The Bible Repairman and Other Stories - By Tim Powers


When people ask me what it was that I was trying to say, in this-or-that story, I like to answer with a line from an old Dave Barry article: “Nobody wins when you play games with traffic safety.” Or, “Floss your teeth for better dental hygiene.”

The thing is – as far as I can recall – I’ve never tried to make a point in any of my stories, never “had something to say.” Writers like C. S. Lewis or George Orwell can do that and somehow make a compelling story too, but if I tried it I’m sure I’d wind up with a tiresome quasi-allegory.

Of course some “theme” or other is present in just about any story, even when the theme isn’t inserted deliberately. (In fact deliberate themes can turn out to be in conflict with the themes the subconscious sneaks in, which makes for a jarring story!) I’ve sometimes reread an old book of mine and found at least rudimentary themes working – one of my books seemed to have “something to say” about the value of children, for example, though at least consciously I’m indifferent to children. And I’ve noticed a lot of fathers-and-sons conflicts in my books, though in fact I always got along fine with my own father.

But I’m happy to leave my fictional themes, such as they may be, to sort themselves out.

And there are plot elements, too, that seem to show up repeatedly of their own accord. One time somebody pointed out to me that most of my books ended with the protagonist going away in a boat; I checked it out, and sure enough, he was right. I was mildly pleased with this insistent element from my subconscious, but at the same time I realized that I would now have to stop it – if I were to do it again in the next book, it would at that point be just a forced gesture, an arbitrary consistency. So I made a resolution – no more boats at the end!

Later it occurred to me to go back and see what I had done instead; and I found that the next book I had written ended with a woman beckoning to my protagonist from the far side of a pond … and then, instead of walking around the shoreline, he walks straight across to her, wading right through the pond.

Interesting! But of course after noticing that, I couldn’t end a book with any sort of travel-across-water at all.

I hope nobody points out to me any more accidentally recurrent elements in my books!

But there are things I do deliberately.

One day in late ‘81 or early ‘82, I drove Philip K. Dick to his doctor because Phil had decided that he had a hernia. I read a book in the waiting room while the doctor looked him over, and eventually Phil came out.

He was looking crestfallen, and as we left he explained that – it turned out – he didn’t have a hernia after all. He brooded about it on the drive home.

“You know, Powers,” he said eventually, “I’m always going to the doctor with a diagnosis all figured out, but I’ve always got it wrong. The doctor must think I’m nuts. When I walk in, he always just … sighs, and asks me what it is now that I think I’ve got.” Phil shook his head. “And then I’m lucky if there’s anything wrong with me at all.”

And one day when I was a teenager watching television, our Saint Bernard came blundering into the living room, having noticed, apparently for the first time, the TV’s voices and moving images. The dog sniffed at the screen, hurried around to the back of the set and sniffed there, pondered it all for a few seconds, and finally nodded and walked away.

Phil, and probably the dog too, were wrong in the conclusions they came to, but they both believed they had figured something out. Phil learned better – as he so often did – but the dog probably believed for the rest of his life that he had figured out the television.

In my stories I try to have plots – I try to set up apparently disconnected events and then make sense of them. Figure them out! I want my readers to be satisfied, like the St. Bernard, and not be left with an anticlimax, as Phil was.

Of course we can safely assume that the St. Bernard was wrong in whatever conclusion he came to, and of course Phil Copyright 2016 - 2021