Deciphering a Hidden Message
When I wrote the poem “My Satanic Struggle” in 1975, I was exorcising my past, my childhood, growing up with a troubled individual in the household. My adoptive father, Rus, wasn’t crazy, but he was unsettling.
When I gave him the poem, he said, after reading it, “Is this how you really see me?” I said, “No. But I took how I felt about you and projected it onto the character, Thomas Benjamin.”
The names of all my characters have some basis in reality. Thomas Benjamin is a combination name to doubly identify him with my adoptive father: Thomas was Jesus’ “twin’ in the Gospels, and Rus was a Gemini. Benjamin was the name that Rus’ mother wanted to give him when he was born.
But that isn’t why I’m writing this report. It’s the secret message hidden in the poem that I wish to highlight.
Jump Forward Three Years
When it came time to craft a screenplay to carry this message out into the world at large, I had to discover if there was something hidden there.
As someone who loves puzzles and research, I had to devise a pattern that could be duplicated by someone else. I figured that if this poem was truly inspired, something would be there. So I set about searching for meaning from within the fabric of the poem.
Stewart Davidson is my alter ego in the screenplay. His name is based on my middle names David Stewart. He is me, doing the work of decoding the potential text of the message. But I knew this was just my making ‘something from nothing’.
There is one line of dialogue that sums up the situation.
DAVIDSON: I’ll find and break that code, even if I have to invent it.
“DAVIDSON is working on a specific piece of paper which contains one hundred and seven rhyming sounds that make up the poem from BENJAMIN’s transmission. The sounds are divided up into six lists of eighteen each, except for list #2 which has only seventeen.
“DAVIDSON marks off the sounds as follows: the first one in list #1; the ninth and sixteenth in list #2; the third, sixth and eighteenth in list #3; the second, fourth, sixth and eighth in list #4; the ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, fifteen and seventeenth in list #5; and the third, sixth, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth and eighteenth in list #6.”
DAVIDSON: It still doesn’t make sense. Maybe if I substitute some letters. “Sill’ obviously means ‘still’ and ‘sish’ stands for ‘wash’. ‘Surled’, that’s the one which gives me the most trouble. Let’s see: twirled, hurled, girled, furled. No, not quite right. Maybe I should take out the ‘l’ and change the ‘s’ to a ‘c’. ‘Cured’, of course. Now let’s see what that gives me.
“Sister, I sense that the saws can see the city, so, for your sake, I’ve sent someone to sing of sin; still the son will wash your soul on sight, so save yourself. I’ve sought, for your sake, to send help or you’ll suffer ’till you’re cured.”
Who is it for?
DAVIDSON: If I were Benjamin, who would I be sending this message to? Maybe the substituted letters are the clue. ‘I’, ‘s’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘w’, ‘a’, ‘c’ and ‘l’.
“DAVIDSON rearranges the letters several times until he gets the ‘right’ answer. When he does, his face lights up.”
DAVIDSON (smiling): Of course, ITS CLAWS.
We see what we expect to see. We look for what we want to find. Even if NOTHING is there.
My lesson here is that it could have been anything, but I needed a message to hook the story on and the name of the terrorist group. I got both.
That’s how I was able to write the screenplay.