When I was in grad school, a long time ago, we spent a good deal of time discussing the various elements of stories. That’s the fun part of grad school, that and reading and writing. In the midst of all those discussions it became apparent that even by the most loose definition of plot, there were a limited number. The same things happen in stories, just as the same things happen in life. The things that change are who and where. An author’s creation of characters and settings is the story’s DNA. They make the story unique.
One of my favorite messiah stories is the Harry Potter series. The setting is a gas, and the fantasy is top notch escapism. I particularly love Rowling’s Neville Longbottom. Neville is essential to the plot, in the end, but more importantly, I think he is one of those characters (and writers of fiction will understand this) who just appeared in the narrative as naturally as dandelions appear in a lawn. Of course Harry, Hermione, and Ron were all in from the start, even before she began crafting, but I have a feeling Neville came along and made himself a part of the full work by his stubborn usefulness and goofy guts. Neville manages to put in his little part all along. He’s there in part one to try and stop his friends from causing trouble–a most Hufflepuff act. He is there until the last when he destroys the snake. He is our unsuspected and undeniable hero when he yells at the snatchers, “Yeah? You and whose army?”* He manages to be funny and ultra cool when he barely escapes death only to quip, “That went well.” He gives the story a decidedly English flavor, a “keep calm and carry on” resolve in the face of death.
Yesterday an apartment building in London, Grenfell Tower, burned. People were jumping from the upper floors to escape the flames. At this time the death toll is 6 with 74 injured, but that number is expected to rise. I have never been to England, but I have taught English Literature for years, and I love it. Their stories have given me a way to love them as a people, and my heart breaks for them. No one knows, at the point, the cause of the fire or what the repercussions will be, but my soul is with the English this morning.