Dan Scott is a long-time reader, writer, actor, and lover of academia. He is pursuing a dual degree in physics and mathematics, but always finds time for creative expression, whether through prose, poetry, performance, or craft. The Aletheia went on to ask Dan to enlighten readers on his views of the writing process and on the following piece “The Lost Dauphin”.
On the Writing Process:
“When we consider how to write, be it poetry or prose, we must ask ourselves what the motivation behind our writing is. This process extends beyond the realm of written language and into every creative endeavor. Two of the most conflicting motivations, in my experience, are whether we seek to create something totally unlike all that already exists or if we instead aim to emulate something or someone we consider to be awe-inspiring. The beauty of it all is that these two motivations are not, in fact, mutually exclusive.
Every work of art, every drawing, painting, sculpture, poem, novel, song, or script is a life form of its own and is unique to the very essence of its being. The same story could be told a thousand times by a thousand people and be different each and every time. This not-so-trivial element of creative works stems from the notion that art is a reflection of the artist. Every individual is, by the very nature of the word, individual, discrete, distinct. Our physiologies, structural biologies, and psychologies are not necessarily special (as we’ve been told since pre-school), but they are unique. It would follow, then, that no two creations would ever be quite the same. Sure, there may be a few or even many similarities between works, just as different individuals may share some common features. These similarities may be intentional – as when you choose to adopt somebody’s style of dress or choose to write in the style of a particular author – or unintentional – as in the physiological similarities we share with our parents or the mannerisms of our speech and writing. Like it or not, new art will always be similar in one way or another to art which already exists. But holistically, no two original works can or will ever be the same.
I would, however, modify my previous assertion that art is its own life form to say that art is its own universe. Artists create for their audience a unique vision, a distinct world that doesn’t exist, identically, anywhere else. It makes no difference whether your art explodes into a well-established world with dedicated fans as happened with, say, Harry Potter, or if your following tends to be more selective. The fact of the matter is that you can call a piece of art your own because it can never be created by another hand in exactly the same form.
When it comes to making art, then, to creating it, one should start from the two primary motivations: innovation or emulation. In the case of “The Lost Dauphin,” the latter motivation was clearly predominant. The short story came from a prompt Dr. Harvey gave to my Human Situation class: “Create something Borges.” What does that mean, “something Borges”? We had, in the course, been reading a number of short stories from Borges and discussed their meanings, significance, themes, etc. “Something Borges” meant exactly what it sounds like: something, anything, relating to Borges. This could take the form of an essay (what fun is that); a short story, Borgesian in nature; a dialogue between Borges and Plato; or anything else our hearts desired. I, as you’ll notice by looking at “The Lost Dauphin,” chose to write a short story in a style similar to that of Borges. For the curious inquirer, the selected writings of Borges that we had read up to that point were “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” “The Circular Ruins,” “The Library of Babel,” “Three Versions of Judas,” and “Borges and I.”
I began, then, with a whole lot of motivation number two, emulation. I knew a number of ways I had wanted to make my writing similar to Borges’. The first and foremost idea that I latched onto was the blend of fact and fiction in Borges’ works. He so seamlessly transitions from fact into fiction to create something in between. His worlds contain fantasy, reality, and realistic fiction woven together so perfectly that one comes to question which is which, both within the story and without. I knew also that I wanted to toy with the idea of life and death and with the existence of a continuity between those two seemingly irreconcilable states. I wanted the end of my story to progress back into the beginning, to create, in a way, a cyclical series of events. I wanted dialogue to be sparse and narration to be animated. There was plenty that I wanted but so much that I didn’t have.
I didn’t have an idea.
Sometimes, emulation gives style, other times, it gives plot. Sometimes, innovation creates a story, other times, a technique. In the case of “The Lost Dauphin,” I had technique but not story, style but not plot. I knew how to write but not what to write about. I wish that I could explain some method of how I arrived at the plot, but the truth is that this is something every artist must arrive at for themselves. If there were some formula for how to create a good story, then we’d all be able to make it big as writers and the creative element of art would be removed. But it is precisely that creative element which gives art its life.
My best advice when choosing either style or plot is simply to think. Allow yourself the freedom of thought. Put aside every notion of the task at hand, namely thinking, and engage in pure, unrestricted and uncensored thought. No thought is too trivial to consider and no thought is worthy enough to contemplate in depth. Allow yourself to flow freely from thoughts of breakfast to thoughts of school and everywhere in between. Something will cross your mind that sparks within you an ember of innovation. Latch onto that thought like your life depends on it (the life of your work does depend on it), and hit the ground running. Put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard, paintbrush to canvas, hands to clay.
Consider, if you will, that the spark I latched onto the night I wrote “The Lost Dauphin” was a vague memory from half a dozen years prior of a conversation I had with my brother about a street name: Lost Dauphin Road. Something went off in my mind, and I recalled sophomore year of high school reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a reference to the Lost Dauphin, and then again my freshman World History course. That was my spark. I had a piece of history, of fact, that I could use to create fiction.
I spent probably as much time that afternoon reading as I did writing. I had to research extensively a good number of things. The discerning eye could discover the facts within the fiction: that the story of the Dauphin is an actual part of history, that several events were accurate for the time period, that the description of the Dauphin’s insignia is an accurate one, that the military man in Burma could have had on his uniform a Maltese cross, that The Book of Family Crests, Mottoes, Etc. by Henry Washbourne does exist, and so much more.
The most important thing once you have your idea is to keep writing and to do so fluidly. Let the story develop naturally, not artificially. That is to say, do not allow preconceived notions of what the story should be to impede whatever the story becomes. I once was writing a play where I had anticipated that the main character would stalk and kill a girl he meets in a bar, but instead, he proposes to the girl, his best friend begins stalking him, and the best friend is the one who gets murdered. That’s what I mean when I say to write fluidly. If you truly are creating a new world, then events in that world, at least some of them, should come to happen spontaneously rather than pre-determinately.
But perhaps I’m stepping now out of the waters of creativity and into the realm of philosophy and theology. Who knows, maybe our whole world is merely a book whose plot was written in another universe. Food for thought, artists. Food for thought.”
-The Lost Dauphin-
I once encountered a man who claimed himself the Lost Dauphin of France. Even in the naïvety of my youth, I was not so witless as to accept him at his word. At the time, I was, if memory serves me correctly, no more than a mere sixteen years of age – this puts the date no earlier than 1915. My skepticism, then, should not come as surprising. I figured the man to be, generously, in his late twenties, over a century short of the necessary hundred and forty. Any reasonable onlooker would quickly determine that the man was far out of his wits, that his mind had gone where his body had not, that his brain had all but ceased to function. I doubt whether even a priest or a bishop would pause long to consider the man, or even take notice of his existence. His accoutrement, however, gave me pause, for he wore on his chest a symbol I was sure I remembered from my studies.
“Excuse me, sir, but where did you come across that insignia?”
“I’m the Lost Dauphin of France,” he said again for the third or fourth time since I first took notice of him.
I persisted, “Yes, but where did you get this?” I pointed to the symbol he wore on his breast, hoping that the physical gesture might help him better understand my inquiry.
The man looked at me, confusion evident in his eyes. “I’m the Lost Dauphin of France,” he said again, matter-of-factly. This time, he also added the phrase, “Duce et auspice.”
I did not understand what he was claiming to be “led and inspired” toward, so I disregarded the phrase. Perhaps my interrogation would be more effective if I were to humor him, I reasoned. “Louis-Charles…” His eyes lit up at the name, and for once in our encounter he looked as though he were aware of the world around him. “Louis, where did you get this?” I asked, punctuating the question with a jab at the piece. My curiosity had been piqued when I noticed four fleur-de-lis on the metal symbol.
The man looked down at his chest, and, upon seeing the insignia attached over his left breast, let out a cry of what I can only assume was a mixture of shock and excitement.
“Oh, I had forgotten that this was still with me,” he said. “I was given it as a Fils de France. I am the Lost Dauphin of France.”
I gave up on trying to reason with the man; my patience had worn quite thin. As I stalked away from the frustrating scene, I heard the man call out behind me, “Please, have you seen my heart? He won’t let me in without it. I can’t be with him if I don’t have it.”
By his words, I assumed the man must have been a homosexual – I say this not from a place of ignorance, but purely as an observation I made. I always counted myself as rather accepting – I gave one last look at the man, a small figure below the looming evening shadow of the Basilica of Saint Denis in early summer.
Nearly three decades passed without me once reconsidering my encounter with the Lost Dauphin. The year was 1941, and I had found myself in the unstable region of Burma due to a series of increasingly unfortunate events. On one rare occasion that I ventured outside (the Japs were heatedly warring over the region against India), a military man ran – or rather, stumbled – toward me in the streets. He fell upon me, into my arms, and I felt the hot blood on his sides. I dropped the soldier out of shock more than anything else; I’m a scholar, not a doctor. But as he fell, I noticed on his uniform a symbol remarkably like the one on the Dauphin. The soldier died before he hit the ground.
At length, I managed to extricate myself from the region, and I sought out a colleague regarding the symbol. I described it to him: an eight pointed cross made of four V-shaped arms. Of course, he told me, I must be referring to the Maltese cross. In retrospect, I realize I must have seen the cross at some point other than on the soldier, given its distinct propensity to be used in emblems in numerous nations. I suppose now that perhaps the solder reminded me of the Frenchman because of the identical glazed expression the Indian had in his death as the man at the Basilica wore.
I rapt myself in private studies, desperate to find the provenance of that man’s emblem. After days of searching, I nearly had given up my search when, as I poured through The Book of Family Crests, Mottoes, Etc. by Henry Washbourne, I stumbled across a clue where I hadn’t been looking for one. My search had been focused on the crests, but having failed entirely to find the symbol, I had idly begun to flip through the pages.
“Duce et auspice. Under guidance and auspices (of the Holy Ghost.) Order of the Holy Ghost, France.” There it was, the key to understanding the man’s insignia. I looked again through my texts, finally finding in Thomas Robson’s The British herald, or Cabinet of armorial bearings of the nobility & gentry of Great Britain & Ireland another mention to the Order of the Holy Ghost. At long last, under the crests of knighthood, I found it, the Maltese star with a fleur-de-lis between each arm and a dove imposed in the center. Knowing now that the crest was indeed that of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, the Order of the Holy Ghost, I searched in the Catholic Encyclopedia for details:
“Members of the order had to be Roman Catholic and had to be able to demonstrate three degrees of nobility. The minimum age for members was 35, although there were some exceptions: children of the king were members from birth, but weren’t received into the order until they were 12; princes of the Blood could be admitted to the order from the age of 16.”
I still didn’t believe that the man I saw could have been the 140-year-old Lost Dauphin, but I considered the possibility that he was royalty by blood and inheritance. I had become obsessed with finding answers to this question. There arose in me some passion, some unquenchable ardor that I seemed unable to disobey. To this end, I immediately arranged a flight to Paris, date of departure: 14 March 1942.
I returned to the Saint Denis Basilica, somehow expecting the man to still be wandering around, asking about his heart and claiming to be the Lost Dauphin. When I saw no trace of the man with the crest, my heart stopped beating in my chest. My journey could not, would not end without conclusion. I resolved to stay until evening. Perhaps the man only appeared in the evenings.
I waited at the basilica through dinner. No Dauphin. I waited through sunset. Still no Dauphin. When there was no Dauphin by the time the sun rose, I finally relented the moment. But I would not relent my search entirely.
I asked fervently around the basilica square: did anyone know of the man who believed himself the Lost Dauphin? Of the passersby who even acknowledged me in my agitated state, none knew of him. I prepared myself to admit defeat, to give up my search. But when the hour hit noon and the bells of the Basilica of Saint Denis rang clearly through the air, there dawned upon me one last hope.
I rushed into the basilica, flying through the central west portal, past the rows of pews and up to the altar. My interrogation of the old priest in the holy building was not a long one. He told me with some apprehension of a man who comes but twice a year: once on the 27th of March and again on the 8th of June. The priest did not like to speak of the man. He never changed, the priest said, and he always came back.
The week leading up to the 27th passed quickly. I arrived at the basilica early that morning. There, in the light of the rising sun, was the man. He looked the same as he had three decades ago. I do not mean that time treated him well. I mean to say that his face had aged perhaps three years in the three decades that had passed since I saw him as a young man.
“I am the Lost Dauphin,” he said to me. “Have you seen my heart? He won’t let me in without it. I can’t be with Him if I don’t have it.”
It was then that I understood.
This man was the Lost Dauphin, Louis XVII, Louis-Charles, Fils de France, son of the House of Bourbon, son of Louis XVI of France, son of the Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, born 27 March 1785, died 8 June 1795, whose heart was stolen by the student of the autopsy doctor Pelletan, who was buried without his heart in a mass grave. The heart he spoke of was not the romantic heart which he needed for a man he loved. This man was the Lost Dauphin, barred from Heaven, denied the presence of God until he can return his heart to the body which was divinely made to age but one year for every decade.
Now, my children, my flesh and blood, you understand my dying wish. I ask that you bury me, whole and untarnished by the hands of an embalmer, that I might be among the few of this modern age allowed to pass through Heaven’s gates and not be sent back to find my heart.
-Edited by Diamante Reyes