“Here we rediscover the old truth that repetition is the heart of art”
(Douglas Glover, Attack of the Copula Spiders 94).
A story, like all artistic work, requires a structure upon which it can sustain itself. Most stories rely upon the arc of the conventional plot: a beginning, middle, and end, with rising tension culminating in climax then denouement; a wave rising from the ocean, peaking close to shore, crashing upon the beach, and dissipating with a hiss of water and foam. There are many ways to describe this classic structure. Douglas Glover calls it a series of repeating conflicts between one character’s desire and a resistance to that desire (24-26). Michael Shaara describes it as the shifting of power back and forth between opposing characters (Burroway 265). Claudia Johnson reframes the dynamic in terms of emotional connection and disconnection (Burroway 267).
Resisted desire, shifting power, emotional disconnection. However you phrase it, these describe inherently interesting plots. But what of the outlier story that eschews the classic plot? How can it be made interesting? Captivating prose carries the reader only so far. What tools are available to the writer who veers away from the conventional, but still hopes to achieve an interesting, resonant story of some depth?
In this essay, I will examine five short stories with unconventional plots: “The Distance of the Moon” by Italo Calvino, “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar, “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter, “The Available Data on the Worp Reaction” by Lion Miller, and “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury. In analyzing each story, I will consider whether and how it departs from the conventional plot structure, and what other literary devices are used to engage and hold the reader’s interest.
“The Distance of the Moon” by Italo Calvino
“The Distance of the Moon” is a speculative story about a time on earth unknown to us when the moon travelled in an elliptical orbit and, once a month, would come so close to the earth that people could climb upon the moon with ladders. This fourteen-page story has no line breaks or numerations to indicate story sections, but the structure is dual, split in two.
The first half is primarily descriptive, detailing the phases of the moon, its orbit, how the people used rowboats to move under the moon and ladders to climb upon her, the acrobatics used to navigate the gravitational field between the moon and earth when mounting or dismounting the moon from the ladders, the ingredients and formation of moon-milk and how they harvest it from the moon’s scabby surface. It also introduces the story’s characters: the first-person narrator, Qfwfq; the Deaf One, Qfwfq’s cousin who has an affinity with the moon; Captain Vhd Vhd, who commands the boats; Mrs. Vhd Vhd, the Captain’s wife who plays the harp; and Xlthlx, a twelve-year-old girl. Ending the first section is a short pre-story that presages events in the main story. Xlthlx becomes stuck in the ambiguous gravitational field between the moon and the earth. She’s too light to fall into either orb’s influence. She floats between them and eats the shellfish and sea creatures that are also caught between worlds, gaining heft as she eats and as other sea creatures attach to her body, till finally her weight reaches a critical threshold and she splashes to Earth.
It is at this halfway point, after the characters and setting are (thoroughly and delightfully) explained, that Qfwfq tells us outright the nature of the story: “This is how the story of my love for the Captain’s wife began, and my suffering.” He then succinctly describes the situation: the Deaf One loves the Moon, Mrs. Vhd Vhd loves the Deaf One, and Qfwfq loves Mrs. Vhd Vhd: the story of unrequited love in triplicate, each loving another in different ways. a conventional desire-resistance plot, but multiplied in three parallel desires. A point of note towards interestingness: the trio of orbs—sun, moon, earth—echo these love triangles.
The second half of the story contains the plot line. One day, Qfwfq decides not to climb the ladder to the moon so that he can remain in the boat with Mrs. Vhd Vhd, but Mrs. Vhd Vhd for the first time decides to climb the ladder and go to the moon. Qfwfq mounts the ladder after her to help push her up to the moon, and starts to follow after her, but Capt. Vhd Vhd grabs his ankle and pulls him back to the boat. Mrs. Vhd Vhd can be seen searching the moon’s surface for the Deaf One, but as usual, he is playing his private games with the moon. Finally, it is time to return to earth, but the moon is suddenly further away than usual. Everyone struggles to dismount. The Deaf One “hurled himself into the air [but] he remained suspended, as little Xlthlx had.” Qfwfq climbs the ladder to help Mrs. Vhd Vhd back and lunges into the ambiguous gravitational field to add his mass to hers, but instead of falling to the earth, they fall back to the moon where they remain stranded for a month. After one month when the moon and earth are near again, but quite distant now, the Deaf One constructs a long bamboo pole and rescues Qfwfq, destroying the pole in the process, while Mrs. Vhd Vhd remains permanently upon the moon.
Viewing the second half of the story through the lens of desire and resistance, we find first a summary of the status quo, the default stance of the characters in their three desires. Usually when Qfwfq returns to earth from the moon, “in all the groping, sometimes I ended up by seizing one of Mrs. Vhd Vhd’s breasts,” or “managed…to put my other arm around her hips.” After crashing back into the boat, Captain Vhd Vhd would “throw a bucket of water in my face.” The bucket of water suggests momentary resistance, but not from the object of his desire. More telling is the difference between how Mrs. Vhd Vhd assisted him back to earth compared to the Deaf One. For the Deaf One, “Mrs. Vhd Vhd lost all her self-control, doing everything she could to take his weight against her own body.” But for Qfwfq, “her body was soft and kind, but not thrust forward, the way it was with my cousin.” Captain Vhd Vhd also creates a barrier between his wife and the Deaf One. When the boats moved off, the Captain would hand her her harp. “Nothing could separate her more from the Deaf One than the sound of the harp.” As for the Deaf One, he loves the Moon, and the Moon seems to love him in return, without resistance. Qfwfq states: “Once I even thought I saw the Moon come toward him, as he held out his hands.”
The first desire-resistance episode within the plot-line comes on the pivotal day when the moon is growing more distant to the earth, seemingly unbeknownst to the characters. Qfwfq and Mrs. Vhd Vhd both act in accordance with their desires. Qfwfq decides to remain on the boat to share the company of Mrs. Vhd Vhd for the day, but she resists him in deciding to climb the ladder to the Moon for the first time (presumably to spend time with the Deaf One). The Captain gives no resistance to his wife, “made no objection.” Interesting to note here that Mrs. Vhd Vhd’s climbing of the ladder functions both as a resistance to Qfwfq and an expression of her desire toward the Deaf One, efficiently accomplishing two plot steps with a single action.
The second desire-resistance episode follows quickly after the first. Qfwfq helps Mrs. Vhd Vhd up the ladder to the Moon, “press[ing] my face and the palms of my hands against her [behind],” but he’s “heartsick” when she goes to the Moon without him and calls out that he’s going, too. However, the Captain holds him back on the boat. Qfwfq is thus resisted twice by two characters: by Mrs. Vhd Vhd who goes to the Moon without him, and by the Captain who prevents him from following her to the Moon. Mrs. Vhd Vhd, though she makes it to the Moon’s surface, experiences resistance to her desire to spend time with the Deaf One. The Deaf One often ventured into “hidden zones” upon the moon. On this day, “[w]e saw her cross the scaly zone various times, length and breadth, then suddenly she stopped, looking at us in the boat, as if about to ask us whether we had seen him.” Both Qfwfq and Mrs. Vhd Vhd are unable to spend the day with the object of their desire. However, the Deaf One does make it to the moon and does spend the day with the object of his desire.
The third and culminating desire-resistance sequence occurs when Qfwfq tries to help Mrs. Vhd Vhd back to earth that same day, for the moon is alarmingly distant of a sudden. As presaged by Xlthlx’s pre-story, he leaps and swims through the sky till he can entwine his limbs in hers, add his weight to hers, and bring her back to earth. Though he “enjoyed the fullness of that embrace,” she “show[ed] [him] first her impassive face and then her backside,” rejecting him yet again. And instead of falling to Earth, they fell back to the Moon. Qfwfq finally realizes that Mrs. Vhd Vhd wants nothing to do with him. “I had lost: a hopeless defeat.” Mrs. Vhd Vhd also realizes her defeat: the Deaf One “loved only the moon.”
Their reactions to their mirrored defeats, their resolutions, demonstrate three different forms of love. When the moon next cycles near to the earth, Qfwfq wants desperately to return home, to himself, and abandons Mrs. Vhd Vhd in the process. “[T]he minute the pole touched the lunar crust, I had sprung and grasped it … driven by a natural power that ordered me to return to the Earth.” Mrs. Vhd Vhd, in contrast, chooses to stay on the moon, to abandon herself to the moon, “to be assimilated into the object of that extrahuman love. … She proved her passion … hadn’t been a frivolous whim but an irrevocable vow.” And the Deaf One simply loves and accepts the moon unconditionally: whether she is in close orbit or moving away. “He was unable to conceive desires that went against the Moon’s nature.” He doesn’t change for the moon, nor expect the moon to change for him. With his bamboo pole, “he was driving the moon away … he was helping her departure … want[ing] to show her to her more distant orbit.”
The second half of the story is conventional in its plot structure (repeated desire and resistance), but overall the story takes a different shape: two halves hinged together. Nothing is described in the first half which doesn’t bear upon on the second, resulting in a sense of connection, matching, and pairing. Xlthlx’s free float between the two spheres is repeated by the Deaf One, and with Qfwfq and Mrs. Vhd Vhd. Additionally, Qfwfq describes in the first half how the Deaf One was “deft and sensitive” with the moon, and “displayed a special gift” for milking the moon, which “seemed to be the height of amusement for him.” Then in the second half during the bamboo-pole rescue, “he was playing his last game with the Moon, one of his tricks…as if he were juggling with her.” Another example: While Qfwfq and Mrs. Vhd Vhd are exiled on the moon for a month, the moon “nourished [them] with its milk,” while the milk and the milking of the moon had been described in detail earlier: “It was composed chiefly of vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey,” and many other odd ingredients. Additionally, the way that the Deaf One milked the moon by touching “gaps between two scales, naked and tender folds of lunar flesh,” reflects the later descriptions of Qfwfq fondling Mrs. Vhd Vhd’s body, previously quoted. A final example: in the first half it seems the Deaf One’s movements with the moon “have no clear, practical sense.” And in the second half, “we realized that his virtuosity had no purpose, aimed at no practical result.” There are so many examples of this pairing that one has the sense that if the first and second halves were laid side by side, you could draw lines to nearly every word between the two, creating a matrix of connectivity.
Writers are sometimes admonished to reveal the central conflict of their story as soon as possible, but here, description takes center stage. What if Calvino had woven the description into the second half of the story, instead of front loading it? The plot would have lost its momentum, bogged down in backstory and details. And Qfwfq, in fact, does insert a hint of budding trouble early in the story. The crux of the plot is that the Moon’s orbit is changing, moving away from the earth. It’s first mentioned in an italicized introduction to the story that has the tone of an encyclopedia entry, and is based on an actual historic (though incorrect) theory of the moon: “At one time, according to Sir George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. Then the tides gradually pushed her far away…” Next, in a parenthetical aside on the second page, Qfwfq explains that they “had taken the measurements [of the distance to the moon] carefully (we didn’t yet suspect that she was moving away from us)…” This colors the introductory statement with a sense of foreboding and raises a question in the reader’s mind. It hints at danger, and danger is always interesting. But Qfwfq doesn’t mention it again during those pages of plotless description, letting it hang in the mind of the reader and build suspense. Finally, Qfwfq raises the issue again when description turns to plot: when Mrs. Vhd Vhd mounts the moon for the first time, leaving him behind in the boat. He wonders if the Captain “had known from the beginning that the Moon’s orbit was widening? None of us could have suspected it. The Deaf One perhaps, but only he…”
The familiar love story is also made fresh through devices of defamiliarization, or enstrangement as Viktor Shklovsky calls it (6). Enstrangement forces the reader to see something known and familiar in a new and foreign way. First, the use of foreign or outlandish language impedes understanding and causes the reader to pause and dwell on the text. In this story, the character names are completely foreign (i.e. of no existing human language) and unpronounceable. Are the characters even human? They seem to have human relationships and emotions, but there is uncertainty, unfamiliarity. Second, familiar objects/images or events/rituals can be described in detail, often without being named in the abstract, to force the reader to see them new and evade “automatized perception.” In this story, the moon, an object we see so often that most have ceased to notice it entirely, is described first in unusual terms regarding its phases, e.g. “when she was new, she rolled around the sky like a black umbrella blown by the wind.” Later, the moon is described with unrealistic and bizarre details regarding her moon milk (mentioned previously) which makes the familiar satellite completely foreign. Finally, the close orbit of the moon that brings it so near to the earth that “it looked as if she were going to crush us,” and which allows the characters to climb upon her using only ladders, is unusual to say the least. What else is being enstranged in the process? The cliché symbol of the moon for love and romance. It shifts the reader’s perceptions and primes the mind to view the old love story new again.
The protagonist’s voice adds an interesting and unusual element to the story. Qfwfq opens the story, “How well I know! … the rest of you can’t remember, but I can.” He speaks directly to the reader, but also seems to have a questioning audience before him. I imagine him surrounded by young space aliens sitting cross-legged on the floor. In the next paragraph, he says, “Orbit? Oh, elliptical, of course… Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did.” This question and answer format pulls the reader into the tale, which feels both reminiscent and instructional. “This is how we did the job: in the boat we had a ladder: one of us held it…” The punctuation is also different and unfamiliar, such as the use of sequential colons.
Though it’s seemingly told in the first-person perspective from the point of view (POV) of Qfwfq, it might more accurately be described as a third-person POV as a narrator exists behind Qfwfq. The entire story is Qfwfq orating to an audience, but the narrator reveals itself (I say “it” because it’s unclear if the narrator is human, or some sort of cosmic energy, or some other type of nonhuman being) only at the very beginning of the story via italicized text. First, as mentioned above, there is a brief quasi-scientific description of how the moon’s orbit changed over time, referencing Sir George H. Darwin. Then, in the first sentence, one italicized speech tag exposes the narrator: “How well I know!—old Qfwfq cried,—the rest of you can’t remember, but I can.” This hints at a larger mystery or reality behind Qfwfq. The entire book builds on this pattern by beginning stories with an actual scientific theory of space or earth history, then introducing Qfwfq as the narrator who sets the story, based on the scientific theory at issue, into motion.
In conclusion, Calvino in “The Distance of the Moon,” makes the traditional love story new again by defamiliarizing the situation, context, and characters in a wildly imaginative way. He carefully explains everything necessary to understand the story using the engaging voice of Qfwfq, then tells the story. But he triples the plot by repeating it with different sets of character, exploring different facets of romantic love.
“Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar
“Axolotl” is a speculative transformation story about a man who becomes an axolotl (a species of salamander native to Mexico). The story is framed at the beginning and end in present tense from the first-person (or first-axolotl if you prefer) POV of the man qua axolotl, with most of the story written in past tense from the POV of the man pre-axolotl transformation. It spans just over six pages with no line breaks.
The plot is perhaps deceptively simple. One spring day, the narrator goes to the Paris zoo to see the lions and panthers, but he ends up at the aquarium instead, a building he’d never before visited, where he “hit it off with the axolotls.” He watches them for an hour and becomes obsessed. He then goes to the library to read about them in a dictionary. The next day and every day thereafter, he visits the aquarium to study to axolotls. Many visits are merged and summarized with much description of the axolotl and interior thoughts of the man as he imagines the conditions in which the axolotls exist in captivity. Then, one day the man leans close to the tank, presses his face to the glass, stares into one axolotl’s eyes, and in an instant, he is looking out from that axolotl’s eyes at himself on the other side of the tank. The POV remains in first person but shifts to the axolotl, who reports that the man continues to visit the aquarium, but less and less often, and finally stops visiting entirely. The axolotl’s only hope is that the man will, perhaps, write a story about them, believing that he’s making it up, which, of course, he does. The ending creates a Möbius Strip, returning the story to the beginning.
In a traditional plot, we would ask what does the protagonist desire and what resistance presents itself against that desire. Viewed through that lens, there are two primary options, though they are simply two sides of the same coin. One is that the man, upon discovering the axolotls, desires to “penetrate [their] mystery.” The words penetrate and mystery are used numerous times within the story. He comes to view the axolotls as “not animals,” but “a mysterious humanity.” The axolotl also states as much at the end of the story, speaking of the man’s “desire to know us better.” The man encounters two forms of resistance, perhaps more accurately described as obstacles within the context of this story. The major obstacle is the simple fact that the man cannot know the axolotl better because he cannot communicate directly with the axolotls because he is not an axolotl. At one point, he imagines that he can hear them say, “Save us, save us,” but axolotls cannot (presumably) speak Spanish (the language in which the story was originally written and presumably the language spoken by the protagonist). The second obstacle comes from the aquarium guard who “coughed fussily” when the man leans too close to the glass tank, but that is of less import. Despite these obstacles, the man succeeds in his desire to know the axolotls by becoming an axolotl himself. He discovers that their thinking is “humanlike … every axolotl thinks like a man.”
The second option is to view the primary desire as that of the axolotl who wants the story of their captivity told. “I console myself by thinking that perhaps he is going to write a story about us…” Their obstacle is the same as the man’s: they cannot communicate with him. But the axolotl succeeds as well: the story is written (and the story is written because the man succeeds in his desire to deeply know the axolotls, the circularity of the Möbius Strip).
Because the protagonist and axolotl cannot communicate, different techniques are used to raise tension in the story. The first is repetition. The narrator describes the axolotl at length, their “rosy” bodies, their “golden eyes,” their feet and hands, the “tiny sprigs red as coral” that grow from either side of their stone-like heads. The descriptive words repeat again and again throughout the story so that they become mesmerizing to the reader, as the narrator is mesmerized. Their golden eyes are a particular focal point, referenced at least twenty-three times, and serve to ratchet up the tension of the story as their description morphs. They begin as “eyes of gold,” then “diminutive golden points…burning with…terrible light.” Later they have a “terrifying purity” that “devour[s] [him] in a cannibalism of gold.” Finally he sees that it was “[n]ot possible that such a terrible expression [in their eyes]…should carry any message other than one of pain, proof of that eternal sentence, of that liquid hell they were undergoing.” The story then peaks and he becomes an axolotl.
A second technique used to raise tension is suspense via foretelling. This tension is introduced in the very first paragraph which, in only forty-three words, summarizes the entire story. It begins: “There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls.” It ends: “Now I am an axolotl.” This immediately raises a fascinating question in the mind of the reader: how has this impossible change occurred? The reader is reminded of the coming transformation a second time approximately half way through the story, twice on the same page but in subsequent paragraphs: “I knew better later…” and “I knew it before this, before becoming an axolotl.” This piques the reader’s interest and heightens the suspense. Finally, on the second to last page, the man is again staring into the golden eyes of an axolotl: “No transition and no surprise, I saw my face against the glass, I saw it on the outside of the tank, I saw it on the other side of the glass. Then my face drew back and I understood. Only one thing was strange: to go on thinking as usual, to know.” This telling of the climax at the beginning, the mid-story reminder of the coming climax, and the climax itself, serves as a structure similar to the desire/resistance structure. It is much like Calvino’s mention of the growing distance to the moon at the very beginning, on the second page, and midway through the story. Many short stories use a trio of desire/resistance episodes (resistance, resistance, success/failure), and this foretelling, foretelling, happening mimics that structure.
An additional device that supports this tension is a slippery point of view. As previously mentioned, the story begins in first- axolotl POV as the frame, then switches to first-person POV where it remains with exceptions until the final frame switch back to first-axolotl. However, within the person-narrated sections, there are two instances when it slips into the POV of the axolotls as first plural. When describing the creature, the man says, “I saw a rosy little body…ending in a fish’s tail of extraordinary delicacy, the most sensitive part of our body.” At the bottom of that same paragraph, he states, “I saw the diminutive toes poise mildly on the moss. It’s that we don’t enjoy moving a lot, and the tank is so cramped… The time feels like it’s less if we stay quietly.” But in the next sentence/paragraph, it shifts back to singular first: “It was their quietness that made me lead toward them…” These shifts are done so smoothly that they may not consciously register on first reading, but they add interest by subtly reminding the reader of the coming transformation.
A final source of interest is the story’s theme. How can we know another’s mind? How can we see through their eyes? How can we experience their life and know it as our own? How can we link to humanity? These are the questions asked of the story. The answer comes directly from the man. Fascination with another. Obsessive observation. Intense curiosity, leading, ultimately, to empathy and sympathy. Then, one day, in an instant, we will be transformed, metamorphosed, and see the world through another’s eyes. Then we will be able to tell their story as our own.
In “Axolotl,” Cortázar utilizes a variety of techniques to keep this story interesting when the bulk of the story action involves many summarized and combined trips to the zoo where a man stares into a glass enclosure. He raises tension by foretelling the unusual ending. He ends the story so it warps and wraps back to the beginning. He shifts the POV within the same character but from man to axolotl. He repeats descriptions again and again, but varies those descriptions in such a way as to rachet up the energy and tension of the story, carrying the reader to the climax.
“The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter
“The Company of Wolves” is a retelling and revisioning of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. There is a three-page introductory section demarked with a line break before the story begins in earnest, the main story itself comprising just under six pages, for a total of nine pages. The introductory section serves as a cautionary lesson to the reader. The voice is authoritative, omniscient, and directive. It speaks in the present tense, describing the eyes of the wolf, the howl of the wolf. It tells how children always carry knives. It tells the first cautionary pre-story that comprises only half a sentence: “a woman [was] once bitten in her own kitchen as she was straining the macaroni.” It warns: “You are always in danger in the forest… Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems.”
With this mysterious statement, the introduction next tells three more stories. The first story of this trio, comprising two paragraphs (though the second paragraph is only one short sentence), tells how a wolf was trapped in a pit with ducks as a lure, then the hunter fell upon the wolf, slit his throat, and cut off his paws. However, the wolf transforms into “a man, headless, footless, dying, dead.” The second story, one paragraph made up of two sentences, tells of a witch who turned a wedding party into a pack of wolves. The third and final pre-story is a full page and relates how a woman married a man who turned out to be a werewolf. He fled on their wedding night and so she married another man and had children with him. Years later, her first husband returned and, seeing her children, called her “a whore” before “he was chopped up with the hatchet.” She cried and her second husband beat her. The introductory section then concludes with more information on the werewolf, most importantly to beware a naked man in the woods, and that a werewolf’s natural lifespan is seven years, but if you burn his clothes, he’ll be a wolf the rest of his life.
After this lesson, the main story begins in earnest. It is Christmas Eve, the winter solstice, and a virginal girl with budding breasts who has just commenced her menses goes through the forest in her red cloak to deliver oatcakes to her grandmother. She carries her knife. She hears a howl in the woods, but then a clothed man, not a wolf, appears on her path. He is a hunter with a gun. He laughs at her surprise, and he is handsome. They walk together for a time. Then he shows her his compass and says he can get to her grandmother’s in less time than she. They make a bet of it, a game, so that he’ll receive a kiss if he wins. She dawdles in the woods to ensure his victory.
He does arrive before her. He knocks and pretends to be the granddaughter. The grandmother invites him in and he eats her. He then tidies up and waits for the girl. She arrives and knocks. He pretends to be the grandmother and welcomes her in. She sees her grandmother only and is disappointed, wanting a kiss from the man. She inspects the room: because the Bible is closed instead of open and the pillow fluffed without indentation, she knows her grandmother is dead. “What big eyes you have,” she says. Twenty or fifty wolves gather outside and begin to howl. But the girl does not express fear at their numbers. Instead, she expresses sympathy with the wolves. Though she felt afraid when she realized her grandmother was dead, she decides not to be afraid because it will do her no good.
She asks the wolf what she should do with her shawl, and he says to throw it on the fire. Then she strips off her shirt; into the fire. He skirt, stockings, shoes; into the fire. She stands naked before him and freely gives the promised kiss. What big teeth you have she says, and he replies in the expected manner: “All the better to eat you with.” But instead of being afraid, she laughs at him. At this crucial junction, the story shifts into the future tense and tells what she will do: lay his head on her lap, pick the ice from his pelt and, perhaps, eat them. The clock strikes midnight and the girl sleeps “between the paws of the tender wolf.”
Carter’s version, like the traditional fairy tale, has a beginning, middle, and end, with rising action. In the traditional fairy tale, the girls resists the wolf throughout, wanting to deliver her cakes to grandmother, but ultimately he eats her. Here, the girl begins with the traditional desire of delivering oatcakes to her grandmother, but when she meets the man on the path in the woods, she immediately surrenders her basket of cakes (including her knife hidden within) to him. When he makes the bet that he can beat her to the cottage, a new desire blossoms within her: a kiss. At grandmother’s, she is at first afraid and wants her knife back, but “since her fear did her no good, she ceased to be afraid.” Notably, between her fear and release of fear arose her sympathy for the wolves: “It is very cold, poor things; no wonder they howl so.” With that, all her resistance to the wolf dissolves. He tells her to remove and burn her cape, her blouse, her skirt, all her clothes, and she never resists even though she knows he’s killed and eaten her grandmother. When naked, she voluntarily kisses him though he hasn’t asked for his reward. When he says he’s going to eat her, she laughs. She strips off his shirt. It is implied that they have sex. The revisioned plot is unresisted desire on the part of both parties within a story that has a long tradition of resistance. The fairy tale is built on the assumption that the girl resists, and the girl will fail. But what if the girl actually wants what the wolf is offering? By removing the customary resistance within the traditional tale, it creates a new tension because the story resists the reader’s expectations. The girl is curious when she should be frightened. She’s naked when she should be modest. She’s eager when she should be devoured.
The howls of the wolves are used as a repetitive pattern that functions like a simplified Greek chorus, describing the plot to assist the reader in understanding or contextualizing this retold version of the tale (though the technique only succeeds if the reader has a strong musical vocabulary or a dictionary handy). The Greek chorus traditionally sang to describe, comment upon, and interpret the action of a play for the audience. The first instance of this is in the longer pre-story in the introduction: the husband-werewolf sings melancholic “canticles” (alternately defined as sung Bible hymns, love poems, or hymns of praise) on their wedding night. In the main story, when the girl hears the wolves howl outside her grandmother’s house, they sing a “threnody” (mourning hymn) shortly after the narrator compares her red cape to the red of “the blood she must spill,” indicating that some sort of death will occur: Will she kill the wolf? Will her hymen break and her virginity die? When she, naked, “freely gave the kiss she owed,” the wolves outside howl a “prothalamion” (a marriage song). Shortly after, the wolves “clamour the forest’s Liebestod.” (This has two potential meanings. The Liebestod is the final dramatic music as Isolde sings over Tristan’s dead body. As a literary term, it indicates erotic death; consummation of love in death.) Presumably, since both the girl’s and the wolf’s clothes are burnt, the girl will transform into a werewolf, killing her human existence (and the obvious interpretation that she’s transformed into a sensual, sexual, adult woman, her innocent girlhood dead). Thus, the werewolf chorus adds a surprising dimension to the telling of the story, adding context to the story action through their song selections.
Supporting the plot structure are what I will call twinned actions: an action occurs twice in the story, the second occurrence a flip or reversal of the first. There are four major twinnings in this story. First, at the largest scale, is the comparison of marriage between the final pre-story and the main story. The pre-story woman effectively disavows her werewolf husband and marries a human, but the story ends with her insulted, in tears, and beaten. Flipped in the twinning, the girl effectively marries the werewolf and wholeheartedly opens herself to him, and the story ends with her peacefully sleeping with him, a complete reversal. A second twinning is of shivers. While describing the girl’s virginity at the beginning of the story, we’re told that “she does not know how to shiver.” But once inside grandmother’s house with the werewolf, “…she shivered, in spite of the scarlet shawl she pulled more closely round herself as if it could protect her…” This reference to what can “protect” her is itself a twinning. On the previous page, the narrator slips into the story to chastise “granny” for thinking that her Bible “was a sure prophylactic… call on Christ and his mother and all the angles in heaven to protect you but it won’t do you any good.” The final twinning is of laughter. In the woods, the werewolf as man “laughed with a flash of white teeth… He laughed at her again; gleaming trails of spittle clung to his teeth.” However, in grandmother’s house when he says he’s going to eat her, she “burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face…” In sum, these twinned and flipped actions mimic a sense of movement, change, or transformation. Something is different than before.
Similar to twinnings are triplicate repetitions or leitmotifs, repeated thematic phrases or words. These can mirror the beginning, middle, end structure of a conventional plot when strategically placed within those sections of the story. For example, there are three references to lice in the fur of werewolves: first in the pre-story, second with grandmother mid-story, and finally with the girl at the very end. Neither the pre-story wife nor the grandmother reacts to the lice, but most readers will likely have a squeamish reaction to this parasite. However, in the resolution of the story, the girl “will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.” She treats the lice differently than the other two women. This also mimics the desire-resistance model, with the lice being resisted by the reader in two instances, followed by a final success with the girl. Another example is the thrice repeated phrase: “carnivore incarnate.” It first occurs in the second sentence of the story in the introductory section, then again with the grandmother mid-story, and finally in the resolution with the girl. The phrase doesn’t substantially change, but works through juxtaposition to other developing plot elements (the wolf chorus, her laugh, the lice). It also simply reminds the reader what the story is about.
The tale also surprises by frequently shifting verb tenses. The story begins in the present tense as the narrator explains the wolf. During the four short pre-stories, it shifts to past tense, though with one exception. At the end of the first paragraph it shifts from the narrator’s POV to the newlywed wife’s, enters her thoughts, and shifts to the present tense: “And she waited and she waited and then she waited again – surely he’s been gone a long time? Until she jumps up in bed and shrieks to hear a howling, coming on the wind from the forest.” In the next paragraph, the POV switches back to the narrator who describes the howls, the melancholy of the wolf in present tense, then shifts back into the story, into past tense. After the only line break in the story, the main story begins in present tense, but shifts back and forth between tenses throughout the story: “It is midwinter… The forest closed upon her like a pair of jaws… There is a faint trace of blood on his chin; he has been snacking on his catch… She wanted her knife from her basket but did not dare reach for it… Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.” The resolution post-climax suddenly shifts to future tense, quoted above, followed by “The blizzard will die down. The blizzard died down…” This shift from future to past indicates that what was predicted (her eating his lice, their marriage), will come to pass. This shifting between now and then, past, present, and future, distorts time and disorients the reader. It creates a shimmering effect as if viewing the story through all time, through traditional beliefs and modern sensibilities, as well as a future where the previously unacceptable will be acceptable.
There is a further contrast, a tension, between what the narrator is seemingly trying to scare the reader into believing at the outset – be afraid and run away! – and what the story accomplishes. The four pre-stories are fascinating because none of them occur in the woods, which is where the reader is told to be cautious. None of the people run away, as the reader is told to do. People are either bitten, or they fight back and kill the wolves. In fact, the girl in the main story does everything wrong according to the narrator, but ends by sleeping peacefully with her wolf. The narrator who consistently warns the reader away from wolves (“Fear and flee the wolf”) at the end seems oblivious to her previous words and is triumphant in the girl’s success: “See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.” The narrator her or himself has had a transformation, a change of mind, through the telling of the story.
The story also uses an odd humor that seems to poke fun at the chastising tone of the tale, and at how seriously people take the issue of human sexual desire. The first instance is the woman who is bitten while “straining the macaroni.” Straining the macaroni? Who strains the macaroni in Little Red Robin Hood when werewolves are about? Another instance is the duck dropped in the pit as bait for the wolf in the second pre-story. “Quack, quack! went the duck…” Quack, quack! is in tremendous tonal contrast to the entire rest of the story. Later, when the wolf from the main story undresses in front of grandmother, “she can see how hairy his legs are. His genitals, huge. Ah! huge.” Is she delighted with his size? And simply the word “genitals” is so technical and odd in what is purporting to be a fairy tale. Ah! there are no genitals in fairy tales.
One final note, “The Company of Wolves” is one story in a linked collection of retold fairy tales. Throughout the book, certain phrases or images are repeated in different stories, reverberating through the book, connecting all the stories thematically.
In conclusion, Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” turns the fairy tale Little Red Robin Hood on its clitoral head by subverting the traditional desire-resistance plot into a plot of unopposed sexual desire that is resisted only by the reader’s preformed expectations of how the story should develop (and how girls should behave). Adding to the interest of the story, the verb tenses shift throughout from past to present to future, disorienting the reader. The wolves as Greek chorus add a wonderful and odd touch. The purported message of the story via the narrator seems to be to beware of sexuality, but is in direct conflict with the outcome of the story which encourages a revisioning of female sexuality from a perspective of victimhood to one of agency.
“The Available Data on the Worp Reaction” by Lion Miller
“The Available Data on the Worp Reaction” is written as an academic report on a strange phenomenon, and runs just under four pages. There is a citation to the report (authored by Dr. Alma Victoria Snyder-Gray, Sc.D. and published by Fort College Press) at the very beginning, centered beneath the title. The tense shifts from past to present as would be normal in a report of this nature, as Dr. Snyder-Gray discusses and analyzes the subject of her study (i.e. the Worp Reaction). The only line break in the story occurs on the last page and separates the bulk of the report from two final paragraphs which give a summary of the where things stand now.
The report tells the story of Aldous Worp, a boy who was born “a hopeless idiot” and lived a sedentary and quiet life for his first six years, making only one sound, “closely akin to the expression ‘Whee!’” But when he’s six, he begins to gather junk from the city dump behind his family’s house and store it in an unused chicken coop. He collects junk for twenty more years. Then, for one additional year, he stops gathering and only moves slowly among his gathered junk, seemingly accomplishing nothing. At age twenty-seven, he begins mysteriously fitting his pieces of junk together into a large structure. One day at 10:46 a.m. he is witnessed climbing into the structure where he remains for five minutes. He then exits and pulls a lever on the device. There is a rushing sound from the object, purple light glows from beneath it, then it rises three meters into the air and hovers. Aldous says “whee!” three times, then turns another lever on the contraption and the object settles to earth. No one knows how it works. Aldous demonstrates it for people, but on the afternoon of the second day, the press corps arrives. With their arrival, Aldous lowers the machine to the ground and begins to dismantle it in exactly the reverse order that he’d constructed it, taking the pieces one by one to the chicken coop, then one by one back to the city dump. Aldous returns to his original sedentary, idiotic state, but occasionally his eyes light up and he quietly says “whee!”
A traditional story has a desire-resistance plot culminating in success or failure. In this story, Aldous is not seemingly propelled by a conscious desire, but some unconscious impulse; nor does he seem to encounter any resistance to this impulse. Still, the story has a traditional story shape with a beginning (Aldous’s birth), a middle (his junk collecting and the building of the device), a climax (the device levitates), and resolution (he dismantles the device and all returns to normal). However, this “story” isn’t a story, but rather purports to be an excerpt from the official report of Dr. Snyder-Gray, Sc.D. of Fort, Indiana. Hers is the character lens through which the story is told, and the desire is not the desire of Aldous to build his machine, but the desire of Dr. Snyder-Gray to understand his creation, the impulse of creativity.
In the report, Dr. Snyder-Gray interviews three people who were all present at the first levitation: Aldous’s father, Lambert Simnel Worp; Major Herbert R. Armstrong, U.S. Army Engineers; and Dr. Phillip H. Cross, A.E.C. (though why Armstrong and Cross were at the house of an “idiot” child who collected junk from a city dump on that exact day at that exact time is a mystery in itself). However, no one gives her the understanding she desires. L. S. Worp “was able to shed [little light] on the problem.” A “Dr. Palmer,” of unknown affiliation, stated: “It’s all nothing but a bunch of junk.” And finally, according to Dr. Snyder-Gray: “The most exhaustive tests, Geiger, et al. revealed nothing.” Dr. Snyder-Gray’s desire to comprehend the mystery of Aldous’s machine is resisted, obstructed, and defeated with each successive interview. Thus we find hidden within the story the traditional desire-resistance model not between the characters on the page, but between the author of the report and the characters within the story.
Of note, Dr. Snyder-Gray never interviewed Aldous, or if she did, failed to mention it in her report. According to her, Aldous could not speak except for one sound: “Whee!” She declares: “Communication with Aldous Worp was impossible since the young man had never learned to talk.” However, it is possible to succeed in communication or understanding without talking (as happens in “Axolotl”—both these stories having a character resisted by the muteness of whatever or whomever they wish to understand). Those attendant at the first levitation told Dr. Snyder-Gray that “Aldous jumped around with every semblance of glee and we distinctly heard him remark ‘Whee!’ three times.” By not discussing that word, she seems to assume it lacks meaning, or is unimportant to her understanding of the phenomenon, though its import to the story is emphasized by its repetition in the text: at the beginning, at the climax, and at the end. This tripled repetition in the beginning, middle, and ending of the story mirrors the common plot structure, as discussed above regarding Carter’s “The Company of Wolves.”
And what of that word, whee? Is it without meaning? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines whee as, “used to express delight or exuberance.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines whee as “an exclamation of joy, exhilaration, astonishment, etc.” Dr. Snyder-Gray herself states that Aldous “took great delight in operating his machine.” And while analysis of the component parts inside the finished structure failed to adequately explain how they worked together as a whole (as analysis of art can fail to discern the magic and mystery that animates the sum total of its component parts), she ignores the fact that its invention is a creative product of delight and inspiration. The academic report structure supports Dr. Snyder-Gray’s obtuseness, as many academics are lampooned for their emphasis on so-called rational, scientific explanations of reality, dismissing emotional, subjective, or ecstatic evidence as irrelevant.
Additionally, the word “whee” is contained within the word symbolizing the most important part of Aldous’s invention: the cogwheel. The cogwheel is the first item Aldous retrieves from the junkyard and the last item he fits into his structure before it levitates: idiotic delight as the alpha and omega of artistic creation. Further, Aldous never says whee without exclamatory emphasis: “Whee!” “Whee!” and “Wheel” look nearly identical as characters in text, and reference to the cogwheel is sometimes shortened to wheel within the text. References to the cogwheel or wheel repeat four times within the story (typically within one to two paragraphs of the word whee): in the beginning, middle, and end of the story (see above on triplicate repetition). Merriam Webster’s defines cogwheel as a toothed wheel (gear) that performs a specific function in a complete machine. We might then deduce from the text that creative delight performs an essential (if mysterious) function within the whole of an artistic work, but also that word play based not just on meaning, but also sound and textual congruence can be utilized for structural support through repetition.
Another structural device beyond plot or repetition is a story written as a faux document, such as this academic report, which mimics the structure of the real-life document on which it is based. This provides the author a known form to write from and play within. These “shadow texts,” as Douglas Glover refers to them, might be police reports, psychological tests, newspaper articles, poems, novels, bible stories, etc. For example, an author might use the structure of King Lear to write a novel (e.g. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley). Shadow texts build resonance within the story by echoing against the external document, silently engaging the reader by encouraging comparison between the faux document qua story and its real-world counterpart (though the reader may not always be aware of the root source of the structure if it is not stated plainly).
The faux document can also allow for a different tone or diction for effect (e.g. academic, bureaucratic, scientific, etc.). In this story, parody of academic analysis is used to humorous effect, beginning with the officious citation preceding the story: “Being an excerpt from Prolegomena To A Preliminary Research on Some Instances of Unique Anomalies…” The report’s title, despite its words, says absolutely nothing and is redundant to boot: a preliminary discussion to preliminary research on some odd oddities. Dr. Snyder-Gray is obdurate in her academic quasi-scientific investigation. And, as previously stated, the faux document can be used as a frame to insert tension or conflict into a story that has no internal conflict among the “on stage” characters from the perspective of an observing character.
In conclusion, Miller’s “The Available Data on the Worp Reaction” combines numerous literary devices to transform this simple story from mundane to mystical. The strategic repetition of two key words (one an exclamation, one an object, but both nearly identical in text) connects the story to and within itself. By using the structure of a faux document combined with an external, investigating narrator, tension is built into a plot that had no inherent conflict at the time it was occurring. Those same devices also add humor to this story whose theme ultimately levitates beyond the laughs, into the mystery of creativity.
“The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury
“The Fog Horn” describes one night at a lighthouse. It is told in past-tense from the first-person perspective of young Johnny, who’s been working in the lighthouse for only three months. Though the story is told from Johnny’s point of view, his workmate, McDunn, a salty old timer, talks via direct dialogue through much of the story and because of this, the story feels as though it is written from his perspective. It is a ten-page story with one line break on the second to last page, between the climax and the resolution.
The action begins when the two men head up the lighthouse stairs to turn on the light, McDunn saying as they climb that he’s got something he’s been meaning to tell the boy. At the top, McDunn turns on the light and tells Johnny that a monster is coming that night, then the monster (a dinosaur from deep beneath the ocean, lured by the sound of the fog horn) arrives on scene. The fog horn and the monster call back and forth to each other, but McDunn turns off the fog horn for a moment. The monster goes mad in the ensuing silence and destroys the lighthouse. McDunn and Johnny both manage to escape, but a year later, Johnny is married and out of the lighthouse business, while McDunn is installed in a new, steel-reinforced lighthouse.
The story shape is seemingly traditional with a chronological development from the beginning (early evening), to the middle (fog horn sounds, monster approaches), to climax (monster attacks), to resolution (a year later). But what desire is resisted? Johnny doesn’t have any conflict with McDunn. The story begins with McDunn asking him if he’s used to their “lonely life,” and Johnny responds that yes, he’s used to it, and is glad that McDunn is “a good talker.” McDunn, for his part, is glad to have a witness to the monster that night, but otherwise does not express any desire. It is, in fact, the monster that has the desire. The monster has been living alone at the bottom of the ocean for eons, “waiting alone, for someone to come back who never came back.” When the lighthouse was built and the fog horn sounded, the monster believes it’s found another like itself at last. It wants communion with its own kind, an end to loneliness and isolation. The monster and the fog horn cry back and forth to each other. When McDunn turns off the horn, he creates the resistance to the monster’s desire for connection. Though McDunn turns the horn back, it’s too late. The monster is bereft and enraged. Thus we find within the story a single resisted desire, but not between the two human characters as might be expected.
The crux of McDunn’s resistance to the monster lies within the story’s theme. Immediately before McDunn turns off the horn, while the monster and fog horn are serenading each other, McDunn states in a thematic passage:
“That’s life for you… Someone always waiting for someone who never comes home. Always someone loving something more than that thing loves them. And after a while you want to destroy whatever that thing is, so it can’t hurt you no more.”
By turning off the horn, McDunn fulfills his own lonely theory of life. He breaks the monster’s heart by turning off the horn, causing the monster to want to destroy the source of its heartache. McDunn lives a lonely life, believes that to be the only life, and perpetuates that loneliness onto the monster. The reader can imagine that perhaps he had a wife or lover at some time in the past, though that’s not part of the text. In contrast, after this experience, Johnny marries and chooses a life of community and connection.
In addition to the plot advancement, McDunn’s slow revelation of the monster to Johnny serves as a source of rising suspense through mystery. On the second page, we learn that McDunn had “been nervous all day and hadn’t said why.” A little later he tells Johnny, “I got something special I been saving up to tell you.” Then, after they climb to the top of the lighthouse, he says, “You been here now for three months, Johnny, so I better prepare you. About this time of year something comes to visit the lighthouse.” However, McDunn fails to tell Johnny what to watch for. While they’re waiting, McDunn tells a story of how the fog horn was invented. He says that he made the story up to explain why “this thing” keeps returning to the lighthouse each year. What thing? McDunn still won’t say. At last, “[s]omething was swimming toward the lighthouse tower.” The creature emerges from the deep and Johnny finally gets a full view of the beast, easing some of the mystery and tension built from McDunn’s anxiety provoking statements, but then Johnny asks, “Why does it come here?” We are then treated to a description of the serenading of the beast and the tower, along with McDunn’s explanation for how the creature rises from the deep, the time it takes, and the effort, to reach its man-made mate. Finally, McDunn turns off the horn, breaks the monster’s heart, and instigates the story’s climax.
In addition to the suspense, McDunn’s storytelling proclivities mimic the triplicate pattern common to many conventional plots. McDunn tells three stories to Johnny in the course of the story. First, he tells a story of how, one night, all the fish in the sea swam to the surface to stare at the light of the lighthouse which beamed red and white into their “funny eyes.” They fanned out in the water “like a big peacock’s tail.” McDunn imagines that the fish must have come to worship, believing themselves “in the Presence.” This pre-story mirrors and predicts the coming of the monster who will be similarly attracted by the sound of the fog horn.
Next McDunn tells his invented story of how the Fog Horn came into existence:
“…[A] man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean … and said, ‘We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I’ll make one. I’ll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was; I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long; … I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls… I’ll make me a sound…and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.’”
This story describes the sound of the lighthouse, but also predicts the voice of the coming monster. Additionally, it develops the story’s theme—loneliness—which was first introduced in the initial dialogue between Johnny and McDunn on the first page of the story: “It’s a lonely life, but you’re used to it now, aren’t you?”
Third and finally, McDunn tells the story, again imagined by himself, of how the monster first heard the sound of the fog horn five years ago when the lighthouse was built, and how it must have taken three months to rise from the deep, feeding “on great slakes of cod and minnow, on rivers of jellyfish,” rising slowly to “pressuriz[e] yourself day by day” so you don’t explode, hearing the call, and finally finding the lighthouse with its “neck like your neck… a body like your body…a voice like your voice.” An end to loneliness. Interestingly, McDunn shifts mid-story from his assumed POV of the monster, into the second-person, putting himself, Johnny, and the reader into the mind of the monster, increasing our sympathy to it, experiencing its endless aching loneliness for ourselves.
In sum, the plot of “The Fog Horn” is carried along by multiple devices. Smaller parallel stories within the story create resonance as they echo against each other. Tension is built through mystery: incremental teasers that something big and bad will visit the lighthouse. The monster’s desire is resisted by McDunn to explosive effect. The theme of loneliness is developed through the word’s repetition throughout the text, resulting in a story that leaves the reader bereft.
A writer who veers away from the traditional plot can employ numerous devices to achieve an interesting, resonant story. Shifting points of view, verb tenses, and narrator tone can disorient a reader and arouse curiosity. As an alternative to conflict between in-story characters, the driving desire can be placed on an out-of-story character or narrator. Subverting expectations when retelling a well-known story can activate reader interest. Stories within a story can echo and amplify each other. Shadow texts can be adapted into faux documents which provide an alternative structure. Defamiliarization can revitalize a well-known plot. Tension can be raised through mystery (hinting at what is to come) or foretelling (naming what is to come). These devices are not unique to outlier stories; they are the same devices used in traditional literature. However, they can be orchestrated to keep a story buoyant and interesting when a conventional plot is absent.
Yet one device is paramount and deserves special treatment. All of the stories discussed in this essay employ repetition. Repetition lies at the heart of the conventional plot structure (the same conflict repeated, the same desire resisted), but is itself a versatile technique that can be utilized with any words, images, or thematic motifs within a story to develop a structural pattern. Repetition creates connections, intertextual reverberations that impel the reader to compare and contrast each successive iteration. Similar to rhetorical questions, it is a technique that allows a story to resonate within itself, to be in dialogue with itself, to build density and depth. Through juxtapositions, twinnings, and triplings, repetition multiples a reader’s mental associations with the text, thereby exploring more deeply a story’s meaning.
An unconventional plot built on repetition resembles a spiral, revisiting the same word or phrase again and again, but each time from a different context. If a traditional plot is like a wave, perhaps an outlier is like a seashell, swirling inward, tighter and tighter, until its inner core is touched. Both are interesting, and not necessarily so different from one another. In fact, if you hold a seashell to your ear, you can hear the ocean whisper.
Bradbury, Ray. “The Fog Horn.” The Golden Apples of the Sun, Greenwood Press, 1971, pp. 15-24.
Burroway, Janet, and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 7th ed., Pearson, 2007.
Calvino, Italo. “The Distance to the Moon.” Cosmicomics. Translated by William Weaver, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968, pp. 3-16.
Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves.” The Bloody Chamber and Other Stores, Penguin Books, 1979, pp. 110-118.
Cortázar, Julio. “Axolotl.” Blow-Up and Other Stories. Translated by Paul Blackburn, Pantheon Books, 1967, pp. 3-9.
Glover, Douglas. Attack of the Copula Spiders and Other Essays on Writing, Biblioasis, 2012.
Miller, Lion. “The Available Data on the Worp Reaction.” Best SF Three: Science Fiction Stories. Edited by Edmund Crispin, Faber & Faber, 1958, pp. 89-92.
Shklovsky, Viktor. Theory of Prose. Translated by Benjamin Sher, Dalkey Archive Press, 1991.
Julie Jones is currently enrolled in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Connecticut but hikes everywhere.