Between the Voice and the Echo

A Novel

The Hollow Men

Posted by William Bain on November 27, 2008

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

I am fascinated with the intersection of things, and the naming of those moments. I am especially drawn to the things to which we give names and yet they aren’t things at all. Not in their own right. But we have named them, and in doing so, we have given phenomena like shadows and echoes and reflections the semblance of a body and soul. We often think of shadows and reflections and echoes as distinct entities– separate from their source– and once we do that, it not such a big jump to think that maybe they can have their own agendas.

They all require a source and a surface. The reflection is the interaction of light as it strikes first the surface of your skin and then the silvered glass. The voice projects the sound but it must strike something and return to become an echo. And a shadow is an absence that borrows its shape from an object that blocks the light, the surface upon which the light doesn’t fall, and the angular relationship between the surface and the object.

I hated Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” in college, but as I wrote about characters without shadows or reflections, I came across the poem and those lines at the top of my post. I wanted to do with a novel what Eliot did with those two lines. I wanted to give more than a name to the shadows and the echoes and the reflections.

I’m sure my students hate a lot of what we read now, just because I require them to study it. Maybe they will return to Othello and A Clockwork Orange and “The Night of the Curlews” in the way that I returned to “The Hollow Men.” In their own time. With their own characters and nagging questions.


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