I’ve been saving this challenge up: it’s a tricky one. When I set myself this writing exercise, I had to force myself just to write anything at all. I kept feeling like a terrible writer. But maybe you will find it easier than me.
This is from The Magic Mountain. It’s early in the book, and the protagonist, Hans Castorp, is still learning the customs of this remote Alpine sanatorium. He has been there long enough to feel accustomed to their routines, but not long enough to quite know why those routines occur.
One daily practice, for many members of the sanatorium — oh, I shouldn’t post this! It’s going to be too difficult! — is to wrap themselves in two layers of blankets so they can lie outside, on their balcony, in the dark of the evening, staying perfectly still but remaining warm. It’s part of their required “rest cure” that they devote hours to each day. Often, while wrapped up on the blanket, Hans Castorp can hear the other, wilder inmates calling to each other below, or a faint piano played in the nearby town.
Here is Mann narrating Castorp’s first experience of wrapping himself. It’s a long paragraph of description, finishing with a funny little detail about the customs of the patients. Here’s the opening:
When they came back up from their meal, the package of blankets was lying on a chair in Hans Castorp’s room, and he made use of them that day for the first time. Joachim, as the expert, gave him lessons in the art of wrapping oneself the way they all did up here, something every novice had to learn right off. You spread the blankets, first one, then the other, over the frame of the lounge chair, but so that a long piece was left dangling to the floor at the foot. Then…
That’s the first half of the paragraph. Can you complete it? How would you present the self-wrapping method, and how would you make the process clear as a physical operation, and also present it in a witty manner that tells us something about the sanatorium and its inmates?
You can see my terrible attempt posted in the comments!
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