"… nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!' (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat- pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge."
As you may have noticed, gentle readers, this week’s Heroines of Fantasy post is up late. I didn’t remember until yesterday, when I was chatting on the phone with Terri-Lynne and running late to my office hours, that I had also fallen behind in putting together this week’s post. Oops!
Fortunately, my tardiness gave me an excellent topic for this week’s post. As much as we dislike tardiness, whether we are embarrassed for being late or we are frustrated by someone else’s lack of time management, the raw reality is that inevitably, at some point, we fall behind. We lose track of time. Or, some just choose not to follow the social constraints and obligations that require us to be timely. And sometimes, missing that plane that went down in the harbor or for work on September 11, 2001 could even save our lives.
In literature, tardiness causes all sorts of delicious problems. What if the White Rabbit had not been late? Would Alice still have discovered the rabbit hole? What if Frodo and Sam had reached Mt. Doom after the defeat of Aragorn and the last army of men? Late reinforcements to a key battle or the arrival of a messenger just in the nick of time could make or break a story, yet we don’t often pause to consider the full impact of tardiness on the problem at hand.
Being late causes all sorts of other ancillary problems. If a character is perennially late, whether to a battle or a ball, his or her peers must make hard choices about whether or not to depend on or trust that character, and their decision could determine the fate of individuals or kingdoms. And why is that character (or legion) late? Is he a drunk or did he sleep late? Was he attacked on the road by bandits or was he eaten by wild dogs? Did the commander refuse to dispatch the army or were they delayed by bad weather or rough seas? And if that character is late for an important rendezvous, what happens next? Do the other characters continue on without him, or do they delay to wait for him, and how does that decision affect the rest of the events in the story?
It’s a small thing, being late, but timing is everything in fiction, as in life. What examples can you recall of instances in which tardiness significantly affects a story? Discuss!
Meanwhile, I’m off to review my calendar… and locate my watch!