paul Sheldon. She kills the cop who comes looking for Paul, for instance. Paul is Annie's prisoner, and he watches in horror as Annie kills the cop in the kind of comic-opera gorefest that is King's special gift. But as an author Paul knows he's also created Annie. She's his "constant reader" who loves all his books, and she's his character, his Joe. So killing the cop is Paul's literary fantasy too.

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