All-Star

All-Star

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Catalog Copy


I'm not sure how long this has been up at the University Press of Mississippi website. I decided to check today, for whatever reason. There's no release date listed (it's among the "upcoming titles" in the Folklore catalog), but it will be available in November or December.


Superman in Myth and Folklore

By Daniel Peretti

208 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 16 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index
9781496814586 Printed casebinding $65.00S

How the Man of Steel leapt from panels and storyboards into folklore and myth

Superman rose from popular culture --comic books, newspaper strips, radio, television, novels, and movies-- but people have so embraced the character that he has now become part of folklore. This transition from popular to folk culture signals the importance of Superman to fans and to a larger American populace. Superman's story has become a myth dramatizing identity, morality, and politics.
Many studies have examined the ways in which folklore has provided inspiration for other forms of culture, especially literature and cinema. In Superman in Myth and Folklore, Daniel Peretti explores the meaning of folklore inspired by popular culture, focusing not on the Man of Steel's origins but on the culture he has helped create. Superman provides a way to approach fundamental questions of human nature, a means of exploring humanity's relationship with divinity, an exemplar for debate about the type of hero society needs, and an articulation of the tension between the individual and the community.
Through examinations of tattoos, humor, costuming, and festivals, Peretti portrays Superman as a corporate-owned intellectual property and a model for behavior, a means for expression and performance of individual identity, and the focal point for disparate members of fan communities. As fans apply Superman stories to their lives, they elevate him to a mythical status. Peretti focuses on the way these fans have internalized various aspects of the character. In doing so, he delves into the meaning of Superman and his place in American culture and demonstrates the character's staying power.
Daniel Peretti, Bloomington, Indiana, is an editor and folklorist. He lives with his wife and three sons.
208 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 16 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index

 

 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Best Stories in the World: The Uktena

In Cherokee myths, the sun is female, and she hates humanity because whenever people look up at her they scrunch up their faces against the bright light she shines. The moon, on the other hand, likes us.

Among the various beings populating the earth are the Little Men, who are the children of Kana'ti and Selu, who are the Lucky Hunter and Corn, respectively. Well, the Little Men are sort of their children, since one of them is definitely their son, but he doesn't have a name, and the other is really a wild boy (I'nage-utasun/hi: He-who-grew-up-wild) whom they seem to have kidnapped but might also just be their son whom they threw in the water and left there for a while until their other son started playing with him and then they brought back home; it's weird, especially since the boys eventually kill Selu because she's a witch, and in part this story explains why corn grows in only a few places and not everywhere, and also why there aren't as many wolves as there used to be, and the boys are also Thunder, and they're responsible for teaching people the right songs to sing for hunting deer...man, these stories are just great, aren't they?). The Little Men are also called the Thunder Boys, and they like to help people.

So the Sun wanted to kill all the people with her heat, out offrustration and jealousy, and the people asked the Little Men for help. They changed one of the men into a big snake, called Uktena, and sent him to kill the Sun. He failed because the sun was so bright, so they created a rattlesnake to do the job. Uktena was jealous and angry, so the people forced him to go away, though he left other snakes behind.

Uktena is said to be "as large around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a bright, blazing crest like a diamond upon its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length, and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life." The diamond is known as ulûñsû’tĭ (which means transparent). It's an item of great power, but only one person has ever stolen it from the head of Uktena, since they're so dangerous. The jewel itself is dangerous, and has to be fed blood twice a year or it will kill the person who stole it and his family. However, it grants success in hunting, love, and other pursuits.

The only one to get one is called Âgăn-uni’tsĭ. He was a Shawano, who are all magicians. His name means The Ground-hog's Mother. He was about to be killed by his captors when they spared him because he promised to find the jewel. He had heard that the uktena would lie in wait in the haunted, dark passes of the Great Smoky Mountains. He went to one gap in the mountains, but found only a monster blacksnake. He went to another pass but found a moccasin snake. He went to a third pass he found a gigantic green snake, and he called all the Cherokee to see it, but they only ran away in fear. He kept going south, finding other monsters but not the one he sought until he arrived at Gahu/ti mountain, where the Uktena slept.

He laid a trap for the Uktena by digging a trench and surrounding it with a circle of burning pine cones. Then he shot the Uktena in its heart, under the seventh spot, and fled when it woke up. It chased him, though soon the wound overcame it. It died while spitting poison at him, but most of the poison was destroyed by the fire--all save a single drop, which struck him on the head. The blood that flowed from its wound, as poisonous as its venom, filled trench. In its death throes, the Uktena destroyed trees all along the mountain. The man called birds, which came to eat the monster's flesh and bones. 

Seven days later the magician and retrieved the gem from a tree branch, where a raven had dropped it after feasting. Returning to the village, the man became a great magician, though a tiny snake hung from the place where the venom had hit him. The Uktena's blood formed a lake, and there women dye the cane for their baskets.

I was reminded of this story by Daniel Bayliss and Fabian Rangel "Son of the Serpent," recently published as part of the Storyteller series of comics based on the old Jim Henson tv shows. It's a pretty good little comic, though it doesn't hew too closely to the Cherokee original recounted above. Bayliss says he combined several stories from different traditions.

I believe that I haven't done the Cherokee story justice here. It's a long tale, and in James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee it demonstrates the way myths often build on each other over time. Mooney numbers the myths he has collected, and the Uktena and the Little Men figure in tales 3, 5, 50, 51, and 52. You can find these stories here. Mooney was told this story by a man named Swimmer, another man named John Ax. There are many sources for the different parts, though. Here's one that's more recent, by David Michael Wolfe, which brings into the story the Tlanuhwa, which Bayliss and Rangel make the thunderbird.

There's something of a coda to this story later in Mooney's book. In a section called "Historical Traditions" the first story is "First Contact with Whites," in which Mooney writes



At the creation an ulûñsû’tĭ was given to the white man, and a piece of silver to the Indian. But the white man despised the stone and threw it away, while the Indian did the same with the silver. In going about the white man afterward found the silver piece and put it (351) into his pocket and has prized it ever since. The Indian, in like manner, found the ulûñsû’tĭ where the white man had thrown it. He picked it up and has kept it since as his talisman, as money is the talismanic power of the white man. This story is quite general and is probably older than others of its class.

 So why is this one of the best stories in the world? I like the way it sprawls through creation, hitting highs of heroism, oddity, absurdity, and sanctity. These stories, the symbols and characters in them, are semantically rich as well as narratively compelling. They've got a little of everything.


 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Story Every Day: Who Cured the Princess?

Three brothers were left penniless after their parents die, so they decided to split up and make their way in the world, meeting again after ten years to compare stories.

The first brother traveled to India, where he became a magician. He got to know all the magic in India, and before ten years were up he learned to make a mirror that could show its bearer what was happening in far off lands as easily as it showed reflections.

The second traveled to the United States, and there he marveled at the wonders of technology. He became a pilot and engineer, and before ten years are up he built a fantastic plane that allowed him to circle the globe.

The third brother went to Nigeria, where he became a farmer. He grew apple trees in the fertile soil, and these became widely known for their heartiness and nutrition. Before ten years were up he discovered that his apples could cure diseases, both mundane and fatal.

The tenth anniversary saw these brothers reunited back home. They compared stories, and each was impressed with the others' but thought his own the most miraculous. The mirror was the first to be tested, and it showed the brothers the goings-on in a castle in northern Europe. There, the king was distraught at the illness of his eldest daughter. He prayed for a miracle, because she would not last the night.

It was time to test the airplane, and the brothers flew to northern Europe. They arrived at the castle in time to test the apple. They told the king of their powers, and the king didn't believe them. They assured the king of their efficacy, but he made them promise that, should the apples effect no cure, they would not resist a hanging for giving the king false hope.

The apple, of course, did its job. The king was thrilled, and he allowed the princess to choose one of the brothers to marry. However, after spending some time with them, she could not decide from amongst them. She asked which of them had saved her, but each had equal claim to that deed: the mirror invented by the first had revealed the problem, the plane built by the second had carried them quickly enough to perform the deed, and the apple had been the cure. The princess deferred to her younger sister, who thought a bit and then asked the brothers a single question each: "Was your object used up by the deed? The first two answered that it was not, since the plane was intact and the mirror still showed visions. Only the third said yes, since the apple was gone. The younger princess then said the farmer should be the prince.

All agreed. The other men married the other daughters of the King, and everyone lived happily ever after.



That story comes from Dov Noy's collection Folktales of Israel, translated by Gene Baharav, and retold in my own words. Noy collected it from a man named Moshe Kaplan, who heard it from an unnamed Polish rabbi, probably in the late 1950s or early 60s. Noy places it under tale type 653A, "The Rarest Thing in the World." Pretty good little story, eh?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Better than the Book: How to Train your Dragon

You guys read this book? It's by Cressida Cowell, and it's not bad. It's just not all that great, either. I never connected emotionally with Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. I never really felt like anything of vital import was going to happen in the novel. Maybe that's because I read it when I was already about 35 years old. My son read it, and he liked it okay, but hasn't felt the need to read the rest of the series.

But the movie...the movie has music. Of course I have to bring that up, because the score is triumphant and inspiring. The whole score is worthwhile, but check out this part:


John Powell.

For whatever reason, after Hiccup's dragon Toothless has been revealed and Stoic has sailed off with it on his foolish errand, and Hiccup and Astrid are standing on the cliff and Astrid asks him what he's going to do, and he tries to dodge the question because he doesn't know, and Astrid won't let him because she wants to hear what he has to say, I get a little choked up. It's  because she trusts him, even more than he trusts himself.

Hiccup's a different sort of hero, and I appreciate that. Cerebral rather than physical, which is kind of the whole point of the movie. My kids love it because of the dragons--I don't think I've ever heard them talk about Hiccup at all, but they really get into the different types of dragons in the movies and shows. But I love it because there's something worthwhile in the human relationships. I would never have cared about that level of trust when I was a kid, but as an adult, as someone who feels like he's in that kind of relationship, I see it as laying the groundwork for understanding each other in my own children. Sometimes we need someone else to say that what we're doing is important, and that it can change the world, even just for a small group of people.

That said, I do think they missed an opportunity in the second movie when they didn't make Astrid the new chief.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Best Stories in the World: Pierre Menard

There's a guy, I think he's French but I won't hold it against him...his name's Pierre Menard, and he gets this idea to write the Quixote. The thing of it is, Cervantes already wrote it. Menard doesn't let that stop him, of course, or there would be no story.

And what a story it is. I think. Is it a story?

Menard is, apparently, deceased. He was a novelist and left behind a body of work appreciated by the narrator, who provides us with a list of those works publicly known (for example, a "handwritten list of lines of poetry that owe their excellence to punctuation" [which I absolutely love]). Of more interest to the narrator, however, is Menard's unpublished work; namely, Menard's Quixote.

Not Cervantes. That part's important. Menard didn't set out to recreate or copy Cervantes's work. He intended to write Don Quixote as himself. In other words, it's a story about context. The narrator isn't so much presented in the best light. He's kind of petty. Though, in the end, he declares that "Menard has (perhaps unwittingly) enriched the slow and rudimentary art of reading by means of a new technique--the technique of deliberate anachronism and fallacious attribution...This technique fills the calmest book with adventure. Attributing the Imitatio Christi to Louise Ferdinand Celine or James Joyce--is that not sufficient renovation of those faint spiritual admonitions?"

This summary really doesn't do it justice. 

Is "Pierre Menard" a story? There's no plot, per se. It's a sketch, fiction masquerading as non-fiction in the form of a description of a guy and his work, especially Menard's "Quixote," which Menard saw as not inevitable, like certain other works of Poe or Coleridge. Instead, it was contingent. Menard thinks of his recollection of Quixote not as a memory, but as "the equivalent of the vague foreshadowing of a yet unwritten book."

Here's what led up to this story: On Christmas Eve 1938, Borges was moving quickly up a flight of stairs. At this time his eyesight was already failing, and he hit his head on an open window, shattering the glass and gouging his head. The wound got infected, Borges was diagnosed with septicemia,  subsequently hospitalized, and spent a few weeks convalescing. During this time, he developed a fever and sort of hallucinated. He began to doubt his sanity. Up to this point, Borges had written poetry and reviews of books and movies, for the most part. He'd penned a few short stories, biographies, and a short review of a book that didn't exist ("The Approach to al-Mu'tasim"). He hadn't really become internationally famous yet, and his career wasn't certain.

After recovering from septicemia, Borges wanted to know if he could still sustain concentration enough to write, and during his convalescence, he figured he should write stories. He wanted to try something new and unfamiliar to him so that, should it fail, he could blame his failure on its novelty to him. "Pierre Menard" was his first attempt. It was followed by "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," which takes the form of an entry from an encyclopedia that doesn't exist.

So why is this one of the best stories in the world? You've got to read it to fully understand. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Heroes, Super and Otherwise

I've been busy. Here are some interesting articles about Superman and Wonder Woman and Captain America.

From Polygon, by Tara Marie: Would Superman Punch a Nazi? 

The simple answer is yeah, Superman would punch a Nazi, and so would almost all of the creators of our favorite comic characters, most especially Jack “the King” Kirby. Despite this being a somewhat common sense answer, it’s caused a lot of contention.


Most of that trickles down from director Zack Snyder, the primary architect of the DCEU. In his two Superman outings, Snyder struggles with the idea of basic human decency. In fact, it seems to be utterly mystifying to him. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent spent most of his screen time in Man of Steel trying to convince Clark not to be Superman, to the point that he was willing to die so his son wouldn’t have to be a hero. He lets himself get picked up in a tornado instead of letting actual Superman carry him to safety, based only on the assumption that there would be witnesses and that Clark would then become a public figure.

 I've been interested lately in the scope of Superman references out there. Here are a few that caught my attention.

First, Forbes, which decided five years ago to cover Superman's day job. Deborah Burns uses the comic book version of Superman as a springboard to discuss ways to quit your job in the most graceful manner and how to write for a blog:

But this will be a huge transition — even for a superhero. He will need to find health insurance and learn how to make money without a job. Not having a steady paycheck, he may also need to be more frugal.


So obviously, Superman is not really Superman.  {What?  You thought that picture above was the real deal? :) I dug that out of Superman's files from his college graduation like six or seven years ago. I think he used it for his grad announcement.}  But he is my Superman and I absolutely love him with all my heart.  I considered never showing a picture of him to keep it all mysterious {you know, like that neighbor guy whose face you never see in Home Improvement?} but I thought better of it.  Superman is such a huge part of my life, how could I not show him?  He's an awesome husband and father and he's my favorite and best friend. 

Finally, a runner who is called the Autism Superman.

This is all pretty great.





Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Superman Link

I haven't been combing the internet for Superman material much lately. Still, every once in a while something comes across the comb, so to speak.

Like this essay, by Stephen Lovely at Portalist.

Superman struggles with as many internal motivations and priorities as any other superhero, or any other person. He is an orphan, an immigrant, and an alien. He is feared and loved. He is in a love triangle with two women (Lois Lane and Lana Lang); he is in another love triangle with himself (Lois Lane, Superman, and Clark Kent).

These aren’t simple issues, and they can’t be easily resolved despite Superman’s ultimate morality. Superman always strives to do ‘the right thing’, but the questions he faces in each story ought to be tough enough to match his intellect and his drive for goodness. With the right conflict, a Superman story is more than a superhero story, and Superman’s true value shines through.


It's a response to the occasional statement that Superman is boring, and I tend to agree with Lovely's argument, even if I would put it in a different way. Anyway, good stuff that I might revisit soon.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Miracle Monday



I missed Miracle Monday, didn't I? Oh, well. I'll blame it on my son's tonsilectomy happening that day, my ghostwriting gig, my editing work, proofreading, and having  to index my Superman book. A while back I actually did write a post about Miracle Monday, so might as well  post it belatedly.

For whatever reason, nobody published novelizations of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. However, Elliott S. Maggin wrote a couple of novels around the same timeframe, published by Warner Books, that were photographically, if not narratively, tied in with the movies. By that I mean that there are pictures of Reeve on the cover and a section of photos from Superman II in the middle.

The plot is fairly straightforward: A demon named C.W. Saturn is tasked with taking Superman's soul. He tries to get it--and it must be done in a fair manner, i.e., Superman has to agree or commit some heinous sin--by wearing down the hero to the point that Superman would commit murder just to make things stop. So Saturn takes over the body of a young woman (who just so happens to be a time traveler from the future who's trying to figure out exactly what happened on Miracle Monday) and causes all sorts of havoc all around the world, starting with revealing Superman's secret identity. Superman's got to stop him, which is both an act of will and a superheroic feat. He does stop Saturn, of course, by not giving in to exhaustion and despair.

It's a pretty good little novel. Maggin knows Superman better than just about everybody, and it's on display. Including Jimmy Olsen and Perry White seems almost perfunctory, but in a story about Superman's secret identity being exposed, it's also obligatory. I did like the conversation between Lois and Clark after she finds out.

Miracle Monday is an artifact of its time--back when Clark Kent was a television news anchor (which just doesn't seem to work for him, no matter the rationale behind it).

The time travel works as a framing device, with the travelers going back in time to find out why people started celebrating Miracle Monday in the first place. It's a holiday in which everybody is just happy to be alive, with Superman as it's patron saint. So as we learn about the holiday, the fact that everybody's memory of the events leading up to it will be erased becomes clear. As if it wasn't already obvious when Saturn exposes Superman's secret identity.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

French Sources of Mystery

One reason I haven't been posting much lately is that I've been combing through a bunch of old French books. Particularly, the Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses to which Borges refers in "Fauna of Mirrors."

Let's review: The "Fauna of Mirrors" story opens as follows:

In one of the volumes of the Lettres edifiantes et curieuses that appeared in Paris during the first half of the eighteenth century, Father Fontecchio of the Society of Jesus planned a study of the superstitions and misinformation of the common people of Canton; in the preliminary outline he noted that the Fish was a shifting and shining creature that nobody had ever caught but that manysaid they had glimpsed in the depths of mirrors. Father Fontecchio died in 1736, and the work begun by his pen remained unfinished; some 150 years later Herbert Allen Giles took up the interrupted task. According to Giles, belief in the Fish is part of a larger myth that goes back to the legendary times of the Yellow Emperor.

I've gone through most of Giles's work (already mentioned here) and now I've gone through all but one volume of the Lettres. In the thirty-some I've gotten access to, there is no mention of a Father Fontecchio, or of fish being in mirrors and attacking our world.

I say all but one volume: I haven't been able to get number 31 yet.

Keep in mind a few things. First, my French is pretty rusty. Second, this is eighteenth-century French. Still, I think I've been pretty thorough. All the volumes of the Lettres are available on-line in searchable formats. I used the same terms for each volume search: miroir, Fontecchio, Zallinger, poisson, superstition.

I used to be certain that Fontecchio was a real guy, though I can't recall why and have no source for that. Zallinger is equally obscure. Let's see, there's reference to Zallinger (as Zallinger, P.) on the University of Pittsburgh's Borges Center site, but nothing on Fontecchio. They publish a journal devoted to Borges.

So what's the next step? I dunno.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Matrixes

Here's another Matrix video that popped up yesterday. This time, on the craft that went into its production and post-production.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Matrices

I remember going to see The Matrix when it came out in 1999. One of the best parts of that was going in with no expectations. Everything was a surprise. A couple of web series (A History of Violence and Really that Good?) revisited The Matrix this month, and they're worth checking out.

Tom Briehan's essays on action films in A History of Violence:

More than any movie before or since, The Matrix made Keanu Reeves part of the action-star pantheon. Reeves, who’d been enough of a cowboy to do stunt work in Point Break and Speed, took things to a new level, setting new standards in Hollywood action-star diligence. And more importantly, he didn’t just give an athletic performance; he meant it. Reeves’ kung-fu poses never looked goofy; he sold them through commitment and sincerity. And the dazed sweetness that had always been his movie-star calling card also showed through. Reeves always used to get shit for being a terrible actor, but he sold bewilderment like nobody else. When he muttered “whoa” at the sight of Morpheus taking to the air, he was speaking for the audience. And you won’t find too many iconic badass moments more iconic than the one in the subway station, when he decides not to run from Agent Smith and turns to fight him instead.


Moviebob's in-depth look at some of the most popular films in Really that Good?:


Moviebob also digs into the Matrix sequels a bit, which is worthwhile. If you like that video, check out the Really that Good? entry on Ghostbusters, too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mystery: Norman Thomas di Giovanni

I don't have a lot of time to dig into the mystery--which is what I have been calling the origin and authenticity of the story called, variously, "The Fauna of Mirrors," "Animals in the Mirror," and "Animales del Mirro" by Jorge Luis Borges...and maybe Margarita Guerrero. Less than an hour per week, maybe. Not much time, really.

So today I wanted to devote my few minutes to Norman Thomas di Giovanni. I found this. di Giovanni worked directly with Borges on translations of Borges's work into English. As things progressed, after Borges passed away, di Giovanni found himself being deprived of the results of that work. Publishers and Borges's widow had begun releasing newly translated versions of Borges's Spanish editions, without di Giovanni's contributions at all. He writes:

Behind my back, I was being ushered out of the door (if such a mixed metaphor is permissable) and at the same time was being airbrushed out of history, out of Borges's existence. All of my volumes of his work - work to which he contributed and gave a unique voice - were deliberately allowed to go out of print. No publisher, no editor, no agent, no executor of any estate ever wrote to me to explain any of this. New translations appeared. Viking-Penguin had bought up E.P. Dutton, and unilaterally, without a single word to me, they nullified my contracts, an act which experts in the law have told me was illegal. So ruthless was Viking that they even commissioned a new edition of Borges's poems, stealing from my edition, without permission, without payment, a considerable body of my work.

This is all very depressing.

I learned all this when I was looking up di Giovanni with the hopes of contacting him about the mystery. He passed away in February of 2017.

Norman Thomas di Giovanni will be remembered by friends in Buenos Aires for his wit and for his brash manner in all that he set out to do. He must also be remembered for his brilliant literary training, his high quality as a translator and his capacity to move from his hard-knocks managerial style to his kindness as a friend to all of his friends and for his often excessive generosity. Di Giovanni wanted to help the whole world. He was a sponge for attention and affection from all those he befriended or was close to at any one time.
However, Di Giovanni would probably want to be remembered simply as the best translator that Jorge Luis Borges ever had.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Underdogs

I've been thinking about American National Character a lot lately. Specifically, I've been thinking about stories we tell about large-scale conflict. This sort of thing has been on my mind for a while now, ever since I was teaching a myth course when the movie Troy came out. Some students in this myth class liked the film, particularly the parts in which Achilles talks about how the Greeks weren't portrayed in the best light. Their sympathies lay with Hector and Troy.

Now, I think lots of people today have the same sympathy. This is interesting because the Greeks of Homer's time probably didn't share it.

Back to stories of large-scale conflict. I'm referring to alien invasions and the like. Independence Day, Star Wars, Avengers, all that. Stories of underdogs. Overwhelming odds being beaten by a small group of heroes.

Here's where you've got to follow me: America's fascination for underdog stories stems from the perception of the country's origin as the result of the actions of just such a team of underdogs, often referred to as The Founding Fathers.

Take this premise through time, and we see that our most popular stories have at their core the same themes already present in our myth of national origin. So of course people see in Star Wars a version of US-England conflict--never mind its references to Vietnam.

Here's where history becomes important. The US had no chance to defeat England, or rather would have had no chance if England hadn't been embroiled across the globe in conflicts with France and Spain. England didn't have the opportunity to employ its full military might to stop the colonial uprising. Yes, France gave aid to the colonial rebellion, but myth has downplayed that. I remember seeing that movie The Patriot when it came out, with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. There's maybe one French guy in it (or more; honestly, I don't remember much about that movie).

Yet our national myth has erased that very detail of history, that England had lots of things going on. The Empire in Star Wars didn't also have to battle The Other Empire while facing the Rebellion. Or the Other Other Empire. I haven't seen the Independence Day sequel, so maybe that one's about the aliens conquering earth because they finally defeated the competing conquistadors from the Crab Nebula. Yeah, my astronomy knowledge is pretty thin.

There's a book to be written about this topic, I think. Drawing mostly on movies as the texts of the myth, but also on children's school books on history,

These movies have one thing in common: once something small about the enemy is destroyed, the whole Empire falls. More or less. I mean, Iron Man blows up that thing in the space hole in Avengers and the whole alien army falls down dead. Luke shoots the exhaust vent in the Death Star and the movie's done (yeah yeah yeah sequels and stuff, but even at the end of Jedi they win by the same sort of move, only with Lando and Nien Nunb and Wedge taking the shots; and sure, the expanded universe stuff expanded the defeat of the Empire, but still...). Even the movie of Starship Troopers does pretty much this same thing. Essentially, if you want to defeat an apparently unstoppable enemy empire or civilization, all you've got to do is find the weak spot.




So, what was the British Empire's weak spot? I mean, we all realize that it's not very realistic for the plucky underdogs to really beat the evil empire by finding their way inside to learn about the exhaust port vulnerability, or uploading a computer virus to the mother ship, or teaching Hugh about individuality, or tossing the ring into the cracks of doom. And do we consider it more realistic when Jon Snow's rag taggers are saved only by the arrival of Little Finger and a new army? How about how Katniss and her buddies finally overthrew Panem? Does that one fit? (haven't seen those movies, and though I read the books I don't really remember how they won--did they win? they must have won, right?)

I've sort of lost my train of thought. Let's recap: as Americans, we're predisposed to like stories about the triumph of underdogs because our national myth presents our origins in those terms. This elides several key factors of actual history that are ignored by reimaginings of those myths, such as hugely popular movies. The British Empire's weak spot wasn't an exhaust port or vulnerability to infiltration. It was that it had too many enemies.

What movies complicate this reading of myth and history? Probably every movie about actual wars fought in the twentieth century, especially the two world wars. I don't really know.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All We Fiddlers


From Edgar Lee Masters, in the Spoon River Anthology poem "Blind Jack." This is the storytellers' heaven:


There's a blind man here with a brow
As big and white as a cloud
And all we fiddlers, from highest to lowest,
Writers of music and tellers of stories,
Sit at his feet,
And hear him sing of the fall of Troy.