The Queen of the Damned: The Evolution of the Vampire Chronicles

*Spoiler Alert*

 

I REALLY wanted to like Vampire Chronicles. Really. Cult status and shit. The series started out so well and even with the obvious alterations due to transition from standalone novel to the whole series and the rapid change of the whole Lestat’s personality form the undead psychopath to a sensitive survivor it was a good story. A bit of cringe here and there but nothing major. The Queen of the Dead though… I hope it’s just a slip, a weaker point of the Chronicles because I’m starting to feel too disappointed to continue reading.
Remember how when the movie adaptation hit the theaters people would say it’s embarrassing? That the story is ridiculous? Frankly, minus the whole idea of mixing Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned together which was totally unnecessary I think it kinda made the long story short. Akasha awakes from her thousands-years-old hmm immobility? to fall in love with Lestat and burn all the others vampires alive for no reason and needs to be stopped or the Earth will plunge into chaos. And you know what? That’s just it. There’s not much more to it in the case of the book. But let’s get into more detail as to why I’m sooooo disappointed with the Queen of the Damned.

The Narrative

This is the scene in which Anne realizes she can no longer pull of the first person narrative and instead of just switching to the third person, she makes some awkward excuses through the mouth of Lestat. He says even though he cannot carry it on anymore it’s ok because ‘even as you will hear different voices it’s in fact still me narrating and if you read people saying I’m beautiful and suave it’s not because I say and think that of myself (suuuure…) but because I’ve often heard people say and think that about me.’ So yeah, sleek, Mrs Rice. Another thing is how she tries out different narrating styles for different characters but it turns out forced and annoying. The most annoying is how the Lestat’s narrative from the beginning is so wink wink cool bad boy and then he drops it all of a sudden later. It’s like he tried to be the only non-pompous vampire on Earth but it turned out so unnatural that he gave it a rest.

The Talamasca

*Sigh* What was that even for? Some hush hush super secret organization for paranormal research doing an extremely important work that is of no profit to anyone. And of no consequence either. Just watching all those dangerous beings. Watching to what end? It’s not like they can do shit to vampires, witches and whatnots. ‘The order’ of Talamasca is tastefully placed in an Elisabethan mansion and served by the servants, chauffeurs and cooks round the clock. Everyone has their own fucking penthouse with a fireplace and generous pocket money. Sounds more like something between luxurious private club and royal court to me! Where do they get funds for that, given that their work is „of no profit to anyone”? Ok, a great unveiling of a secret: it’s all to give the mary sue character of Jesse a bit of mysterious aura and polish. Which brings us to…

The Characters

Every vampire is very beautiful and very powerful, Jesse is extremely attractive, brilliant and reads and writes in all the language she encounters. She also lives permanently in the lap of luxury and her step family loves her, all of her friends adore her. Is there a single flaw, suffering or struggle in her life? It looks like Anne Rice got high on her own stuff with this book. But ultimately Jesse is a very weak character. We get reminded all the time about how she’s Maharet’s descendant and we have to go through her highly detailed and monotonous memories of Maharet and the time she spent with her as a kid. That’s all there is to her. She wouldn’t be able to exist as a standalone character. What happened to the multidimensional characters from the previous parts?

When it comes to Lestat, in this part he’s neither stupefyingly sadistic and cynical (part I) nor an interesting philosopher and curious experimentator (part II). In this part he is just annoying and passive. He had strong reasons to provoke an attack on himself at the concert but then he had no idea that would happen. It was a meticulous plan but he didn’t know what he was doing… And so on. And then he’s just a victim of his addiction the murderous queen and her blood which is sooo goood yum. He knows killing everyone around is bad but then she’s sad when he voices his doubts so you see for yourselves he doesn’t have a choice. His persona from the Interview would just revel in all that blood and being fed such a powerful blood. His persona from the Vampire Lestat actually cut ties with his own mother precisely because she didn’t respect human life. But people change and, apparently, vampires too.

In the tale of the twin sisters, Khayman (is that supposed to be an Egyptian name?) and also some other characters act with complete, blatant disregard to the mentality and customs of the time and place. Khayman frequently bursts into tears thinking about what the poor girls had to go through. He faithfully visits them in prison. The king uses him to rape the twins ‘in his stead’ ‘for the love of his queen’. Those things would NEVER happen in the ancient Egypt. Life was brutal, people were used to blood and violence. Adult men didn’t cry thinking of some captive women’s dignity. Kings ruled with an iron fist having as many women as they wanted without asking their wife’s permission. And so on. It was a completely different mindset from ours. It’s very similar to how Lestat woke up in the 20th century and deemed is beautiful. Now being a 18th century man, he would never see our age of plastic, polyester and machine-made-music beautiful. So yeah, Anne Rice didn’t care about anachronisms, obviously. Too bad, it really breaks immersion.

Akasha. Where do I even begin? After all this tension and mystery built carefully around her in the tome II, it turns out this fascinating, beautiful, terrifying woman… has no personality. That often happens with human women. It turns out Akasha was still and silent through thousands of years because… she had nothing to say!!

joker

Not only that! She was busy thinking about how to make this world a better place. And she finally was enlightened: The key to the world’s happiness is… to exterminate all the men.

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That’s right. Because men make war and crime. Men kill and abuse women. And no woman ever was seen doing a single evil thing to add to the general misery of a mankind. Women are gentle, compassionate and benevolent creatures who come in peace. So Akasha appears in the different places all over the world to convince and manipulate women into killing their loved ones who happen to be men and the women somehow just take rocks and baseball bats and kill the poor defenseless men. Really, Anne? You could make anything out of it and this is what you came up with??

The Action

There is some, mainly involving Akasha and also the twins but mostly everyone is just talking. Talking, conferring, confessing, debating, musing, reminiscing, predicting, arguing and making up. Also, the ending is really disappointing. Mekare ending the immortal Mother with… a piece of broken glass? Why no one got this idea earlier? Oh and let’s not forget the BIG secret in the secret room: genealogical tree of the Big Family which is really a one great mankind family. Because it’s all about the brotherhood of men. Everyone has tears in their eyes, little children join hands and sing, doves are taking flight. Does anyone have a tissue?

The Locations

It’s so painfully clear that Anne Rice has never been to Europe except maybe as a tourist. And even so, one would expect her to be more realistic about it. The way she mixes topographical namesdropping with cultural stereotypes… It only serves to prove you shouldn’t write about things you don’t know anything about.

The same goes for Egypt. Seriously, the ancient Egypt was such a culturally and otherwise rich land , so much to describe. But nooo, it’s empty. There are some uh.. golden furniture and … slaves, that’s right! They had slaves. And the king is somehow never called a pharaoh even though such a fancy, history accurate (kinda) name (‘Kemet’) is used for Egypt. Barren land, just a few pyramids.

The Gospel

It’s sad how the book is an open propaganda tube for the author’s views. The lengthy speeches about how mankind ‘evolved’ out of superstitious faith into the era of tasteful reason, the whole sabbath of vampires unable to come up the any strong argument against killing all men, how no one dares to say that women are as evil as men (hehe are we equal or not?) and this autoerotic euphoria about how the aesthetics are the only absolute, unfailable category of good and evil… It just isn’t a mature book.

The Verdict

Queen of the Damned is unsatisfying, inconsistent and plain boring. The series built great expectations and fell short of meeting them. A lot of trivial pseudophilosophy instead of some good action. Pompous dialogues, a lot of drama with very little substance to it. Lore much poorer than I expected. The material in general is unnecessarily stretched. Seriously, if all vampires are going too hang around through eternity dispensing their leftist wisdom of the ages than I’ll pass.

claudia

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Fantasy Cliches and Stereotypes That Need to Be Challenged

Take a stroll through any mega bookstore, and you will be inundated with countless fantasy fiction books. A few will be great fantasy books, some will be good fantasy books, and most will be bad fantasy books. Finding a good fantasy novel is difficult, like sifting for gold among sand. But occasionally, just occasionally, you’ll find that rare nugget, that grain of gold to forever treasure.

(http://bestfantasybooks.com)

I have been more a woman of a book then of video game recently. I don’t know whether it’s going to stick but at the moment I’m devouring books at the frightening speed. To a point where 500 pages book is a two weeks read tops. Now, maybe you guys read faster but for me, considering I work full time and live a normal life it’s a major acceleration compared to only few months ago. And it’s getting worse and worse.

Anyway – so I’ve been thinking on what book to take up next. For me, as much as I love 19th century French novel and poetry, a general genres I turn to is fantasy, cyberpunk with some horror and steampunk. Since I’m just finishing Altered Carbon I decided to switch to fantasy for some variety. Searching in this range, I have been reading the synopsis and reviews of my potential new ‘paper victims’ and it struck me how certain annoying tendencies happen to repeat over and over again. I mean – not only in books of course, but in all works of fantasy fiction that take place in secondary worlds. So what exactly I am so tired of?

The Depiction of Religion

Have you noticed how the religion almost always comes in the form of a crazy sect – the oppressive, fanatical, tyrannical power proclaiming the one god/goddess out of the pantheon or yet completely new deity? There’s no real theology or liturgy to it, although there’s plenty of prophecies. Some kind of ‘holy book’ is quoted repeatedly, though it always says the same, no matter the religion or the universum.

Very often this new religion is a vehicle for the ambitious tyrant looking to seize the power. Aaaand enters the inquisition. Or rather the culturally prevalent, biased depiction of it. For the real, historical inquisition had hardly anything to do with its black legend in the modern West. The Holy Inquisition was a Churches’ detective office, researching the accusations of heresy and ensuring there were no mob lynches. No, they were not burning people on stakes, that’s Puritans’ invention. And no, they were not a torture club. I know it’s very unpopular truth, but seriously, just do some research. And this is why it’s so annoying for me, to use the inquisition’s construed infamy, strengthening it even further in fantasy works. Whew. Breathe. So, the oppressive cult supported by fanatical religious police units, inquisition and witch hunters. The best and fullest depiction of it is embodied in the Church of the Eternal Fire in the Witcher 3. This kind of total religion is usually very much against someone i.e. witches/wizards or elves or some sort of non-pure-bloods.

The religious alternative is cults of weak gods and goddess of flowers or moonlight with no real powers and no real theology. And no real consequences. There are of course interesting deviations from this rule. The Tolkien himself, who had much-needed maturity had his universe created by the supreme deity Eru Ilúvatar with the participation of the Ainur their music. The D&D universe is particularly dense with crowded pantheon of very lively gods and goddesses who often manifest themselves in the world, having their own schemes and goals. Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea is a wonderful and my favorite example – it’s a secondary fantasy world based on the Taoism. Ingenious and amazing, enriching read also from the philosophical perspective.

Female Characters

Disclaimer: I’m not a feminist and so I’m not writing it from a feminist perspective.

So, uh, where do I begin? Male authors prevalently can’t enter the female mind and heart and create passive, miserable female characters. Or ones that are completely emotionally unstable, whine and nag all the bloody time. Or the characters whose only characteristic is their beauty. I guess they draw from nature, sadly. So we have damsels in distress, ‘sarcastic’ witches (I’m looking at you, Yennefer), beautiful elven princesses, bloodthirsty queens, seductive vampires, longsuffering wives, pining fiancées and desperate mothers. When it comes to female authors, they can’t resist to make it a Cinderella story. A Mary-Sue Cinderella story often. Neither male or female authors seem to be able and willing to create an interesting female character and just let her be.

Some of the positive examples of what I’d like to see more in that respect:

  • Tenar (Tombs of Atuan, U. Le Guin) – a girl of a great power, destined to become a high priestess of the Nameless Ones, then literally and mentally liberated by a young wizard and YET NOT ENTERING A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. It’s true she married later and become the White Lady of Gont, but this is not what the story is about. The story is about her finding herself despite all the brainwashing she endured. Learing and gaining a courage to think for herself against the others’ judgement. It’s not that trivial matter, mind you. Worth a novel.

  • Eowyn (LOTR) – this girl had helluva character. Her greatest fear was to live her life purposelessly, to waste it, wait it out. Wasting away at the court of Meduseld she desired great deeds to feed her virtue. Yes, I know she fell in love. But it was not her ultimate goal still. She had a heart of a man, half of it anyway. How many women would decide to die in glory on the battlefield defending their people and homeland? Not very many. Needles to say, she defeated the Witchking of Angmar precisely because she combined typically male virtues with being a woman. Here Tolkien reminds us of a very old, half-forgotten, yet extremely appealing model of femininity. You know, Lagertha and stuff.

  • Claudia (The Interview with the Vampire, A.Rice) – extraordinary character. We watch her develop and grow into a seductive, mischievous woman in the shadow of her curse, being forever trapped in the body of a child. We witness her extremely complicated relationship with Louis, her revenge against Lestat, her own philosophy on the vampiric condition. Refined, cynical, heroic, having taken after both of her ‘fathers’, we feel Claudia’s inevitable tragic end. And yet, helpless child as she were, she managed to bring this end upon herself, for she was quite industrious.

  • Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful tv series) – I love these series despite their many incoherences and the annoying Dorian Grey! Vanessa, even despite mentioned incoherences, is one of the deepest, fullest female characters I’ve encountered. A woman said to be the incarnation of goddess Amunet, haunted by the Devil, darkly inclined and knowing The Arts. Yet (quite contradictorily) of strong faith and – even stronger – willpower. She’s not without blame – on the contrary – she’s brought all that misery on herself and those close to her in many ways. Even though, instead of whining or finding someone else to blame, she accepts her guilt along with the consequences of all her choices like a grown up. She endures with dignity and also has enough of willpower and strength to push away men she gets involved with if she sees it would bring harm to them or to her. The rare in female heroines victory of reason over the heart. Vanessa is heroic in her fight. She’s dark but not evil. I love this rare type!

Sociopolitical Simplification

It’s amazing how easily fantastical cities, kingdoms and empires fall prey to tyrannical overlords. Extra points if the overlord is an evil wizard. Fuck the political complexities or the division into the local and the global. Those minor struggles for power, even those really pitiful ones, which nonetheless lead to many consequences for the simple people. In some ¾ of all the fantasy universes I encountered, the totalitarian regime or the threat of it is either at the core of the plot or at least in the background.

From Lord of the Rings, to Baldur’s Gate, to Dragon Age to Samurai Jack it’s tyranny through and through. Evil demons, power-blinded kings, sinister half-brothers or sisters, creatures from the Void. The world quickly splits into the Fanatical Followers (or Scare-to-Death Followers) and persecuted Noble Rebels. At first, there’s a handful, but then their numbers grow, not without sacrifices and losses of course. UNLESS the whole threat is on such a interdimentional level that the world knows nothing about it and happily goes about their business being just a step away from a terrible fate. And at the end, the overlord is overthrown. Ha ha.

All those simplified political dynamics are quite boring, to be honest. Not only because they’re done to death, but also because it’s hardly a threat we can identify with today. Except for some unhappy places on Earth, we have presently different problems than the echoes of the World Wars, juntas and coup d’état. And why not take inspirations from all those complex situations in which regions and countries find themselves in right now? Our politicians and rulers provide enough material for interesting, believable threats, that also don’t have to be global.

Also, I think there can be invented enough problems for protagonists in their private, social and professional lives so that they don’t need to be thrown into the whirlwind of the ultimate clash of powers for the novel to be engaging. Actually, for me at least, novels about personal journeys and discoveries are much more interesting than those about defeating the evil tyrant for the 5779634th time. Adventures on the smaller scale, and not necessarily being ‘the Chosen One’. (Oh, and in most of the cases I’d LOVE to know by whom they were actually chosen… and based on what. Am I asking for too much? I probably am.).

There are two minor things, but still…

Cultural and Racial Division into North and South

The map of almost every single fantasy world is divided into the North and the South. As if it was the law. The North is of course inhabited by the wild, rude and somewhat unkempt barbarians. Blonde or redheads, fair, bearded, big and in horned helmets. The exact stereotype of Vikings with all its historical inaccurate glory that we so stubbornly stick to. Even despite works like the History channel’s Vikings that fight for righting the imagery wrongs.

Legends

These people usually are walking the thin line between unimaginable barbarity and warrior’s code of honor. Simple, brave, distrustful of magic. Preferred class: barbarian or warrior. Cooouuuld be a priest of some primitive god of war. Tops. The language somehow always is a loose variation of the Scandinavian languages and the alphabet is runic.

The fantasy Norsemen congregate in tribal communities led by chiefs. The religion usually consist of god of war plus north animal totems. Also, they rather live in villages of loosely scattered houses, then in cities. There may be some castles in equation.

Now, the South is a bit more diverse. It’s crowded, culturally (and usually also technologically) advanced and morally corrupt and/or bloodthirsty. In general it’s either more the cradle of arsonist and assassins with some tribes favoring open conflicts. Also in terms of aesthetic inspiration, sometimes it’s more of Mediterranean version and sometimes more Middle East/Persian style. Often it’s mixed up.

Pinterets

The Southerners are darker and almost always black-haired. Always of vaguely exotic features. Dressed lavishly and eccentrically, they appreciate poetry and complex fighting techniques. The south is also a home of unique magic and alchemy. The language is hard to learn and the culture opaque for the simple Northerners. These people prefer sabres and cutlasses to swords and axes, they are also accomplished archers. As they dabble in dangerous magic arts, they have this field covered too. prefered class: assassin, mage, possibly cleric of some desert deity.

Contrary to the Norsemen, the Southerners are city dwellers with occasional nomad tribes. Their cities are quite mazy and very colorful. Lots of tyranical rulers, rich plotting merchants, equally plotting eunuchs and their dangerous, mysterious mistresses. Also: djinns, iphrites, sphinxes, giant snakes, mummies, crazy necromancers and fighters-dancers.

So what about East and West? Well, there are different scenarios. Maybe some mountains to put dwarves into and a forest for elves? Or a gate into abyss? No? The point is: fantasy is the realm of fairy tales and legend. And the anthropology has it it’s the fairy tales and legends that express the mass consciousness. And the mass conciousness sees the line that divide the world not between East and West, but rather between North and South. I’ve read about it earlier in the historical context. Something’s definitely up.

Standardized Races

I feel like the humanoid races in the fantasy realm have become pretty standardized by now. With few exceptions, we can always expect the same characteristics, same socio-economic place in the world, same patterns of speech and behaviour. Was it master Tolkien who set things in stone? For example…

Elves – elves are always assumed to be a better, more developed race then humans, not to mention the others. Always in possession of a secret lore and thousands upon thousands of years of practicing magic, taming dragons or whatnot. They are actually quite unattainable in their perfection, mere mortals can never achieve an equal relationship with any of them. Not really.

Now, elves either live in their luxurious palaces in a fairy-like valleys of eternal fucking rainbow or become a fallen race and end up in cities’ slums, like in Dragon Age or hiding in partisan war (The Witcher). They’re still better though. In the first case it’s hard to tell what exactly they’re living off of, so I decided on taxes and/or tributes. But then they’re usually not very combative. In the second case they steal, prostitute themselves and own street food businesses (Witcher again).

Always beautiful, of pointed ears and delicate built, they tend to dress in particularly impractical but beautiful gowns and fiddly jewellery. And the hair – you know what I mean, right?

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Their language is impossibly complex and names overdone. In their free time they dance in the moonlight or recite poetry. When it comes to personality they tend to fall into one to the two categories: noble and clueless or snobbish and plotting. Neurotic and with a flair for drama in any case.

Halflings – what are they anyway? Tolkien has explained himself fully as to their characteristics, background, way of living and place in the world, but the rest of authors and creators seems to assume it obvious to create little people good for being rouges and that’s it!

Dwarves – Primitive, belching, swearing and – for some reason – always talking in Scots or at least with the Scottish accent. A race of miners but every one of them is a warrior. That doesn’t add up. At least it’s obvious where they are getting their money from. Dwarfish speech (if not Scottish version of common tongue) is rough and full of consonants. The alphabet wouldn’t dare to be anything but runic. When it comes to style, their closets house many fine chainmails. In their free time they drink and sing about gold.

Sturdy, bearded, braided, clanking with metal, they love their war axes, double-edged preferably. They often work as hired muscles, voyaging and seeing the world, although the rumor has it they have cities of their own under the mountains. Oh and they absolutely HATE elves, universally. It’s probably hair envy.

Orcs and goblins – ugly, green, mean and stupid. They live… somewhere, mountains or marshes usually and create social structures based on head-butting for petty reasons. They fight for living, as for the free time – they like to fight. When they don’t fight, they hunt or do some dark overlord’s bidding. They don’t have much to say, really.

I really wonder what it would be like to mix things up. To put dwarves into the woods and make them lumberjacks. To create ugly, insecure elves. Or just to add some variety – i.e. I love the idea of the D&D’s dark elves. Or how about the Sixth World of Shadowrun, where goblinoid races live in cyberpunk future alongside humans, dragons, technology and magic?

Conclusion

I feel like these typical depiction and plot devices are easy patterns to settle into. Whereas the genre provides so much possibility. It’s *fantasy*, for goodness sake, a matter of imagination. If anything can be, why the same happens over and over again?

You know I’ve been to the main library in my city few days ago. It was my first time after years spent abroad. And also because I prefer to buy books, but this time I couldn’t buy what I wanted to read, so there I was it this big white maze of a building again. And it almost made me weep with joy when I saw the fantasy section. It was FOUR times bigger compared to some four years ago PLUS the standalone horror section. That’s just one of many proves fantasy and sci-fi’s popularity is growing. And I think it really ceased to be the geeks’ thing for good.

Like the opening quote says: there’s currently a lot of fantasy books, but very little good ones. This is why it’s so important to become real picky. I think that we, as the fans of the genre, are responsible for co-creating the high standards and stirring imagination of the authors (and also film directors and game creators) a bit, forcing them to come up with the new and keep fantasy what it is – an ever fresh excercise in imagination.

Grimm City Jakuba Ćwieka: Powieść fantasy noir i co z tego wyszło

Fantasy noir – uwielbiam ten gatunek. Uważam, że to wprost wymarzone połączenie – w fikcji noir jest coś, co tak naturalnie można pogodzić z fantastyką, zaś fantastyka w czarnych barwach nie staje się automatycznie ani horrorem, ani nawet mroczną fantastyką. Niestety jest to gatunek jeszcze bardziej niedożywiony, niż cyberpunk. Filmy Kto wrobił królika Rogera i Dark City, a także gra Wolf Among Us to jedyne, co mi przychodzi do głowy. To znaczy przychodziło, bo niedawno odkryłam, iż Jakub Ćwiek wydał dwie książki w tejże właśnie konwencji: Grimm City. Wilk! i Grimm City. Bestie. Zaraz pobiegłam do internetu kupić Wilka i dzisiaj opowiem Wam, co sądzę.

O czym to zasadniczo jest? Bohater – Alfie Moore – jest muzykiem, który niechcący wplątuje się w mafijne porachunki, tak w skrócie. Mamy tu różne morderstwa, w tym jedno jego współlokatora, a drugie, w którym jest poniekąd świadkiem. Śledztwo prowadzi inspektor Evans i niezbyt tajny tajniak McShane. (Niech mi ktoś pomoże: nie mogę się pozbyć wrażenia, że Ćwiek przygotował sobie grunt pod ewentualną anglojęzyczną karierę książki…) Mafiozi nie występują prawie w ogóle, tylko się o nich mówi. Szkoda. Wszystko dzieje się w przygnębiającym, industrialnym mieście (nie, nie takim jak Sosnowiec).

Pozwolę sobie przytoczyć opis wydawnictwa:

Miasto Grimm – ponura, spowita obłokami tłustej czerni metropolia to miejsce, gdzie o sprawiedliwość równie trudno, co o bezchmurne niebo. Zbudowane na ciele olbrzyma, napędzane jego smolistą krwią i odłamkami węglowego serca trwało w dawno ustalonym porządku. Do teraz. Na przestępczą scenę wkracza właśnie bezkompromisowo Nowy Gracz, a oficer policji Wolf zostaje brutalnie zamordowany we własnym domu. Czy te fakty się łączą? I czy czerwony płaszcz z kapturem zaobserwowany u głównej podejrzanej w sprawie zabójstwa czyni ze sprawy zbrodnię na tle religijnym?

Jakub Ćwiek tym razem funduje nam gorzki, brutalny kryminał noir w niezwykłym świecie inspirowanym amerykańskim podziemiem przestępczym lat dwudziestych i trzydziestych. W mieście, w którym rządzi strach i… opowieść.

Już na pierwszy rzut oka ciężko opędzić się od skojarzeń z Wolf Among Us. To na pierwszy rzut, szybko bowiem okazuje się, że WAU jest nieporównanie bardziej spójne i konsekwentne w kreowaniu świata przedstawionego. W Wilku niby są postacie które nawiązują do bajek, ale to wygląda tak, jakby autor nie mógł się zdecydować, po co wprowadza pewne wątki czy koncepcje. Oficer Wolf ma niby kojarzyć się z wilkiem, jakaś laska z Czerwonym Kapturkiem, ale nie za bardzo wiadomo po co. Są też Jaś i Małgosia. Oprócz tego są normalni ludzie, a miasto jest zbudowane na ciele olbrzyma. Dafuq iz going on? To się wszystko nie trzyma kupy, a im dalej w szczegóły, tym gorzej.

Na szczególną wzmiankę zasługuje system religijny. Otóż w tejże nieokreślonej, baśniowej krainie panuje tzw. bajanizm. Autor – w jakże zaskakujący i wyrafinowany sposób – za wzór przyjmuje chrześcijaństwo i tylko zamienia nazwy. Tak więc mamy Bajarza (Bóg), który zstąpił w świat by opowiadać swoje opowieści i Handlarza (Szatan), który zwodzi na manowce, Świętą Księgę (nawet nie skomentuję poziomu lenistwa), starozakonnych legendytów (żydzi) i kościół epizodystyczny (protestanci). Mamy także edytorów (księży) którzy nie są zbyt moralni, za to bardzo nadęci, a postacie co chwila wykrzykują rzeczy typu „Na Święty Wątek!”. Żeby było realistycznie, wicie rozumicie. Co do doktryny, polega ona na tym, że wszystko jest opowieścią. Edytorzy snują bełkotliwe pseudoreligijne wywody, szczegóły są nader mętne i poza zerżnięciem oczywistych i podstawowych elementów wiary, to co z nimi robi przypomina próbę postawienia krzesła na trzech nogach. Jako absolwentkę kierunku kulturoznawczego po prostu mnie skręcało, jak to czytałam. Tym bardziej, że autor podobno też jest po kulturoznawstwie i powinien wiedzieć o antropologii religijnej na tyle dużo, żeby umieć stworzyć sensowny, prawdopodobny system wierzeń. Nawet wiedźmiński kościół świętego ognia był bardziej wyrafinowaną koncepcją.

Sam Ćwiek nie przepuszcza żadnej okazji, żeby włożyć w usta swoich bohaterów tyrady o tym, jak to oni nie wierzą w te religijne brednie, lub też jak to Święta Księga została spisana z chciwości i próżności i tak dalej w tym stylu. W ogóle postacie spędzają bardzo dużo czasu na zwierzaniu się sobie nawzajem, że są niewierzące. Jeszcze zanim skonsultowałam się w sprawie poglądów Ćwieka z Kimś Kto Go Zna, domyśliłam się z samej lektury, że jest on z pokolenia Ikea, które jako jedyne myśli, że ateizm jest szalenie oryginalnym wyborem życiowym i na wszystkich wierzących patrzy z góry. Oczywiście taki ateizm gimnazjalny, wojujący, gorliwy. Taki jak w Wilku.

To nie jest jedyny aspekt tej książki, gdzie ego autora jest tak wielkie, że wyziera z każdej kartki. Drugą – równie świadczącą o niedojrzałości – rzeczą jest kwestia traktowania postaci kobiecych. Tu muszę zaznaczyć, że nie jestem feministką. Jestem jednak wyznawczynią RiGCZu. Natomiast Ćwiek „zagląda pod spódniczkę” nie tylko bohaterkom, ale też drugo- czy trzecioplanowym postaciom kobiecym. Każda kobieta, o ile jest młodsza niż w średnim wieku, jest opisywana wyłącznie z perspektywy jej fuckability w skali 1 do 10. No gimnazjum. W ten sposób kobiety są zseksualizowane, ale nie seksowne, co by tak jakby się prosiło w konwencji noir. Do tego widać, jak pan Jakub nie radzi sobie z tworzeniem postaci, zwłaszcza innych niż te, z którymi sam się utożsamia. Więc wspomniane kobiety wypadają na tym polu najbardziej blado, a inspektorzy, agencji i detektywi najlepiej. Wyobrażam wręcz sobie, jak Ćwiek wyobraża sobie siebie siedzącego za biurkiem z papierosem i whiskey, z kapeluszem zsuniętym na oczy i pistoletem na biurku. I kolejka pięknych kobiet ustawiająca się do jego biura, żeby zechciał je przelecieć. Myślę, że to właśnie miał w głowie, kiedy to pisał.

Sama intryga jest tak złożona, że autor najwyraźniej sam się w niej pogubił. Składa się z elementów, które ostatecznie okazują się nie mieć żadnego znaczenia i nie składają się w żadną sensowną całość. To można jeszcze wybaczyć, bo pokażcie mi jeden film noir w którym wszystko się ładnie schodzi. Ale. Ani sprawcy, ani ofiary nie dostają prawie czasu antenowego, co sprawia, że akcja trochę cierpi na niedokrwistość. Poza tym jednak klimat noir – poza postaciami które są albo sztampowe, albo nijakie, albo też jedynie się o nich wspomina – jest oddany naprawdę nieźle. Narracja i opisy miejsc mają duży potencjał, uważam że książce dobrze by zrobiło, gdyby Ćwiek nie spieszył się tak i poświęcił trochę więcej czasu zagadnieniu dynamiki międzyludzkiej (innej niż seks i zabijanie). I gdyby przemyślał, na co mu w zasadzie różne elementy, oraz skupił się na niewymuszonych dialogach.

PS: Skoro już jesteśmy w konwencji, zamorduję każdego, kto jeszcze raz napisze, że „domy patrzyły pustymi/czarnymi oczodołami okien”. No ileż można?

“Cyfrak” Krzysztofa Haladyna: Jak nie pisać cyberpunkowej książki.

 

Nie zrozumcie mnie źle – uśmiecham się promiennie na widok każdej nowej cyberpunkowej twórczości, bo tak bardzo kocham ten gatunek, ale zapnijcie pasy. Będzie trzęsło. Mnie trzęsło jak to czytałam, na przykład.

Postaram się zarysować scenę tego dramatu bez spoilerów. No więc mamy sobie RepTek Polis – miasto otoczone pustynią, należące do korporacji RepTek. Nie wiemy gdzie to miasto leży. Jest ogólnie dość słabo, słońce daje nie do wytrzymania, ludzie się nie rozmnażają, była jakaś plaga – czujecie klimat. Trochę bardziej postapo niż cyberpunk, ale idźmy dalej. Rządzi nie wiadomo kto dokładnie i nie wiadomo jak. Dowiadujemy się tylko, że skoro należy ono do korpo to korpo wszystko ogarnia. Jakoś. W tym mieście mieszka sobie pewnie technik RepTeku imieniem Neth, który naprawia popsute multiterminale oraz – w ramach mutacji – potrafi zobaczyć i zwalczać cyfrowe byty zwane cyfrakami, które kradną ludziom piny do bankomatu i czytają ich smsy. Jednak pewnego dnia Neth dostaje zlecenie na mały malusieńki włam do nielegalnego chińskiego laboratorium, w wyniku którego nic już nie jest takie samo. Dam dam DAM. Ktoś coś odkrywa, ktoś się komuś naraża, ktoś musi s*******ć. Wkrótce zostaje zrekrutowany przez grupę oporu o nazwie DTech, składającą się z hakerów, lekarki i bouncera. Okazuje się, że Neth do tej pory żył w kłamstwie na temat otaczającego go świata. Nie ma to nic wspólnego z Matrixem. Nic.

Może zacznę od tego, że autor podobno jest z wykształcenia dziennikarzem i specjalistą od public relations, co sugeruje, że zna się na międzyludzkich zależnościach. Jednak książka sprawia wrażenie napisanej przez informatyka, który ludzi – zwłaszcza kobiety – zna tylko z opowiadań. Postaci są bardzo słabo nakreślone oraz opisane. Powiedzmy, że pierwsi aktorzy wkraczający na scenę, jak dealer Wiz.un czy Kabel to jeszcze jako tako, ale poza tym opis wyglądu pojawia się tylko w przypadku (nielicznych) kobiet (są ładne i mają fajne cycki), natomiast o charakterze, życiorysie czy osobowości zapomnijcie.

Główny bohater – Neth – jest i pozostaje dla nas osobą nieokreśloną i dość anonimową. Przez całą książkę dowiadujemy się o nim tylko, że dorastał w sierocińcu i że ma kota. Nie wiemy ani jak wygląda, ani nic o jego przeszłości, ani o znajomościach. Właściwie wygląda to tak, że zna tylko swojego dealera, cybermechanika od lewych wszczepów i kolegę z pracy. No i kota, oczywiście. Nie stoi za nim żadna historia, nie ma sprecyzowanej tożsamości. No może oprócz tego, że widzi cyfraki z powodu mutacji, ale to nie wystarczy (a i Haladyn na tym też jakoś nie buduje). Żyje w trybie praca – dom – ewentualnie w żyłę po pracy. Po co w ogóle pisać książkę o kimś takim?

Książka jest ogólnie dość nierówna – pierwszy rozdział, może dwa, zapowiadały się nawet fajnie w założeniu, że akcja się dopiero rozkręca, pojawiały się nawet ciekawe wątki. Jednak potem już widać, że panu Krzysztofowi wyczerpały się pomysły i przez kolejne dwa rozdziały personae dramatis po prostu gadają przy komputerach. W ostatnim rozdziale akcja znowu drgnęła, znowu pojawia się fajna koncepcja, ale zostaje rozwinięta w dość szablonowy sposób niestety. Co do aktywności samego Netha, to sprowadza się ona w dużej mierze do uciekania oraz na zmianę tracenia oraz odzyskiwania świadomości. Nic chłopak nie ma z życia.

Relacje między bohaterami są niezwykle ubogie, pozbawione wszelkich napięć, dwuznaczności, niespodzianek czy tajemnic. Albo kumplują się przy wspólnym dłubaniu w elektronice, albo świadczą sobie różne usługi. Ewentualnie się ścigają w celu uśmiercenia. Co do relacji damsko-męskich (a jest ich jedna, słownie: JEDNA), to wyglądają one następująco: o, fajne cycki → cmok bez kontekstu → seks (nudny). I bam: mamy związek! Skąd się wziął? Stąd, że Nethowi spodobały się cycki i włosy Nikthi, a ona… no cóż, czasem na niego patrzyła i czasem do niego mówiła..? Srsly, czy to mogłoby być jeszcze bardziej dziecinne?

Poza może dwoma osobami, DTech wypełniony jest bandą genericowych hakerów o wydumanych imionach, po prostu widać, że trzeba było zapełnić jakoś ten ich bunkier. Dialogi są mało błyskotliwe, Haladyn cały czas komentuje intencje i emocje, z jakimi bohaterowie wypowiadają swoje kwestie, zupełnie jakby czytelnik był idiotą. Na przykład:

– Dobra, plan jest taki – Hakerka postanowila podsumować spotkanie. (…)

albo

Skąd ty znasz takie mądre słowa? – zakpiłem(…)

lub też

Spokojnie, wystarczy dla wszystkich… – dziewczyna starała się uspokoić przybyszów.

czy

– Czas nam się kończy – podzieliłem się oczywistą informacją.

oraz bomba

Pięknie, czadowa nazwa. Kojarzy się ze sprawami ostatecznymi, jak śmierć czy podatki – błysnąłem czarnym humorem.

…Uwaga: ŻART…

Nie brakuje również banalnych obserwacji i wytartych frazesów, zwłaszcza o charakterze urbanistycznym:

Opuszczone budynki patrzyły w mrok niewidzącymi oczodołami okien, te zamieszkałe były zamknięte i ciemne.

Tekst o oczodołach okien przewija się jeszcze dwa razy przez książkę, np.:

Opuszczone budynki wpatrywały się w czerń nocy oknami wyglądającymi jak puste oczodoły.

albo

Podziemna kolej stanowiła coś w rodzaju układu krwionośnego Polis.

No shit Sherlock. Dalej:

Dla mnie na zawsze pozostanie przysypaną piaskiem dziwaczną blizną na miejskiej tkance.

Tekst o bliźnie na miejskiej tkance pojawia się jeszcze raz. W ogóle masę porównań, określeń i sformułowań powtarza się po kilka razy. Neth ma kilka razy uczucie lodu w żołądku, jego organizm sięga do najgłębszych rezerw, „wszytko wydarzyło się niemal jednocześnie” również wiele razy, wybranka serca puszcza do niego ciągle oko (kto jeszcze używa tego określenia na mrugnięcie??), a pan Krzysztof bez przerwy nam przypomina, że w mieście są tony piachu i masy pyłu oraz że jest gorąco.

Haladyn generalnie nie wie, jak ożywić swoje miasto, więc na wszelki wypadek w każdej scenie, która nie rozgrywa się w opuszczonym budynku pisze, jak to dookoła jest „zadziwiająco” mało ludzi, lub też urządza alarmy i każe wszystkim się chować do domów. Wygodne. I nudne. Jak już ludzie w ogóle są to też niestety nie wystarczy opisywać tego, że idą ulicą. Ale ci, którzy tą ulicą idą też nie doczekują się opisu, autor skupia się raczej na systemie zraszania, multiterminalach, syrenach alarmowych i metrze.

Co do samego cyberpunkowego klimatu miasta… No dobrze, mamy obowiązkowe leże dealera cyberdragów i nielegalną klinikę biowszczepów, a także dzielnicę nędzy i bezprawia (oczywiście opustoszałą). Ale co zresztą? Gdzie knajpy, uliczne jedzenie, speluny, kluby, taksówki, terytoria gangów, handlarze czarnego rynku, kafejki z syntetyczną kawą – gdzie życie ulicy? Gdzie politycy, związki wyznaniowe, sport, programy rozrywkowe – media w ogóle? Ok, wiele razy mamy powtórzone i przypomniane, że miasto wymiera, bo słońce mocno grzeje. Tylko że to nie jest Mad Max, to miał być cyberpunk i wobec tego czytelnik spodziewa się czegoś więcej niż piachu i garstki ocaleńców. Wiecie, pomyślałam niedawno, że mój wpis o elementach cyberpunkowego klimatu jest zbędny i oczywisty – ale widzę że jednak chyba nie…

Ogółem całość wygląda, jakby pan Krzysztof uczył się pisać na fanfikach i myślał, że jakoś tym obleci, bo przecież ma kilka fajnych koncepcji. Niestety, to jak kobieta, która myśli, że może wyjść w brudnej podomce i wałkach na głowie, „bo to przecież tylko przelecieć po bułki”, a tym czasem natyka się na faceta, którego próbuje zainkasować już od paru miesięcy. Krótko mówiąc: klapa.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Missing Plot Threads in Blade Runner

Which Blade Runner is better? The original one or the sequel? That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves this past year since the Denis Villeneuve’s picture hit the theatres. I didn’t really ask that myself since I have quite strong opinion on the subject, as you already know. But now, having just read the original story – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick I think the superiority of either flick is not as important an issue. Why? Because even the original movie omit or change plenty of stuff that’s present in the book. And that doesn’t just change the story. It makes it a whole different story altogether. By story I also mean the vision of the future, the setting, the ambience even. I’ll try to analyse a few of the most important motifs that didn’t make their way into the film adaptations.

First of all, the book is way darker then either of the films. The despair and hopelessness of the existence on Earth for those who could not emigrate to the colony worlds is very tangible. Most of cyberpunk universes are brutal dog-eat-dog all out corporate/street warfare. This universe isn’t really brutal – it’s a sort of derelict and forlorn before it had any chance to bloom and prosper. And that’s even more sombre vision. The Earth, desolate and suffocating under the radioactive dust, mirrors the spiritual emptiness and confusion of its inhabitants. Empathy seems to be a universal obsession and plays a pivotal role in keeping social balance and sanity of the individuals. The empathy is being venerated in many ways. One on them is keeping and caring for the animals.

The Animals

It would be cliche to state that animals are so important for the people of the future because they remind them of when there was still that thing call nature around. You know, before the World War Terminus. But it’s deeper and more profound than that. By custom everybody keeps an animal in a pen or cage on the rooftop of their house and observes the ritual of caring for it. You can become a proud owner of two types of animals: electric and real ones. The electric ones, if well made, mimic the real ones almost completely. Almost. But you KNOW they’re not real. The real ones cost fortune, because they’re very rare. A lot of species are not in existence anymore, like owls.

This is where the relation between empathy and social status come into play. Empathy is by and large revolving around one’s involvement with and attitude towards animals. The more real the animal, the higher the empathy that is needed and exhibited. And so the higher the social standing of the owner. Animals are what keeps one from complete mental deterioration. And that’s the main reason for Rick Deckard to go after six (yes, six) androids – the bounty money that’s good enough to buy a real animal and save himself. Because, you see, Rick and his wife (yes, wife) have only electric sheep. They keep secret the fact it’s not real.

The Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test administered to the androids is comprised mostly of questions dealing with empathy towards animals – the reactions to the idea of animal hide, baked dog, torturing an insect and such. These are called ‘moral questions’. And the androids don’t happen to have the inbuilt sensitivity dictating a natural reaction that people ‘should’ have. So this is the only way to identify them. Of course, there’s a problem with people who are not very empathetic by nature. The lines are necessarily blurred and the risk of accidentally killing a human – very real.

Rachael

Rick likes to think of androids as of solitary predators – he gathers that only predators and carnivores are unempathetic – that’s what allows them to kill and survive. However, he soon encounters cognitive dissonance realizing that lack of empathy is exactly what’s indispensable to be a bounty hunter (blade runner). Matters complicate when he meets pretty android who masquerades as an opera singer. The girl has an angelic voice but needs to die because she’s a runaway robot and Rick cannot bring himself to kill her. It gets even worse once Phil Resch enters the scene. As another bounty hunter, he mocks Rick scruples seeing them as simple physical attraction. He gives Rick an advice for future to „go to bed with her first and then kill her”. Retiring androids doesn’t pose any emotional or moral problem for him, doesn’t go against who he is. Phil scores very low on the Voigt-Kampff test so at first it looks like he’s an android but in fact he’s a human. As an evidence for his humanity he points out to the fact that he has a squirrel.

But what proves to be Rick’s ultimate undoing is… Rachael. You see, Rachael in the book is a very different character than the one in the film. The book’s Rachael knows full well she’s an android. She’s a non-human member of the Rosen family that runs Rosen Association (Tyrell Corporation in the Blade Runner). An eighteen-years-old-looking femme fatale, she’s the best classic noir fiction has to offer. Pretty and child-like, her looks is better captured by the featured graphic you can see above the post then the one portrayed by Sean Young. But what Rick Deckard really falls for is her magnetic personality and the mystery that surrounds her. Rachael teases him, plays him like a cat plays a mouse and indeed he falls her victim in the end.

Unlike her confused, teary movie counterpart, Rachael doesn’t need to be taught what to do with a man. In the Blade Runner, naive and romantic the android discovers love. Philip Dick’s Rachael Rosen doesn’t care about love. She uses it cynically to ‘retire’ the bounty hunters so that they cannot ‘retire’ any more androids, by ensnaring them in emotional and sexual bond. After such an experience they can never view androids the same as before, gaining empathy towards them. When Rick realizes how he’s been used and his career broken, he pulls over the hovercar they’ve been traveling to kill her. Ultimately though he cannot do it and he sees clearly he’s done for. Rachael watches his defeat with satisfaction and schadenfreude, admitting that every single bounty hunter before him did the exact same thing and none could bring himself to kill her in the end. Which, of course, is the ultimate proof of her methods. Well, there was one who survived, his name was Phil Resch. As Rick’s sense of existential misery intensifies, he begins to understand his fellow bounty hunter’s cynical advice concerning the female androids.

Mercerism

Since empathy is what keeps it all together in the future it’s no wonder it ended up as a core idea of the universal religion – Mercerism. It’s founder – Wilbur Mercer – is said to be a superior being from the stars and represents a Sisyphus type. Mercer keeps reliving his life story, ascending to the top of the mountain while having rocks thrown at him by ‘the killers’. He finally reaches the top and, being killed, falls into the ‘tomb world’ among corpses and old bones, from where he can’t get out until he makes them come back to life, which he does. All the humanity on Earth as well as in colony worlds connect and merge with Mercer and with each other through devices called empathy boxes, experiencing collective awareness and sharing the pain of the stones thrown by the killers. The killers are never seen, always in the peripheral vision and not really defined in any way. Actually the ‘believers’ are encouraged to see the killers and their nebulous evil anywhere they like. So Rick Deckard sees it in androids and that helps him against… empathy, as he must kill them.

Mercerism in general is about ‘being good’ to everyone and caring for the community. The need for empathy as a weapon against entropy is so great, that even when Mercer is exposed as a fraud, it doesn’t seem to make much difference to anyone. This new religion, attuned to the post apocalyptic world – actually, designed with it in mind – is an interesting trope on the map of cyberpunk landscape. Which more often than not is bleak and cynical in an absolute way. There’s no place for hope or consolation of any sort at all. Even when Mercer manifests himself to Deckard and reveals to know no more than Rick and says: ‘There’s no salvation’, Rick seems to find it. He finds it through Mercerism, having mysteriously ‘permanently merged’ with Mercer and hence being able to see life everywhere, just like Mercer. Hell, he even sees life in an electric toad! So in the end this is a sort of ‘save yourself’ gospel. The best that inhabitants of the post apocalyptic world can hope for is the Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’ kind of existentialism – all the meaning of life that there really is can be found in serving the humanity and preserving all life, even if it doesn’t lead to any afterlife whatsoever. And that is a great heroic endeavor. Can’t help wondering what happened to all the other religions, tho… Oh, and I’d also like to know what happened to Rick Deckard and Roy Baty’s wives in the movie adaptions. You see, I just hate when they sell important stuff for emotional romances and hope we won’t notice.

The story gains so much depth thanks to those philosophical issues not introduced by either of the films. It’s not really about why androids are different from humans. It’s about how it doesn’t really matter because empathy – once awoken – cannot choose who’s worthy of it and whose not. You either are empathetic or not. It also raises a question whether empathy is something only those empathetic themselves deserve. (That actually also concerns ‘the specials’ – people who didn’t pass the IQ tests and so they’re prohibited form emigrating to the colony world or having children. They’re being treated like lesser beings because of their supposed idiocy even though they can be empathetic as hell. Apparently empathy isn’t THAT highly valued.) Again, out of many more or less possible visions of future, the one where humanity needs to desperately cling to last shreds of normal, empathic reactions and interactions and make rituals out of them seems to be the most depressing one.

 

 

Drive: The Song of Manliness

I don’t know about you, but I love those theatrical films where the stage is set for a concentrated drama. Just a few characters, three to five locations, consistent music. And colours, ah, the colours; the play of light and shadow! As you can see, it preconditions me for being sucker for the noir and neo-noir genre. And sucker I am, indeed. How did it happen I haven’t seen Drive any sooner, then? I was probably too obsessed with the classics and the cyberpunk incarnation of the idea. Anyway, I’m atoning for my negligence now by sharing my absolute adoration for this movie. Perfect in every way – the picture and the sound. But there’s something else. I must admit, never before has Ryan Gosling made such an impression on me as in Drive. In none of his many brilliant roles. There was just something so seamless, focused, multifaceted and believable about his character… He definitely knows how to act without talking, too. Rare talent. He just IS there and it’s so moving.

There was one thing that struck me immediately while watching it – Drive is essentially about the great mythos of man. Not in the ‘human’ sense but rather in Mr. Man sense. It brings together all the archetypical roles of man and all the sources of glory you can find in heroic stories since the beginning of civilisation. I don’t mean the children bed time stories always ending in happily ever after, though…

No Guts, No Glory

glenn-shelhamer

Talking about how the protagonist (let’s call him ‘Driver’, since he remains nameless) embodies the man mythos, I should probably start with the three very distinctive jobs he does for living. Car mechanic is his ‘official’ job, along with being part-time car stuntman for movies. There’s also that third job: a getaway driver. The Driver is a risk taker. He risks it for the money driving criminals. He risks it for art doing unbelievable stunts. He risks it for the thrill of it. He will also risk it for the safety of a woman and child as well as in the name of male solidarity.

Of course, as everything in Drive, his life circumstances are a bit intense and over exaggerated, as is usually the case with heroic stories. And so, the character feature dominant in men – risk-seeking – although exaggerated, is the first important characteristic that builds every legendary guy. Not being afraid to risk your safety, life or even general peace for what’s right/glorious/profitable. After all, you don’t become a legend by sitting about, right?

Lone Rider

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With all that risk, the Driver has also his ‘everyman mode’ of operating. In his everyday edition, the Driver is a responsible man with a down-to-earth stable job (which still fulfils his interests in some way). He can obviously take care of himself enough to have a place to sleep, juggle three jobs including criminal career and to make some friends. Sure, he eats poorly and ruins his eyesight working with bad lighting, but let’s not expect too much from a bachelor 😉

Somehow this dualism of roles is present especially in the modern culture; the undistinguished man, just doing his job, being a decent citizen who turns superhero vigilante when the clock strikes midnight. Diego de la Vega/Zorro, Clark Kent/Superman and even Tyler Durden of the Fight Club embody that need of balancing two natures in a man. All those character types also teach us that violence has it’s place and we can’t afford to try to purge it out of the society. Rather, we need to rediscover this place and channel accordingly.

What Needs to Be Done

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The Driver is a quite peaceful person. He doesn’t bother anyone and doesn’t want to be bothered in return. He’s a man of few words but of much emotion, it seems. Although rather silent and non-obtrusive, he doesn’t have any emotional issues and bonds easily. He exhibits the Universe-old protective instinct towards Irene and her son, Benicio, even though he has hardly any ‘gain’ form it. And so the moment those two become endangered, Driver knows it’s not the time to broadcast pacifist views. He doesn’t try to find a philosophical excuse, he doesn’t run away or look for someone else to burden with the dirty and dangerous task. He goes forth and kicks asses. And heads, if need be. He’s prepared to use any tool to do unlimited types of harm, because the situation is dead serious. He just does what needs to be done. He’s also man enough to overcome any jealousy and help Standard Gabriel out instead of trying to take advantage of the situation and do him in for good, so that he could take his place.

The Atlas

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The protagonist couldn’t be the full embodiment of the great Mr. Man if he wouldn’t take the Atlas role. One of the most archetypical roles, carrying the weight of the world upon one’s shoulder, but also in more Christological sense – taking the sins of the world upon oneself. Which basically brings together two elements that lie at the foundations of the Western civilisation. The Driver won’t stop until every single person threatening the lives of Irene and Benicio is VERY dead. He’s not bailing out after the gas station run goes south and Standard Gabriel gets shot. He doesn’t simply grab the girl and the kid and run. He finishes what he started instead. Never asking Irene for permission, never confiding in her, he takes it upon himself. HOWEVER, there’s communication going on between them all the time and he does tell her what’s happening, knowing he owes her the truth as an adult person; a subject rather then object. The way she reacts to his brutality is understandable, she’s not thrilled to see the raw brains of her would-be assassin. And this is the hard part – sometimes, there are no happy endings. The Driver knows this and decides to leave when it’s all done, even though he was the hero here, not the villain. There are no wailing women, no sentimental music playing, no great speeches. The hero is done, probably mortally wounded and he’s riding off into the sunset. Except, he’s actually riding off into the night, precisely because the sunsets are for the new beginnings and there can be none for him.

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Quest For the Motherless Heroes

The hero or heroine orphaned by their mother is probably as old a plot device as the story-telling itself. However, it may actually be used to achieve many effects – not just to create a tragic setting or to evoke compassion in the audience. For example: Have you ever wondered what on (Middle-)Earth happened to all the mothers in Tolkien’s stories? A dangerous matricidal virus? Or was that political? I, for one, gave it a lot of thought lately and here are my conclusions. Don’t laugh.

Difficult Relationships

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Finduilas of Dol Amroth by Katarzyna Chmiel

In the case of Boromir and Faramir their mother’s death has shaped the relationships in the family. Denethor never seemed to like his younger son, but when Finduilas died, Faramir had only Boromir to turn to. The brothers became close although were still treated unfairly by their, now only, parent – Boromir favoured, Faramir despised and mocked.
The reason of the mother’s death is also worth noting: Finduilas fell weak and ill after Faramir’s birth, her vitality cut down by longing after the sea and the fear of Mordor. Denethor himself reportedly became quite unbearable and this state of affairs kept worsening only to be complete with madness and suicide.

The Special Child

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Little Fëanor in the father’s crown by elfinfen

Some of the heroes seem to be orphaned by their mother on account of… their uniqueness. Think about it: the mother dies either in childbirth or soon after not having any more offspring. This is a perfect way to stress the hero being one of a kind, both literally and metaphorically. The only way to make sure there’ll be no more children. And so all the gifts, talents and legacy is embodied in one son or daughter, not two, three or seven.

It’s hard to find a more distinct example of this trope than the story of Fëanor. It has costed his mother, Miriel, all her vital power to bring him into the world, so great he was. And because of that she not only refused to have any more children, but to go on living at all and chose to depart to the Halls of Mandos. She was spent. Among many wonderful works of art she created, Fëanor was her life’s work and there could be nothing else after him.

Stranger Among His Own Kin

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Sometimes mother’s death leaves the hero estranged to his/her own people (or um… foster people?). That was the case with Aragorn. Gilraen took refuge in Rivendell acquiring a foster home for her son, but her death left him orphaned in a very special way. They shared the heritage of the Dúnedain culture, to which the House of Elrond did not belong. And so, although surrounded by kindness and friendship, with mother Aragorn lost home. It was not for the long years that he found – or maybe founded – another one.

It was similar with Eomer and Eowyn. When first their father and then their mother died, they were left to be brought up by Theoden. Theoretically a family, but in fact extras to the king’s close family. And while Eomer was out and about enjoying the company and esteem of his men, Eowyn was left to care for her uncle. Don’t get me wrong, caring for your uncle is a noble thing but she was quite lonely. And probably no amount of the people’s love could change that.

Traumatised Mum

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Arwen and Celebrian by steamey

The mother who went through a difficult experience could be too traumatised to stay with her children and leave. Like Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir’s mother, Celebrian. After being attacked, captured and tortured by Orcs, she couldn’t bear dwelling in the Middle-Earth anymore. She made a self-care decision and left for Aman. I wonder what Elrond told his children? “Mama has to take care of herself now and so she’s going to stay with uncle Manwë for a while.” Could be, could be…

Formative Role of Motherlessness

Whatever the case, lack of mother often seems to bear a formative significance in Tolkien’s writings. It’s almost as if the hero needed to be cut off from his mother to become an independent individual, putting his own mark upon the world’s history. A fully grown man – or woman – realising that to a degree everyone is alone.

Father symbolises belonging to the history and tradition of the hero’s people, the unbreakable bonds and the cause to fight for. He also represents continuity of the dynasty, heritage of power. Usually if the hero is a son of the ruling house he has good chances to become a king, or at least a prince and carry forth the mythical raison d’être of the nation and keep up its spirit in the hard times. In case of the heroine, her character and strength of spirit would be a visible heirloom of noble blood, like Eowyn’s: Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. (The Two Towers).

Mother, however, is an “inner person”, fortress protecting from the chaos of the outer world. She’s the principle of life, giving her child culture, name and belonging. In fact, it is this belonging precisely, that needs to be lost with her death (or departure) and then found again by the hero – this time to keep. If the hero, however, was not to find it, he would be doomed to fall into darkness and chaos to his ultimate demise (e. g. Anakin Skywalker). I was just testing if you’re paying attention^^

And so the loss of a mother becomes a symbol of coming of age and making one’s own irrevocable decisions that will shape the reality. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”.

 

Featured image: Feanor with his mother Miriel in gardens of Lorien by steamey