Thursday, August 09, 2007

Essay Clip

Here's a segment from an essay in which I try to convince the world that not only detective novels (the topic of the essay), but novels in general, can be said to follow the scientific method ...

These steps (of the scientific method) are not unfamiliar in stories outside of the detective field, although the steps may not be instantly recognizable and sometimes lead to a goal different from knowledge: getting the girl, saving the world, or just staying alive. Characters gather information or resources towards solving their problems, determine (hypothesize) what intermediary steps must be followed to reach that goal, test that plan of action, and then find out whether their choice was right. This result is not dissimilar to either a disproved hypothesis, which requires one to go back to the drawing board, or an upheld hypothesis, which allows one to continue with the next step in the investigation or journey.

To take an iconic fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings, the main story begins with an identifiable problem: the One Ring must be destroyed. After gathering information on how this can be accomplished, the companions must form a plan of action (a hypothesis), in one case traveling through the Mines of Moria. The Fellowship "tests" their hypothesis, traveling through the mines, and in the end uphold their suspicions that it was not the correct course when they (apparently) lose Gandalf to the Balrog. Their next plan of action takes them to Lothlorien, where these steps repeat through the long arc of the epic to the eventual destruction of the ring. Even this problem cannot be entirely resolved, however, as the final chapters of The Lord of the Rings display the evil that remains in the form of Saruman’s transformation of the Shire. Neither a theory nor the core problem in many novels can be solved in an unequivocal manner – some potential for doubt or a loose thread usually remains.

(A few paragraphs cut for discussion of what the essay was actually about. ;-))

With such close ties to detective fiction, why does the scientific method appear to be relevant more broadly? In stories closer to the modern era – The Lord of the Rings is a product of the mid-twentieth century – the scientific method has become such an intrinsic part of culture that it can be said to influence writers in an unconscious manner. In a broader sense, the scientific method is a codified process of thinking derived from the most effective ways of solving problems and answering questions. These underlying strategies – to identify an adversary before one can face it; to break an immense problem down into smaller pieces – have influenced linear plots long before the scientific method and detective fiction met and mingled.

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