If I only had a brain…

27 Mar

One of the things I like about Once Upon a Time is that, so far, they are keeping Emma the empiricist and the skeptic who won’t believe the stories people tell her about the reality of the “fairytale world(s)” just because they say so. She is the sort of person who requires compelling evidence to be convinced, which so far, no one has provided.

This sort of character in a fantasy/sci fi story, however, often ends up looking like a stubborn fool even when they’re not, simply because they aren’t privy to the information the viewers/readers are provided with episode after episode. But I like the Scullies and Emma Swans of the world who aren’t going to have that cliche’ fantasy-genre “leap of faith” moment and just suddenly “believe” because they now realize FaithIsSoWonderfulAndMagicOMG. Don’t get me wrong–at some point in the story, they will come to believe–they’re not close-minded. But just f***ing prove it: that’s all they’re asking.

I am having a similar struggle with the main character of my current story. She is a scientifically-minded archeologist who has stumbled into this subculture of people who believe in spirits. And since I write my stories from multiple points of view, the reader gets to be in the head of the people who believe, and experience the things they experience, and witness that there is a reality behind these experiences. But so far, my protagonist hasn’t had these experiences. So she continues to be cautiously skeptical of her friends and acquaintances who believe.

And that’s not foolish, IMO, yet she has already started to appear stubbornly close-minded. And that’s not the story I want to tell. I want to tell a story about fantastic and wonderful things far beyond our current worldview, and how a rational person comes to know them.

Because far too often, the “rational” character in a fantasy story is either truly rational and ridiculed by the (sub)text of the story for demanding evidence, or they are a Straw-Man character who isn’t rational at all. Which brings me to that other cliche’ of the fantasy/sci-fi genre: the character who demands a “rational” explanation for everything and refuses to believe in things which in the world of the story are quite real, simply because they fall out of his/her narrowly-defined collection of allowable physical explanations. This sort of character drives me crazy because what is truly rational is to believe the evidence of your senses, even if it disproves your pet explanation. Yet somehow, “rational” gets redefined, and these arguably irrational characters, who have forgotten the first principles of science and logic, are supposed to represent all that science and logic have to offer.

So, OUAT writers: be nice to Emma Swan. I know these writers have a faith/science duality Thing which they handled with a certain amount of complexity in Lost (not making John Locke or Jack Shepherd appear too foolish or outright wrong). Hopefully, they can walk that line here.

12 Responses to “If I only had a brain…”

  1. shadowkat67 March 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Agree. One of Once’s strengths is Emma’s skepticism. It lends the series an air of credibility. As a friend of my brother’s once pointed out – “my family is skeptical of everything – ie. we question everything and don’t go by blind faith.”
    It was actually the only thing I liked about Jack and what I appreciated about Sawyer and Juliet – was their skepticism. Lost did a good job with it.
    I’m hoping Once does. Lately it’s been bugging me. Regina is too powerful and Emma is looking like her whipping gal, until this episode. I need to post about Once, because the Mad Hatter episode was actually quite good, one of the better episodes. (I like the episodes that aren’t focused on Snow/PC and Regina, and are instead on Emma/Henry or Rumple with a dose of someone else.)
    What I like about Merlin is that Arthur’s skepticism doesn’t make him an idiot. That show is well balanced in that regard. (My only problem with Merlin is Morgana’s characterization which I’ve debated at length with my mother. My mother loves Merlin and the character of Merlin. We both identify with him – the outsider who has to hide part of himself.)
    Regarding your book – I think a good example of a skeptical character in a fantastical world is Murphy is the Dresden novels. She reminds me a great deal of Scully. And her arc is rather brilliant. I’m trying to think of another example…but drawing a blank. In most cases they come across a bit like Alice in Wonderland.

  2. shadowkat67 March 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Agree. One of Once’s strengths is Emma’s skepticism. It lends the series an air of credibility. As a friend of my brother’s once pointed out – “my family is skeptical of everything – ie. we question everything and don’t go by blind faith.”

    It was actually the only thing I liked about Jack and what I appreciated about Sawyer and Juliet – was their skepticism. Lost did a good job with it.
    I’m hoping Once does. Lately it’s been bugging me. Regina is too powerful and Emma is looking like her whipping gal, until this episode. I need to post about Once, because the Mad Hatter episode was actually quite good, one of the better episodes. (I like the episodes that aren’t focused on Snow/PC and Regina, and are instead on Emma/Henry or Rumple with a dose of someone else.)

    What I like about Merlin is that Arthur’s skepticism doesn’t make him an idiot. That show is well balanced in that regard. (My only problem with Merlin is Morgana’s characterization which I’ve debated at length with my mother. My mother loves Merlin and the character of Merlin. We both identify with him – the outsider who has to hide part of himself.)

    Regarding your book – I think a good example of a skeptical character in a fantastical world is Murphy is the Dresden novels. She reminds me a great deal of Scully. And her arc is rather brilliant. I’m trying to think of another example…but drawing a blank. In most cases they come across a bit like Alice in Wonderland.

  3. neshaffer March 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Yeah, forgot about Murphy. I was struck as I wrote this post by how often the “cautious scientifically-minded skeptic” is a female character. I wonder if that’s because such characters are often meant to be the foil to a brilliant-but-unconventional man (Harry, Mulder). Another reason to appreciate OUAT. The “man” in question is a boy, Henry, so we don’t position him front and center in the story and have Emma revolve around him. It’s Emma’s story.
    This “outsider/skeptic” character who enters the fantastic world of the other characters is a sub-category of the character type I have christened The Character of Invitation. They are the “normal” people we meet in the first chapter/first scene who we travel into this weird and wooly world with, that ground us as readers. They are not always skeptics, but can be, especially initially.
    Agree about Morgana. The lack of believable set-up to her “evil turn” is a weak point of that series for me. I am currently working on a monster meta for Merlin that will, among other things, touch on ways in which I think Morgana was manipulated by other characters into playing the role she’s playing. That is not to single her out as being robbed of agency, though, I think Merlin is being played like a lute himself for a purpose that is not his own.

  4. neshaffer March 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Yeah, forgot about Murphy. I was struck as I wrote this post by how often the “cautious scientifically-minded skeptic” is a female character. I wonder if that’s because such characters are often meant to be the foil to a brilliant-but-unconventional man (Harry, Mulder). Another reason to appreciate OUAT. The “man” in question is a boy, Henry, so we don’t position him front and center in the story and have Emma revolve around him. It’s Emma’s story.

    This “outsider/skeptic” character who enters the fantastic world of the other characters is a sub-category of the character type I have christened The Character of Invitation. They are the “normal” people we meet in the first chapter/first scene who we travel into this weird and wooly world with, that ground us as readers. They are not always skeptics, but can be, especially initially.

    Agree about Morgana. The lack of believable set-up to her “evil turn” is a weak point of that series for me. I am currently working on a monster meta for Merlin that will, among other things, touch on ways in which I think Morgana was manipulated by other characters into playing the role she’s playing. That is not to single her out as being robbed of agency, though, I think Merlin is being played like a lute himself for a purpose that is not his own.

  5. shadowkat67 March 27, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    This “outsider/skeptic” character who enters the fantastic world of the other characters is a sub-category of the character type I have christened The Character of Invitation. They are the “normal” people we meet in the first chapter/first scene who we travel into this weird and wooly world with, that ground us as readers. They are not always skeptics, but can be, especially initially.
    Very true of both the Doctor Who series (I’m not sure you’ve seen it – but the companions fit this trope and they are all women. Who is admittedly more than a bit on the sexist side of the fence.) and of many of Neil Gaiman’s novels – where actually a male character is used as the skeptic entry point. Notably Neverwhere.
    I actually sort of like the trope – it reminds me a little of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Although I doubt he was the first to come up with it.
    The lack of believable set-up to her “evil turn” is a weak point of that series for me. I am currently working on a monster meta for Merlin that will, among other things, touch on ways in which I think Morgana was manipulated by other characters into playing the role she’s playing.
    Good point. I was thinking that when I watched this past week’s episode. (Annoyed that Agrivaine was permitted to have more complexity than Morgana.) But it is true – she’s been manipulated, first by Uther, then Morghost. And of course Guise (the drugs to keep her magic at bay). She’s as a result become much like Uther in her thinking. She’s sort of his mirror image in many ways. Taking after him more than Arthur does.
    Agree as well on Merlin – he’s been manipulated as well. It’s actually a well done and under-rated series.
    That is not to single her out as being robbed of agency, though, I think Merlin is being played like a lute himself for a purpose that is not his own.
    | Track This

  6. shadowkat67 March 27, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    This “outsider/skeptic” character who enters the fantastic world of the other characters is a sub-category of the character type I have christened The Character of Invitation. They are the “normal” people we meet in the first chapter/first scene who we travel into this weird and wooly world with, that ground us as readers. They are not always skeptics, but can be, especially initially.

    Very true of both the Doctor Who series (I’m not sure you’ve seen it – but the companions fit this trope and they are all women. Who is admittedly more than a bit on the sexist side of the fence.) and of many of Neil Gaiman’s novels – where actually a male character is used as the skeptic entry point. Notably Neverwhere.

    I actually sort of like the trope – it reminds me a little of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Although I doubt he was the first to come up with it.

    The lack of believable set-up to her “evil turn” is a weak point of that series for me. I am currently working on a monster meta for Merlin that will, among other things, touch on ways in which I think Morgana was manipulated by other characters into playing the role she’s playing.

    Good point. I was thinking that when I watched this past week’s episode. (Annoyed that Agrivaine was permitted to have more complexity than Morgana.) But it is true – she’s been manipulated, first by Uther, then Morghost. And of course Guise (the drugs to keep her magic at bay). She’s as a result become much like Uther in her thinking. She’s sort of his mirror image in many ways. Taking after him more than Arthur does.

    Agree as well on Merlin – he’s been manipulated as well. It’s actually a well done and under-rated series.

    That is not to single her out as being robbed of agency, though, I think Merlin is being played like a lute himself for a purpose that is not his own.
    | Track This

  7. neshaffer March 28, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    I don’t see very much complexity in Agravaine. For one thing, they’ve given him no believable motivation for helping Morgana at all, especially considering Arthur is his nephew. He’s been the weak point of season 4, IMO.
    Characters of Invitation are all over sci-fi and fantasy. Willow and Xander play that role in season 1 of Buffy, for example. I tend to find myself less interested in stories that have no such character–that thrust you into a strange world without any character who can believably say, “What the heck is going on here?” and learn as the reader/viewer learns.

  8. neshaffer March 28, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    I don’t see very much complexity in Agravaine. For one thing, they’ve given him no believable motivation for helping Morgana at all, especially considering Arthur is his nephew. He’s been the weak point of season 4, IMO.

    Characters of Invitation are all over sci-fi and fantasy. Willow and Xander play that role in season 1 of Buffy, for example. I tend to find myself less interested in stories that have no such character–that thrust you into a strange world without any character who can believably say, “What the heck is going on here?” and learn as the reader/viewer learns.

  9. shadowkat67 March 28, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    On Agrivaine – I meant more sympathetic – in that he didn’t want to torture the prisoners and didn’t have the stomach for it. His motivation is clarified early on – he hated Uther, and was sympathetic towards Morgaine’s mother who she reminds him of. What I’m not clear on is whose brother he was – the mother’s or the father’s. While Morgaine seems to have no redeeming qualities at all and is just bwahahhah evil.

  10. shadowkat67 March 28, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    On Agrivaine – I meant more sympathetic – in that he didn’t want to torture the prisoners and didn’t have the stomach for it. His motivation is clarified early on – he hated Uther, and was sympathetic towards Morgaine’s mother who she reminds him of. What I’m not clear on is whose brother he was – the mother’s or the father’s. While Morgaine seems to have no redeeming qualities at all and is just bwahahhah evil.

  11. neshaffer March 28, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    He was definitely Arthur’s mother’s brother, since he said so. And his hatred for Uther stemmed from what he did to his wife, so that sympathy should extend to Arthur, her son. He is supposedly attracted to Morgana, but she never throws him a single bone to lead him on. So what’s he getting out of their relationship? Nothing, I think.

  12. neshaffer March 28, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    He was definitely Arthur’s mother’s brother, since he said so. And his hatred for Uther stemmed from what he did to his wife, so that sympathy should extend to Arthur, her son. He is supposedly attracted to Morgana, but she never throws him a single bone to lead him on. So what’s he getting out of their relationship? Nothing, I think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: