In season eleven of Agatha Christie’s Poirot there is an episode entitled, Appointment with Death. The title references a fable that is sometimes known as Appointment in Samarra. I’ll put a link to Poirot telling the tale somewhere. The short of it is, a man in Damascus is startled by running into Death. He flees. Flying to Samarra he comes, dying of thirst, to a well. It is dry, and who should be there but old Death himself?
“But how?” the man wants to know. “I escaped you in Damascus.”
And Death replies, “I was also startled to see you in Damascus, since my appointment with you was always to be here in Samarra.”
One of the themes in the episode is the inevitability of fate, but, in reading the book, I found a theme nearly untouched in the dramatized version. The pitiable aspect of evil is highlighted in the gruesome character of Lady Boynton.
Lady Boynton’s, what we’ll herein call goal, is a sort of fascistic authoritarian monopoly over her household and anything else within her grasp. What makes it so pitiable is that she gets it. She so completely cows all of her children, she even adopts children to satisfy her need to rule over them, that she begins to self-destruct.
I am only a casual reader of Agatha Christie, but I think this character is spot on. Lady Boynton is a sort of architype displaying a certain fault, one found in many of us, taken to its extreme. The desire itself was not evil, she wanted devotion, and in a sense, she wanted love. She played her cruel games to make her children completely dependent upon her so that they could never leave. She gorged her want of admiration until it was twisted and perverted into a mad lust of dominance.
And it wasn’t enough. She’s described as bored with her now permanent adult children, and even tries to stir within them the fires of rebellion just so she can quash them. But this same hunger for admiration that transformed Lady Boynton into this monster—consumed her might be closer to the truth—is also found in the extremely innocent character of Ginevra.
But Ginevra is able to bestride the monster that is embodied within the character of Lady Boynton. Instead of being consumed by it, Ginevra integrates the want of admiration into a full self, a beneficial and rightly loved part of society.
How? How do we take what so easily grows into a monster and reign it in? How does man turn the wolf into an ally? How does the hunter make a meal of the dreadful things that lurk in the forest?
One possible clue, the path we take ought to, in a sense, be the very thing we desire. Lady Boynton reached the end of her horrible course, she won the game she had chosen to play. It did not satisfy the need she was chasing. This fallen race, sometimes called mankind, has dark needs. We are made of dragon’s eggs, and if we let them grow they will war within us and consume us.
Lady Boynton really wanted what we all want, to fill that gaping hole. I doubt there was anything much worse for her than realizing what a usury her path had always been. It couldn’t fill the void, and its price, in the end, was to divorce her of what she truly desired. In the fulfillment of her wish, she had wished herself into Hell.
How do we find the paths that are in themselves the destination? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”