Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

tales untold

We know, thanks to the poet Keats, that “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter” — but might something similar apply to stories? Told tales fascinate, but those untold fascinate more.

Recently on the Happy Days blog at the New York Times, Tim Kreider wrote a brief essay that began like this:

Fourteen years ago I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and it’s not the point of this essay. The point is that after my unsuccessful murder I wasn’t unhappy for an entire year.

And then he goes on to tell the story of his happiness without ever describing the stabbing. This created an immense curiosity in his readers, as he knew it would — but no problem: he later provided a link to a PDF of a comic he drew called “The Stabbing Story” in which he tells . . . a story about telling the stabbing story. But the stabbing story itself he doesn't tell. Clever boy.


  • Is it vanity for me to wonder if you were reminded of this by my comment on your post about pubs? :)

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    I wouldn't say "vanity" . . . but I wrote this post on Monday, I think it was, and scheduled it to be posted later.

  • Keith Petersen said...

    I think it's significant that readers know the stabbing is a "true story." Otherwise it sounds like a plot starter given in a writing workshop. I think that's why I'm intrigued by European pre-history. All we have are stone circles, a few enigmatic artifacts, and historical linguistics. They hint at all the true stories we'll never know. Even with ancient civilizations like Egypt that are fairly well documented and understood, I'm attracted to the unknowns.

  • Ah, well. :) It is a good story, though. I'll have to tell you sometime.

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