Hoist with his own petard. How the Sam Hill?

 

Wile E Coyote Quotes image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.orgLife is full of surprises. I thought everyone knows what it means to be “hoist with your own petard.”
Not surprisingly, I was wrong.

If you don’t know the meaning, read on and expand your universe. If you do—well, you’ve read this far. Why not stick with me to the end?

A petard, according to my extensive research on Wikipedia AND two other sites whose names I can’t remember, is a small bomb you construct to blow something up.
To hoist something is to lift that something into the air.

The pithy little phrase is found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet has two friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. (Are those not the greatest names? I’m so jealous Shakespeare thought of them first.) Hamlet learns they are going to betray him by carrying a letter to the authorities requesting Hamlet be killed. Great names do not always great friends make.

When Hamlet finds the letter, he substitutes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s names for his own. Thereby writing their death sentence.
Then he chuckles that
“… ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar’(d)*

In other words, Hamlet considers it sporting when the one who engineered the bomb to blow up someone else gets lifted into the air when it explodes under him.

Sort of like Haman in the book of Esther, being hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai.
Or a poacher accidentally stepping into the trap he set for a rare white rhino.
Or Wile E. Coyote getting beaned by the anvil meant for the Road Runner.

So now you know how to be hoist and what a petard is. If I were you, I’d be asking ‘WHY?”
Why do I think you need to know this?

Because not everyone is familiar with this evocative and very descriptive phrase. Even literate, well-educated everyones haven’t heard it. Like some of my writing critique group. While reading aloud to them from my current WIP (Work in Progress for those of you with enough sense of self-preservation to never try your hand at authoring), I came to the “hoist, etc.” phrase. I’d written it in because it was JUST PERFECT for a scene where my antagonist got snared by his own evil devices. My fellow writers, with clearing of throats and furrowing of brows, asked what the Sam Hill “hoist with his own petard” meant. I sensed immediately that they were under-impressed.

But I kept the line in there anyway.

So.
IF my WIP ever becomes a finished manuscript, and
IF it gets contracted and published, and
IF you happen to read it, you won’t need to contact me and ask what the Sam Hill I mean by sticking “hoist with his own petard” in there.
Because now you know.

It’s something writers like me and ol’ Billy Shakespeare throw around.

*The “d” is my addition. All this is confusing enough without dropping consonants.

A Surfeit of Archies

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Ask any author. Naming characters is a solemn task. Some of us agonize for hours. Days. Consider and cast away dozens of names till we are satisfied.
But.
Sometimes the name drops from the sky and flutters down onto the shoulders of our protagonist or antagonist or bit player and it is JUST RIGHT.

So when an ex-punk rocker showed up in the book I’m writing, I needed a name that would suit his pierced, tattooed, working class Brit persona. It came to me out of the blue.
Archie.

 

Perfect!!!!!

Archie

No, this is not my Archie.

 

Archie Bunker

This isn’t my Archie either

The more I wrote about my Archie the more I liked him. His name buried itself into his psyche and mine and now whenever I write—or rewrite—a scene with this particular character, he is the personification of all things Archie. The name has shaped the man.

Well, too bad. I’m going to have to perform major surgery and remove “Archie” from Archie and give him a new name. It is all the fault of a 7 pound infant born in England.

I blame his parents. Prince Harry and Meghan, in spite of hundreds and hundreds of names available, chose my punk-rocker’s name and that has changed everything.

Don’t try to convince me to keep the name. I have my pride. Even though my Archie was named before the couple even got married, anyone reading the book (if it gets published. Please let it get published) will be reading it AFTER the world has fawned all over that other Archie. And will assume I got my name from little Mr. Popularity.

Am I bitter? You betcha. This has happened to me before. In my first book, my wonderful hero was originally named Tubal. After Tubal in the Bible. My publisher thought it was after tubal—a woman’s surgical procedure. (Note: my Tubal’s Biblical namesake was around thousands of years before the first woman had her tubes tied.)

I could see her point, though, and after agonizing and searching Scripture I came up with “Ezra.” But he will always remain Tubal in my heart.

So anyway. My Archie needs a new name. A great sort of Cockney or maybe Scots working-class kind of name. It has to be just right for him. He isn’t any happier than I am about this and we are both trying not to hold it against that newborn living in Frogmore Cottage across the pond. We assume him to be unaware that he just stripped my Archie of his name. Nay. His whole identity. Nothing suits my Archie as well as Archie.

So blessings to Baby Archie and his royal family. Maybe I will get literary vengeance if, when he hits 16, he wants to look like MY Archie.

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THIS IS MY ARCHIE

Top Image by Mihai Surdu from Pixabay

Really really REALLY good writing

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When I was quite young, I read a book whose themes were beyond the ability of my preteen mind to grasp. Nothing about it stuck with me except a description of a new wife who, with her up-and-coming husband, moved into an up-and-coming neighborhood. The author described her figure as so perfect that “every other woman in the room took one look and went off her diet.” There was no way to compete with such perfection of form.

And that’s how I feel after finishing “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. The writing—each word, sentence, phrase, paragraph—is so beautifully formed and unified and presented that it makes me despair of even bothering to approach the perfection.

All envy aside, however, good writing makes me happy. Here are a few examples, all from Scripture, that delight not only my heart and soul, but my mind’s eye and imagination. (A quick disclaimer—most of the phrases below come from the New King James version. Depending on which version you use, you may or may not find the translation of these verses as engaging as I do.)

Sometimes good writing is really good because, in a few words, in perfectly pairs a mental image that perfectly portrays Truth. Like this phrase from Romans 5, the end of the 20th verse. Most versions have some form stating:

…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

And immediately grace is personified, leaping over the multitude of sins trying to trip it up. But there goes grace, bounding effortlessly over the top. And sin will never be able to keep up.

I don’t bother getting any more detailed than that in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t write a sermon or a homily or even an entire blog post on what I’m envisioning. I don’t know what the text says in the original Greek. But the image in the translation I use delights me with such precisely lovely writing.

Also from Romans (chapter two, the twenty-first through twenty-third verses) is a textbook example of how a writer can vary the rhythm in a paragraph to keep it fresh and avoid that singsong lilt that puts readers to sleep.

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?

Every sentence starts with “You,” and poses a sort of rhetorical/accusatory question, but the apostle changes up his verbs and varies the length of each question so that the reader can’t ignore the indicting finger leveled here, then there, then over there. Some day, I want to write a paragraph using this sort of repetitive variety.

My most recent find comes from Psalm 97, the first part of verse 11.

Light is sown for the righteous…

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What? How does one sow light? While the “grace abounded” verse gives me an immediate and clear image, I can’t come up with anything for light sown. Which is what makes this such good writing. I have to puzzle over it. Is there a “light seed” that one places in furrows? Is it scattered into the wind, to land where it may? What kind of conditions does light thrive on, how does it grow and how fast? I LOVE this phrase precisely because my mind’s eye struggles with an image to match the beauty of the words.

One more.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 

This one from Romans 8 goes way back. Maybe my high school days? We used the Revised Standard Version at my childhood church. Most other versions use “groanings that cannot be uttered.” And maybe that is more accurate? I don’t know. But sighs too deep for words is my first love. The visual depiction and reality of these words didn’t just delight my imagination with its imagery and tickle my ears with lovely phrasing.

The comfort personified in that beautiful phrase carried me through decades of doubt and self-recrimination. And fear that “I wasn’t praying right.” The vehicle that carried the reality to me was really, really, really good writing.