When a person thinks of the word “deception,” the instant connotations which come to mind may be “fraud,” “lying,” and “hypocrisy.” Many people are familiar with the deceptive scammer on the phone. Perhaps one thinks of a time when their hopes were misled. Perhaps one thinks of an insincere friendship. Deception has many negative connotations, but it does not possess a negative meaning. Deception is like magic: it is a tool which can cause a person to believe something that is not true, be used for either good or evil, and encourage one’s imagination by evoking images and ideas that do not exist in real life.
In the short story, “Appointment in Samarra,” a gesture that Death makes causes a servant to believe that Death made a sign of intended demise, and that she is going to confront them there in Baghdad. The servant is lent their master’s horse, and believes that they are escaping Death by going to Samarra. The reader learns that the servant is deceived when the master meets death, and asks her why she made the threatening gesture to his servant: Death explains, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra (Safier et al. xi). In “Appointment in Samarra” Death’s unintentional deception causes the servant to believe something that is not true.
Deception is neither good nor evil, but it can be used for either good or evil. An astrologer in the story “An Astrologer’s Day” uses deception when he tells his customers satisfying and amazing things that he has not read in the stars, but deduced with perceptiveness and intelligence. Through his words, he expresses deception, and it is indefinite whether his deception is good or evil. If his customers were to discover that he is “a stranger to the stars” (Safier et al. 21), they might decide that he has wronged them, and they might be offended that they have such predictable tendencies. Were it not for his customers’ innocence, and his perceptiveness and intelligence, the astrologer would not be able to satisfy and amaze his customers (Safier et al. 21). In the story, there is one man who believes that the astrologer might be deceitful (Safier et al. 22). The man is also a person who the astrologer once attempted to kill. Although the man does not accept the astrologer’s usual things that he says, the man is accepting and deceived when the astrologer tells him about the person who attempted to kill the man. The astrologer had been guilty with the thought of there being “the blood of a man” on his hands until meeting the man again, and the man had been searching to kill the person who attempted to kill him until he met the astrologer. The astrologer tells the man that the person who attempted to kill him is dead; the man would have been pleased to kill the astrologer had he known who the astrologer was. The astrologer expresses a conscience, and he is quite moral in this story when he shows the man kindness by letting him cease his searching, and removes the trouble from both of their minds (Safier et al. 23-24).
Deception and magic have similar effects. They both use illusory tricks which can inspire one’s imagination, by evoking images and ideas that do not exist in real life. In the television programme ‘Merlin,’ in the episode ‘With All My Heart;’ in Camelot, in a time of knights and powerful magic, Queen Guinivere is bound under the witch Morgana’s evil spell to carry out her will. When King Arthur discovers that he has been deceived by believing that the queen is Guinivere, he reluctantly agrees when Merlin tells him that the real Guinivere must be released with magic. Because magic is the source of Queen Guinivere’s bewitchment, King Arthur is uncertain that he can trust a user of magic to save her. He is reassured that he can trust the sorcerer, because they will be a woman. The witch Morgana complicates his journey as King Arthur carries the slumbering queen to Arianrhod’s Cauldron. Once Merlin and King Arthur arrive at the cauldron, Merlin sneaks away. He returns as the old sorceress that Arthur was reluctantly waiting for: Dolma. She says that Merlin is her surety, and that she will return him once the ceremony has ended. The White Goddess recovers the true Guinivere, and she is herself again. In payment, Dolma makes King Arthur promise to remember that magic saved his queen (Capps et al.). King Arthur is first deceived to imagine that his queen is truly Guinivere, and not under Morgana’s influence; then, he is deceived by Merlin, his servant, pretending to be Dolma to save his queen. Another example of how deception encourages one’s imagination is in the short story “An Astrologer’s Day.” The astrologer encourages the imaginations of his customers when he tells them, after ten minutes of their speaking, about their character, that “in many ways you are not getting the fullest results for your efforts,” or “Is there any woman…who is not well disposed towards you?” (Safier et al. 21). For a person to accept a magical or deceptive experience, they must believe that it is true.
Like magic, deception is a device used in literature to cause a person to believe something that is not true. It may be simple to be deceived and think that magic is positively creative, and that deception is malicious and used to gain advantage; but, both magic and deception can be positively creative, and maliciously used to gain advantage. The truth can be hidden for good, such as when the Astrologer tells his customers amazing and satisfying things about themselves, or for evil, when King Arthur is unaware that Queen Guinivere is under the witch Morgana’s influence. Deception and magic encourage one’s imagination by evoking images and ideas that do not exist in real life. Without deception, would one have cause to imagine anything?
Safier, Fannie, et al., editors. Impact: fifty short short stories. 2nd ed., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996.
Capps, Johnny et al., “Transcript: With All My Heart.” Merlin Wiki, Fandom, 3 May 2013, merlin.wikia.com/wiki/Transcript: With_All_My_Heart.