That’s One Big Horse)
The story of the Trojan Horse is referenced most thoroughly in the epic poem The Aeneid. Here we learn of the Greek army, besieging Troy, and how Odysseus concocts a plan to gain entrance to the inner city. He has the men build a massive, wooden horse, large enough that thirty men can conceal themselves in its belly.
Then the rest of the army leave the scene, and a lone messenger tells the Trojans that the Greek army has given up the fight, sailed away, and left the wooden horse for the city to give as an offering to Athena. Previously the Greeks had desecrated her temple, so this is ostensibly to make amends for that.
A few of the Trojans are suspicious of the gift. Laocoön famously declares “I fear the Greeks, even those bearing gifts.” But the masses disregard these warnings. To them this is a happy ending to the story. They have prevailed, their enemies have failed, and the horse is their celebratory reward. Certainly there is a cathartic sense of closure to such an ending, which may be a reason why it is so easy to believe in it. Thus, the horse is brought in to the city.
Then, in the dead of night, Odysseus and his warrior leap out of the horse, open the gates, and the entire Greek army appears on the scene. The “happy ending” the Trojans had assumed is suddenly and violently transformed into a tragedy. The city is sacked and the war is lost.
As we can see, there are two stories in the account of the Trojan Horse. One is believed and the other is the truth. From the Trojans’ perspective, both of these outcomes were able to follow the opening events, but the former disappeared as soon as the latter imposed its reality.
The Trojan Horse serves as a cautionary tale, urging us to take a hard look at all the possible endings before we act rashly. If we want to avoid catastrophe, we have to be able to look past what we want for what is actually true.
A Blind Search)
This is also what Susy Hendrix must do in the stage play and 1967 film Wait Until Dark. In this story a group of thugs believe that several packets of heroin have been hidden in Susy’s home without her knowing. Because Susy was recently blinded in an accident, the crooks see her as an easy target for manipulation. They concoct a convoluted scheme to get her to find the drugs for them.
Their plan hinges on leveraging her relationship to her husband, Sam. Each of the crooks comes to her house at different times, pretending to be different people. They purport to be a past acquaintance of her husband, a police detective, and a family member of one of Sam’s clients. Bit-by-bit they suggest that Sam has been having an affair, that the other woman has been discovered murdered, and that the police are closing in on her husband as the chief suspect.
All of this relates back to the doll, which is a key clue in the made-up murder, and Susy is led to believe that if she can find it, it will prove her husband’s innocence. Of course, she is driven by the fear of her husband being wrongfully accused…but she is also unnerved by the suggestion that he has been unfaithful to her.
This is a Trojan Horse. Susy wants to find the doll to know the truth about her husband, but the pursuit of that storyline is only going to lead her to ruin, as it puts her deeper into the plot of murderers and drug dealers. Eventually Susy is able to see through the ruse, though. And she does so by rejecting the false narrative for a true one.
In a key moment of the story Susy tells one of the thugs that she had forgotten a very important detail but has now remembered it. She “knows Sam.” She knows that he is good and decent, and that he could never be involved in anything like this. Tantalizing fantasies might have triggered her deepest fears for a moment, but eventually she has returned to the truth: Sam is innocent and no amount of suggestions otherwise will convince her otherwise.
This realization is the first in a sequence of discoveries for her. Eventually she uncovers the rest of the villains’ plot and foils all of their plans. Like the people of Troy, she ended up exchanging one possible story for another, though to a much happier ending than theirs.
Hunters or Hunted?)
In my latest story I just came to a pivotal twist. The tale began with a group of hunters carrying out an invasion on another world, using high-tech gear to claim a sector from which they intended to land their catch.
It was a straightforward premise, and for a while it appeared that this was all there was to the story. They would perform the hunt, have some setbacks, work through them, and get their kill.
But things started to go further and further sideways for the hunters. They met greater resistance than usual, suffered some serious injuries, and now one of their members has been killed by an unseen assailant. At the end of the last chapter the surviving hunters discovered that a new portal is opening into their own world…they are being invaded, just as they were invading the other.
Now at last the wooden horse has opened, and the true nature of this story is being revealed. It is not a tale of a routine hunt, it is a tale of when the hunt was flipped on its head. All this time we have thought that these main characters were the aggressors of the story, but in reality they are the victims.
We love to dangle worms in front of fish, and trap them with an unexpected hook, but sometimes we forget to look for the hooks that are dangling in front of our own eyes as well. Or put another way, it is easy to trust our first assumptions because most of the time they will be right, but it is the one time that things are not what they appear that can make all the difference. Stories like the sacking of Troy, Wait Until Dark, and Hunt of the Others urge us to be cautious when judging what is real and who is in control.