Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wishes and Paradoxes

Last week I watched the old Disney movie DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE for the first time in many years. I don't think it rates as one of their top achievements, but it's a fun, lightly romantic story, and the special effects of the fairies' mound, the banshee, the pooka, and the Death Coach are cool for its time. A young Sean Connery plays Darby's daughter's love interest—singing, yet! Random thought: Nowadays a film intended for children probably wouldn't be allowed to include the scene where Darby tricks the king of the leprechauns by getting him drunk on illegal whiskey (poteen). More focused thought: I think I noticed a major plot glitch on this viewing, from the perspective of a fan of SF and fantasy. At the climax Darby's daughter gets lured away by a pooka, gets badly injured in a fall, and lies at the point of death. Darbv uses the last of the three wishes due to him from the king of the little people to take his daughter's place in the Death Coach. It has been established that if a mortal makes more wishes after the classic three, the previous three wishes are negated. So the king, riding along in the Death Coach, tricks Darby into making a fourth wish, thereby wiping out the granting of the wish that doomed Darby to death. (His first two wishes aren't affected because they were fulfilled by events that have already happened and don't involve any tangible objects he could lose.) So far, so good. The Death Coach vanishes, leaving the old man by the side of the road unharmed. Meanwhile, back home, his daughter has already awakened, cured. But—when the boon he gained from the third wish was deleted, not only should he have been saved, his daughter's cure should have been reversed. Shouldn't it? Either the wish takes effect and Darby lives while his daughter dies, or the wish is annulled and she dies while he lives. I don't see any way around it. The script cleverly sets up the solution to their plight with the "fourth wish" rule, and it works fine for a viewer who's willing to overlook the plot hole in the interests of a happy ending. In fact, considering I don't think I even noticed it until this time around, lots of people probably wouldn't see a problem. Most kids probably wouldn't. (Similar logical lapses, incidentally, show up in some time travel romances where the author struggles to get around a situation she has set up that would make it impossible for the characters to stay together.) The trouble with following the wish paradox to its rigorous conclusion is that such an outcome would change the movie from a comedy to a tragedy. I wonder whether there would have been any logical way around the dilemma? Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt

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