Month: January 2018

The Aged Hero’s Journey

[(Aged) hero’s journey]

I was struck by recollection of Ursula K. LeGuin’s very-important-to-me Earthsea series upon news of her recent passing, and was especially struck by the Hero’s Journey she constructs in The Farthest Shore. Sure, it’s ostensibly young Arren’s Journey, but actually? No. It isn’t. It’s Ged’s. After already living comfortably as Archmage for many years, in middle age, he embarks on another hero’s journey. Arren goes through a classic coming of age adventure, but Ged’s Journey, though the same adventure and path, is at the same time completely different, because of his age (and station). So I was inspired to construct a hero’s journey that’s specifically for us old people.

This is a hero’s journey that isn’t a coming of age story (or at least, it’s not a coming of that particular young age, nor is it a story of becoming an adult). Our hero is already an adult, and even already a hero, before s/he embarks.

I’ve made it into 8 stages, to go with my 8-Stage classic hero’s journey and the villain’s journey I’ve written about here before.

You might want to familiarize yourself with those again before plunging into this one.

———–

1. Break in stasis / call to adventure

I use a term from the beginning of the Freytag’s Pyramid story structure here along with the Hero’s Journey classic “call to adventure” because for our older, experienced hero, the comfort of regular life, the level life of stasis, the “way things is” in normal existence, including the presence of friends and family, is a deeper and higher stakes situation for the older hero. The comforts of home are kinda essential for someone with chronic arthritis in her knees, and her family, in contrast to the young hero running from/rebelling against her parental figures and elders, instead is herself the elder. Her family might be her own children, her home the comfort of a chosen partner. Leaving this behind takes a great, dire, often violent, disturbance.

2. Resisting the call / shutting the door

I’m too old for an adventure; get off my lawn! How dare you disturb me in my retirement—I’m done with all that now. Allow me to milk these island beasts in peace. No, I haven’t tapped into the Force since my nephew went bad, which was my fault, by the way. I can’t harm anyone out here in my retirement, nor am I willing to save the world. Again. Been there done that got the T-shirt and the scars. Go back to your rebellion, kid, and leave me here where I belong.

3. Return to the forest

There’s usually, as stated in stage one, a volatile, vital, and necessary reason to drag the Aged Hero out of her stasis, comfortable or no. Once she realizes her refusal of the call to adventure is to no avail, she’ll embark on her journey, back into the Forbidden Forest. But, unlike when she was young, she knows exactly how to navigate the threshold; in fact, it’s usually her own stubbornness that’s the only thing holding her back. Those fearsome guardians at the gate? They remember her and know her well, or at the very least, our hero knows very well how to move through that gate. It’s familiar territory, as is the Realm itself.

4. Becoming the fae

Once the Aged Hero is back in the Forest/Enchanted Realm/whathaveyou, he doesn’t have to fight anybody, or pit his wits or strength against the magical guides or guards. Both, honestly, are fading at any rate. And boy does that stump look comfy to rest on, just for a minute while he catches his breath. And look at that young hero who just broke through the gate guardians, looking terrified of the path. I wonder if he has any water to spare…

Know how in every old tale, the young hero always should share his meager supplies when he comes across strangers in the Wood? That’s because the strangers (if treated kindly), will help him succeed in his journey. Sometimes the strangers are magical denizens of the Realm. But sometimes….

5. Give up the gifts

The Aged Hero acquired these magical boons long ago, and if she’s a real hero, she already returned with them, using them to benefit her community. They have served her well, and made life a little better for her tribe/family/etc. But now it’s time to give them to somebody who can use them better than she can. Or, it’s time to use them one more time: just once, for the final and most important act.

6. Acknowledge the child/ren

This stage can come simultaneously with Stage 5, with the old hero giving his gifts up to the younger one, or it can be a more symbolic passing of the torch. At any rate, it’s not his story anymore: it belongs to the young ones now, and will continue with them.

7. Last legs / home again

The return-w-boon is usually in this stage the Empty Vessel, from which the Aged Hero has poured out her power in order to save the world, or it’s an empty hand from which the torch was passed, etc. More wisdom, often in the form of deep love, is now the Aged Hero’s boon, and she, tired to death, returns without magic, but all the empty spaces wherein the magic once was. And a deeper, more integrated, quieter, powerful innerstrength withal.

8. Golden years / I’m fucking retired, y’all

No really, kids. This time I mean it. For reals. Get off my lawn, seriously.

This stage can take the form of a disappearance or death, like our elder Jedi in the Star Wars stories, or just going into retirement, or moving on physically, like Tolkien’s old immortal Elves retreating to the western lands, leaving Middle-Earth to the young humans to mind. Maybe the Aged Hero teaches the younger ones now, or (more often) not, but a new stasis is established in any case.

Of course, this new stasis can be broken again at any time.

Ugh, what’s that call I hear? The Call to Adventure? Again? Nope, not this time—my back hurts…

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The Archmage is Dead

The magus is dead

Long live the magus

–Anselm Hollo

Only in silence the word

Only in dark the light

Only in dying life

Bright the hawk’s flight

On the empty sky

(The Creation of Éa)

–Ursula K. LeGuin

Better (and certainly more accomplished) writers than me have already written beautiful pieces in tribute to one of our greatest writers in literature (let alone in the much maligned genre of Fantasy), upon the news of her death. What can I possibly add, that Scalzi, Gaiman, King, and the NY Times haven’t already said?

Decades before Harry Potter got his letter to admit him to Hogwarts, upstart Ged chose Roke Island over a rural existence learning from his master Ogion. Like another gifted youth after him, he chose the big conflict and the school for wizards over his backwater mentor who yet had more knowledge and wisdom than any of his big city professors. And, like Skywalker later, he finds his way finally back to accept the last phase of his higher learning, almost too late.

As a headstrong, gifted youth myself, I found Ged’s story profound in a way I can’t describe to you unless you’ve read the Earthsea books. Imagine, then, my astonishment when, in 1991, when I was poised to graduate high school, I saw, more than ten years out, the sequel to what had been only a trilogy since the ’60s: a book called Tehanu. This was something different. An aging widow and a rape survivor girl with unnamed power were the protagonists this time. I won’t spoil this for you, because you NEED to read this whole thing, but the revolution of what love can be, what being gifted really means, which I found in this late sequel, blew my fucking head off.

Later, Ursula K. LeGuin continued her adventures in the land of Earthsea, addressing the innate sexist structures of her patriarchal world, and discovering what death in her world actually was. We had been through the land of death, with her most profound protagonist and a young someone who could do nothing but follow. We knew what the Dry Land was all about. And yet. She had the guts to allow a minor character to come forth in a still later sequel and call bullshit. She questioned the very structure of her worldbuilding, and let her imaginary population say No. And thus the Earthsea series grew. And grew up. Like I did.

I’ve read a couple other works by LeGuin (short story “Buffalo Gals…” is one that reverberated through my old story saturated self) and of course like any young Fantasy writer, attempted to imitate her. But such things are impossible. Her complete concepts, thorough world building, and precisely cut prose, as pared down and beautiful as any expertly cut gem, are all things to catch one’s breath about in awe, not to copy. This was a master that can’t be copied. Many writers rightly talk of Left Hand of Darkness or The Word For World is Forest as sci fi works that speak profoundly to what sci fi normally does: the state of our society and earth as it is. And in the wake of Mr. Potter’s journey through his magical realism school for wizards, who is looking back at a rural Archipelago populated mainly with people of color, and dragons? We should be.

I declare, we all have much to learn from how Ged reacts to rich asshole Jasper, befriends Vetch, what he does about the shadow he unleashes, the lessons about indoctrinated religion we learn when he visits the Tombs of Atuan, and especially what he does with his incredible gifts, in order to save the world. The writers of Last Jedi got this, and got it spot on. LeGuin taught it to us first.

When I saw her read in Seattle, when I thought I’d be going there for grad school in writing, she was in the middle of translating the I Ching.

Ursula K. LeGuin has passed, but we are all fortunate that she not only left her rich worlds behind in immortality, but also her writing instruction. What a gift, even to have a series of writing exercises she feels important (Steering the Craft), and essays in which she expresses her views of grammar, structure, genre, and feminism in language (The Language of the Night), let alone the volumes of this vein of work online…. She may be gone, but we should delay not one moment to (continue to) learn from her.

RIP Ursula K. LeGuin. I hope your experience of death is more like your later Earthsea books than the early ones. Of course it is. You discovered such so long ago.

Sing, O Muse, of a new semester (quarter, session, etc.)…

Well, lovely lurkers, it’s mid-January, and if you’ve been lurking here for awhile, you know what that means: It’s:

/cue Monty Python theme music as the scruffy bearded man runs away/

The Musings Upon A New Semester! And etc. Because every freaking school at which I teach is on a different schedule. Let alone different pay dates….

Front Range has decided they don’t have any classes for me this semester. Which is troubling, as that’s around $800/mo that I am not getting this semester (that means now through May, kids). So. Sigh. I did reach out to their online division, which didn’t help in the short term, but hopefully shall in the long.

At Metro, I’m teaching two online courses: one is the Staging Cultures class you’ve heard me talk about before; the other is (also online) called Theatre History and Criticism II. What makes it different than I, you might ask? No idea–I’ve never taught either before. Luckily I have an esteemed colleague’s version of it to pirate, er, adapt into my own structure and voice. Metro (and FRCC, when I do teach for them) is on the semester system, which means their classes run from next week through early May.

DU is having me teach their Capstone seminar online, which is the course that masters degree students take when they’re working on their culminating projects for their advanced degree in writing. Lots of diverse topics and creative projects this quarter. Yep, quarter. Which means ten weeks (they started last week).

Regis always has me do directed study courses, which means: online, one-on-one with grad students pursuing their masters in writing, and nearly all designed by me. This session (8 weeks there) I have two YA lit/Writing students, and one YA Poetry student.

Professional stuff? I have returned to Boulder Burlesque to choreograph and perform in their upcoming Valentine’s Day themed show, and am still in Bronze Fox Burlesque, but after their calendar debacle, I don’t know what’s up with them. Prolly a 4/20 show. But who knows, indeed…

Friend and fellow dancer Brandy and I are co-creating a vaudeville style variety show called Blue Dime Cabaret, about which I shall keep you informed, as it continues to coalesce with all the acts we’re trying to recruit.

Finally, I’m in charge of choreographing and directing the violence and intimacy scenes in another Local Theatre Company show called The Wisdom of Everything.

Whew! That added to the books I am beginning to write, looks like I’m a busy (and woefully underpaid) little bee. Send beer money…..

The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.1

Character name: Sebastian Moran

Reference: In the original canon, Sebastian Moran is a colonel, not a peer of the realm, but he shares the distinction in this episode (very nearly named after the original story: “Empty House” = “Empty Hearse”) of being the central villain of the first story after Holmes’ return from his supposedly fatal end at the Reichenbach Fall.

Moran is one of several suspected terrorists Sherlock calls his “rats,” so when we find a bomb set up in a tunnel called Sumatra, we also of course hear the echo of a never-penned, only-mentioned adventure called the “Giant Rat of Sumatra.”

Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I mentioned to the SO that I had come up with seven stereotypes/damaging/problematic tropes of the Female Badass, that I was interested in writing an article about. Or a series of articles. I read my basic descriptions of all 7 to him, and he purred, “Um, this is a book, darling; you realize that, right?”

Dammit.

Well, this coming semester I will have quite a bit of time on my hands, and not much money to speak of, so. All righty then. It’s a book. It will be a book, that is.

Here’s a basic rundown of the seven tropes I will be analyzing. Some of them are already-established from feminist scholars before me, others I have invented (as far as I can tell; at least the terminology for them). Most have sub-tropes, which I’ll also briefly describe here. Another note: I am not equipped to discuss any non-binary nor POC issues. There’s a lot more here to write about, that I highly recommend those of you who can, should.

And away we go……

1) The Marion Effect

I named this trope off two Marions from cinema: Maid Marion in the delightfully awful Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves; and Indy’s gal-pal in Raiders Of the Lost Ark. Both Marions begin as total unquestionable badasses (the former kicking Robin Hood’s ass, the latter drinking a dude under a table and still saving the artifact), and both switch to simpering weaklings as soon as it’s a plot point to have them become Damsels in Distress. In other words, they’re completely awesome until the male hero shows up and needs a love interest to rescue.

(Sub-trope: Someday My Prince Will Come) This can happen to any Marion Effect character but it’s mostly seen in the Disney Robin Hood’s Maid Marian. She’s even got a wanted poster of her remote crush up in her closet like a high schooler with a bad boy band poster. Either way, she does nothing to get what she wants, even if she can. Disney’s Little Mermaid is like a combination of both Marion Effects.

2) Wonder Woman

This trope is summed up with one question: does the sexiness of the ass preclude the badness of the ass? James Cameron has recently averred that a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) be both tough and sexy, but regular people of all genders seem to disagree with him. So then the problematic bits come twofold with this trope: either the strong, tough woman is depicted as manly and/or not hot, or sexiness is shoehorned onto a tough character, because she’s female.

3) Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s fun to watch women get tortured!

(Sub-trope: Slasher Fodder) Especially when we don’t have to invest in her as a fully developed character!

4) The Meaning Of (His) Life

The only function of this otherwise intelligent, quirky, and otherwise interesting character is to change the male hero’s perspective, life, etc.

(Sub-trope: Manic Pixie Dream Girl) This is a well discussed trope already: basically, the MPDG is thoroughly disposable once she has been of use to the male protagonist. This sketch sums it up: Underwritten Female Characters

(Sub-trope: The Arwen Syndrome) This sub-trope has been around for a long, long, time: since the troubadours of old. Heck, since the ancient Greeks, let’s be honest. The Arwen Syndrome refers to how Arwen was written in Tolkien’s original books. Or, rather, not written. She’s an ethereal, not-really-there figure that exists purely to keep Aragorn’s gumption up, and is basically given to him as a reward by Elrond and Galadriel for a job well done. The longest passage we have written about her is a physical description.

5) Mother Knows Best, But Hero Knows Better

I’m not sure I can think of a more badass act than giving birth. Oh wait, yes I can: it’s the act of parenting itself. Toughest thing anyone can do. But even the strongest and most badass of mothers are always second-string when it comes to the male hero.

(Sub-trope: All Women Are Maternal) This is the related trope that any woman, no matter how tough or strong she is, no matter what difference she makes or what she survives through, is simply not a real woman unless she’s a mother. The ends of Kill Bill and Aliens are examples of this.

6) One of the Guys

Story of my life, actually. But. This is the female character that isn’t “really female” because she’s pals, not lovers, with the male hero. Or she’s a part of the mostly male gang (think Anybodys in West Side Story). Or she joins the military and subsequently either is treated or in disguise as, one of the guys (G.I. Jane and Mulan are this, as are legendary pirates irl Anne Bonny and Mary Reade).

(Sub-trope: Banter Becomes True Love) Any romantic comedy from the 1980s has this in spades. Win the girl. If she, too, is intelligent, it’ll just take more persistence & work. Remember Moonlighting? The main problematic issue about the BBTL trope (besides idealizing stalking) is that the female is rendered completely uninteresting once she’s finally a love interest.

7) I’m Only Here For My Vagina

The only reason the character exists, and the only thing she’s good at or for, is sex. She can be a bad guy (Onatopp from Goldeneye) good guy love interest (insert your favorite here, pun intended), or a variety of Arwen Syndrome, but she’s just about the sex.

(Sub-trope: Witchy Woman) Circe is the first one of these who comes to mind; the female whose magic superpower is her vagina.

(Sub-trope: Bond Girl) Bond Girls can be any number of things, from villain to brief encounter to The One Who Changed Bond’s Life, but one thing they all are: they are all about sex with Bond. Once that’s accomplished, they go away.

Tell me your thoughts about these tropes and my brief onceovers of them in the comments, and I’ll post updates as I write.