Thursday, March 1, 2012

First Prompt, Blog #6

Cup of... Wait, What?

Going into this knowing there were 23 possible endings to Cup of Death, I knew not all of them would be good endings, and I read quite a few of them, hoping to come to the what I considered to be the true or intended ending of the book, but gave up after reading a dozen or so, feeling a little disappointed with the endings that I had read and disappointed in the fates I had encountered as a character in the novel.

My strategy for reading this book involved following a single path until I hit an end and then going back to whatever the last fork in the book was, and followed it through to that end. Then after reaching that end I would start over, continuing this process for quite a while. It would either come down to the reader making some grave mistake and ending up dead, finding the tea bowl and becoming a hero, or the tea bowl would end up in the right hands but not as a direct result of the reader’s efforts.

I found that the endings that were the closest together were the most connected. For example, one ending was such that the tea bowl was being borrowed by a proper tea master with each of those endings including the tea bowl being returned to its home in the Ura Senke School of Tea. Both endings took into account how important the tea ceremony is and why it should be respected, but the endings differed because one ending made the reader seem disrespectful of traditions, and the other made it seem as though he/she was just ignorant of traditions and kept quiet (the right thing to do?). Each scenario was very similar, but trivial details gave vastly different endings. I’m not sure that any of these endings could be considered realistic, as minuscule details can change the entire story, which made me feel more removed in my interactions with Cup of Death.

The most unrealistic endings that arguably were hardest to read were the ones that offered minuscule differences between the two choices such as deciding whether to turn down a hallway or not, because this trivial choice meant that you could end up dead, or looking down the barrel of the gun of a man in the Yakuza, or you would find a get away boat but it would sink, or you would miraculously find the tea bowl. Honestly, 23 endings is a lot of endings and I’m sure Gilligan was scraping the bottom of the barrel for some of the endings, and seeming as they are all had to be unique in one way or another.

However, because of this I felt more removed from the plot. It just doesn’t seem realistic or even followable that a black sedan would appear and kidnap the reader in one situation and then be completely harmless in the parallel scenario.

It can be noted that each sub-storyline was relatively consistent and for the most part the characters would be about the same in demeanor throughout that particular storyline regardless of the ending, which makes the whole tea bowl scenario seem like a cohesive adventure. However, I still find it hard to believe that given the simplicity of the writing and the lack of detail that there can be a true butterfly effect in the plot line and that some of the more ridiculous endings aren’t completely believable.

It is silly to have high standards for plot in a children’s book, especially a choose-your-own-adventure novel, so I can’t judge too much. Keeping the intended audience in mind, it should be noted that a good portion of the endings are about respecting other cultures, honesty, and other moral lessons.


RJ said...

I hadn't thought about it, but it's true that the different ending were internally consistent but not consistent with the others' even taking into account the reader's choices. Deciding who to go visit first has the effect of changing the identity of the person who actually stole the cup, etc. etc. I wish there were more discussion of the consequences of this for "interacitivity," though, instead of just saying that it isn't "realistic," but that might be because I don't value realism in fiction very highly. In any case you sort of hint that the different endings impart different moral lessons to the young reader as well, which definitely could have been elaborated on a bit more. There are good ideas but I think a revision would turn this into less a negative review and more a critical reading, if you know what I mean.

Adam said...

I'm going to begin with two of Richard's observations, and elaborate on them.

First, you *are* discussing an interesting characteristic of the book. The endings aren't random (they seem to be practically random in some books of this kind), nor totally insane, but they have internal structure and similarities, such that one ending can help another similar ending make more sense.

Second, your purpose is vague at best. Like Richard, I seized on the idea of realism here - your're beginning to evaluate the text in terms of realism. Presumably, then, you have some sense of what you mean by realism, and you value it. But you aren't making your ideas or values clear, and it's even less clear what you see as the relationship between interactivity and realism. Why are you bringing them together?

There is little to seize upon here as a true argument: it's mostly a set of observations about the text (some interesting, and some less so) which have little in the way of structure or direction, let alone argument.