by Catriona Mills

Lessons I Have Learned From Watching Fantasy Films

Posted 15 February 2009 in by Catriona

1. It is by no means difficult to pick up—in a relatively short period of time, usually only days or even hours—sufficient skills with a sword to disarm, seriously maim, or perhaps even kill an enemy who has had lifelong training in swordsmanship.

Clearly, Inigo Montoya and Westley were rather slow learners.

2. Walking in a fantasy world is not tiring at all. This is almost certainly due to the rarified atmosphere in a pre-industrial world.

3. The more unconvincing the enemy looks, the harder it will be to kill. This is particularly true when the enemy is actually a puppet.

4. Dragons are a bit rubbish, really, aren’t they? I mean, they can breathe fire, own great wealth, usually demonstrate strong magic, often possess some sort of ill-defined wisdom that has passed, over the eons, beyond the ken of man—but when do you really see a dragon using these powers to thoroughly subjugate a kingdom?

Okay, yes: there was Reign of Fire.

But apart from that? Really, dragons should be firmly and metaphorically crushing entire populations beneath their scaly claws, and they just don’t. Rubbish, really.

5. Surely most fantasy kingdoms must suffer from an unusually high rate of osteoporosis. I assume this because of the relative dearth of cows. Sure, when you pass a humble farmstead, there’s bound to be one or maybe two cows outside. Sometimes goats. Enough to provide for the milk and cheese needs of a single family, especially given the relative size of agrarian families in a pre-industrial world.

But where, when the hero is tramping across acres of what look to me like prime dairy land, are the herds of cows required to provide milk to the urban centres?

Why, in short, are fantasy films so lacking in cows?

6. Most places in a fantasy world that are likely to hasten your demise—to make your death more untimely, as it were, than it might otherwise have been—tend to wear their heart on their sleeve. They’re usually called something like “The Caverns of Doom” or “The Fire Swamp.”

This should make them easier to avoid, really.

7. Weapons in a fantasy world seem to operate counter to the nature of their own materials. People never seem to clean their swords before resheathing them, despite the damage this would cause to the blade and to the scabbard. And, for that matter, why don’t swords have blood grooves? Vast amounts of blood would be running down over the wielder’s hand, causing them to drop the sword constantly. And, for that matter, why isn’t there more blood in a fantasy sword fight? And how do you keep your sword sharp when hardly any hero seems to own a whetstone or, if they do own one, to use it, despite spending all day hacking off bits of their enemies, even down to the bone, which must surely blunt the edge of even the sharpest sword?

Of course, these questions don’t apply if you have a named sword: everyone knows that named swords operate under their own laws, even when those laws contravene the laws of physics themselves.

8. Every fantasy kingdom is, well, a kingdom, isn’t it? Oh, I don’t mean that there aren’t any queens, because there are. Sometimes there are even evil Regents.

But where are the oligarchies? The ruling priesthoods? The democratically elected governments? I know they exist in the books, but where are they on film? What, in short, is so great about kings?

9. I’m not even going to cover question about bathes and personal grooming, since the always fabulous Diana Wynne Jones has already covered those.

10. I’m not sure about this, but I have a feeling that girls, like dragons, are a bit rubbish, too. This goes against much that I’ve learnt from sources other than fantasy films, but it does seem that, in the fantasy world on-screen, girls tend to be more trouble than they’re worth, always getting kidnapped and screaming, falling over and breaking their ankles, or just plain getting into trouble.

And they’re so lippy, and there’s nothing worse than a lippy woman. Apparently.

Of course, I’m excluding the dead wife from Hawk the Slayer from this category. You know, the one who has a concealed blade in her over-sized crucifix? She turned out to be the most interesting part of that film.

Share your thoughts [58]

1

Tim wrote at Feb 15, 11:22 PM

What were you watching that brought this on?

2

Catriona wrote at Feb 15, 11:27 PM

Stardust, though that’s not too bad a fantasy films go. At least the heroines aren’t totally vacuous and when they are, it’s intentional.

But the training montage on the ship reminded me about how easy it is to pick up sword skills in fantasy films, and the rest I cobbled together from various films over the years.

3

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 01:42 AM

1. Ah, yes, Stardust provides an egregious example of that training issue. I can’t think of any others, though.

2. Hobbits get tired, for one. Also consider that, in a pre-industrial world, most people probably do a lot more walking and riding than we do.

3. Where do, say, Imhotep and Davy Jones fit on your ‘unconvincing’ scale?

4. Rulership over humans is not in a dragon’s nature.

5. Pseudo-medieval fantasy kingdoms tend not to be highly urbanised, so they won’t have intensive dairy farming. Further, some cultures depicted may simply have low-lactose diets (cf. China and Japan). Also, the heroes are often crossing wilderness areas or regions that have been depopulated by war or disaster (which addresses the more general point you imply about shortage of obvious agricultural activity).

6. The warning labels usually do have that very function, and the protagonists’ venture into such areas (when the demands of plot require them to do so) is typically mentioned as a reckless, foolish and/or suicidal act.

7. Sometimes swords are cleaned onscreen, and sometimes they are sheathed (and possibly cleaned) offscreen. Sharpening and other maintenance presumably also happens offscreen when it’s not explicitly depicted (some is shown in the LotR trilogy, for example). Re ‘blood groove’, this is a myth; fullers are actually features designed to lighten and/or strengthen blades.

8. Again, see pseudo-medieval.

9. cf. 7; personal grooming normally takes place offscreen. Would fantasy films be improved by chamberpot scenes?

10. Arwen, Eowyn, Sorsha, Lyra Belacqua, Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, or Mallory Grace, for example?

4

Leigh wrote at Feb 16, 01:45 AM

lol, I often think of the same thing, but then i remember we are talking about fantasy and often they are on a quest, and of course being on a quest i guess that there would be unearthly powers guiding them, so maybe that explains the quick learning? but again your right, everyone can suddenly walk for days or weeks without a break, dragons are only any good if they have a rider to protect them, and women are either cryers, yellers, or bad tempered, if the help it seems almost by accident. Oh and FYI I’m totally going to steal this idea for my blog :)

5

heretic wrote at Feb 16, 02:33 AM

Regarding point (1) there’s a corollary – you can only impart this knowledge in a training montage. However the montage magnifies the effect, allowing you to train and equip an entire peasant army – from scratch – in just hours or days. The power of the montage is so great that hastily-trained pig farmers will subsequently take out fully armed knights on horseback, despite the knights’ lifetime of combat training. Evil armies are developed slowly and ahead of time, without the use of a montage. Hence their ultimate demise in the field.

Re (7)… does the Highlander series count as fantasy? They were a bit obessessive about weapon maintenance in that one.

6

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 02:57 AM

Tim,

1. The Forbidden Kingdom has something of the same issue: it’s less egregious, because Jason Tripitikis does not, in fact, become unbeatable. Not really. And Stardust isn’t as egregious as it could be, because Tristan doesn’t actually have to fight Humphrey, so we don’t see his actual skills. If it weren’t for the fight with Septimus and the constant reiteration of the fact that all the events of Stardust take place in less than a week, in fact, I wouldn’t be too bothered.

I’m sure there are other examples, but I’ll admit the rapid-training montage is more of a sports/action film issue.

2. I’ll accept your argument about the pre-industrial world, and that goes for Stardust, too: although it’s not pre-industrial, people would have walked more in the early nineteenth century, especially in a country town.

I’ll give you the hobbits: I’d forgotten that. But, then, those were films with realistic fight scenes, so they’re just weird.

But, to borrow an idea blatantly from Diana Wynne Jones, how do horses fit into this? If Dick Turpin can ride Black Bess to death while establishing his alibi in York, how can fantasy film horses just keep running and running? Jones is right: they must be some form of plant life.

3. I admit, at this point I was thinking of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode with The Cave Dwellers: when Ator fights the giant spider (in a flashback that lasts twenty minutes and has no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the film), the robots intone, “It was the most unrealistic puppet he’d ever fought.”

But, then, Hawk the Slayer also fit into this category: there’s no more unrealistic a foe than Jack Palance.

4. Doesn’t that depend on the dragon?

I think my problem here is that understanding of who and what dragons are is incredibly vague, despite endless numbers of jewel-studded books on “dragonology” available in the children’s sections of bookstores.

So what annoys me is that poor films tend to imply “It’s a dragon! What more do you want from us? Fill in the blanks yourself!” That annoys me.

5. I’ll accept the absence of large-scale farming, but I’ll make a proviso here that I failed to make in the original post: I’m thinking here of fantasy films set in an unspecified but “Western” pseudo-mediaeval world.

And even when the hero is not crossing a wasteland, I have my concerns. Think, for example, of Minis Tirith. How large a population would that city have had? And it sat on a broad plain: by any reckoning, it should have been surrounded by broad, fertile farmlands—with a complex irrigation system, since the river was so close.

6. Yes, but this one was just a joke. Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with ten points, but nine just feels like failure.

7. I was thinking of the scene around the campside in LotR when Aragorn was sharpening his blade: that’s definitely an exception, but then those films are, in large part, sword porn, bless them.

Can you offer me a link on “so-called blood grooves”? Or a book? Not that I doubt your word but, as someone with zero pratical knowledge of swords, I find this intriguing.

I still think there should be more blood in the fight scenes, though. And also more hacking and crushing: aren’t broad swords slicing and hacking weapons, where the lighter blades such as epees are the stabbing weapons?

(On a completely disconnected note, can someone tell me how Garion in The Belgariad draws his sword? Apparently, the blade is six-feet long ad he is able to wield it because the Orb magically reduces its weight. But how on earth does he draw it from the scabbard on his back? His arms must be insanely long.)

8. Yeah, okay. I’ll give you that one. But see note 6 above.

9. The number of times I’ve had to direct back to note 6 above is starting to embarrass me.

10. I’ve not seen The Spiderwick Chronicles, but with the exception of Sorsha, all of those women/girls come from films made in the last ten years.

Yes, more and more fantasy films are showing strong female protagonists. And no, I don’t think that the length of time that feminism has taken to filter down into the medium is unique to fantasy films: I think it’s a problem with film generally, where gender politics seem thirty years out of date. But it’s also true that, as a woman watching fantasy films over the past thirty years, I’ve seen more women scream and sprain their ankles than I have seen strong, resourceful, brave women able to defend themselves.

And I’m still not convinced that any of those women are, say, a Princess Leia or a Sarah Connor.

(Plus, Susan does have to be rescued by Caspian. Otherwise, I thought she was great and I loved her practical, non-bosomy armour.)

7

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 03:03 AM

Leigh—but not all quests are supervised or overseen by a deity. Otherwise that would be a good explanation. And I’d forgotten how bad tempered the women are: only thing worse that a lippy woman is a lippy shrew. Apparently.

Of course, I am a lippy shrew, so I might be biased.

Heretic, wouldn’t that depend on whether the montages are extradiegetic or diegetic?

But I’d forgotten Highlander: they were obsessive about weapon maintenance. Of course, they also held to the belief that rape was a good form of discipline—for someone other than the person being raped. So their judgement is a little skewed, from my perspective.

8

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 04:36 AM

> Doesn’t that depend on the dragon?

Well, obviously. But consider the thematic roles in the source material.

> And even when the hero is not crossing a wasteland, I have my concerns. Think, for example, of Minis Tirith. How large a population would that city have had? And it sat on a broad plain: by any reckoning, it should have been surrounded by broad, fertile farmlands—with a complex irrigation system, since the river was so close.

Yes. (As you know, this is different in the book.)

> Can you offer me a link on “so-called blood grooves”? Or a book? Not that I doubt your word but, as someone with zero pratical knowledge of swords, I find this intriguing.

First and third hits on a Google search for “blood groove”:
http://www.agrussell.com/Articles/a/106/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuller_(weapon)

> I still think there should be more blood in the fight scenes, though. And also more hacking and crushing: aren’t broad swords slicing and hacking weapons, where the lighter blades such as epees are the stabbing weapons?

Broadly speaking, yes; chalk this up to reluctance to realistically depict violence in the mainstream Western film industry in films for which children are an important target market.

> (On a completely disconnected note, can someone tell me how Garion in The Belgariad draws his sword? Apparently, the blade is six-feet long ad he is able to wield it because the Orb magically reduces its weight. But how on earth does he draw it from the scabbard on his back? His arms must be insanely long.)

Yes, it’s dodgy. Two-handed swords such as zweihänders and ōdachi can be up to six feet long. Some of these may have been carried on back harnesses, but drawing them would have been slow. They were often carried unsheathed (or with cloth coverings in inclement weather), resting on the shoulder like a polearm. If carried on the back, either the entire harness would be taken off before battle, or a retainer would assist in drawing the sword.

> I’ve not seen The Spiderwick Chronicles, but with the exception of Sorsha, all of those women/girls come from films made in the last ten years.

You didn’t mention any time limit in your original post. :p

> And I’m still not convinced that any of those women are, say, a Princess Leia or a Sarah Connor.

Shifting goalposts? :) And I know Eowyn gives up the sword afterwards, but she did face an undead warlord in hand-to-hand combat, and she was never reduced to being slavegirl to a giant slug. As for Lyra, she’s barely even an adult and she’s already helped to save the universe; who knows what she’ll be doing in another ten years?

9

heretic wrote at Feb 16, 04:50 AM

wouldn’t that depend on whether the montages are extradiegetic or diegetic?

Gesundheit.

Um, the one where it’s compressing time and not showing parallel events. It’s part of the main story, compressed; not a side story which may have been going on for some time.

So their judgement is a little skewed, from my perspective.

Well yes I was zeroing in on their judgement in relation to weapon maintenance. They were pretty weird on basically everything else.

Even their basic tactics were pretty questionable – eg. “sweet, here I am in a church. sacred ground, put my feet up. no wuckas.” everyone else: “idiot, everyone knows where you are and just has to wait for you to come out.”

Do we also learn from fantasy movies that protagonists generally prevail by sheer dumb luck and an ability to absorb damage? Or is that all action movies…

10

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 05:02 AM

Well, I don’t technically know that Minis Tirith’s situation is different in the books because as you know, I’ve never read that far. But I can well believe it would be different, because Tolkien isn’t a prat.

Neither is Jackson a prat, of course, but while it might have been dramatic to see the enemy advancing across the next year’s harvest, burning and trampling as they went, it might have undercut the solemnity of Aragorn’s coronation to have voices shouting from the back, “But what are we going to do for food, you fool?”

The idea of carrying a six-foot sword like a polearm is an intriguing one—I know there are six-foot long swords out there, but I’ve never been able to figure out how Garion was able to draw his, on his own, one-handed, while riding a galloping horse.

Of course, he was magical. Maybe he drew it with magic? If he didn’t, that might be a skill he’d want to learn.

No: I didn’t mention a time limit in the original post, and I’m not about to retroactively impose one. But that was the first thing that struck me when I read your list: how comparatively recent all those depictions are.

And, yes: I have a problem with the giant slug. But I’m thinking particularly of Leia in the first film, before they had to—I believe—film around particular . . . issues.

(And Eowyn is complicated, to me. Yes, she faced an undead warlord in hand-to-hand combat, but—as far as the movie depiction goes—she didn’t really defeat him in hand-to-hand combat. Or, more accurately, she didn’t defeat him because of her skills with the blade: she defeated him by reason of her gender. It could be argued—careful passive voice and all—that any woman could have defeated him, which implies that women are interchangeable. If we then argue that not every woman would have ridden off into combat as Eowyn did, that becomes problematic in a different way, arguing that Eowyn is distinct from and—by extension—above the rest of her gender. That takes us squarely into “Some of my best friends are . . .” territory, allowing the reader to continue to denigrate the majority of a social grouping by making any exceptions to their generalisations exceptional.)

11

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 05:10 AM

Heretic: sorry, slipped into some unexplained jargon there, which I’m always warning my students against.

Extradiegetic versus diegetic simply means within the film or outside it. I most often hear it used in relation to music: is the music only audible to the audience (extradiegetic) or is it audible to both audience and characters (diegetic)?

So I suppose my point is that the argument that the montage itself facilitates faster and more effective training would only hold true if the characters themselves knew they were in a montage, if, essentially, the montage were diegetic.

Which is largely, of course, what happens in Team America: World Police.

So the peasant army needs two things: they need a montage, and they need the self-awareness to know that they’re in a montage.

But, yep: you’re absolutely right on the heroes prevailing through being too thick to know when they’ve been killed. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s largely what you meant, right?) It’s true of all action films, I think—see also Westerns, Spaghetti.

12

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 05:47 AM

> Well, I don’t technically know that Minis Tirith’s situation is different in the books because as you know, I’ve never read that far.

Ah, yes, I must have blanked this fact from my mind. I still find it difficult to comprehend.

> No: I didn’t mention a time limit in the original post, and I’m not about to retroactively impose one. But that was the first thing that struck me when I read your list: how comparatively recent all those depictions are.

Certainly true. For some more 80s examples (with issues of their own), consider Valeria in Conan the Barbarian and Zula in Conan the Destroyer; also Red Sonja.

> And Eowyn is complicated, to me. Yes, she faced an undead warlord in hand-to-hand combat, but—as far as the movie depiction goes—she didn’t really defeat him in hand-to-hand combat. Or, more accurately, she didn’t defeat him because of her skills with the blade: she defeated him by reason of her gender. It could be argued—careful passive voice and all—that any woman could have defeated him, which implies that women are interchangeable. If we then argue that not every woman would have ridden off into combat as Eowyn did, that becomes problematic in a different way, arguing that Eowyn is distinct from and—by extension—above the rest of her gender.

Eowyn takes part in the fighting on the Pelennor Fields, which implies she has at least some combat skill. She also needed the courage to stand up to the Witch-king.

Also, I think you’re excluding the middle; arguing that Eowyn is a particularly brave woman does not necessarily denigrate the rest of her gender, any more than arguing that Aragorn is a particularly brave man denigrates the rest of his.

Further, Glorfindel’s prophecy may derive from him actually seeing the future, rather than laying down some legalistic condition.

13

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 06:27 AM

Yes, I’m fully anticipating some horrible result of my not having read Lord of the Rings. True story: I was once almost voted out of my family on the basis that I hadn’t read it. Even the dog voted for my expulsion. (Apparently.) But my father had a crisis of confidence and vetoed the motion.

Anyone who claims that democracy is not often practiced in family life hasn’t met my family.

The Conan (et al) examples are interesting, but to see the way we seem to be regressing in modern films, only consider Kelly Hu’s role as Cassandra in the intensely Conan-istic (but truly awful) The Scorpion King.

I’m not arguing that Eowyn lacks bravery or skill, simply that it may not, in fact, be her skill that is the deciding factor in her defeat of the Witch King.

And I think that the difference in gender is something to consider in the argument that “arguing that Eowyn is a particularly brave woman does not necessarily denigrate the rest of her gender, any more than arguing that Aragorn is a particularly brave man denigrates the rest of his.”

In such genres (and while Tolkien is not the worst of the breed, he is the father of the breed, in many cases), bravery is native to men, less so to women.

So a brave woman (especially in a male-centred field such as battle) is more exceptional than a brave man.

And, while Aragorn’s bravery cannot be said to denigrate the rest of his gender, his cowardice, were he to be cowardly, might. This would have more power in an environment such as Tolkien’s, where not only is the king the head of state (and therefore representative of his people) but where the king also possesses additional powers as a function of his role.

And in the films (which are what I’m talking about), they do talk of people or groups of people as being emblematic of the whole and therefore able to influence (or seem to influence) the behaviour of the whole.

Think of Gandalf’s lines after Pippin looks into the palantir:

Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith. His defeat at Helm’s Deep showed our enemy one thing. He knows the Heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still…strength perhaps to challenge him. Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle-earth uniting under one banner.

(I grabbed that from here, just in case it’s inaccurate.)

I like the Glorfindel argument, though. Very elegant.

14

Drew wrote at Feb 16, 07:52 AM

I think that the lack of cows may stem from the actions of dragons who, knowing they are a bit rubbish, seek to vent their irritability on the poor luckless bovines standing out in the pleasant green fields. As proof of this I offer the actions of Smaug who failing to kill Thorin and Co on the high ledge of the Lonely Mountain, turned his attention to their ponies. Then beefed up by his tremendous victory over the relatively helpless equines, he turned his attention to Laketown and subsequently met his demise, which of course supports your “dragons are a bit rubbish” theory.

15

Drew wrote at Feb 16, 08:00 AM

On the matter of Eowyn, although the film doesn’t bear this out, it is very clear to me from the book that it is actually Merry who kills the Witch King, although of course he can only do so since the Ringwaith is distracted by Eowyn. Merry recieves the blade from Bombadil from out of the barrow in the Barrow Downs. It is this specific blade that was forged to kill the Witch King, to unknit the fabric of his being or something like that, I’d have to look it up. But in general Tolkien’s women are a bit rubbish and Eowyn and Galadriel are really the only exceptions to this. And Luthien of course, but she is not in that story, or at least she is not present even though the story has everything to do with her.

16

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 08:08 AM

Oooh, good point, Drew! I hadn’t thought about the idea that the rubbish nature of dragons and the relative paucity of cows might be inter-related, but that makes perfect sense!

So what role does Eowyn play in the killing of the Witch King in the books? Is she simply distracting, or does she have a more active role, as well.

And, of course, even in the film Eowyn does not kill the Witch King unaided. But you’re right: Tolkien didn’t write many strong female characters, which is why I have no problem with Jackson et al. increasing the role of Arwen in the films. At least there’s an indication there that there’s no legitimate reason why we can’t have strong female characters on film now, however difficult it might have been to put them on the page half a century ago.

(Or, perhaps, since it wasn’t necessarily difficult—when Tolkien had the heroines of sensation fiction to draw on, for example—I should say no matter how reluctant authors were to do so half a century ago.)

17

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 09:03 AM

> The Conan (et al) examples are interesting, but to see the way we seem to be regressing in modern films, only consider Kelly Hu’s role as Cassandra in the intensely Conan-istic (but truly awful) The Scorpion King.

Can I counter that with Evelyn Carnahan, then? If not, the direct-to-video prequel The Scorpion King 2 features a female lead in the Red Sonja mould.

> I’m not arguing that Eowyn lacks bravery or skill, simply that it may not, in fact, be her skill that is the deciding factor in her defeat of the Witch King.

Okay. I could say something similar about Princess Leia, then. But I won’t. We can, I think, at least agree that Leia and Eowyn are both examples of courageous women in fantasy fiction.

> And I think that the difference in gender is something to consider in the argument that “arguing that Eowyn is a particularly brave woman does not necessarily denigrate the rest of her gender, any more than arguing that Aragorn is a particularly brave man denigrates the rest of his.”

> In such genres (and while Tolkien is not the worst of the breed, he is the father of the breed, in many cases), bravery is native to men, less so to women.

> So a brave woman (especially in a male-centred field such as battle) is more exceptional than a brave man.

Yes. And?

> I like the Glorfindel argument, though. Very elegant.

Ta.

> So what role does Eowyn play in the killing of the Witch King in the books? Is she simply distracting, or does she have a more active role, as well.

Really, you should read it. It’s one of the finest scenes in the book. :)

But, basically, it’s much like the film: The Witch-king flies down on his winged steed, the Rohirrim are stricken with terror, and Théoden is crushed beneath his horse. Éowyn alone stands her ground (with Merry behind her, sick with fear). She takes off her helmet and declares herself to be a woman. Merry plucks up courage, Éowyn decapitates the Witch-king’s steed, he breaks her shield and moves in for the kill, Merry stabs him in the leg, then Éowyn stabs him where his face would be if he still had one, and he is destroyed.

I disagree with Drew, but it’s certainly one of the points of contention in the text (cf. whether Balrogs have wings): Merry’s blow is clearly important, but whether it’s the single cause is debated. Necessary/sufficient condition stuff.

For some more context and relevant quotes, see http://tolkien.slimy.com/faq/History.html#WhoKilled

18

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 09:34 AM

Now Evelyn is one of the women I could have mentioned but didn’t. I love her—well, I love her in the first film. I would love her in subsequent films, but they were fairly bad.

(And, as though to prove my point, in the second film, she actually positions her toughness—well, her physical toughness, anyway—as coming from her husband, telling Alex, “That I learnt from your father!” Yes, there’s all the reincarnation stuff, but lines like that make me roll my eyes. Still, it’s not nearly as bad as some examples.)

I haven’t seen the sequel to The Scorpion King, but I will at some point.

Now, I’m not going further into the Eowyn argument: it’s for you to counter my argument, not for me to respond to the imperative “And?”

But I would ask that when you say that Leia’s skill is not the deciding factor in her narrative, that you expand that somewhat. It’s true that it’s Luke’s skill that ultimately brings down the Death Star, with some support from Han. If that’s what you mean, fine. But do you mean that Leia’s primary role boils down to something other than skill or bravery, as I’m arguing Eowyn’s does?

I’ll backpedal slightly, or, at least, clarify: I do think that Eowyn is one of the most significant female characters in Tolkien and therefore significant to fantasy fiction generally. It’s simply that the particular conditions of her significance cause me some concern (or, at least, allow me to craft elegant if unsustainable arguments).

19

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 09:58 AM

> Now, I’m not going further into the Eowyn argument: it’s for you to counter my argument, not for me to respond to the imperative “And?”

Once I know what you’re arguing, sure.

However, I see I left out a line. After

> In such genres (and while Tolkien is not the worst of the breed, he is the father of the breed, in many cases), bravery is native to men, less so to women.

I meant to say:

I’m not sure. I think Tolkien might qualify that with something like ‘bravery in battle’, or ‘women’s bravery is manifest in different ways’.

20

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 10:22 AM

Okay. The essential argument comes down to this:

Yes, Eowyn is brave in battle. And that’s great. But when she’s exceptional, that becomes (potentially) problematic, especially when it is implied or even explicitly stated that her bravery is exceptional despite the fact that she is a woman, that the exceptional fact is that she can overcome Woman’s essential tendency to leap on a chair and scream.

Bravery in men doesn’t carry these overtones (in the fantasy genre) because brave is something that men do: being brave is natural to them but unusual in women.

This strikes me as analogous to the argument that states that “I love Specific Friend Who Belongs To A Minority, but they’re the exception, most People of That Minority are [fill in the generalisation here].”

21

Leigh wrote at Feb 16, 10:33 AM

I cant keep up with all the other comments, they are far to concise and well thought out for me (the sleep deprived mother) to add anything more, but I just wanted to say i didn’t just mean a deity but a quest is often about destiny etc …. thats the sort of thing i was talking about. Ok Im going back to read all the other comments and try and remember the books your talking about …. maybe i should leave it till the morning :)

22

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 10:54 AM

Righto. I disagree. Firstly, Éowyn’s bravery is exceptional not for a woman, but for a human being. She alone remains standing against the Witch-king when the rest of Théoden’s knights have fallen or fled (or have failed to master their frightened horses). She is a hero.

Secondly, her heroism is not an aberration from her gender, as I read it, or, if you must frame it as such, it is not a unique aberration. The fact that she calls herself a shieldmaiden (in the film, Aragorn says it) and others accept this description indicates that ‘shieldmaiden’ exists as a category that Rohirric women, at least, can join. That is, if her bravery is exceptional, the text implies that other women have been recognised as capable of fighting in battle.

Thirdly, men are not always brave in the text. Tolkien recognises fear as a common human emotion, and I don’t believe he strongly marks it by gender. For a start, the (male) hobbits go through a lot of fear, and are (at least initially) not battle-hardened warriors, yet Tolkien clearly does not think any less of them for this.

23

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 10:56 AM

Well, Leigh, I would think that at half-past nine, you should probably be in bed, yes. But I think part of Tim’s argument is that my argument isn’t at all well thought out.

Most of the stories we’re talking about you’ve read or seen, though: Lord of the Rings, I know you’ve read, and you’ve read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, haven’t you? And I know for a fact that you’ve seen Willow.

But I see the point about quests: I took “unearthly powers” to mean “deity,” which was a naive reading. But destiny might well play a part in these things, much as Oedipus couldn’t stop himself killing his father and marrying his mother—not that he tried that hard.

24

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 11:08 AM

In case this isn’t obvious, I’m objecting to your analogy to the ‘some of my best friends are…’ ‘argument’, because, if we break that argument into two positions:

‘I admire [specific person X] for [certain qualities]’

and

‘Most people of [minority group of which X is a member] do not hold [certain qualities]’

it is obviously possible to hold the first without intending the second.

And back to the earlier point, it can indeed be argued from the text that Éowyn’s skill is not the deciding factor in the Witch-king’s defeat. I just don’t see that we need to take that to mean Tolkien considered women collectively to be weak, cowardly, or anything else of that sort.

25

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 11:10 AM

I’m going to reiterate, though, that I really am talking about the films, here. I’m not talking about the books: I’m not qualified to talk about the books.

And I would distinguish the hobbits from what I’m talking about when I say “men.” They’re male, yes, but they’re not men. That is, they don’t belong to what is called the world of men. Even then, the male hobbits are the ones who are brave, though if we’d seen the Scouring of the Shire, we might have seen something different.

I’d also like to see an etymology of “shieldmaiden.” Does it absolutely mean “one who bears a shield”? Because to be shielded is to be protected, to be behind a barrier, to be secured from the immediate threat of weaponry. So if “shieldmaiden” indicates “one who bears a shield,” then, yes, it implies that there is a continuity of warrior maidens within Rohan society. But if it doesn’t mean that, if it simply means “daughter of a warrior race,” then the category remains problematic.

Since we are talking about the films, I would reiterate that Eowyn is exceptional. Yes, she’s the only one (apart from Merry) who faces the Witch King, but she’s also the only woman in the film who does anything along those lines. (Yes, Arwen draws her sword, but she doesn’t use it.)

So perhaps she’s doubly exceptional? Exceptional as a human being after having proved herself exceptional as a woman?

Some of this, of course, lies in the inherent gender imbalance in Rohirric society. Theoden, remember, puts eleven-year-old boys on the barricade at Helm’s Deep, rather than grown women.

26

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 11:21 AM

I can’t very well give you an etymology if you’re restricting us to the films.

And since you brought up Arwen, she at least appears willing to face the Nazgûl in combat, and may (depending how you interpret the scene) have had a part in calling the river up against them. Though if we’re discounting the hobbits as non-Men, I guess Arwen doesn’t count for this discussion either.

27

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 11:36 AM

To be fair, I restricted the argument to films in the first instance. Subsequent arguments relating to the books have taken me off comfortable soil into areas with which I openly admit I am unfamiliar.

If you can give me an etymology based on the books, do so: as you say, the phrase is repeated in the films, though if Eowyn uses it to describe herself (or if it is used by any other of the Rohirrim to describe her) in the books while it is used by Aragorn (an outsider to Rohirric society) to describe her in the film, that would add an additional degree of complexity to any etymology, since the Rivendell-raised, Gondorian, Dunedain ranger Aragorn may not use it in precisely the same way that the men of Rohan would have used it.

And there’s no need to take Arwen out of the argument. Then again, including intent in a discussion of actions is a slippery slope.

What about my argument re. the deliberate exclusion of women from the Battle of Helm’s Deep when young boys, barely able to hold a sword, are included?

28

Drew wrote at Feb 16, 12:52 PM

I especially liked the way Arwen’s role was beefed up in the film, that she took the role played by Glorfindal in the novel during the flight to the ford with the Nazgul in pursuit. The film does seem to imply that she caused the river to rise up (it is Elrond with touches from Gandalf in the book). That of course raises (for me) an new problem in that the film lacks the novel’s subtlety in its portrayal of magic. Magic in the film is more of the Harry Potter/Bewitched variety, in the novel it is incredibly more complex and subtle than that and it certainly not always clear as to the extent of someone’s powers or indeed when they are using them.

And I am glad that you raised that point Tim. In your opinion, do Balrogs have wings? :)

29

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 01:19 PM

Glorfindel didn’t appear at all in the films, did he?

I agree with you, Drew, and with Tim, tho I think made the same point: I think Arwen did at least take part in the rising of the river: it is entirely unclear whether her powers were joined with the powers of any others, but I think the way in which the river’s rising responds to and joins with her murmuring is a strong indication that she is at least involved.

I don’t think that the films could have depicted magic in the way in which you say it’s depicted in the books. It needs to be showier on screen. But, that said, I do think they go someway to making Gandalf’s powers inexplicable, to suggest that more is going on behind his actions than we can see, and to make his origins less than explicit.

I know many people objected to the wizard fu at Isengard, though.

(Still, I think it’s an improvement over the type of wizard duels you often get in less competent fantasy, where you usually find a line like, “The spectators felt rather than saw the great forces at play in the duel, the air between the wizards crackling not with fire or with ice but with something beyond the sense of ordinary mortals, arcane powers that raised the hairs on the back of their necks even though they barely comprehended what was happening.” Or something like that. That would be dull to watch on film.)

30

Tim wrote at Feb 16, 02:23 PM

> If you can give me an etymology based on the books, do so: as you say, the phrase is repeated in the films, though if Eowyn uses it to describe herself (or if it is used by any other of the Rohirrim to describe her) in the books while it is used by Aragorn (an outsider to Rohirric society) to describe her in the film, that would add an additional degree of complexity to any etymology, since the Rivendell-raised, Gondorian, Dunedain ranger Aragorn may not use it in precisely the same way that the men of Rohan would have used it.

I can’t find an etymology in the books per se, but the textual evidence strongly suggests to me that it means a warrior-woman rather than a woman in a supporting, non-combat role. When she wants to follow Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead, he says, ‘Your duty is with your people,’ and she replies, ‘Too often have I heard of duty. But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse?’ Later, in the Houses of Healing, she says to Faramir, ‘Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle…’

(Healing and nursing are directly contrasted with fighting, but given that the Master Healer is a scholarly male, it’s not simply a case that men are naturally fighters and women are naturally healers, either.)

She does, in the book, explicitly reject the role after the war is over, and I know that raises issues of its own. However, her change of role is at least partly because the war is over and there is less need for soldiers.

It is frustrating that no other shieldmaidens are explicitly depicted in the books, though.

> And there’s no need to take Arwen out of the argument. Then again, including intent in a discussion of actions is a slippery slope.

I’m more thinking that if you’re restricting the argument to Men (no hobbits, dwarves or elves), Arwen has to be excluded on racial grounds (as, therefore, does the textual material on elven gender roles).

> What about my argument re. the deliberate exclusion of women from the Battle of Helm’s Deep when young boys, barely able to hold a sword, are included?

Oh, it’s a good one, and the women are kept out of the battles in the book, too, but the boys aren’t sent to fight. I think the depiction in the film muddies the picture by introducing Jackon’s own biases (or at least his ideas of what makes a good story).

> And I am glad that you raised that point Tim. In your opinion, do Balrogs have wings? :)

No. They have shadows that can sometimes look like wings. :)

31

Catriona wrote at Feb 16, 10:35 PM

Given that, I’d actually like to see some uses of the term “shieldmaiden” from the books that aren’t actually in Eowyn’s mouth. Because here it almost sounds self-imposed, as though she’s inventing the title or drawing it from the history of the Rohirrim to help define what she thinks women are or could be. (Not that that’s a problem: it’s actually an intriguing idea, but it would make the film’s imposition of the title from outside a somewhat problematic issue.)

But what this actually suggests to me is that Eowyn in the books is a more complex figure than she is in the film (which is fairly common with adaptations).

> It is frustrating that no other shieldmaidens are explicitly depicted in the books, though.

Yes. And it’s frustrating that there aren’t more depicted in the films, too. That’s partly where my argument lies that she’s exceptional—one reason that she’s exceptional in the film is because she’s basically the only example of a woman who can fight (Arwen aside, though she does little actual fighting).

> I think the depiction in the film muddies the picture by introducing Jackon’s own biases (or at least his ideas of what makes a good story).

Yes. And that introduction of boys to me makes the situation problematic. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is awesome on screen, but it is fought in part by boys barely able to hold their weapons, while women (and peasant women, too, used to hard labour) are (quite literally) cowering and crying in the caves.

That annoys me.

32

Tim wrote at Feb 17, 02:41 AM

> Given that, I’d actually like to see some uses of the term “shieldmaiden” from the books that aren’t actually in Eowyn’s mouth.

No, I’m not sure anyone else uses the term. I think they usually call her ‘lady’. I don’t believe they dispute her right to call herself a shieldmaiden, though, at least not overtly.

> Yes. And that introduction of boys to me makes the situation problematic. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is awesome on screen, but it is fought in part by boys barely able to hold their weapons, while women (and peasant women, too, used to hard labour) are (quite literally) cowering and crying in the caves.

> That annoys me.

Me too.

33

Drew wrote at Feb 17, 06:55 AM

lol, I agree with you Tim wholeheartedly, for a long time the various images of that particular Balrog with wings has bothered me and I was disappointed that the film followed that line. It makes no sense to me, if it had wings it would not have fallen into the abyss when the bridge shattered.

34

Catriona wrote at Feb 17, 07:42 AM

That’s not necessarily true, though, Drew: flightless birds usually still have wings. It might have been a flightless Balrog.

35

Nick Caldwell wrote at Feb 17, 08:29 AM

Didn’t the Balrog fall in to the abyss because Gandalf laid a massive wizard-whammy on it? The bridge shattering was really just a visual side-effect of a more subtle battle.

36

Tim wrote at Feb 17, 08:41 AM

It’s also possible that it could fly and that Gandalf used magic to prevent it from flying. Or that it couldn’t unfurl its wings sufficiently for flight in the chasm. Or that it was unable to fly from a standing start.

37

Catriona wrote at Feb 17, 08:58 AM

Like a swan. Swans have to get a good run-up. Or a pigeon: pigeons are great once they’re in the air, but hard to get off the ground. That’s why, I suspect, the daft things always run away from your car instead of flying away.

Balrogs don’t look that aerodynamic.

38

Drew wrote at Feb 17, 01:16 PM

he was falling, that’s all the run up you need and the cavern containing the bridge was easily big enough for him to spread his wings – if he had any.

However, since we are supposed to be only talking about the films here, as portrayed by Jackson 1) the Balrog has wings that appear sufficiant to bear it aloft, 2) the cavern is huge. Why then does Jackson’s Balrog (since he himself insisted on the wings – it’s in the director’s commentary I think) make absolutely no attempt whatsoever to save itself from falling? I take Nick’s point that the battle is going on on more levels than appear visually to the Hobbits and other onlookers (us included). I don’t think that accounts for the flawed logic in this scene. Jackson insisted on a winged creature that makes no attempt to fly when it clearly needs to, and further compounts the logical error but having Gandalf willing drop into the abyss rather than having him pulled in as occured in the novel. It’s a shame because the rest of the Moria sequence is flawless, but that scene on the bridge just doesn’t work for me.

You might say that the Balrog had to be fought which is why Gandalf sacrifices himself. But it would have taken a long time for the Balrog to climb out of that abyss during which time Gandalf could have helped get the Ring (surely the more important task at hand) safely into Lothlorien where, I would argue, there was amply power to withstand a single Balrog. It took an army of Balrogs and Dragons to destroy Gondolin. One alone isn’t going to manage to destroy the most powerful elven kingdom left in Middle Earth. For me, this is the start of Jackon’s flawed narrative logic that became so prominent in the 2nd and 3rd films.

39

Catriona wrote at Feb 17, 01:30 PM

Many people disliked the bridge scene in Moria. My own take on Gandalf falling rather being pulled in (which I formulated at the time) is that it’s a response to the visual medium. Whereas in the book, Gandalf being pulled in would be an immediate shock, in the film, that shock may have been subsumed into the larger excitement of the battle. Having him grasp the edge of the bridge allows us a breathing space, so we can think “Oh, wow: he saved himself!” before the shock of his apparent death.

And, I suppose he is technically pulled into the abyss in the film: he does grasp the edge of the bridge, but he also has a Balrog hanging off his leg.

As to the wings, I propounded an entirely fictional argument to Nick this evening. He suggested that the Balrog’s wings looked large enough for it to bear its own weight aloft, but I argued that they might still be vestigial, if they had come to be used purely for decoration or the purposes of attracting a mate.

And, of course, living alone and unchallenged in the depths of Moria as it has been, its flight muscles might have atrophied.

40

Tim wrote at Feb 17, 02:04 PM

Drew, the wings shown in the film aren’t necessarily fully functional for flight purposes.

Catriona, when Gandalf falls in the film, the Balrog’s whip is no longer holding him. (Personally, I think that was a bad choice, but I agree it was probably made for cinematic effect.)

41

Drew wrote at Feb 17, 02:33 PM

Being essentally “fallen angels” it’s probably not likely that their muscles would atrophy as an ordinary mortal’s would. But, lol, mating Balrogs, I like that. Given that their shape and physical form is largely (originally) of their own choosing (in the same way that “Gandalf” has chosen the form of an old man) it’s not likely that they’d choose vestigial appendages. And actually now what I think more on the matter, flight in any of the earth bound “angels”, the Valar and Maiar of the Silmarillion is completely absent. Even Melkor has to walk into Valinor to destroy the trees. It is only when they are shapeless, without physical form, that they can move contrary to the physical demands of an earth-bound existence.

Reading again the Fall of Gondolin from the Silmarillion it is clear that the army of Balrogs, orcs and dragons had to negotiate a passage into the hidden vale where the watch was at its weakest, meaning they had to climb in, not fly in. I don’t think there are even flying dragons in the Silmarillion, or at least no named ones. After this they had to besiege the city, something that flying creatures would not need to do. And to preface the battle on the Bridge of Khazad-dum: “Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss.”

42

Drew wrote at Feb 17, 02:55 PM

On a completely different note: “What, in short, is so great about kings?”

I find it fascinating that the fantasy world, a place where anything is possible, is so Conservative in its politics. Shakespeare and his contempories were fascianted by the nature of Kingship and authority as is aptly demonstrated in Lear: kings have no authority, no power whatsoever unless someone else is prepared to acknowledge that authority. In the fantasy world this is not even an issue, kings once more govern as if by Divine Right. Magic functions too in much the same manner whereas to the playwrights of the Elizabethan era magic was very much like Kingship; Prospero and Faustus have no innate power of their own, merely the knowledge and ability to command others to perform the deeds they require.

43

Catriona wrote at Feb 17, 10:30 PM

Tim, seriously? I’ve either completely forgotten or never noticed that in the film. (I really should pay more attention.) Well, that is somewhat less plausible, then. Actually, a huge amount less plausible (assuming plausibility is quantifiable). I might need to put that up with my own two least favourite directorial decisions: the entrance of the Ents into battles and the death of Denethor (particularly the death of Denethor: so lacking in dignity).

Well, there you’ve just answered your own question, Drew! If all of the fallen angels are flightless, it’s possibly a function of their imprisonment or punishment or whyever it is that ‘angels’ are ‘fallen’ in Middle Earth. But if they can choose their own form, Balrogs choose to have wings, despite knowing that these appendages are essentially useless.

The question then becomes why do Balrogs have wings?

;)

44

Catriona wrote at Feb 17, 10:56 PM

The fantasy notion that kings rule by divine right is one that bothers Nick: he couldn’t read most of Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories—they’re set, if you haven’t read them, in the 1960s and 1970s, but in an alternative Earth in which Richard Lionheart was never shot at the age of 42, but lived to found an eight-hundred-year-old Plantagenet dynasty.

And, of course, Richard Lionheart once famously told the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, who had him imprisoned, that “I am born of a rank which recognizes no superior but God.” That comes through very strongly in the Darcy stories.

But it’s not just the idea of divine right that bothers Nick (and me). In the Darcy stories, there’s also this strong insistence that the kings deserve to be served, that they are, essentially, just better than us, because they were born into the Plantagenet family. I can’t get behind that argument.

I admit, though, I didn’t read King Lear quite like that. I read the denial as coming more from the fact that he voluntarily abandoned the responsibilities that mark his position but attempted to keep what was then an empty title—that to be king, one must behave as a king, with all that entails, not simply declare oneself a king.

45

Nick Caldwell wrote at Feb 17, 11:11 PM

I can cope with Kingly Divine Right in fantasy novels set in a distant mythical past or other world. It just sticks in my craw to see it in something near the present day. Same reason I don’t like alternate history novels where the Nazis won WW2.

I actually thought it was obvious that Gandalf let go at the bridge because he was sure Frodo would try and follow him back to rescue him, thereby giving the forces of darkness the chance to capture the Ring. He took himself off the board to prevent this, so to speak.

46

Tim wrote at Feb 18, 12:01 AM

> I don’t think there are even flying dragons in the Silmarillion, or at least no named ones.

Besides Ancalagon, you mean?

> I actually thought it was obvious that Gandalf let go at the bridge because he was sure Frodo would try and follow him back to rescue him, thereby giving the forces of darkness the chance to capture the Ring. He took himself off the board to prevent this, so to speak.

That’s part of how I interpret it in the film, along with Gandalf wanting to try to neutralise the Balrog (take himself off the board and take an enemy piece at the same time).

47

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 01:25 AM

lol, trust you Tim to find the exception. My memory of the Silmarillion is a little scratchy I admit.

Treen, I don’t think that yours and my reading of Lear are at odds. Of course Lear is about his voluntary abdication of his responsibility. Lear attempts to have his cake and eat it, you can’t expect to behave as King and command respect if you resign the Kingship and hand the responsibility and power over to others. But the play, as I see it, and many other Shakespeare’s plays about Kings (I’m thinking R2, some of the Henriads, King John, R3) all seem to explore the notion that royal authority is not Divinely invested, that there is no innate power vested in the King or Queen (unlike Aragorn for example). Kings only rule because we follow, they have power because the subjects give it to them.

48

Catriona wrote at Feb 18, 01:34 AM

Drew, I think you’re right: Lear abdicates the responsibility and expects to keep the power, and that’s where his problems start.

But my knowledge of the historical plays is zero (if we exclude the Roman plays and only talk about the British history plays): I don’t think I’ve read a single one.

But isn’t an argument such as that risky, whether he’s involved with the Chamberlain’s Men or with the King’s Men? Isn’t the Elizabethan/Jacobean crown—despite the movement of England to a parliamentary monarchy—still predicated in part on a divine right to rule?

(I’m thinking there’s another issue with Richard III, too, since he is frequently constructed (through conveniently ignoring a legitimate Act of Parliament) as a usurper.)

But, yes: most fantasy novels with this type of set up invest the king (less often the queen, who is so often either the consort, the dupe/Regent, or evil) with innate power based exclusively on their occupation of the throne.

49

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 01:48 AM

absolutely it would have been dangerous if it was overt and a prominient theme within the plays. It’s not, it’s more subtle than that but I find it ever present, or perhaps that is just my own adgenda coming though. Certainly I have a far different take on some plays (R&J for example) than I have ever seen elsewhere. I think about them too much perhaps. :)

50

Catriona wrote at Feb 18, 01:53 AM

Well, what’s your different take on Romeo and Juliet? I think it’s one of the funniest plays Shakespeare ever wrote—though the ending’s not a laugh a minute, I admit—and I’m always irritated to see it classed as one of Shakespeare’s “big” tragedies.

(I know it is a tragedy, but it’s so damn funny.)

I also wonder about the Nurse’s behaviour. I think I’ve said this on here before, but why is she so active in pushing Juliet into bed with Romeo?

51

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 02:22 AM

“Go girl, seek happy nights for happy days!” I think the Nurse thinks that sexual fulfillment is the path to happiness.

My take on R&J is fairly simple, the play has the reputation of being the most romantic story ever. Any decent reading of play will problematise such a concept, but it depends on how cynical you are. (if they survived the play’s events, would they live happily ever after? I think no, I used to think yes) Certainly though the first 2 acts capture perfectly the rapture of awaking love and they are beautiful. I always want to stop the play at that point whenever I see or read it.

My take is different. I think that the play is about violence. That Verona is a world so saturated in the notion of violence that only one person at the start of the play is not caught up in this world – Juliet. You don’t have to read far before you see that everyone speaks the language of violence at every turn, even Romeo, for although he abhors the violence that has occurred in the streets, his romantic language is saturated with violent metaphors. Of course he is a victim of Verona society, but the real innocent in my reading is Juliet. Finally by the end of the play, seeing no other option open to her, she succumbs so completely to the violent nature of the world around her that she takes her own life and forces everyone to see what a world it is that they have created. I think that is the tragedy of the play, the corruption of her innocence by Romeo, by the Nurse, the Friar, her parents, and all of Verona, all are complicit in the actions that destroy her, that is why “all are punished.”

52

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 02:30 AM

and yes it is a very funny play and fairly pornographic which is why I am always surprised that it’s taught to 14 yo in high schools.

53

Catriona wrote at Feb 18, 02:49 AM

I absolutely agree with the problematic nature of the standard “most romantic story ever” reading. “Romeo and Juliet” as “star-crossed lovers” is one of the examples I always use when I’m trying to give students examples of cliches drawn from literature. I suspect when people use the term in such a fashion, they’re actually drawing from centuries of readings of the play, rather than from the play itself.

Who was it who said that if Romeo and Juliet had had to drive out of Verona to elope, they would have broken up in a screaming fight long before they hit the city limits?

(Though that was more of a denouncement of cars than of the play.)

I admit, though, it always amuses me to watch people explain away the fact that Romeo seems to have a habit of falling in love at first sight.

54

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 03:03 AM

and that’s what I meant by “it depends on how cynical you are”. Does he fall in and out of love at the drop of a hankerchief, or is that that Rosalind is not the girl for him and Juliet is. Is it true love at first sight? R&J captures perfectly young love, but Shakespeare has shown elsewhere that he wasn’t so naive as to think young love = ever lasting love. Many modern performances tend to leave out the Rosalind subplot, it is easily discarded, helps to streamline the story, but it also conventiently refashions Romeo as less of a cad. As you say, it fits in with centuries of reading from the play rather than the play itself. The Tempest is another such play where critical readings have taken priority over the text itself and affect the play’s reception and performance.

55

Catriona wrote at Feb 18, 03:21 AM

I wouldn’t necessarily have categorised Romeo as a cad, myself—just susceptible.

To me, the suicides—which are so often taken as the defining act that shows Romeo and Juliet as truly, absolutely, happily ever after in love—are what undercuts that reading.

Every time I read the play or see an adaptation, I think, “But how could they know? They never lived together, or dealt with day-to-day life, or even spent more than a few hours at a time together. How could they possibly know how this would work out?”

But, then, I guess I’m not a romantic, since I think it’s less demonstrative to kill yourself than to continue to live with and love someone who constantly throws their socks behind the sofa when they take them off, without actually killing them.

(Not a hypothetical example.)

56

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 04:23 AM

no, not a cad, I was just being flippant. Young, immature, passionate and in love with being in love. Many of us have been there.

Of course now that you have given written warning I think that you are amply justified in killing any person who constantly throws their socks behind the sofa when they take them off. You have been patient, you have given fair warning, it’s time to unpack the uzi.

57

Catriona wrote at Feb 18, 04:52 AM

Yes, that’s my argument, as well. I also think I’m justified in killing someone who, rather than putting things back where they belong, puts them slightly to one side, so that by the end of the week everything in my house has moved one foot to the left.

If Juliet had done that, Romeo might have been less willing to shack up with her.

58

Drew wrote at Feb 18, 05:07 AM

not so much star-crossed as spatially-displaced. No court in the land (or fantasy land) would convict you.

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