Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gotta Lotta Harry Potta

I've now seen the final installment of the Harry Potter series (twice, in fact, thanks to my daughter's obsession with it). What can one say? To praise the movies (or the books) is redundant, to critique them seems like sour grapes, especially when one is an aspiring fantasy novelist oneself. But for what it's worth, here's my assessment of "The Deathly Hallows, Part 2":

I liked it.

It was very dark--literally and figuratively; I had trouble seeing what was going on some of the time. The score was terrific, the acting was effortless, and there were a number of stirring scenes, notably the arming of Hogwarts. I also found myself moved by two scenes in particular: Snape's memories viewed by Harry in Dumbledore's Pensieve, and Harry's meeting with the shades of his loved ones in the Forbidden Forest. Though Voldemort's death was something of an anti-climax (less so, actually, than in the book, where he just kind of falls over dead), the film had a fittingly final feel. The promos read: "It All Ends," and though that may be a bit grandiose and hyperbolic, I didn't feel as if they'd left anything out or failed to tie up any important threads.

The only negative thing I'll say about the movie, or about the series as a whole--and this has nothing to do with J. K. Rowling or the film-makers--is that I just don't get all the reviewers and critics who write about the saga's profound religious and mythological resonances. I had the same objection to those who waxed eloquent (and incoherent) about the Star Wars films as modern-day myths. Yes, Harry visits King's Cross Station when he dies--and then he comes back to life, so you can definitely see the Christian imagery there. But the books (and the film adaptations thereof) don't strike me as carrying the gravity and significance necessary to proclaim them "mythological" or "religious." They're pretty simple fairy tales or action-adventure yarns: good confronts and defeats evil, all while riding on dragons and fighting ogres. If that's all there is to mythology or religion, so be it. I suspect, though, that there's lots more: like the complexity of faith, the puzzle of suffering, the relationship of humanity to the earth, the mystery of creation. Harry Potter (not to mention Star Wars) doesn't seem to have anything to do with those subjects, and so for me, it fails the test of myth.

But it fails that test only if we expect it to pass. If, by contrast, we expect it to be exactly what it is--a well-crafted story with appealing characters, a visionary dreamworld, and a compelling narrative--then it passes with flying colors.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fairy Tale Future

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm currently working on a young adult fantasy novel. It's set in a post-apocalyptic Earth (or maybe not Earth), and that's all I'm going to say about its plot for now. I've got a chapter and a half drafted (but no title!). We'll see if something comes to me.

Anyway, working on this book has got me thinking about futuristic narratives and their relationship (or lack thereof) to reality.

Take Blade Runner, for instance. It's celebrated as one of the great science fiction films of all time--and I don't dispute that. Its visuals remain stunning (especially on a widescreen TV and Blu-Ray, both of which I recently purchased), its conception of a future Earth is arresting, and (once Ridley Scott got the control he needed to strip out the voice-over narration and other distracting elements from its theatrical release) its plot is deeply moving and disturbing.

But measured against the real, it's way off base.

Think about it. The film, which came out in 1982, is set in 2019, or eight years from now. Earth is for all intents and purposes uninhabitable. Non-human animals are extinct. And superhuman android slaves labor in off-world colonies. Huh?

Unless we have some major changes in the next eight years, Blade Runner's vision of 2019 is pretty much laughable.

Or let's consider the Terminator movies (which also look really cool on Blu-Ray). The narrative is set in 2029, after a super-smart computer called SkyNet has initiated global thermonuclear war to annihilate the human species. Cyborg assassins called Terminators travel back in time (that's right) to eliminate the humans who will, in the future, fight back against and ultimately triumph over the machines.

Double huh?

Time travel is impossible (Einstein proved that). The smartest computer we've got can barely beat a human being on "Jeopardy." And though nuclear war does remain a looming threat, what will happen in its aftermath, if it happens, is that humans will have to struggle against themselves, not a bunch of machines, for survival.

I'm not being dense here. Obviously, futuristic narratives aren't meant to offer "real" pictures of the future; they're meant to facilitate reflection on the present. And we do indeed have reason to be fearful about our present technologies, our present violent tendencies, our present destructive ways. The only point I'm making is that stories about the future, even those that gesture the most strenuously toward believability, are bound to be just that--stories. Fictions, in fact. Or, to use a somewhat more loaded term, fairy tales.

This is why, perhaps, I prefer futuristic narratives that make no pretense of accuracy. Narratives such as those of 12 Monkeys or Star Wars. The former an obvious social allegory, the latter based largely on The Wizard of Oz (which was itself, by the way, a futuristic narrative when it came out in 1939, as well as a social allegory).

So when you're reading my book (assuming it comes out some time in the future), don't be surprised if I get everything wrong. As the androids and cyborgs will gladly tell you, that's the nature of the game.