The Ship of Ishtar, part eight

Friday , 3, February 2017 7 Comments

I just get so sick of them: all these “don’t need no man” characters. They are everywhere and in everything, and Rey’s “stop taking my hand” bit in Star Wars is only the tip of the iceberg. And judging from the recent Through the Looking Glass adaptation, this really is the new standard for making adventure movies that mom’s will enjoy taking their daughters to. And it’s not just that these things casually excise any sort of romantic arc from the medium. No, while Superman is looking on wistfully at a Lois Lane that has moved on and started a life with a guy that’s content to raise another man’s son… while Matt Damon’s character in Elysium is willing to give his life so that the woman that dumped him back in the day can get free health care for an illegal alien child that isn’t his… the women have to be shown repudiating the entire concept of romance.

I guess it’s a matter of taste whether one prefers Luke’s “What do you think of her, Han?” and Leia’s “My hands are dirty” lines to the current crop of antiseptic automatons, but turning back time for a moment and looking at the most popular novel from the Lord of Fantasy is astonishing. Because the fan favorite author’s most-loved novel– one that stood head and shoulders above decades of stories from all genres; one that would have won a Dragon Award had such a thing been possible or even necessary at the time– is basically an over-the-top romance novel more or less pitched to a male perspective. And it wouldn’t be noteworthy at all, except for two things: this sort of story is (a) so far outside of bounds today it is virtually unthinkable and (b) this sort of story really is the key to appealing to the broadest audience imaginable.

What’s missing from adventure fiction these days? Utterly transcendent femininity like this:

Narada arose, abruptly. Her handmaids bent over drums and harps; set their pipes to lips. A soft and amorous theme beat up from them, delicate, clinging–like the beating of the wings of countless doves, the clinging of countless little soft arms, the throbbing of countless little rosy hearts. Under it the body of Narada swayed like a green reed at the first touch of roving winds of spring. The multitude looked, sighed once and was still.

But Kenton saw that the priest’s eyes never left Sharane, standing like a woman asleep beneath her veils.

Louder the music sounded; quicker, throbbing with all love longing, laden with all passion; hot as the simoon. To it, as though her body drank in each calling, imperious note, turned it into motion, made it articulate in flesh, Narada began to dance.

In the midnight eyes that had been so sorrowful, many little leaping joyous stars danced. The scarlet mouth was a luring, honey-sweet flame promising unknown raptures; and the swarms of golden butterflies meshed within her gossamer nets of jet hovered, swept down, clung to and caressed the rose and pearl of her body as though she were some wondrous flower. They were clouds of golden butterflies darting upon her, covering with kisses all her loveliness, gleaming within the cloudy nets that swirled about her, yet hiding no single exquisite contour. Maddening, breathless, grew dance and music, and in music and dance Kenton watched mating stars, embracing suns, moons swollen with birth. Gathered in them he sensed all passion, all desire of all women under stars and suns and moons…

What you’re reading there isn’t real, of course. And I don’t mean to imply that this this doesn’t correspond to reality. No, it’s part of a strategem:

“If he had loved me,” she wailed, “never would he have gone. If he had loved me but a little–never would I have let him go. But he angered me–he shamed me, throwing back to me the love I offered him. Not for you, black snake, despite our bargain, did I send him to her–and to death!”

The black priest stared at her, then laughed.

“Whatever your reason–you sent him,” he said. “And Klaneth pays his debts.”

He dropped a handful of flashing jewels into her outstretched palms. She screamed, opened fingers as though the gems burned her; they fell and rolled about the chequered stones.

“If he had loved me! If he had loved me but a little!” sobbed Narada–and crouched again, a huddled heap, among her butterflies.

This is without a doubt the one thing you cannot incorporate into an adventure film today. But the fact is, at the ground floor of the fantasy genre, the most beloved stories had more in common with Gone with the Wind than you would think. The thing about fantasy that set it apart is that it allowed such elemental drives to be painted in broader, more epic strokes. Indeed, the man who’s passions have been whipped up and than manipulated by this tragic figure cannot be persuaded to change his mind for anything.

  • Not the Begetter of Gods nor the awe of him may stand before man’s desire!
  • Not the King of Judgment nor the fear of him may stand before man’s desire!
  • Not the Lord of the Dead nor the dread of him may swerve man from his desire!
  • Since ever man was, the altars of Ninib [the God of War] have been fed with the fruits of man’s desire!
  • For lo!–when did Wisdom stand before man’s desire!
  • Whenever did Love stand before man’s desire!
  • Not even the Might of God may crush the desire of man!

It’s frightening. It’s compelling. And it’s also something of a fact of life. But for some reason… the people that run film and television and publishing seem to think that thinking about this stuff is bad for us. I mean… it’s so far gone, that not even Superman or J. Random Science Fiction Hero can be shown as being driven by this sort of desire. And even Alice from Through the Looking Glass has to be updated in order to show that she is perfectly happy never being the object of something like this. That all the fulfillment and dreams she wants can be met in her career as a sea captain, with dozens of sexless drones at her command and her mom gayly riding shotgun with her.

I don’t get it.

  • Eli says:

    If they made a sequel to Through the Looking Glass wouldn’t Alice become a crazy cat lady? That seems to be the end game of the whole “you go grrl” mindset.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    We are the ones who are Through the Looking Glass, and its going to take a lot of work to escape it.

  • deuce says:

    As I’ve been telling people for years, this novel has DEPTH. Far more than it’s been given credit for since the ’50s. I pity the people (the men, at least) who can’t see that.

  • Brian Renninger says:

    I dunno man, Doesn’t all this talk about “man’s desire” seem a little rapey?

  • deuce says:

    Have you ever flipped through your gf’s non-Harlequin romance novels? Just askin’. Your concern is duly noted.

  • The same kind of souls who don’t like children don’t like it when men like women and women like men. Such souls certainly dislike the admission, made by the mute testamony of any paperback romance cover, any love poem, and by the symbolism of carrying the bride over the threshold, that the romantic passions incline a healthy womanly heart toward being ravished, and carried away, and submitting to her beloved. This is why Superman’s love interest is Lois Lane, and attempts in modern times to make her Wonder Woman, his equal in strength and stature, fail.

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