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Brigadoon's absurd yet immortal plot idea

The premise of Brigadoon has plot holes big enough to drive a horse and carriage through. Anyone who has worked on the play, seen the movie, or ever heard of the plot has seen the immediate problems with the set-up.

Even assuming the magic is possible--that a village in the Scottish highlands could vanish in the 1700s and reappear for one day every hundred years, its inhabitants looking more and more anachronistic with each reappearance--the timeline still makes no sense.

If it were the 1700s when this miracle got instigated, and it's the 1900s when our two American heroes stumble upon Brigadoon in its one appearance during the twentieth century, then gosh, let's do some quick math: In Brigadoon time, the miracle began two days ago. They're placidly walking around as if totally used to it, when anyone who truly lived in such a place would still be going, "Holy *^&@! It's seriously another hundred years later out there?"

Couldn't they have made it reappear, say, every twenty years? Then at least it would have been going on for ten days in Brigadoon time; and twenty years for the outside world is still enough time to be a romantic obstacle.

For that matter, if it's such a remote village, and the citizens are not allowed to leave it, how do they even know the miracle's working? If, in Brigadoon time, no one from the outside showed up yesterday (i.e., the one appearance in the 19th century), how would they have any idea whether a hundred years had really passed or not?

Also, the linguist in me can't help pointing out in this and in all other time travel stories, there's no way the inhabitants of an 18th-century Highland village would be easily understood by 20th-century Americans, or vice-versa. The dialogue really ought to be all:

FIONA: I'se gang wi' thee, lad.*
TOMMY: Sorry, what?

In short, if I'd come up with the idea of Brigadoon, I would never have written it, because all the practical difficulties would have doused my inspirational spark within five minutes. Surely the difficulties occurred to the actual writers too. So how did it get written?

My conclusion: the story is romantic, and the music is great, so everybody dismisses all the outrageously bad plot devices and enjoys the show. It's totally unfair, the passes that musicals get as long as the songs are good.

On the other hand, maybe it means I shouldn't stress so much about believability in my stories, especially the ones with paranormal elements. Readers or viewers want their disbelief suspended. They only ask that you help hold it out of the way with your delightful storytelling, no matter how ridiculous.

Good to know.

Waitin' for my dearie (to get home from work),


*Stolen shamelessly from a Robert Burns poem.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 22nd, 2008 11:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there's a point at which, you have to put down the research, look in the mirror, and firmly tell your reflection, "You are writing a sci-fi novel. Very few people care whether or not Warp Speed is actually possible. Stop stalling and write!"

Or the genre-appropriate variation thereof.

And dude, it's so true that as long as the music's good the plot of a musical need not make any sense at all. And no, it's not fair at all.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, for warp speed there's such precedence I wouldn't worry at all! Go forth at light speed and conquer.

I've even thought lately that I could possibly write sci-fi someday, now that I've learned that some famous sci-fi writers actually know very little about science and technology, and are just making up Things That Would Be Cool. Thus, we all are free to!
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
A couple years ago at Comic Con, I got to attend a "Science in Science Fiction" panel with a bunch of sci-fi authors the highlight of which was Orson Scott Card admitting that he didn't know how a microwave worked, so he didn't see why he had to explain how inter-stellar travel and communications worked. Hee hee. That just tickled me pink.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
I've always felt sorry for the "villain" in Brigadoon. He's lost the college education he wanted and he's doomed to spend the rest of his life getting his face ground in the fact that he lost the girl he wanted too... and when he wants to leave he's hunted down.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
Hmm, good point. Poor guy only wanted a normal life and the chance to leave the freakin' hometown once in a while...
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
I love the posh "cop out" story detail Doctor Who uses to get around the linguistic issue.

Oy, Brigadoon. Not one of my favorite musicals because of the absurdity. You can be thankful I haven't seen an absurd story from your pen yet. :)

All this Scottish talk makes me wonder if you are still re-working Tourist Attraction?

Edited at 2008-07-23 12:22 am (UTC)
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:12 pm (UTC)
The TARDIS's translation feature is actually a pretty good Babelfish device. I approve. :) (Speaking of Doctor Who, I had an awesome dream of making out with Ten last night. Or possibly just Tennant. Either way, it rocked.)

Does your school do the yearly cheesy musical that everyone has to see? I was in the pit orchestra for Brig in high school, and thus know it all too well...

Yep, still reworking the Scotland tale. Making it absurdly longer and more dramatic. Might retitle it, too...either What Scotland Taught Me or Cold Scottish Nights. The latter sounds more like an album title, though.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Ah, Brigadoon, or, as a college acquaintance used to call it, Bridge of Doom. Like Camelot, it's one of those shows in which the music is great, but the book is seriously flawed.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:13 pm (UTC)
Exactly. They almost make Xanadu's plot look logical!
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
Xanadu the movie is possibly the worst musical ever, but Xanadu the stage musical is awesome - definitely see it if you get a chance.
Jul. 31st, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
I definitely want to see it. The music was always great, so to preserve that while making fun of the initial absurd premise, that just sounds like perfection!
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC)
The big problem with Camelot is that not very much happens for the first three quarters of it, and then they pack in a whole bunch of exposition without even showing the action onstage. Great songs, though.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
*not totally shamelessly, or you wouldn't bothered with the astrisk.

Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Well, true. Though as a linguist I should have felt shame at not being able to come up with a phrase on my own, and having to steal one instead. :)
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, and you know what? If you cut off your heel to try to fit into a tiny shoe, you'll probably bleed to death in short order. Also, deadly poison can rarely be cured with a kiss.

Dude, it's a fantasy. Roll with it! :D
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Good point. :D Cutting off the heel? Eeek! I've been thinking I need to track down and read the original fairy tales (Grimm, et al), but I may not have the stomach.
Jul. 24th, 2008 12:45 am (UTC)
Haha. Wait'll you hear what they did to Snow White's stepmother.
Jul. 23rd, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
My conclusion: the story is romantic, and the music is great, so everybody dismisses all the outrageously bad plot devices and enjoys the show. It's totally unfair, the passes that musicals get as long as the songs are good.

Isn't this true of any story-telling? If it's a good yarn, we fans will accept it, though we'll poke affectionate fun at the hastier bits. If it's not a good story, we'll invent problems to loudly complain about if we have to.

The new Doctor illustrates this perfectly, since the show's often provided back-to-back examples of both!
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, hopefully it is true of any good story, though it's nice to at least try to be internally logical. New Who does show some serious plot holes on a regular basis, but you're right, we stick around anyway! (Like the first episode with Martha...how does CPR revive someone who's had all his blood sucked out??)
Jul. 24th, 2008 10:40 am (UTC)
I really love the music and the dancing in this one - but yeah, the story...

I seem to remember that the 'miracle' Mr Lundy prayed for was supposed to have happened four or five days ago - so they would have been in the 1500's, I think.

I felt sorry for the 'villian' as well - trapped in that small town and forced to watch the love of his life get married and live happily ever after with someone else. Poor guy.

Other things I wondered about:

1. Witches?

2. The hero's friend who killed that guy, what happened to him? He goes hiking in the Highlands with his friend at the end of the movie, and his friend never makes it back? Hello, arrested for murder anyone?

3. Will the hero have a serious case of regret a few days down the track when he realises he's stuck in that place forever?

4. I can't wrap my idea around the thought that when these guys wake up 'tomorrow' - the world will be choked with pollution and overun by giant super-intelligent cockroaches.

5. I am thinking about this waaay too much.

Jul. 31st, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
Hehehe. Exactly, on all those points. My family has discussed the Terminator-like possibilities of point 4 in particular. Eeek, cyborgs take over Brigadoon on day 6!
Nov. 23rd, 2015 05:19 am (UTC)
Seriously, me too with the cockroaches and volcanoes and like maybe some giant mutant squids (all singing).
Jul. 25th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
This post made me absolutely crack up! You're so fabulous! *hugs*
Jul. 31st, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks! *hugs back* I just passed a Barnes and Noble and saw the Breaking Dawn poster. Almost at the release date. You must be thrilled! (I haven't read Eclipse yet, so I'm not quite caught up.)
Jul. 31st, 2008 10:44 pm (UTC)
Aw! That's so awesome! :-) It is an exciting time!
Jul. 25th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)
Linguistically, it's probably worse than that: most Highlanders of the pre-Culloden 18th century didn't speak much English at all, nor even Lawland Scots. They spoke Gaidhlic.
Jul. 31st, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
Ack, good point. *is totally shamed, as linguist*
Aug. 2nd, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)
The solution is obvious: set ALL your stories to music!

*contemplates soundtrack for some of my favorites of your older stuff*
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:11 am (UTC)
Hee hee. If I could compose music at all, I probably would. Anyone else is welcome to try. ;)
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )