The unreal worlds of Usain Bolt and Bilbo Baggins

London 2012 Olympic Stadium

Phil: According to Twitter, in every Olympic event, alongside the competitors, there should be a normal person taking part to show just how amazing the athletes are.

Imagine the scene – Usain Bolt sets off in lane 4 for the 100 metres. In lane 9 (refered to as the “slow lane” by the press) I start running as well. 9.something seconds later, Bolt is jumping up and down on the finish line. 30 seconds later he’s swathed in the Jamaican flag and doing the lightening bolt pose while I’ve sat down on a tartan travelling rug half-way along the track for a rest and perhaps a refreshing cup of tea and cake. Wouldn’t that be a good idea ?

(Note: It has to be me being average. Candice could actually run that far properly and anyway would probably give Bolt a look before the starting gun that says, “Run faster than me buddy and you’ll need a rubber glove to retrieve your medal.)

The thing is, that without this “improvement”, all the runners exist in their own special world. You look into the bubble and don’t see unfit and chubby reality, just lithe, toned and healthy humans. It’s just like reading a book and being asked by the author to forget about the world outside the page. Tolkien painted The Shire so well that anyone immersed in the story is filling their heads with a mental picture. Should a reader be muttering, “There are no such things as goblins or elves.” than he or she isn’t going past chapter one.

If real people do wander into the story, such as in the Chronicles of Narnia, the plot relies on the imaginary world overpowering the real world like a gold medal judo player. Those kids had to quickly become part of the fantasy – mind you, entering the world via the back of a wardrobe is a pretty good start !

For a story to work, the unreal world has to exist. In a book, initially it is in the writers head. For the Olympics, it’s in a stadium. Both have a rarefied atmosphere that can’t exist outside its special container. Back in the real world, athletics is hard work and pain and training and sweat and early starts. Even Jessica Ennis goes to the supermarket. Outside a writers head, the imaginary world is merely scribblings in a notepad and (in our case) chats in pubs, cafes and occasionally offices but inside it, real people live eventful lives.

Both (hopefully) culminate in success and adulation, either with medals or a prominent place in a Waterstones window and best of all, the one I’m involved in doesn’t require wearing  Lycra.


Filed under Phil, Writing

11 responses to “The unreal worlds of Usain Bolt and Bilbo Baggins

  1. Andy in Germany

    With a book it’s almost a personal agreement between Authour and Reader: “We will agree that you’ll believe this story for the time the book lasts”. Theatre works on the same contract, on an even more personal basis because it’s a ‘one-off’: it will never be the same twice.

    What amazes me about the Olyimpics is the story underlying it: that somehow the fact this person is faster than that (very fast) person, is somehow important, and that it’s therefore worth the vast amount of money being pumped into it.

    • On the BBC news the Olympics comes first then other news. After the umpteenth rerun of Ms. Ennis winning, the next item was on the Syrian conflict. Both have consumed vast amounts of money, which is preferable?

  2. I suppose that you could argue that the Olympics, theatre and books are performance art. You sit down and enjoy the performance. With sport, the joy is that nothing is scripted in thoery, so the result will be a surprise and the performance a one-off.

    You can argue that when it comes down to it, in the modern world, none of this matters. We don’t need to be able to run, jump, throw pointy sticks, recite the words of a brummie playright or find out what some imaginary woman gets up to in a vegetable research institute. We do all these things because it fills up our time and releaves the boredom. If you have sufficient tea and cake for your needs, everything else is a luxury.

    As for the vast amounts of money pumped into the Olympics, the RSC in the other Stratford recieves more income from the government than the budgets of any surrounding local authority. That seems a lot to put on a few plays mainly for tourists.

  3. Have you read Jasper Fforde and his book the Eyre Affair where the characters in Jane Eyre have a ‘real’ existence outside the book?

    • No – but I will look it up now as the idea is facinating. Of course, being a bit of a Geek, my first thought was “Didn’t they do something like this in Star Trek ?” and lo: they (sort of) did.

      • Andy in Germany

        I’m in agreement on the vast mount of money pumped into Theatre: it’s very unhealthy for the art form as well, because it becomes like the Emperors clothes. Sometimes I wonder if the people making the grants give grants to theatre they don’t really understand, because they don’t want to admit they don’t understand it.

        And what is preferable? Well, being able to house our citizens and educate them to a high standard in schools that aren’t crumbling, so they can earn a decent wage for meaningful work, having a health service that isn’t creaking, and a public transport system that works so people don’t have to pay a fortune to transport themselves, cities where the centres aren’t child-asthma black-spots… reduced reliance on oil imports so we can be more even handed with totalitarian dictatorships… these would be preferable to the current situation- Nine billion pounds would not have achieved this automatically, but it may have helped.

        Oh, and a bit of help for community theatre would be nice too, but I would say that…

      • I’d qualify my comments by saying some theatre. I don’t have a major problem with the RSC, I’ve enjoyed some excellent performances there. However, there is (IMHO) a tendency for Arts (capital A) organisations to whine about lack of funds but still be happy to pay leading actors vast sums of money to appear. Worse, they denegrate ordinary peoples efforts at being creative. Can you be an Artist without going to art school ? I would argue that you can but most in The Arts would say you can’t. Worse, you have to be in the in crowd.

        To use a relevant example – people look down on ameteur dramatics groups and thier plays. Why ? They are enjoying themselves and the audience has a fun night out and everyone is happy. Who gets the funding ? People who set out do very ernest theatre that the audience probably doesn’t enjoy nearly as much, but has to pretend it does.

        The problem is the Millenium Dome Conundrum. Everyone can think of things that that money could have been better spent on, but if you totalled up the amounts then the final bill would be many times that for the dome itself. The Olympics will be the same. On the other hand, it has made a lot of people very happy and proud. It could even be said that it has brough the Uk together in a way that normally only happens in a war, in which case, it is probably A Good Thing.

        Anyway, if we hadn’t spent it on that, our honourable members of parliament would probably have nicked it. Those lunchtime swan sandwiches don’t pay for themselves you know – that’s what the prols are for.

  4. Andy, your comments could equally apply here in France and the USA. Watched some of the Olympics on French TV and London and the Olympic site look great and there are lots(!) of favourable comments from the commentators.
    My stepson has done a lot of local, community based arts stuff as has his partner who has received funding for dressing up as chicken in the streets of Bristol. I think that something good will come out of it at the end but quite what…..This could run and run.

  5. and I was just going to say that post was quite deep but we got into a funding debate…

  6. What is a normal person? I don’t think you can qualify for this Phil. Maybe there should be a handicapping system as in horse racing whereby Mr. bolt has to run with a small person on his back…….
    Have you applied for Arts Council funding? After all it highlights a lot of the current problems which the world faces such as consumerism, how to feed an ever growing population, workplace ethnics, gender stereotyping, etc. I would turn the book into an arts event to be held in the open air, a bit like the York Mystery Plays, and get the local people involved, especially small ethnic minority groups. With the money from that you could publish the book.

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