Saturday, November 23, 2013

Taking Liberties

November 22nd, 1963 will forever be remembered by Americans as the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  So overwhelming was the news that it naturally overshadowed the death of two famous British writers who passed on that very same day.  It turns out that C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley both passed on that fateful day as well, and this triple tragedy set up the premise for a dialogue-as-novel written by Peter Kreeft entitled Between Heaven and Hell.

In it, Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley all find themselves in purgatory, awaiting final judgment.  They begin to share theologies via Socratic dialogue around The Great Conversation (The nature of Christ).  With Kennedy portrayed as a humanist/Catholic, Huxley an existential/mystic Christian and C.S. Lewis the more mainline protestant, it makes for an intriguing, though at times heavy handed read.

What I remember liking most about the story was that it placed these disparate personalities together; three men who likely never would've so much as shared a cup of tea in this life are debating weighty spiritual matters in the afterlife.  Then I realized, I've always been drawn to stories that take these kinds of creative liberties.

In the 90's, Steve Martin treated theatergoers to this kind of storytelling with Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play that brought Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso together in a bar to wrestle with the intersection of art and science.  In 1987, playwright Jeff Stetson wrote The Meeting, a one-act play that presumes an evening in which Malcolm X and Martin Luther King might have gathered at Malcolm's house to debate whether King's Gandhi-inspired protest or a more militant hands-on approach was the solution for advancing the rights of African-Americans.

I've always been fascinated by stories that bring together historical and fictitious elements. As long as it is clear to the audience that what they're seeing or reading is truly the fantastic presupposition of the author, and said author is faithful to the personalities and truths known about their subjects, then it opens the door to all kinds of compelling possibilities.

I'd love to hear what you think about such works, from examples you're familiar with to your thoughts on the risks and rewards of such approaches.  Who would you like to see brought together in a story, film, or play?  What good and what ill can come when writers take liberties?

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