Just got done a marathon watching of seasons 1-3 of Babylon 5. Only to find out that season 4 isn’t out yet on DVD and that SciFi channel is now back to showing season 1 this month. *sigh*. Despite the tediousness of season 1 of the show, season 3 is pretty exciting in that painting-a-huge-epic-landscape sort of way. And I always like hearing about the making of the show from its writer/producer/creator. Hearing the commentaries from the actors is annoying, on the other hand. The B5 actors spend most of the episodes MST3King their own work. It’s just another job to them. This was less true of Adrian Paul’s commentary on the season 2 Highlander DVD set. He talked a lot about the behind-the-scenes details in an interesting way.
I’m not sure if JMS is trying to present this story as an attempt to give a “realistic vision of the future” or as a simple allegory for human nature or something in between. He does talk a lot about his world being more “realistic” because life on Earth isn’t Utopian, political corruption and power struggles abound (more realistic than what, we don’t have to look far to know).
Like Star Trek aliens, his aliens are so gosh darn human in different respects that you want to vote “allegory”. But if either JMS or Gene Roddenberry and his heirs had tried to present an alien that genuinely alien would their show have lasted very long? I was just watching the original Alien Nation movie last night, and despite the assorted “differences” they gave to the Newcomers, in the end they were still Ozzie and Harriet eating gerbil guts and drinking sour milk, or Big Mob Boss alien guy with the fancy expensive coat and limo. Human, all too human.
The question that arises for me, watching the first three seasons of B5, is whether the “younger races” are in any sense masters of their fate. They will win the war against the Shadows, but is it because of anything they did, or have they been pushed and prodded and told what to do by the Vorlons? Is the supposedly epic story of human/Minbari/Narn heroism and human/Minbari/Narn failings and yada yada that is Babylon 5 really just a millenia-long pissing contest between the Shadows and the Vorlons, with the younger races as puppets?
And could I mix my metaphors even more?
I guess what I’m wondering is if Sheridan, Dellen and the others will really truly contribute to their own destiny in any meaningful sense in the seasons to come. Well, I’ve only seen seasons 4 and 5 in bits and pieces, so I’ll have to wait and see how it all comes out.
I haven’t gotten very far into the first book of the Harry Potter series, but I can already tell why it has appeal. JK Rowling is a very entertaining and humorous writer, and she uses themes that appeal to most kids, and many adults who enjoy the fantasy/sci-fi genres: the Cinderella/Ugly Duckling theme(s). Harry is of course Cinderella, the unwanted, “ugly” family relation who gets treated like shit. Then one day, the fairy godparent comes along and guides him to his greater destiny, leaving the unappreciative truly ugly family with their noses in the dust. Harry Potter is the ugly duckling: a child misplaced among people who are not his own kind. They see him as ugly and inferior, when in fact he belongs to an entirely different species, and among his own kind, he is considered beautiful and powerful. His kind are in awe of him.
This is powerful stuff to people who have always felt out of place and picked on. If I had just picked up this book totally unspoiled for how it proceeds and how it ends, I would be hooked. I always related to the ugly duckling story. Someday I would be among people who would appreciate me! Not you sorry ugly lot who are kicking me around the school yard for not being pretty enough.
Not that I’m not hooked. This is wonderful stuff, as of page 55.
But see, in the ugly duckling story, once the bird finds out he’s a beautiful swan, the story ends. We all assume he lives happily ever after. But the story of HP and the Philosopher’s Stone only really truly begins when Harry steps into his birthrighted world. Then things get iffy.
Because the story of the outsider finding his true home has appeal, but what happens when he becomes the insider, and not only the insider, but a legend, adored and coddled? What if “The Ugly Duckling: the Sequel” tells the story of how U.D., now a beautiful swan, gets all the swan chicks and gets all the swan goodies from adoring fellow swans whether in fact he deserves them or not?
That was what bugged me about Harry Potter the movie. Harry goes on to Hogwarts. He gets picked on by the snotty wizards and witches that he refuses to befriend(**) for about two seconds, and then spends the rest of the movie getting off scot-free for all the rules he breaks (e.g., using a magic broom when specifically told not to by his teacher, sneaking around campus after curfew, going into forbidden rooms and getting access forbidden information), maybe getting a few points knocked off his House total, but in the end racking up coincidentally just enough bonus points for his House from his doting school teachers to win best House at the end of the school year for some (albeit heroic, but some of it trivially so) deeds he’s done.
Suddenly, I can’t relate to Harry, not because he’s a hero, and not because he breaks the rules, but because he does these things as the ultimate insider. You get the feeling he could do just about anything he wanted without real reprecussions, without real consequences. In what sense are the odds truly against him? From the bad guy, who is at best ephemeral in the first book? From the fact that he still doesn’t seem to be in conscious control of his own powers and yet manages to foil every situation he’s in with magically appearing swords and other deus ex machina?
I guess what I’m asking here, from people who’ve read the books, Is Harry Potter a Mary Sue? No specific spoilers, please, if you comment.
Hmmm. I know I’m only on page 55 and he’s not even at Hogwarts yet so I should stay my tongue. Or my keyboard, as the case is. I’m told the book is very different from the movie in the exact respects I’m complaining about, so I should just plunge on and read.
So I will.
(**and having the elite “aristocratic” students be actually inferior snobs while Harry wisely decides to befriend the mundane regular joes who turn out to be wiser and more gifted–how American is that? And refusing to join their student aristocracy does him no harm, because to the true ruling class of the school–the faculty–he is already family.)