Wednesday 2 May 2018

Gaming with toddlers: the sixfold snare

My son turned four recently, so I guess he's not really a toddler anymore. Anyway, the other day I took him to a swimming pool, and he was playing around in the water when he suddenly announced: 'I'm in a trap!'

(He wasn't in a trap. He was standing shoulder-deep in a warm swimming pool. But ever since he started watching Pokemon cartoons, traps have become a big part of his imaginative play.)

'Who put you in the trap?' I asked.

'Team Rocket!' he replied, predictably.

'Can you get out?' I asked.

'No!' he wailed in mock-despair. 'It's made of walls and water and memory and glue and strongness and leopards!'

Well, a few seconds later he 'escaped' with the help of an imaginary burst of electricity. (Pikachu has much to answer for.) But that trap has stayed in my mind ever since.


Image result for leopards
It's a traaaaap!

I think the reason it's stuck with me is because we expect the transition from concrete to abstract to be one-way. Sometimes it goes from abstract to concrete, like when you have to pass a test to show that you are brave and pure of heart in order to enter the castle of evil, or whatever. More often it goes from concrete to abstract, so it turns out that all the business with fighting skeletons and climbing out of pits was just the warm-up, and the real challenge was to see if you were able to forgive the memory of your dead brother or something. But this trap - this sixfold snare - does both. Twice.

From the outside, I imagine it looks like a castle, obviously built to protect something important. No doors, no windows: just circular curtain walls. Climb them and you'll be faced with the bridge-less moat inside. In the middle of the moat is an island, and the island is full of memories: memories of everything you've ever missed, everything you've ever lost, everything you ever wanted to see again. Only the sternest of souls can avoid standing for hours, lost in bittersweet rapture - which is unfortunate, as the island is also covered in fast-drying glue, and the longer you stand there the more firmly you'll stick to it. Consider bringing an amnesiac.

If you make it past the glue and the memories you'll get to the inner keep, which is made of Strongness. Its stones seethe with barely-contained power, and no human tools can force its gates or breach its walls. Push a wall and it will punch you back. Strike one and it will lash out and hit you twice as hard. The trick, naturally, is to turn the keep against itself: to strike one wall in such a way that the inevitable counter-attack ends up hitting another wall, which strikes back twice as hard at the first one, and so on and so forth until they've punched massive holes in each other and the way forwards lies clear.

And then, when you're inside and your eyes are adjusting to the dark and you're congratulating yourself on your cleverness, you get jumped on and eaten by a bunch of leopards.

It is a trap, after all...


  1. You climbed the walls, stormed the gatehouse, seized the bailey, and took the keep, only to find that the King's chambers were full of nothing but venomous snakes and broken glass.

    Such is fate.


    intertidally locked

    “It's made of walls and water and memory and glue and strongness and leopards!” — son of Joseph Manola

    tide brings you to mangrove
    estuary tangle of sweet water hope
    where tunneling crabs are waving you goodbye
    and the tree roots reach for air enfencing
    trapped within the muddy altar of the open air
    no path exists but onward
    you are all the weakness in the landscape seeks to glue you down
    as mud enchants you to your lunar fascination with a drowning
    and the leopards ornament cathedral drying racks with corpse
    you are greeted by the shaman
    of the mourning of the jungle cat
    and the memories of you are woven
    as a basket to contain your hope.


    1. Nicely done.

      I wonder if one could write a sestina around the words 'wall', 'water', 'memory', 'glue', 'strength', and 'leopard'? Probably only a comic one, I fear...

  3. The mythological parallels here are interesting, but a little worrying.

    Obvious kennings for water and strongness would be "the breath of a fish" and "the sinews of a bear". I know that certain swifts build nests using adhesive saliva, suggesting a connection between glue and the spittle of a bird. Leopards clearly give us the footfalls of a cat, and a stone wall would be build from the roots of a mountain. I'm not sure how the beard of a woman becomes memory, but even so, I do feel duty bound to ask: how confident are you that you haven't accidentally sired the Fenris Wolf?