Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Lonely God: fantasy stories of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is known for her detective stories - for Hercule Poirot and Miss Marpe and the longest running play of all time, The Mousetrap (which I personally have seen over a dozen times, in the West End, as well as in amateur productions here in the States).

However she also wrote horror and fantasy short stories.

I came across an intersting one called The Lonely God, in The Harlequin Tea Set collection, which I think inspired at least a bit of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, but I'll get to that last of all.

First I'll set the scene:

I've never cared for horror stories of any kind, so I haven't read any of her short least, I stopped as soon as I figured out they were horror. We're not talking blood, guts and gore horror, more like psychological horror. But I just don't like 'em.

I like her fantasy stories somewhat better, in particular the Harley Quin stories. Harley Quin is a visitor from "beyond the grave" who shows up when people need life-and-death help. Somewhat nebbishy Mr. Satterwaite, travelling around England for whatever reason, usually meets Quin, who drops a hint or suggest this or that...and Satterwaite ends up either saving someone's life, or, one one occasion, just failing to do so.

I've read every Agatha Christie novel - for many years I owned them all before it was necessary to pare back my library - but although I thought I'd read all her anthologies as well, turns out I'd never read The Harlequin Tea Set until today.

Of the 9 stories included, only one, The Spanish Chest, is a Poirot story - the rest are mysteries or suspense stories. (And of course The Harlequin Tea Set, a Harley Quin story, not one of the better ones in the series, in my opinion.)

Anyway, so I'm reading The Lonely God:

He stood on a shelf in the British Museum, alone and forlorn amongst a company of obviously more important deities. Ranged round the four walls, these greater personages all seemed to display an overwhelming sense of their own superiority. The pedestal of eaach was duly inscribed with the land and race that had been proud to possess him. There was no doubt of their position; they were divinities of importance and recognized as such.

Only the little god in the corner was aloof and remote from their company. Roughly hewn out of grey stone, his features almost totally obliterated by time and exposure, he sat there in isolation, his elbows on his knees, and his head buried in his hands, a lonely little god in a strange country.

One man who visits the British museum becomes fascinated by this little god, and soon a lonely woman comes in...the god arranges it so they both fall in love, but of course, once they have love they have no need of him anymore, so they never return to the museum and he's all alone again...

This is part (a very small part, be advised) of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. In his novel, Pratchett points out that a god remains a god ony when he has worshippers. Should he be forgotten, he fades away, until he's no more than a voice on the wind...

So, tbe story resonated with me, and I wonder if Pratchett, whose English after all, had read that Chrisite story and it had set him one of the many threads with which he weaved my favorite Pratchett novel. (I love Small Gods.)

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