Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Valley of the Dolls

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a queen that was made of wood.

You walk into the small kingdom, which is situated in the middle of a valley. There are decorations all around, with streamers and lanterns strewn everywhere. You see a young woman placing a lantern above a doorway and ask her why she is doing it. "It is for the festival," she said. "It's nearly dark -- the festival will soon begin. Come, stranger, join us in our festivities."

Others come out of their houses as the sun dims. When it finally goes below the horizon, there are crowds of people outside talking and laughing. Someone lights the lanterns and suddenly the night is lit up and the evening becomes beautiful. Music begins playing and the talking turns to singing and dancing. You smile. Your recent travels had been very difficult, but this is the kind of place you could see settling down. Someone passes you a wine jug and you take a hearty swig before passing it on.

As the night draws on, you meet the young woman again and ask her what the festival is celebrating. "The festival is for drinking and singing and dancing," she says. You ask what the festival is supposed to represent. "Must it represent something?" she says. "Can we not simply dance because we like dancing?" You ask her if they do this every night. "Every night She lets us," is the reply. You barely hear the quiver in her voice.

The night wears on and eventually you join in the dancing with the young woman. You are enamored -- even though you do not even know her name yet -- and you consider that perhaps your journey is at an end. Then, when the dance is over, the woman says, "The night is almost over. You must leave now, stranger." You try to ask her why, but suddenly a man in a red mask stands up in the stage and addresses the crowd.

"Everyone gather round!" he shouts, his voice booming. "It is time for the story of our Wooden Queen. Bring out the Punch and Judy!"

The woman you were talking to has disappeared, but you approach the stage. It has been a long time since you have seen a Punch and Judy show. The red-masked man laughs as he pulls two puppets onto the stage. He snaps his fingers and the puppets sit up -- and you realize that they are not puppets at all, they are people dressed as puppets. One man and one woman -- and the woman is the one you had been talking to. You realize this must be some sort of tradition.

The red-masked man waves his arms and the man and woman dressed as Punch and Judy stand up. There are strings attached to their limbs leading somewhere, but you cannot see where. The red-masked man does not appear to be making them move, but their movements don't appear to be made by them. Each limb is pulled by a string and made to move -- even the movements of their faces is tied to a string.

The red-masked man appears to be telling a story of how their Wooden Queen founded their kingdom from discarded dolls. As he speaks, the man and woman dressed as Punch and Judy move in a series of synchronized steps, like a dance. The man dressed as Punch trips over his strings, however, and sprawls on the ground. No one helps him and he doesn't move. He looks unnatural, as if a corpse. The woman dressed as Judy dances around his body gracefully, but mechanically.

Finally, the red-masked man's story has ended. He gestures upward as you realize the sun has risen and light is shining across the stage. "The night is over!" the red-masked man declares. "Now is the day of the Wooden Queen."

The woman dressed as Judy suddenly stops and you can see something in her eyes -- a pleading, a helplessness. You want to run up to the stage and help you, but something is stopping you. The strings that are attached to the woman start moving and writhing and twist around her. Men walk up to the stage with pieces of wood and they place them like armor upon the woman and they become a part of her body. Finally, the red-masked man raises up a mask made of wood and painted white. He places it on the woman's head and she slumps to the ground. Her eyes close.

Then her eyes open. You notice there are lines in her eyes -- they look like strings surrounding her pupils. She stands up and raises her hands. Her strings stretch out from her and now you know why you couldn't move, why you still can't move. You couldn't see them before, but now you can. You can see the strings.

The Wooden Queen walks forward towards you. You wanted to stay, she seems to say, so stay. Laugh and drink and dance.

The red-masked man hands you something. You look down. It's a green mask.

Be mine, she seems to say.

You stop fighting and place the mask on your face. Why would you ever leave? The festival hasn't even begun yet!