After this past week’s basketball playoff games, I want to modify comments I made in last Saturday’s post. There I complained about suffocating defenses and feared we were headed for boring basketball. But after sublime games from San Antoinio’s Tony Parker (18 assists!) and Miami’s LeBron James (a triple double and a game winning shot with less than a second to go), I must add a note. Without great defense, such scoring doesn’t seem so marvelous. Without an effective villain, the hero can’t show his or her stuff.
So while I generally root for the offensive team–for Spanish soccer, for Wayne Gretzky hockey, for Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson basketball–I have to grudgingly acknowledge the need for teams that specialize in defense. Which is to say for Italian soccer, the Bad Boy Pistons, the Pat Riley Knicks, and, in this year’s series, for gritty Memphis and impossibly tall and strong Indiana.
A basic rule in fiction writing is that a suspense narrative only becomes compelling when it features a villain we love to hate. What literary character can I compare the Grizzlies and Pacers to? Well, there are many, but for some reason the one that comes to mind is Shelob, the giant spider from Lord of the Rings. Here she is described:
But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.
What does it take to defeat her? Well, you don’t have to be a tall elfin warrior, which is who the Mordor goblins think is her vanquisher. One can be a Hobbit if one has the “indomitable spirit” of Sam Gamgee, which has as its metaphorical expression the phial of Galadriel. Think of it as the offensive spark:
As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye. She fell back beating the air with her forelegs, her sight blasted by inner lightnings, her mind in agony. Then turned her maimed head away, she rolled aside and begain to crawl, claw by claw, towards the opening in the dark cliff behind.
Who will win in the two semi-final series, the blood-sucking defenses or the blazing offenses? In sports, unlike in the suspense genre, we don’t know. (Update: After last night’s Pacers victory, it’s tied 1-1 in the Eastern Conference, and either team could win the series.) The fact that Shelob wins some of the time is what keeps us glued to our seats and elated when she is overcome. After all, even Sam Gamgee can throw the ball away twice in the final minute with the game on the line. Stay tuned.