Study Guide

Tom Jones Book 8, Chapter 1

By Henry Fielding

Book 8, Chapter 1

A Wonderful Long Chapter Concerning the Marvellous; Being Much the Longest of All Our Introductory Chapters

  • The narrator warns us that we're about to head into the part of Tom Jones where bizarre things happen. (So that's different from all the other parts—how, exactly?)
  • The narrator thinks it's his duty to talk a little bit about what readers can be expected to believe, and what they can't.
  • (1) No Supernatural Hocus Pocus
  • In classical poetry, authors often brought in gods to influence the plots of their stories.
  • Nowadays, writing that includes lots of gods does not exactly seem realistic.
  • The only supernatural actors who might come up in modern writing? Ghosts.
  • But ghosts definitelyhave no place in serious fiction. Fielding is a genre snob.
  • He won't even mention elves and fairies. (So—not a Tolkien fan? Ugh, this guy won't let us read anything fun.)
  • So, if we're ruling out gods, ghosts, and fairies, we have to concentrate on human beings as the best subjects for fiction.
  • (2) General Believability
  • Compared to historians, fiction writers have the worst problems staying within the bounds of what actually seems possible.
  • After all, if you're a historian, then you can find real-life proof that whatever crazy stories you tell are actually true.
  • If you're an inventor of fiction, you don't have any evidence to offer for your story lines.
  • So you have to stick with what your readers will find probable.
  • (3) Specific Believability
  • It's not enough to make sure that your plot lines are believable.
  • You also have to be certain that the actions of your characters appear (a) possible, and (b) possible for that specific character.
  • (So, if someone wrote a story based on Harry Potter with Slytherin's Severus Snape supporting Gryffindor at a Quidditch match, we would think, no way! That's impossible. It may not be physically impossible for Snape to wave a little Gryffindor flag and cheer for Gryffindor. But it would literally goes against everything we know about his character's feelings.)
  • You have to know human nature really well to make your characters three-dimensional in this way.
  • Within the limits of these three rules (no supernatural stuff, plot probability, and character consistency), the writer can be as inventive as he wants to be.
  • Just because your work should be probable doesn't mean it has to be boring.
  • You still have to find ways to surprise the reader.