Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Theodore Sturgeon: "A God in the Garden"

Theodore Sturgeon
"A God in the Garden"
in The Ultimate Egoist:
Volume 1: The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon


This tale strikes me as a variant of the Midas Touch.  What appears to be good at first glance proves ultimately to be a curse.

Kenneth digs furiously in his garden, working on a lily pond.  His ferocity comes from a recent flareup between him and his wife.  She suspects he is lying to her.  Unfortunately she is right, once again.  He is an inveterate liar, whether it benefits him or not.  It's just the way he is and she refuses to accept that.

Digging deeper he comes across a huge rock, and he calls a friend who has the necessary equipment to remove it from the hole.  Once on the surface he realizes that it isn't just a rock, but a carved rock!


"Yes, it was an idol, that brown mass in the half-finished lily pool.  And what a face!  Hideous--and yet, was it?  There was a certain tongue-in-cheek quality about it, a grim and likable humor.  The planes of that face were craggy and aristocratic, and there was that about the cure of the nostril and the heavily lidded eyes that told Kenneth that he was looking at a realistic conception of a superiority complex.  And yet--again, was it?  Those heavy eyelids--each, it seemed, had been closed in the middle of a sly wink at some huge and subtle joke.  And the deep lines around the mouth wee the lines of authority, but also the lines of laughter.  It was the face of a very old little boy caught stealing jam, and it was also the face of a being who might have the power to stop the sun."



Kenneth is overjoyed.  He had been looking for a statue to set off his garden and this seemed perfect.  With help he sets the statue upright in a prominent place, overlooking his garden.  It is then that Kenneth realizes that he  has found something much more than he expected.  The statue talks to him.


"'I"m a god,' said the idol.  'Name's 'Rakna.  What's yours?'"


After demonstrating his powers, much to Kenneth's discomfort,  Rakna relents.

"'Look, Kenneth, I've been a little hard  on you.  After all, you did give me a comfortable place to sit.  Anything I could do for you?'"

Kenneth says that all is well, except that, well, there's this little problem with his wife and lying.   The god's first offer to help is simple:  he will "adjust" Kenneth so that he only tells the truth whenever he is asked a question.   Kenneth cringes at that suggestion, especially when he thinks about being asked what he really thinks about his boss and having to answer truthfully.   The god suggests another solution:  whatever Kenneth answers will be the truth, for the god will make it so.

The god points to a chain on the ground and asks Kenneth to say it is in the shed when he is asked.  Kenneth does so and the chain disappears.  It is in the shed.   Kenneth, a skeptic, is confused:  is he crazy or hallucinating?   He goes into the house and discovers she is preparing turnips for dinner.  He doesn't like turnips and frowns slightly.  His wife remembers and says that she forgot.

"'Don't be silly.'  he lied gallantly. 'I love 'em.'  No sooner had he said the words than the lowly turnips seemed to take on a glamour, a gustatory perfection.  His mouth watered for them, his being cried out for them--turnips were the most delicious, the most nourishing and delightful food ever to be set on a man's table.  He loved them."

Kenneth is now a believer.

At first it's party time.  Kenneth tells his wife that there's $20,000 in their checking account, and it''s true.  But then . . .

Think about it--suppose everything you said became the truth.   Someone wonders how an incredibly rich person became so wealthy, and you cynically replied that that person must have stolen it.  Regardless of the real situation, that person was now a thief.   Or, someone asks you whatever happened to so-and-so, and you replied, "Oh, he or she probably died long ago."  Well, once you said that, it had to be true.

It seems to me to be a frightful gift.


21 comments:

  1. Though I have not read this story, I like Theodore Sturgeon. I also tend to like this sort of ironic, fanciful story. I should give this story collection a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brian--this is the first volume in a set of 13 volumes of TS's complete short stories. The 13 volumes contain 222 stories, some of which are being published now for the first time. The volumes are chronological in structure. The first volume contains his earliest stories and the 13th volume contains his last stories.

      The first volume contains stories written and published from late 1937 to early 1940.

      Delete
  2. TS is a long time favorite... i've read most of his output, i believe, and it's always a joy to come across one of his i haven't read... which this is... i was unaware that his short stories had been compiled and published... i'll have to get a copy soonest...
    this one reminds me of a very humorous tale by Lord Dunsany, i think, about two minor godlets in India squabbling over their relative importance in the local villagers' lives... it's a hilarious story; i'll give more details if i remember them... tx for the memorable post...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mudpuddle--see my response to Brian regarding this collection. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      I'd like to hear more about the tale by Dunsany. It sounds interesting.

      I've read a number of Sturgeon's stories, but just glancing through this first volume and then finding a web page that lists all the stories in each of the 13 volumes tells me clearly that I have a long way to go.

      Delete
    2. chubu and sheemish: there's something on YouTube about it, i don't know what it is...

      Delete
    3. Mudpuddle--according to a wikipedia article--

      Chu-Bu and Sheemish are characters in a short story of the same name by Lord Dunsany. The tale was first published in The Book of Wonder (1912).

      Delete
    4. that's it... i think you'd like it if you could find a copy...

      Delete
    5. Mudpuddle--I found a new copy (print-on-demand) for under $8.00.

      Delete
    6. Mudpuddle--I just received my copy of Lord Dunsany's _The Book of Wonder_ which has the story of Chu-Bu and Sheemish.

      Delete
  3. No more just blurting out whatever comes to mind! I'd be wary of using it to purposefully gain things for fear it was a limited power - guess I'm a 'save it for a rainy day' type person.

    I haven't read any Sturgeon in years. My favorite has to be The Other Celia which I must have read back around half a century ago and still remember.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. madamevauquer--yes, exactly, he had to be very careful of what he said. I think I would turn down that gift if it were ever offered to me. Fortunately I don't think I have much to worry about.

      I thought "The Other Celia" was a very sad and poignant tale. I posted on it here several years ago.

      Delete
    2. I remembered that we discussed "The Other Celia" before, Fred, because at the time I couldn't recall the title of the story. I checked that post, but no discussion, must have been on one of your other posts or at Nutshell.

      Delete
    3. madamevauquer--yes, I put up a brief commentary here at
      http://tinyurl.com/yazwl3o3

      However, there were no comments, so it must have been somewhere else, perhaps on Nutshell as you say.

      Delete
  4. Truth sometimes can be a problem! However, are truths absolute or relative. What I see as true, you might see as false. Here is another take: many people want wishes to come true; consider children, consider prayers, consider the Pygmalion effect. In any case, the Sturgeon fable fascinates and provokes me. Thanks for sharing it through your posting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R.T.--in the story, Sturgeon doesn't concern himself with philosophy. He simply defines truth as changing reality to correspond to Kenneth's statement.

      For example, Kenneth suggests to his wife that they take in a show. She says OK, but the dishes have to be done. He says that they are done, and they are done, since he said it. That's truth in the story--it is whatever he says. So, truth is what Kenneth says it is, and since the dishes are done, that is the truth and reality agrees.

      Delete
    2. i wish i could do that... someday i'll get the dishwasher fixed...

      Delete
    3. Mudpuddle--I too wish I could get the dishwasher fixed (it's me), as well as wishing for the dishes to be washed as I sit in my recliner.

      Delete
    4. Fred: lol... since our kitchen has been disassembled, i've been doing them by hand for several months, and i find it peaceful and soothing... Mrs. M cooks and i clean up...

      Delete
    5. Mudpuddle--I wish my reaction to dish-washing was the same as yours. As it is, I simply shudder when I see the sink and go drown my sorrows in a book.

      Delete
  5. What a grave ability without also being omniscient. I can only wonder the result.

    Idols always promise something seductive that ultimately destroys the person seduced.

    I think some writers are like Sturgeon's Kenneth. They try to prove their "reality" by creating a world on print that proves their beliefs.

    I have met people who believe they can determine their own reality simply by saying something is so. Or isn't so.

    Never read Sturgeon, now I'm going to have to look him up. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sharon--I agree: many people fool themselves and end up hurting themselves with the delusion that what they say must be true. Many of them also refuse to listen to anything that contradicts or even suggests doubts about their delusions.

      I would not want a blessing? curse? like the one the garden god granted Kenneth.

      I've posted several other commentaries on works by Sturgeon here.

      Delete