Peradventure: Retelling Samson and Delilah

My friends have asked me how I got the idea to make Samson a jinni in “Peradventure,” a story that appears in Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions. For the most part, my answer has been “I don’t know, it just came out in the brainstorming.” I’ve been shy to talk about my ideas that went into this story because I wanted to see how others reacted without me telling them what to make of things. But I’ve decided it would be fun to explain what I was thinking about when I wrote this.

I had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head before I wrote “Peradventure,” including Disney movies about misunderstood characters that were supposed to be villains, and news articles discussing women’s rights in the Middle East. The main thing, however, is that I already saw the Samson and Delilah story of the Bible a certain way. The Mr. and Mrs. Myth writing contest for Xchyler Publishing presented an opportunity to show that perspective through the guise of a paranormal fairytale–or at least to give a good whack at doing so.

In reading the Biblical account of Samson’s life, he never really stuck me as the pious hero, tragically blinded by love (or else too clueless to see that his gain-getting wife, Delilah, was trying to deliver him into the hands of his enemies over and over again). He abandoned his first wife of unknown name after she told the answer to Samson’s riddle to the men who were threatening her life. (That first wife, and her father, were eventually burned to death because of Samson’s continued “vexation” of his enemies). He murdered people so he would have the goods he needed to hand over when he lost a bet. Further, the riddle he gambled with during his wedding feast to nameless first wife was about an experience so sacred to him he’d told neither his wife nor his parents about it. If his attitude toward this experience was so personal, it seems a blasphemy that he should have presented it with any pretense at all that others might discern it.

As for Delilah, there’s not a lot of information on her background. Her motive for betraying Samson seems simple enough: she wanted the huge pile of silver the Philistine princes were offering, and was heartless enough to do the deed. It could be true, certainly. But what if it wasn’t so simple? What if she saw Samson as a monster intent on destroying her people, and she saw herself a means to bring an end to his brutality? Samson was pretty abominable to his first wife. Why should she believe that he would cherish her any better? Is it possible that when Delilah petitions “How canst thou say, I love thee…thou has mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth,” that he knows full well what Delilah and the Philistines are up to? That she’s pleading with him to do the things that would spare her or, misguidedly or no, make things right? Answer for the things he’s done against her people? Maybe she’s really saying, “Samson, if you love me, don’t abandon me to a cruel death the way you abandoned your first wife. These men are dangerous. I fear them. I fear you, and I fear you don’t give a darn what happens to me. This isn’t a game anymore. Stop hurting people. Help me out here!”

It was fun to make Samson a jinni, brutishly clever and semi-omnicient. He’s a complete 180-degrees from the simple-minded Samson archetype, who was the epitome of “having more brawn than brains.” Throw in a lack of empathy, and his brutal behavior can be explained in modern terms as a kind of sociopathy (what modern suspense would be complete without a sociopath causing…well, mischief?).

I was most excited to rewrite Delilah’s character. She became the articulation of those “what ifs?” I had floating around in my head about this chapter in Samson’s tragic life. What if, on the other extreme of possibilities, Delilah was caught in the middle between Samson’s brutality and the wrath of his enemies, and she was really just trying to survive?

Throw in some resonance to things I see on the news going on in the Middle East today, and a pinch of archetypal nods to Disney characterizations, and that’s “Peradventure.”

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Sarah E. Seeley is a fantasy and horror author, and an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.
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