Monday, March 25, 2013
Classics Revisited: The Folk of the Fringe: Summary + "Pageant Wagon" and "America"
The Folk of the Fringe is just that: in praise of those on the outside. "The Fringe" describes an actual territory that used to be infertile that in hard times begins to bloom, but this is to be taken thematically as well. SF has always been the literature of outsiders. Likely, Orson Scott Card sees Mormons on the outside, but he doesn't single them out for praise. More often, the Mormons are aided by an outsider, who learns something of the people yet is also a catalyst for change within those people.
In "Pageant Wagon," the outsider is Deaver Teague, a range rider who joins the traveling playhouse family. Deaver loses his horse, so the family gives him a ride. Gradually, helping the family put on the show and interfering when he hadn't meant to, Deaver sees the family as the one he never had. Their current play, of which the daughter is critical, connects the birth of America and the birth of Mormonism. Interestingly, Deaver accomplishes uniting the family through not fully understanding what people want of him (although the family isn't certain, either). The children, Ollie and Katie, want to escape; the grandfather wants to retire; and Marshall wants to stay the Patriarch when he should step down.
In "America" the catalyst outsider is Sam, who empowers all Americans by calling them all Americans. His seed of change is figurative and literal as the Earth causes him to be attracted to and impregnates an older Native American woman to create a new Quetzalcoatl. Interestng quotes:
"[W]hy else am I alive? I figure the land kept me breathing so I can tell the story of its victory, nd it has kept you alive to heat it. Gods are like that. It isn't enough for them to run everything. They want to be famous, too."
"This is what America wanted, what it bent our lives to accomplishing. Even if we took twisted roads and got lost and injured on the way, even if we came limping to this place, it is a good place, it is worth the journey, it is the promised, the promising land."
Interestingly, much of the power of these works come out of their denouements. Except "Salvage." Since Deaver Teague has his moment in "Pageant Wagon," he cannot be fulfilled, but the gold of "Salvage" is in finding a different kind of gold.
Despite the politically uplifting and unifying nature of "America," which may have been why Ursula Leguin included it in her Norton Anthology of Science Fiction, the strongest aesthetic piece is "The Fringe," which stands the best chance of being reread far into the future.