Narrative as a Maze

My daughter loves the hay maze at Arata Pumpkin Farm near Half Moon Bay. We stumbled on it accidentally, driving back from Santa Cruz, and have since revisited it several times. The farm has been there since the 1930s. They build a new hay maze every year.

A good maze is one you should still be able to get lost in, even after you've found your way through it a few times. There's a ritual, spiritual quality involved. The pleasure is not mostly in getting to the end, but in losing yourself within a microcosm, secluded and fragrant. A story, too, is composed of twists and forking paths, and should make you lose your bearings for a while, only to find them again.

I've been thinking lately about difficulty as a necessary component of pleasure. People get it that a maze is no fun unless it's complicated. The idea that stories are like that too seems to be less popular. A story is not a maze or a puzzle, but it resembles one in that its designer has been there ahead of you, anticipating your reactions and then trying to second-guess you. Having a professor of hay mazes lead you through explaining everything would entirely ruin the experience. In which connection, here is William Deresiewicz in the Nation blaming academics for the decline in reading.

Scroll to Top