For Destruction, Ice

John Ruskin was not fond of poets who attribute human emotion and behavior to non-human phenomena.  He labeled the practice the “pathetic fallacy,” and he was right, up to a point.  It’s certainly a fallacy, that is, not logical, and frequently pathetic when it’s not bathetic.  American law enshrines (note fallacy) at least one pathetic fallacy–that a corporation is a person.  I can just see Enron or Bank of America pouting and stamping its tiny feet as it goes off in a tantrum.

A lot of our ordinary language started out as metaphor.  If we say that the sun sets and the sun also rises and mean it literally, we’re either ignorant or lying, but nobody minds, not even astronomers.  If we go out on a foggy day and say that the fog is choking us, we’re not telling the literal truth.

My husband and I drove from the Portland area to LCC in Colorado Springs, tailed by a snowstorm.  It staked us out during the convention, then moved east and drove all the way to the right coast in pursuit.  We turned south and lost our tail.  Our GPS bickered with us because we had meant to turn west.  This has happened before.  No, not this many metaphors.  Snowstorms.  We drove from Las Vegas to Wisconsin in June one year and hit snowstorms in Wyoming going and in eastern Oregon coming back, on both days the only snowstorms in the contiguous United States.  We are beginning to wonder if we ought to send a warning to the Weather Channel before we travel.

Writers have a lot of freedom to use the weather in a story, whether as a plot element, to complicate the action, to give the characters something to talk about, or just to underline a point.  “It was a dark and stormy night.”  Great opening for almost anything but light comedy.  As a society, though, we are becoming more and more insulated from weather.  We live in weather-proof capsules, our houses and our cars, so a snowstorm or a heatwave often passes by without affecting us much.  It will be a pity when our degree of insulation is so great we no longer have to notice hurricanes and tornadoes.  Some mystery novels seem to happen in that weatherless future.  I find the lack of weather distracting.  I’d rather have symbolic weather than none.  At least in a book.  If the river wants to chuckle, so be it.  When a character dies, let Nature mourn, the rain sobbing convulsively.

In my next mystery (not Beyond Confusion, which is out right now but Hawk Rising, the sequel) my heroine, a painter, lives across the Columbia from Mount Hood.  She observes that, given the right weather conditions, the whole mountain disappears.  Clearly it sneaks off and comes back like a grounded teenager.  If that isn’t pathetic, I don’t know my fallacies.


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