Editor’s Corner 101.31

Heroes Large – Heroes Small

No, what he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.
…Terry Pratchett

Scribe smallNo matter how hard we might try – and believe me I do – we cannot avoid protagonists – our literary heroes, male or female.

Truth is, I’m not too keen on heroes, per se. They are essential but really, what can you say? Your hero is your main character, the person whose story you are telling. Simple. They are characters sometimes more acted upon than acting, but always real enough that we cheer when they triumph and shed a tear when they die. We willingly, eagerly invest hours of precious time – oh, how precious our time is these days! – in their lives, following them wherever their journeys lead.

This 3-D imaging is the essence of the writer’s craft; we have explored it before – most recently in the past couple of weeks when I discussed minor characters and villains. (If you want to learn more, read Joseph Campbell’s brilliant The Hero With a Thousand Faces or the more writer-friendly take on it, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey – you couldn’t ask for better guides along the heroic arc.)

campbell2

Today I want to look at things in a slightly different way. I want to talk about the changing face of our literary heroes.

In the old days of dichromatic storytelling, heroes, like their villainous counterparts, were characters of extremes. They were always virtuous, noble, and brave, intelligent but not cunning (too many sinister connotations to that word), willing to take responsibility for their actions and, if needs be, sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They were aspirational – the sort of people upon whom we pinned all our best hopes, convinced that they could not only bear them, but soar under their weight.

1amwords_hero

Yes, they had their flaws, usually picked from amongst the cardinal sins. Hubris was a big one with the Greeks (Oedipus, Cadmus, just about every major player in the Iliad and Odyssey). Also big in the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh and the Mahabharata. In the latter, the Pandava and the Kaurava are both exceedingly proud, but the Pandava are the heroes because they learn from their weakness and are humbled; the Kaurava remain proud to the end).

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Love – or its extremes, jealousy and lust – is another common flaw (Lancelot, Orlando); and greed (Bilbo Baggins). For a classic protagonist, what counts is not that they are flawed, but that they learn about themselves, their weaknesses, and triumph despite them. This introspection and growth is as important, if not more so, as the slaying of any rampaging legion of orcs. (No slaying Dragons here!)

These are our neat heroes, the ones who come through with every hair in place and nary a speck of blood on their crisp white shirt (or burnished armor).

Galahad-L

But the modern world is as messy for heroes as it is for villains. Such pristine white hats no longer resonate as they once did.

As with villains, I believe the sea change for protagonists came with Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prospero, Titus Andronicus, Lear, Cleopatra, Isabella, Richard II…. Complicated characters who, while protagonists, are not always aspirational. Shakespeare allowed his main characters to straddle the line between good and evil. They could be cruel and petty, indecisive and vengeful.

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Titus Andronicus

They were, to my thinking, among our first literary antiheroes – the predecessors of Heathcliff and Emma Bovary, Holden Caulfield and Lisbeth Salander.

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Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

But can we take this too far? In our effort to find relatable, sympathetic protagonists, have we made them too much like ourselves, and in the process, lost something vital? Today, just doing the right thing – standing up against bullies or bigotry, calling 911 for a stranger in trouble – qualifies you for a medal, even sainthood. Our heroes, like ourselves, are diminished. Not that we shouldn’t say “thank you” to every good Samaritan or person of conscience out there – but are they worthy of novel treatment?

Yes, we are all heroes in our own life stories, but fiction – even the most intimate fiction (like the stories of recent Nobelist Alice Munro) – is not life. It is, if not bigger, then certainly more concentrated. Our protagonists have to rise to the challenge, to satisfy that aspect of our natures that craves heroes ten-feet tall.

Protagonists - Gleeson

Protagonists – Gleeson

Some will say that is what genre books are for – fantasy and mystery and horror, that they are the new home to classic protagonists. Within their pages we get reluctant everymen and women thrust into being more than they ever imagined possible. They transform from being “us” to being what we can only dream of being and, as we tag along or the vicarious ride, we get our requisite dose of clean, aspirational heroism.

Can we strike a balance between these classic (genre) heroes and everyday mensch (literary) protagonists? Perhaps. But first we must find that balance in ourselves. And remember that the hallmark of a protagonist is not leaping tall buildings or bringing peace to the Universe. It is seeing change up ahead and choosing to embrace it. It is riding the wings of the Dragon when everyone else demands you thrust a blade through her heart.

Weyrworld - Pern Dragonriders

Weyrworld – Pern Dragonriders

The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of
being an honest coward like everybody else.
…Umberto Eco

I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   — Shawn MacKENZIE – MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

“I can believe…”

Charles Vess Instructions for Neil Gaiman

Charles Vess Instructions for Neil Gaiman

“I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.

I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen – I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.

I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks…

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.

I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.

I believe…that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.

I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.

I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.

I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.

I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Letters to a Young Poet” [Part XXIII of XXIX]

rainer maria rilke letters to a young poet COVER

“Letters to a Young Poet”

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Part XXIII of XXIX

Post by Jennifer Kiley

Post Sunday 24th May 2015

RILKE Painting blond

(23rd week)

“You are so young,
so much before all beginning,
and I would like to beg you,
dear Sir,
as well as I can,
to have patience
with everything unresolved
in your heart
and to try to love
the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written
in a very foreign language.
Don’t search
for the answers,
which could not be given
to you now,
because you would not
be able to live them.
And the point is,
to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then,
someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it,
live your way
into the answer.”

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One of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Homes

Dvorak, New World Symphony – 2nd Mvt Part 2,

Dublin Philharmonic, Conductor Derek Gleeson

* * * * * * *

“Could We Imagine”

COULD WE IMAGINE

If there were no Death
No need for Heaven
No need for Hell
Just dreams to live by

Without Death no end to Life
With Life forever it would bring on the Light
It would take away the Darkness
And Shadow worlds would fill the spaces

Without War there would be Peace
Without bullets guns would be broken
With Equality we would be Free
In a World where we live as One

© jk 2015


UNICEF #IMAGINE – North America
(Adam Lambert, Katy Perry, John Lennon, Bill Kaulitz…)

“I’ll See You In My Dreams”


“I’ll See You In My Dreams” | Official HD Trailer

Carol (Blythe Danner) is a retired schoolteacher and a longtime widow in her 70s. She enjoys a tranquil routine playing cards with close friends, keeping up her garden, and relaxing with a glass of wine. When her beloved dog dies, there’s a mournful vacuum that draws new experiences and attachments into her world. She forges a friendship with her pool guy and allows a pal to drag her to a speed dating shindig. And then there’s the gravelly-voiced, exuberant gentleman, Bill (Sam Elliott), who comes out of nowhere.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By: Brett Haley
Written By: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
In Theaters: May 15, 2015 Limited
Runtime: 1h 49m
Bleecker Street

CAST:
Blythe Danner…as Carol Petersen
Martin Starr…as Lloyd
Sam Elliott…as Bill
Mary Kay Place…as Rona
June Squibb…as Georgina
Malin Akerman…as Katherine Petersen
Rhea Perlman…as Sally
Aarti Mann…as Dr. DaSilva
Max Gail…as Carl

Official Site: http://illseeyouinmydreamsmovie.com

Premiered Sundance Film Festival 2015

Film View: “The Price”


Neil Gaiman’s “The Price”

“Wanderers and vagabonds have brands that are on the walls, trees and doors to inform of his ilk a little about the people who live in the houses and farms as they go on their travels. I think cats must leave similar signs. How else explain what the cats that appear on our door during the year, hungry, infested with fleas and abandoned? “

A short animation based on the story by Neil Gaiman “The Price”, published in “Smoke and Mirrors”.