Narration is a form of assurance – reassurance if you’re insecure about the deal you make with the story. Most of the time, narration begins as a voice lording over and limited to the narrative. It supplants authority as a way to trick the audience that this has happened before and it’s going to be fine. Reassurance, an active promise on the removal of one’s fears and doubts. Something we all want without the added spice of a spoiler.
The first cold breeze of October came as a blip. I spent the first few days of the month, in the hospital reading summaries of books that I’ve read before, and realized that my favorite type of literature always has an opinionated narrator. In itself, I found that liars are the best story tellers because you’ll never know what really happened. What is an author anyway? Dead. And a liar.
Dead beyond the body of the text – which succumbs under the guise of New Criticism (and for lack of a better textual source La mort de l’auteur by Roland Barthes). The text is self-contained inside the work. Which, for most feminist marxists trapped in academe, is sacrilegious because there’s always a feminist marxist argument to be had. That’s another story to tell and I might tell it. Liar because memory is abstract and a story is a fib tailored to capture the attention of a waiting audience.
There are different ways to tell a lie
There are different ways to eat things, just like how there are different ways to perceive information. Most of the time it’s all gossip meandering in an infinite cesspool of gossip. Although, in a literary body of work, things are told differently to set the tone and purpose of a story.
When Mike Flanagan repurposed Henry James’ stories, the final product turned out to be The Haunting of Bly Manor – a re-actualized rendition of The Turning of the Screw. Within the series’ universe was a woman who told two ghost stories. The woman, who is the sole narrator, insisted the story was just a story – even going so far as to say that the manor she called Bly never existed in England.
Events and accounts (in text) will always be subject to the author’s purpose. It will carry parts of their experiences but never limited to it. Fiction allows creative freedom to spin a truth into a digestible piece (which is also the case for Creative Non-Fiction).
When the narrator in The Haunting of Bly Manor revealed that the stories were based on the characters present in the dining hall, it was obvious that there was some truth to the ghost story.
But Flora, being the annoying person that she is, had to mention that the narrator told a love story. Which begs the question, is it a love story or a ghost story?
Narration is based in perspective and methods. Mode comes first, which consists of point of view, supplemented with tense, and followed by technique. For Point of view the usual first person, second person, and third person (omniscient or objective or subjective) holds the type of attention the story wants to receive. Points of views can alternate into different characters or it can stay stationary – relying on one specific character to narrate.
A lie is only as good as the one telling it
The voice telling the story should always command its audience’s attention. There are different types of audiences – one that exists inside the text and the reader – and they’re all aiming to be pleased.
A good story convinces its audience the narrative is whole enough to be accepted. A story is welcoming even at the face of brutality. It is a moment the audience or the reader could have lived. That’s the conundrum The Haunting of Bly Manor proposed. The narrator tells the audience it’s not true, that the events were made up. But the series tells us that it was partially true with the characters and events changed. The audience (and us) were perfectly splendid and experienced the lives of each of the characters because the narrator let us in.
Another good example would be Arrested Development. The show is good at convincing its audience that the characters are established as ridiculous caricatures of themselves. But we forget, this was told through the eyes of Maeby Fünke (a teenage girl and con-artist). Maeby even went so far as to use a male voice in her narrative to be as convincing as possible.
The narrator in The Haunting of Bly Manor was as unreliable as the one in Arrested Development. Unreliable because she made the audience feel safe enough to see the validity of her story. She was convincing enough to let the guests sit there for 9 hours to tell that story. We don’t even know why she’s there. The delivery was tight but it also felt like a continuous stream that was tapped from memory. Perhaps, most good stories were designed that way. Controlled babbling seems genuine enough to convince the audience. I believe the other term for this is stream of consciousness.
We love lies because we lie to ourselves all the time
My husband’s sister called him after watching The Haunting of Bly Manor. She told him that she had an out of body experience after watching it. Most of the time things around us, including a visual or literary texts, can move the mind and the body. What’s interesting is I, myself, am also influenced by the things I read and watch.
Are we lying to ourselves when we open up to influence? Maybe? Maybe our truths have always been the stories we digest?
Either way, a good story can influence its audience. Excellent rhetoric can sway people into believing things they never knew they’d believe. The key is authenticity. When a piece of work is authentic it seems genuine.
A narrator will convince the audience that anything they say is concrete. A good narrator will bring its audience inside their universe. A good narrator seems like a reliable creature that affirms the purpose of the narrative through language and distractions.
Not all narrators are reliable just like how the news is mostly biased. A story is an agenda. All we need to do is accept that it’s a truth we want to subscribe to just because.