Earlier this month, I saw something on a blog I read about triangles and squares, of the literary variety. It’s an interesting idea; odd numbers are tragic, even numbers are comic. I don’t know if I agree with it. The Holy Trinity is odd, after all, but the Christian universe is comic.
But what I find interesting about triangles is how many possibilities
such a simple shape offers. Take your standard tragic love triangle. You have three people – normally, two male and one female, or two female and one male – and each of their personalities. Then you have the different relationships between each of them. For example, Mr. X likes Mrs. Y; Mrs. Y likes Mr. Z; Mr. Z is friends with Mrs. X. Then you have the relationship each of them has to the interactions between the other two. In the given example – Mr. X would probably be upset that Mrs. Y liked Mr. Z and not him. Mrs. Y, perhaps, would not want to get in the way of Mr. X and Mr. Z’s friendship. Mr. Z (who, let’s say, is not interested in Mrs. Y) would
support Mr. X’s ambitions and try to get Mrs. Y to change her mind. And what would never happen is all three of them get together and just talk out their situation. Three is too complicated.
Two is easy. You get two people together, they talk to each other, they work out whatever problems they might have. But with three, people find it hard to be completely honest. They can’t say something to one person without worrying about what the other will think about what was said. This doesn’t make them dishonest, but it makes them not completely honest. Three is too complicated.
I’m reminded of something I read once about Dante’s Divine Comedy. It takes him a long time before he can figure out how to have a scene involving – really involving – three people at once. He had the problem of it seeming like a series of two-way dialogues. Or the part of Perelandra where the Green Lady can’t talk to both Ransom and demon-Weston at once – she keeps going back and forth, but can’t actually have a three-way conversation. Three is too complicated.