How many of you have heard of the thought experiment created by Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist? In this experiment, Schrödinger devised a hypothetical scenario in which a cat was trapped in a box with a vial of poison and something radioactive, along with something that would detect radioactivity that was connected to something else that could break the vial of poison. If the detector traces of radioactivity, it would activate the thing to break the vial of poison that would kill the cat. However, until the box was opened, no one would know if the cat was dead or alive, which meant that it was equally dead AND alive to those wondering until the box was opened.
For a slightly more humorous explanation, watch this video from The Big Bang Theory:
In any case, this idea was running through my brain last night as I started to go to sleep and pondered the fate of poor Jem…and Jon Snow. Let me explain how my mind ramblings went.
Way back when, in the summer of 2000, JK Rowling published the fourth of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It ended with the cliffhanger that Voldemort was back, Dumbledore parted ways with the Ministry, Sirius and Snape were treated like schoolboys and told to play nicely, and then Dumbledore told Snape, “You know what I must ask you to do. (GoF, Ch. 36, “The Parting of the Ways”)” When the book came out, NO ONE knew what it was that Dumbledore had asked Snape to do. Three long years passed until we did. THREE YEARS. Three REALLY long years – filled with hypotheses. We wondered, those of us currently in the fandom and active on a variety of sites (my preferred message board was called “Harry Potter for Grown Ups,” a Yahoo! Group). We wondered, we discussed, we argued, we wrote incredibly long dissertations explaining why our theory was correct.
And yet…at the same time that we wondered, the cat was already both dead and alive. JK Rowling had already decided the fate of Severus Snape. We just hadn’t opened the box (the book) to find out the truth for ourselves. Snape, as he would remain for the entire series, was equally good and bad. This would be true again in 2005, with the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In those intervening years, the fandom had grown and the theories that used to be posted just on the Internet became books published by real publishing companies. Throughout all of these discussions, we were all equally right and wrong, because we had not yet opened the book.
The same can be true for those of wondering about the fate of the character Jon Snow at the end of A Dance with Dragons (book 5 in the series – if you are just watching the HBO series, STOP HERE and scroll rapidly to the next paragraph!!). My husband and I disagree about his fate. My husband believes that he is dead (at least for the moment), and I believe that he is alive. Of course Jon Snow cannot die – he might know nothing, but he can’t die! He has to marry Danerys and become king! But right now, with no book 6, Jon Snow is both waiting to be buried and waiting for his crown. We are both right.
Finally, to the point. (Have you noticed that I like a long story?) Yesterday, a book came out that I have been anxiously awaiting for 5 years – yes, FIVE YEARS, you read that correctly. At the end of the book before it, a small boy name Jem was trapped in a hydroelectric tunnel beneath a lake, and his father was about to time travel to save him, not realizing where he was. The series is called Outlander and is by Diana Gabaldon. I love it and have been reading it since I was in college in the late 1990s. If you haven’t read it, go to Amazon and get the first one now. Be prepared – they are LONG, but awesome. Unfortunately, I left my rereading of the series a little late and have not yet finished An Echo in the Bone, the 7th book in the series. Consequently, I cannot yet begin the new eighth book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (abbreviated as MOBY). Because I know how book 7 ends, but haven’t started MOBY, poor Jem is both trapped and rescued in my mind at alternating times. Roger Mac survives the trip through the stones AND still dies on his way, depending on my frame of mind. This is horrible, and makes me want to rush through just so that I will know.
But isn’t the fun in NOT knowing sometimes? I think so. I have more to add to that another day. For now, I will leave off by saying that I enjoy the wonder, and the cliffhangers presented by skilled authors. Books are what initially introduced me to the world outside my small town and challenged my thinking. I’m not bothered by the alive/dead, good/evil conundrum. I’ll catch up eventually. In the meantime, the wondering provides fodder for ramblings and lively conversation.