They really made such a sweet, clean-cut, wholesome couple. And their romance sprang from an unlikely beginning: it was a classic underdog tale, one most of us can’t resist. So… did they wind up getting married, do you think? Having kids? Fulfilling careers? A long, happy life together? Or did their dreams founder on the rocky shores of unpleasant reality? As Orson Welles said, happy endings depend on where you stop your story.
Let me back up a little so you can make sense of my opening thought/question (and then we can eventually get to today’s primary thesis). Knox Overstreet and Chris Noel were two supporting characters in the 1989 film Dead Poets’ Society, whose major star power was Robin Williams portraying John Keating, a brilliant if rather unorthodox (for the time, anyway) teacher at a tony private New England boys’ prep school in 1959.
The film’s major theme deals with how Keating’s unorthodoxy affects his pupils --- he encourages them to think for themselves, often outside the box, rather than merely go with rote learning and the unconditional obedience to authority so prevalent in 1959 (in all society, not just education, come to that). As one might expect, there are mixed results to his philosophy, some good, some not so good, one in particular catastrophically tragic, as a student can’t cope with conflicting imperatives and commits suicide. I happen to think it’s a terrific film overall (and am inordinately pleased with myself when students sometimes address me as ‘O Captain, my Captain’ after I show it in class).
Knox is one of Keating’s students. His story arc is not nearly as starkly dramatic as some of the other boys, but it does deal with an issue most of us can really relate to: at a social event he’s otherwise been dreading, he meets Chris Noel, an attractive, bright, bubbly teenage girl. And unsurprisingly, he’s instantly smitten with her. Problem is, of course, she already has a boyfriend --- one of the head jocks at her high school. And he’s the jealous, possessive type whose answer to any problem appears to be aggression and/or physical violence. Right. Of course. (This issue was a constant thorn in my side when I was in high school too, lo, many eons ago. But --- sigh --- some things never seem to change. Why do otherwise intelligent girls perennially appear to go for witless jocks and bad boys? Is it some kind of weird maternal instinct or something? It used to drive me crazy. My friends, too. Nowadays, it drives my students crazy.)
Now, in the normal course of events, Knox --- a pretty meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent type without the convenient Superman costume under his clothes --- would pine for Chris a short time before moving on (or long time, perhaps --- my first unrequited crush lasted more than five years). But Keating’s biggest philosophical lynchpin is carpe diem (Latin for ‘seize the day’) and like others in the class, Knox is swept up by this world-changing paradigm. Despite dismal prospects for success (and her boyfriend, who has all the charm and intelligence of the Incredible Hulk), Knox decides to go for Chris.
And --- against all odds --- it works out!
Well… I should probably clarify that: we think it works out. Eventually, late in the film, they have a first date which I’d say goes pretty well. Okay, extremely well --- and suddenly, those dismal prospects are burnin’ brightly indeed.
Unfortunately for their story, very shortly after that lovely moment in the narrative, things take an unexpectedly dark turn, and for pretty much the remainder of the film, we focus on the student who kills himself, and the terrible aftermath of that event.
So that leads me back to my musing at the beginning of today’s epistle: how did things work out for Knox and Chris? It would make a really interesting story on its own… and to that ties another thought I was originally given by my social media guru.
When last we met, she told me I should be doing short stories in addition to working on the sequel to Gryphon’s Heir, my first novel. It would Spark Additional Reader Interest, she explained patiently. Which Is A Good Thing. I went away from that meeting a little dubious, on two counts: wouldn’t writing short stories take away from already scarce time to be working on the sequel? And --- more importantly --- where the hell was I going to come up with ideas for short stories related to the novel?
At that point, the Muse leaned over and affectionately smacked me upside the head, in that endearingly cruel way of hers, bless her black little heart, and made me think of Knox and Chris. It’s as though she was saying, “Listen, dummy. Interesting side plots just begging to be made into stories, long or short, are littered throughout any good narrative, like windfall fruit in an orchard. You really don’t have to look very hard. It ain’t rocket science.” And when my eyes had stopped watering, I decided that, as usual, she’s right: Knox and Chris’ journey would make a great little tale all on its own, regardless of how it turns out. So since then, I’ve found several examples in Gryphon’s Heir (and its currently unfinished sequel Gryphon’s Awakening) of characters and situations that would also lend themselves beautifully to little side excursions.
Now I just need to find the time to pick up a juicy apple or two and crunch them into stories.
Piece of cake.
Well, fruit. Story. Whatever. I’ll keep you posted.