A mystery concerning Curtain, from Agatha Christie’s Poirot

*******MAJOR SPOILERS*******

It is, perhaps, the one thing about the television adaptation of Curtain that baffles me completely.

In that striking scene where Poirot unmasks Norton one-on-one, and Norton begins funneling the venom into his rival, he makes this comment: “Murder me… And then what– suicide to avoid the ignominy of hanging?”

Poirot does not respond in words, but his eyes say something like, “Well yes, that’s basically what I had in mind.” That this was intended as a sincere reaction by Poirot seems to be confirmed by a statement Suchet makes backstage in the opening scenes of the documentary Being Poirot– Poirot really means to “commit suicide,” or at least to not help his heart condition, to avoid the shame of both conviction of a crime and being sent to the gallows.

There is one small problem, though: Poirot is never in any danger of the gallows to begin with.

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It makes sense, perhaps, for a startled Norton to come up with this idea when he first realizes what’s going on. But Poirot has had months, possibly even years, to think this through. He must have known that he has no danger of being hanged.

Point #1: Poirot is in practically zero danger of being caught at all. And in fact, he isn’t caught. He’s worked this out with remarkable efficiency.

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In that awesome aforementioned scene, Poirot suggest to Norton that he himself might fail in his attempt to serve justice, but does Poirot really believe that he’s likely to fail? It reads more like a bluff to me. Despite revealing himself to be a clever devil who “does his homework,” Poirot still comes across to Norton as a “pathetic, self-important little man.” As Christie often tells us, this is a favorite ruse of Poirot’s to cause his enemies to underestimate him.

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Whether he’s bluffing there or not, he certainly is by the time they get to the chocolate. Norton feels he has won a spar with Poirot (“Shots in the dark”) and is then apparently clever enough to take Poirot’s cup of chocolate instead of his own when suspiciously offered a drink. Unfortunately for Norton, he never saw The Princess Bride.

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He could have learned some important life lessons…

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I mean, Poirot’s ingenuity with drugged chocolate has already previously saved Hastings from worse than death.

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And of course, Poirot has other substantial tricks up his sleeve, including an intricate plan involving a fake moustache and (most importantly) full use of his limbs. No, I cannot believe that he really has any intentions at all of being caught. He’s going to hop out of the wheelchair and commit the deed, and no one will know the full truth– until he reveals it.

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Point #2: In the unlikely event that Poirot’s actions were discovered by the authorities, it seems that the most probable way would be if he actually turned himself over to the police. Supposing that he subsequently found his actions so unbearable that he felt he had to give himself up immediately. Would he have been hanged in that case? No. Would he have been hanged even if someone else had turned him in? No.

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Why? The simplest reason is that he would not have lived long enough for a trial. Christie knows this theme well; consider the following passage from the end of “Dead Man’s Mirror”:

   ‘That was– rather noble in a way. I hate to think of her going through a trial for murder.’
Poirot said gently:
‘Do not distress yourself. It will not come to that. The doctor, he tells me that she has serious heart trouble. She will not live many weeks.’

For good measure, here’s “Problem at Sea,” in which Poirot deliberately kills the murderer with an extra-shocking denouement:

    Ellie Henderson was beside him. Her eyes were dark and full of pain. ‘Did you know his heart was weak?’ she asked.
‘I guessed it…’
Ellie murmured: ‘So you thought– it might end– this way?’
‘The best way, don’t you think, mademoiselle?’ he said gently.

In Curtain, Poirot knows he’s about to die from his heart condition. We know from the book that he has deliberately timed this crime so that it will be approximately the last thing he does.

‘I knew that my time was short– and for that I was glad. For the worst part of murder, Hastings, is its effect on the murderer. I, Hercule Poirot, might come to believe myself divinely appointed to deal out death to all and sundry… But mercifully there would not be time for that to happen. The end would come soon.’

‘I am very tired– and the exertions I have been through have strained me a good deal. It will not, I think, be long before…’

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In short, Poirot knows perfectly well that he is not going to live long beyond his murder, and he must have known that hanging was not a possibility for him. He was going to die first regardless.

Point #3: Let us speculate even further… even if Poirot was not likely to have a heart attack at any moment, would he have ever been convicted and hanged? I think that even that is questionable. Ironically, (movie-)Norton’s own words help explain why Poirot would not hang:  “You can see them now: ‘Went off his rocker, in the end, you can never trust a foreigner.’”

Poirot’s own opinion, in the book, is that he could have killed Norton quite openly with a “gun accident” and it would have never been suspected as murder; that Poirot indeed would have had the sympathy of people who considered him to be a poor, gaga old man who simply didn’t realize the gun was loaded. Such a person would not have been hanged. Of course, Poirot does not choose that route for one particular reason:

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And despite Norton’s dig at Poirot’s foreignness, and Poirot’s clear breaking of the law, he has the reader’s sympathy in his quest to protect the innocent, and would likely have a good deal of sympathy in England, too. He has an excellent long-standing reputation there in apprehending criminals, and again, he is a very old and bed-ridden man at this point. At worst, it might be said that his mind was going and he needed institutionalizing.

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But as Poirot is, in fact, at the brink of death, Point #3 is just added speculation on what could have been. In the end, Poirot is just smarter than Norton. And pretty much everyone else. And he knows it.

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So, in summary…

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#1: Poirot is in no great danger of being hanged because he probably won’t even get caught. #2: Even if he does get caught– or, more likely, turns himself in– he would be dead long before he gets a trial and sentence, assuming that the sentence IS death. #3: The sentence probably wouldn’t be death, since he’s a sick, very elderly man with a great track record in England and a provocation that is reasonable enough to draw plenty of sympathy from the reader– and the public. Poirot may, possibly, fear criminal conviction and a blow to that reputation, but not the shame of execution by hanging.

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How does this affect the reading of the film? Personally, to make sense of the scene, I have to read Poirot’s initial reaction of assent to Norton’s suggestion of “suicide to avoid hanging” as deliberately deceptive rather than sincere on Poirot’s part, and Norton’s mark only truly hitting home when he mentions the judgment of God a few moments later. There is enough of a difference in those wordless reactions that I think such an interpretation can stand. Funnily enough, the first two fans I discussed this with said that they read this scene exactly the same way, and NOT as Poirot actually intending to escape hanging via medicinal neglect. What am I missing?

Predictions for The Hobbit, part 3…

Predictions for The Hobbit, part 3…

*spoiler alert for those silly people who somehow haven’t read the book yet*

•    Early on in the film, the dwarves under Thorin hole up again in the mountain, now that the dragon has left, to look for the Arkenstone. Bilbo gets his mithril mail shirt. It ends up saving him in the upcoming battle in some unpredictable way, leading to Gandalf making some sort of “more to this hobbit than meets the eye” comment.
•    Tauriel finds a break in the battle action to draw Bilbo’s portrait for heaven knows what reason, because she can do everything (including a magical activation of athelas, which only Aragorn and his kin should really be doing… it is called KINGSFOIL for a reason… *sigh*)
•    Legolas, having vengefully pursued the orcs who dared give him a nosebleed, does some insane stunts in the Battle of the Five Armies. He takes Thranduil’s place– or is, at least, right by his side–  in some key moments in the film, including Bilbo’s handing over the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip with Thorin. Bilbo’s peace-keeping role leads Legolas, after the battle is over, to pledge his future support and protection of Bilbo and any of his kin. THIS HAD BETTER HAPPEN.
•    The other members of the council of the Wise, and maybe Radagast, help Gandalf escape from Sauron and they expel him from Mirkwood in some dramatic way. Gandalf rides in on the head eagle when they swoop into the Battle of the Five Armies, when Bilbo utters his memorable “The Eagles are coming!” line. Much heart-swelling music happens when Gandalf flies in, sort of like in the Battle of Helm’s Deep.
•    Kili and Tauriel both die in some dramatic, Romeo-and-Juliet sort of way. Fili also dies in some sort of entanglement with their Romeo-and-Juliet thing, like Mercutio or something.
•    After the Battle of the Five Armies, in which Azog is killed, and as everyone’s saying their farewells, Balin announces his plans to go back to Moria and retake it, since he deems it safer to do so now.
•    We’ll get to see Bilbo get back to the Shire, only to find everyone auctioning off his stuff, and narration will explain that over time, his riches and adventure stories attracted criticism of the locals but also the admiration of some of his younger cousins, which would include a young Frodo.

New untitled hymn

Based on 2 Timothy 1:5-7. First draft; tune yet to be written.

*******************

1.    Mother, this child you have brought to the font
Is swaddled in Jesus’ own merit.
Flickering faith God has kindled within,
A kingdom of light to inherit.
Satan may roar in a harrowing rage;
Defy him by means of the Name,
Whispering Scripture and hymns to the babe
And fanning his faith into flame.

2.    Father, this boy who is growing in Christ
Needs fuel for his faith to keep blazing.
Dare to put God’s holy Word in his hands,
That weapon of dying and raising.
Worldly attractions may tempt and entice,
But God’s Word still brilliantly beams.
Faith feasts upon it as bread and as wine,
And bathes in its life-giving streams.

3.    Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have called
This pastor to preach you salvation;
Hands are laid on him, confirming his vow
To serve in this blessed vocation.
Dangers beset him without and within;
So pray that he cling to the Word.
Help him to fan Jesus’ gift into flame,
The gospel to spread and be heard.

4.    Pastor, God’s grace has delivered you here,
Throughout your whole life, He’s upheld you.
Scripture drives fear from your heart, so you speak
And teach as God’s love has compelled you.
Dark is the night, and the wolves gather round;
The sheep need to hear Jesus’ voice.
Light up the field with His promise and truth
That shepherd and sheep may rejoice.

5.    Household of God, such a Word we’ve received,
A holy inheritance given!
Lighting our lamps, it sustains every soul
With promise of trespass forgiven.
Evil will strive to extinguish the flame,
But steadfast, we need never fear.
Jesus is stronger than sin and despair,
And holds His own family near.

Fairy snow

It was snowing down frozen snow pellets as I went for a walk around the block this evening. I should have found it bleak and uncomfortable outside (it was overcast and my face was cold), but the snow was mesmerizing. It was a little bit like small hail, but upon closer inspection, there were distinct snowflakes. They were so fat that they looked like tiny frozen flowers. I thought of a tiny fairy baker cutting out delicate snowflake cookies, only to have them puff out in the oven. This lay spread over the street in various places, a cold lace carpet that I almost hated to walk on. I wanted to scoop it up into a jar like manna and bring it home. It was everywhere. Even the brown, wet, and dead leaves of last fall that are beginning to appear in the thaw seemed cheered up by the snow; it covered them exactly like fancy nonpareils on gingerbread.

I brought the camera with me to take some pictures. There are beautiful snow and ice formations along the side of the roads, where miniature cliffs of snow enclose little caves of spidery stalactites, and form entire mountain ranges of rolling drifts. I’m glad it’s warmed up enough to walk around outside a little more. Too much coldness in the winter makes me stay inside and hibernate, but I do get stir-crazy. Getting out definitely helps with my state of mind.

O Jesus Christ, our Shepherd-king (hymn text)

O Jesus Christ, our Shepherd-king

O Jesus Christ, our Shepherd-king,
Who reigns throughout eternity,
You are both David’s son and Lord;
Deliver us and set us free.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

In Jesse’s town of Bethlehem,
Though small and humble in our sight,
The greatest King revealed Himself
To shepherds on that starry night.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

Anointed by the prophet’s hand,
The Spirit graced the shepherd boy,
Like John baptized our Lord the Christ,
The Spirit’s pride and Father’s joy.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

To face Goliath, David went
With only staff and stone in hand;
A greater Champion would arise
To fight sin’s battle, as God planned.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

His staff, the cross He bore for us,
The stone, the tomb to seal Him in–
Until He cast it forth, and showed
His triumph over death and sin!
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

A promised temple built by God,
A house for David evermore,
Fulfilled at last in Jesus’ flesh:
Immanuel, whom we adore.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

We all like sheep have gone astray,
And David sinned, but did not die.
For David’s Son gave up His life,
With pardon granted from on high.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of Kings!

Great Shepherd of our souls, preserve
Your flock, and be our strong defense.
Sing over us your endless love,
Your anthems of deliverance.
O Son of David, save us now!
Hosanna to the King of kings!

“God is with us” and the end of the year.

New Year’s Eve is full of resolution-making. As the excitement of Christmas disappears into the anticipation of 2013 (at least in the secular sphere), we’re caught up in the hope of new beginnings, and new toys to boot. If you’re like me, you might be pretty glad that this year is on its way out. The year has had its share of joys and trials for all of us, and we have much to thank God for.

There’s something in the nostalgia and the excitement and the emotionalism of Christmas that have caused a lot of songwriters to yearn for a way to bottle all that peace and goodwill and enjoy it during the other 364 days of the year. If only we could FEEL this way all of the time. If only we could have the candlelit wonder, the cheerful children, the mountaintop high, the spiritual buzz, ALL the time. We’d be truly spiritual people. We’d break free from the doldrums and monotony of this life. We’d be the kind of Christians that God really expects us to be.

Well, maybe not.

I mentioned elsewhere that the sickness and strangeness that I experienced after BabyT was born led to a crash-course in faith and a little glimpse of what the theology of the cross really meant. We should indeed be grateful for God’s healing and his wonderful provision for us in our time of need. We like to feel good, be well, and to enjoy the beauty of creation and all of what we call the “first article” gifts that the Father gives us. The problem is putting our trust in these good feelings, the moments of exhilaration, the experiences of beauty and splendor, as though this is God’s primary revelation of himself to us and what he expects us to feel most or all of the time.

My counselor asked me at our last session if, during the psychosis, I had the feeling that God was in control. To be honest? It wasn’t something that was really in mind. I could know that God was in control, but that didn’t keep me from despair, or give me the forgiveness I was seeking, or really help me in my pain. God’s sovereignty, his in-controlness, his great power and might and bigness– this figures large in some Christians’ concepts of peace and assurance. And it may play a part in legitimately doing so, in some contexts. But God’s bigness and power were not particularly comforting to me. Those things aren’t good news.

What was comforting– though not in a “feeling a peace about it” or “spiritual high” kind of way– was the image before my eyes of Jesus on the cross. In the cross we get the ultimate message of the Incarnation, the God-with-us of the Christmas season brought to the end of its mortal life. He is with us in our lowliness, our monotony, our pain, our suffering, our abandonment, and our death. And because we have been taken into his life and death, we have also been taken into his resurrection. We have the promise of his Word. That promise is worth more than any kind of happy experiences that we might long for as confirmation and validation of God’s feelings toward us.

The Word of God is greater than the most beautiful sunset, the most majestic canyon, the most powerful and awesome forces of nature, the most inspiring human deeds, the strongest “sense” of divine presence, and the warmest holiday feelings. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Created things can tell us that there’s a big, powerful God who has a certain order to things and is very artistic. They cannot tell us how God regards us. Only his Word does, and it shows us Jesus on the cross. It takes away our expectations to see God in impressive displays of power and positive personal developments.

In the church calendar, January 1 is an observance of the name and the circumcision of Jesus. We can have our resolutions and aspirations and that’s all well and good. Christmas, and its accompanying remembrances of the Holy Innocents and the circumcision, truly remind us that the newborn life of Christ involved bloodshed and pain. Not exactly a commercial message. But for those of us in this fallen world, it is one of unspeakable joy and hope. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The psych ward. (Not so scary.)

The psych ward.

When I was in the cardio ward, I was confined to basically one hallway, because I was hooked up to a heart monitor covered with probes and if I left the ward, they couldn’t monitor me. They also had to wait until the central catheter line had been taken out of my neck… ugh… I think I will always remember how it feels to have a long, thin tube pulled from my jugular vein. Moving on now… I had doctors from the psych ward coming in to visit me regularly, but they wanted me to spend some time in the psych ward when I could.

(A brief, amusing anecdote about one of the psych visitors. On March 15, she was asking some of her usual preliminary questions, including if I knew what day it was. I thought about it, and said, “Oh, the Ides of March.” She looked at me suspiciously. “You know, the Ides of March. March 15?” Blank stare. “‘Beware the Ides of March?’ Julius Caesar?… Shakespeare?” I had to really spell it out before she believed me, I think. This exactly parallels a scenario the day after I gave birth to Ana, five years previous, and a nurse was asking me questions the next day to try to determine whether I’d suffered any brain damage after that hemorrhage. I thought about it… the day after May 4… “Cinco de Mayo,” I said. She panicked, afraid that I was talking jibberish. Fortunately Alex was nearby to explain to her what Cinco de Mayo was…)

So when I finally reached the point where I didn’t have to be on the heart monitor, I was wheeled to the psych ward. It was glorious to be leaving at last, although the voice-hearing had diminished to almost nothing in the last couple days before I left. At the time I left, I had an elderly roommate who suffered dementia, and witnessed some heart-breaking episodes between her and her family. She couldn’t tell the morphine button from the nurse call button, and was left feebly calling to help, and since I was the only one who could hear her I’d be the one ringing the nurses. There was also a distressing scene where her husband refused to forgive her for some offense she’d unknowingly committed in her confusion (she was also blind). I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t imagining these particular scenes, as I could clearly see much of what was going on. Anyway, I wasn’t sad to leave.

The psych ward I was in was a mild sort of place for those with less intense symptoms. The most unusual thing I witnessed was a woman who enthusiastically came up to people from time to time in the hallway, offering them random kinds of food. Anyway, I was checked in; they went through my bags, made sure I didn’t have anything sharp (they kept my pencil sharpener behind their desk where I had to ask for it if I wanted to us it), and I started my time there in a hospital gown. By the next day, I think, I was permitted my own clothes. I don’t quite recall whether I was dragging an IV pole around with me for the first day or not, but for the most part I was free and clear. I just needed help walking down the hallway, so I used the bars.

The rooms were wonderful. They didn’t look like hospital rooms at all, but like college dorm rooms. I was lucky enough to get a room to myself with a private bathroom that included a really nice shower. Did I mention that I was not able to shower at all during my weeks in the cardio ward? I absolutely could not wait to use it. There was also something on the wall that looked like it had once been used as a bulletin board, but (huh) no push pins were in it now. (We got plastic cutlery too, hooray.) And for some inexplicable reason, there were a couple of Disney Princess posters high up on one of the room’s walls, colored in with markers, but unusually (Rapunzel had black hair and looked kind of goth). There was a little desk with windows that looked down a floor and out to windows across the way, all part of the psych complex. It was a pretty nice-looking building, with greenery and such. My room also had a monitoring camera in the upper corner across from my bed, but it wasn’t on. I don’t think.

The most amazing thing about my room, and the ward in general, was the QUIET. Oh, it was quiet. No beeps, and no one talking about me. For the most part, everyone left me alone, too. There was someone who poked their head into everyone’s room every half an hour– procedure– but they seemed to do a good job making people feel that their privacy wasn’t violated, all the same. At least that’s how I felt. I still got my vitals taken regularly, but my IVs were finally out, and I had much more free range of movement. There was maybe one meeting I had a day with some staff who were trying to figure out what had caused whatever strange voice problem I’d had. I stopped dreading every moment and started to take some interest in my surroundings. Not everybody can say they’ve experienced a psych ward (not that I’d wish it on anyone).

One thing I figured I’d do, as long as I was in some sort of mental facility, was do some art. If it was good enough for Van Gogh, it was good enough for me! I did some pencil drawings, including a basket of flowers I’d received. I also drew a picture of my emaciated left hand, hospital tag and gown showing, with my wedding band, and a caption that said “In sickness and in health.” I also tried sitting in the cafeteria area and drawing some of the large buildings across the street, but I didn’t get very far. Alex told me later that some of the nurses were a little concerned that I was drawing, of all things, wondering if that was abnormal for me. He assured them that it was a good sign, and it was.

I didn’t converse much with the other patients. There was a rule about exchanging too much personal information, and I’m not much of a joiner, anyway. The majority of people around seemed to be male from what I remember, although there were several women as well. I was certainly one of the youngest people there. (Incidentally, one of my sitting nurses on the cardio ward had wondered that I was married; she told me that she’d placed me at about 17.) Some were elderly; probably most were middle-aged. At a mealtime one day, I did overhear a young woman, who was possibly a couple years younger than I am, telling her story at a table near mine. She was originally from some place like Vancouver or Toronto, and after moving to Winnipeg and having various misadventures, she ended up flashing the police. She said that being put in the mental hospital was some conspiracy the authorities had cooked up against her. Colorful character.

Since I had a very large, white bandage on the side of my neck where the central line had been, I briefly wondered if anyone there would suppose that I’d been suicidal and tried to cut myself. Or maybe that I’d been attacked by vampires.

There were two very unusual things that I heard while in my room which may have still been hallucinations, but they were completely different from what I had been previously hearing. The first thing I heard was a group of several people, mostly women, speaking Spanish with one another. The head of my bed was against the back of the wall, and it sounded like it was coming from the next room, behind me. Since I could move freely and easily now, I got up to investigate. Poking my head out the door, I discovered that I could not figure out where the sound was coming from now. I still heard it, but it was possibly coming from down at the end of the hall now. I never found out, but there was nothing overly creepy about it.

The other thing I heard was a little creepy. It also seemed to come from the next room, and it was the sound of a young woman’s voice (like the one from the cafeteria) doing a dramatic recitation to a background of intense music. I recognized what she was reciting: it was from the book of Revelation. Having a Bible handy, I looked it up. Yes, chapter 19, about the fall of Babylon. I was able to read along as she recited, although she may have been using a different translation. I also looked back several verses, and recognized that she had already recited much of what came previously. Since I don’t have this passage committed to memory, I was inclined to think that this was an indication that what I was hearing was actually happening… who knows the kinds of things people get up to in the psych ward, after all? Or perhaps it was all a recording. On the other hand, my brain had been doing an impressive amount of trickery already, so I suppose I’ll never know. It was weird, but the good news was that no one was talking about me.

My time in the psych ward came to an abrupt end when I suddenly spiked a very high fever and felt dizzy and sick.  My fever broke just hours later, with much sweating, but they decided that it was strange enough to warrant more monitoring… on the cardio ward. Groan. I was disappointed to leave. Overall it was a very positive experience.