The Joker Has the Last Laugh


     Mr. Klavan, a mystery writer turned moralist, has spun a new tale which, true to his whodunit roots, leaves one quite baffled, as well as concerned, by its conclusion.  "Riddle me this Mr. Klavan," the Joker snarls through an evil smirk, lifting ever so slightly one edge of his hideous mouth.  "What do the sands, a Spade, and a black knight have in common?"  The Joker's head tilts back, his mouth agape, and a heinous laugh belches forth from the depths of his black soul.  He has won!


     Art imitates reality – or is it the other way around?  The Riddle of the Sands, an early 20th century mystery novel, began a transformation of the genre from providing clear cut to ambiguous resolutions between the forces of good and evil.[1] Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon, becomes the progenitor of our black knights, the name itself eponymous with characters in whom the duality and tension between good and evil coexist in the person of the hero.  "The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us.  Why should this be?"[2] "Drats," the Joker snarls.  "He has solved my riddle. But he is powerless to stop my plans because he remains confused, and his confusion is contagious.  He is doomed to forever 'slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised' – just like me."


     Mr. Klavan has both answered the riddle and his own question.  Why should this be?  When we reach the point at which we truly believe we must "…be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love," we are very near or at the point of truly believing that we must be evil in order to defend what is good.  The very distinction between good and evil becomes ambiguous and, left without a clear guide, everyone begins to do what is right in their own eyes.  The joker's of the world join in a raucous chorus of wicked laughter as the black knights become indistinguishable from clownish fiends, and we are all left to slink in the shadows of a society which has sold its soul to the devil in the name of safety and security.    


[2] Klavan, Andrew (July 25, 2008), The Wall Street Journal, A15