WITH ONE MIGHTY BOUND HE WAS FREE!
The other day, writing in my local cafe, I watched as a toddler ran shrieking away from her father, who was acting the role of the Big Bad Monster. The child was screaming with a mixture of delight and terror. The ‘monster’ bore down on her, whisked her into his arms, hoisted her aloft and the child gurgled with pleasure. Most of us have either seen or been participants in that scenario at some time in our lives.
One of the themes of my book Far Away is ESCAPE! In this case from a POW camp in Italy during the Second World War.
In his brilliant book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker says:
‘The thrilling escape from death runs very deep. It is one of the most consistent motifs in storytelling.’
He goes on to say that the vast majority of these stories are tied up with ‘overcoming the monster’. After all, there has to be something the protagonist is escaping from.
Here are a few examples:
- a scantily clad heroine in a silent movie is tied to the tracks as the train bears down on her;
- Jonah is swallowed by a whale and escapes when he is vomited out of its belly;
- Little Red Riding Hood escapes the Big Bad Wolf;
- Jack of the Beanstalk escapes and kills the giant;
- Goldilocks jumps out of the window and escapes the three bears;
- In the war film The Guns of Navarone, the guns are the monsters which our heroes blow up before making their escape;
- In the film The Great Escape POWs tunnel out of a camp in Germany and escape;
- Jerry, that pesky mouse, finds all kinds of ways to escape the malign attentions of Tom, the cat;
- In the film The Shawshank Redemption a prisoner tunnels his way out of a prison and escapes through the sewage system. This has also just happened in real life in America. Richard Matt and David Sweat have just tunnelled out of a maximum security jail in Dannemora, New York.
You get the general idea and I’m sure you could add a few of your own! Once you start looking for escape stories you’ll find them everywhere.
One of the most interesting things about what happened to my father and what I depict in my novel Far Away is how the ‘monster’ to be overcome, (as Christopher Booker describes it), changed into a saviour. To start with the enemy was the Italians who were running and guarding the POW camps. However, on September 8th the Armistice was announced and on the following day the Allies landed at Salerno and Taranto. At that point the Italian army laid down its arms and the guards drifted away. What happened then, as thousands of Allied POWs poured out into the Italian countryside, was extraordinary.
Many of the Italian contadini – the country people – took incredible risks to help and protect these young men. This is one of the most touching aspects of the story. Of course, if you have next to nothing yourself then maybe it makes you all too aware of what it means to be starving, thirsty and cold. But all the same the risks were huge. If caught by the Germans helping escaped Allied soldiers then the Italians were likely to be killed and have their houses burnt down. That is a very big risk to take for people who, before they were imprisoned, had been fighting their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers. It is possible to argue that the Italians knowing which way the war was going were acting in their own self-interest, however this does not reduce the level of courage shown or the dangers involved.
And the danger lasted for a long time. Germany did not just hand Italy over to the Allies. It took twenty months for the Allies to fight their way up to Italy’s northern border. It was to be a hard-fought, brutal and bloody campaign.
Do you have a favourite escape story?
Or do you have any stories from Italy at that time?