Friday, July 13

hand in hand and hopeless

friend Melanie (look--she has a great blog), a few months back, put together a list of her favourite romantic films. and in that post, she made the observation that "in most tv shows a romantic expectation is established in the first episode and then delayed time and time again by contrived obstacles. Sometimes they mirror real life, but in reality people tend to just get over it and choose another co-protagonist for their life."

I just loved that. the very thought of a co-protagonist. maybe even if the plot of my life is less than clear, I can wrangle a few awesome characters to join the action. at the bottom of her post Mel asks her readers about their favourite love stories. these days I don't generally cherish memories of romance from the media I ingest, but in response to Melanie's post I immediately thought of Tom Sawyer. dear young Tom's relationship with Becky Thatcher is the very first love story that thrilled me, however young I must have been when I read it. here, courtesy of Mark Twain having been dead for so long, is an excerpt from chapter XXXI, in which Tom and Becky become lost during a picnic outing through the caves:
At last Becky's frail limbs refused to carry her farther. She sat down. Tom rested with her, and they talked of home, and the friends there, and the comfortable beds and, above all, the light! Becky cried, and Tom tried to think of some way of comforting her, but all his encouragements were grown threadbare with use, and sounded like sarcasms. Fatigue bore so heavily upon Becky that she drowsed off to sleep. Tom was grateful. He sat looking into her drawn face and saw it grow smooth and natural under the influence of pleasant dreams; and by-and-by a smile dawned and rested there. The peaceful face reflected somewhat of peace and healing into his own spirit, and his thoughts wandered away to bygone times and dreamy memories. While he was deep in his musings, Becky woke up with a breezy little laugh -- but it was stricken dead upon her lips, and a groan followed it.
"Oh, how could I sleep! I wish I never, never had waked! No! No, I don't, Tom! Don't look so! I won't say it again."
"I'm glad you've slept, Becky; you'll feel rested, now, and we'll find the way out."
"We can try, Tom; but I've seen such a beautiful country in my dream. I reckon we are going there."
"Maybe not, maybe not. Cheer up, Becky, and let's go on trying."
They rose up and wandered along, hand in hand and hopeless.
{ illustration by Norman Rockwell, borrowed from this lovely art blog }

the rest of chapter XXXI is just as sweet. of course the whole story ends long before anything very serious or grown-up can happen between Tom and Becky (to my amusement, Twain even writes in the conclusion: "When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop -- that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can."), and in this plot Becky is not a true co-protagonist--nothing compared to Huckleberry Finn, anyway. but the intermittent bits of love story were thrilling to me nevertheless. I'm a girl. so it goes. who wouldn't be flattered to have the fearless Tom Sawyer trying to impress them, holding their hand in a dark, dreadful place?

a while ago I was working on proofreading the first pages of a cute little young-adult novel in which our plucky red-headed 16-year-old protagonist meets a wandering Mexican fellow who will become for a few autumn months her co-protagonist. every time I went through their story--the comical meeting, the realization of a few compatible or at least overlapping goals, and the slow unraveling and interweaving of two personalities-- it tickled me the very same way Tom and Becky's story does. what is it about this youthful, not-quite-full-blown-romance-yet love story? girl and boy brought together as the plot dictates, struggling as co-protagonists for a while, and then... we never really know how things go. we must stop where the author leaves us, often still on the brink of a million possible adventures. I think it is the possibility that is so enchanting. instead of slathering us with rushed-into relationship drama and all the craziness and pressure that generally shows up in more adult romances, these more naive and subtle beginnings leave us with more gently sketched possibilities. the growing up, the awakening, the choices, the imperceptible transformations. co-protagonists... each with a hand in shaping the other's life, if only just a tiny bit. and you never know what might happen. nobody ever does.

No comments: