seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

New Meme: Sense of Wonder/Personal Mythology

The idea for this came to me as I woke up this morning. Everyone has a set of things or people in fiction that have an almost holy awe or majesty or, um, gravitas about them to that particular person, even if to no one else. These are the characters that just speaking the name conjures up something impressive -- even if, now that we're adults, we may no longer read/watch the original material, or in some cases may even initially deny that it still affects us that way because, well, now that we're older we can see how silly/trivial/etc. it really was. But it still HITS us. These are the stories or TV shows that hit us in the gut-level reaction when we hear their openings or get just a momentary glimpse of them. This is what sends a shiver down your spine, momentarily gives you a glimpse of the bright and awesome world through the eyes of your inner, wide-eyed child. It could be something terrible and dark, too, but something not merely dangerous but majestic, worthy of respect even if a thing of evil.

List your top 10 - 15 "Sense of Wonder" characters, stories/shows, words/phrases, and explain what they make you feel, and why, if you know -- when you encountered it first, what caused it to "hit" so hard, etc., and perhaps where they rank in your personal mythology.

1) Superman. I "hear" the opening bars of John Williams' march, and a chill goes down my spine. Superman. He's IT. He's the yardstick against which almost all other "superheroes" are measured, and most of them come up short. It's not for his power -- though that's always impressive. It's not for his costume, which taken out of context is probably no more stylish than any other in the spandex brigade. He's a symbol of HERO which I have never seen expressed better than in the short, few-panel sequence of his return in "Kingdom Come".

2) Star Trek - the Original. Want tingles down the spine? For me, play the opening to the original. That was the show that opened up the stars when I was a little kid. I saw one of the episodes on first-run, and for some time after that I wondered what that magical, almost mythical thing had been; it wasn't until I was several years older that I saw more of it. The simple recitation by Shatner of his character's NAME had impact. The lift of a Vulcan eyebrow, the sight of that unmistakable starship, these things still echo and resonate in my soul.

3) Darth Vader. George Lucas managed to create two of the greatest villains in cinema. But though Palpatine will rank highly in any Great Villain list, to me he hasn't one-tenth of the presence of his right-hand man, the towering, aweful majesty of Lord Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith. The first sight of that massive figure striding through smoke drew my attention; the powerful voice of James Earl Jones took it from merely impressive to the legendary. Forget the silly Anakin business in the prequels. We don't know who Darth Vader really was. Who he WAS is, in fact, irrelevant. Who he IS is everything, a representation of might and knowing evil who makes hundreds of other attempts look pathetic and puny.

4) Kimball Kinnison. Penultimate of the Arisian breeding program. Gray Lensman. Second-stage Lensman. Master of disguise, spy and warrior, straight-shooting, straight talking, a man who'd talk with Kal-El and the two understand each other perfectly. "Doc" Smith's bombastic, crystal-clear, unashamed and unapologetic presentation of the greatest war mankind would ever face was pushed into my hands in 6th grade by Mr. Dickinson, one of my teachers, in the form of a battered copy of "Second-Stage Lensmen". His is a name to conjure with, a presence whose actions created a legend in the minds of his own enemies. If I was recruiting for the Final War against all the forces of Evil, Kinnison would top the list of recruits for my forces.

5) The Doctor. "I cross the void beyond the mind; the empty space that circles Time. I see where others stumble blind, in search of truths they'll never find. An ageless wisdom is my guide; I am... The Doctor. My voyage dissects the course of time. "Who Knows" you say... but are you right? Who searches deep to find the light that glows so darkly in the night...? Towards that point I guide my flight. As fingers move to end mankind -- metallic teeth begin their grind; with Sword of Truth I turn to fight the Satanic powers of the night. Is your faith before your mind? KNOW ME: Am I... the Doctor?" Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor, wrote and recorded those words. They capture the essence of this figure, both comedic and majestic, ordinary and almost godlike, who has strode across the fictional timescape for 40 years. A man of many faces, a man of peace, a man of action, a clown, a gentleman, a trickster, and yet, somehow, always the same man, banished from his world because he could not stay idle with what he saw in the universe, more comfortable with aliens than his own race, a man who hardly touches weapons who is yet both shield and sword for the universe, an answer to all those who think they may force their will upon others, a bulwark against all forces of evil and destruction. He is the Doctor. I first encountered the Doctor as a sidelong reference somewhere, and only years later saw for the first time the odd blue police call box materializing in its traditional British quarry.

6) Spider-Man. "With great power comes great responsibility." That tag line sounds so hokey. Yet... that's what the real Spider-Man IS. He's the human given that power, power beyond any little geek's dreams, and a human who made all-too-human mistakes when he first got that power... and who has spent the rest of his life trying to make up for it. Why is he mythic, why is he sense-of-wonder? Because this is the character that showed what a hero does when he's beaten, when he's against a foe that just cannot be stopped, when he's tired and wounded and scared and just at the end of his rope: he wins. He sees the salvation of the person he loves most inches from him, and finds somewhere the strength to lift something he couldn't even move. A demonlord draws out his worst fears and laughs, and against the laughter of evil he draws a righteous fury that won't be denied until that laugh is silenced. When the forces of evil must play hero, and select a single defender from all the super-powered Earth to pit against a god's choices... they choose him. Peter Parker is in many ways the greatest of the characters Marvel ever created. I first encountered him in a stack of comics Ed Lord (hi Ed!) had in the apartment he shared with me and Steve Reed. That was a revelation.

7) Gojira. Okay, Godzilla/Gojira wasn't the first great screen monster, but to me is is THE great monster ("daikaiju"). On a rainy boring Saturday afternoon my father turned on our little black and white TV and suddenly we were watching the destruction of Tokyo, the horror of an American journalist trapped in a nightmare (well, c'mon, this was the 70s. Of course it was the Raymond Burr version), the appearance of a towering monster with a roar alien and frightening, an unstoppable force of nature. And that is what Gojira symbolizes to me. Oh, I had fun watching some of the sillier entries -- Godzilla VS the Smog Monster, Destroy All Monsters, Etc. -- but the image that stayed with me was of the titanic, uncaring, unswerving force that neither knew nor cared what the human ants at its feet thought, the power of the tsunami, the earthquake, the volcano, the hurrricane, all fused and made incarnate in a single gargantuan creature. The later movies have captured much of that (and the pale American imitation failed to use three of the four primary characteristics of Godzilla, and thus failed to be a Godzilla movie). Some of my players feel the same way, judging by their reaction to Goji-chan. Play that roar for me and a chill shoots down my back and I glance up, involuntarily, wondering if I will see something impossible moving against the sky.

8) Conan. Robert E. Howard knew how to WRITE larger than life, and no character ever pushed his way out of the flat pages and into a bloody real life of his own the same way Conan did. The hulking onyx-haired, blue-eyed barbarian is the epitome of the Noble Savage meeting civilization... and winning. Following his own code of ethics, caring nothing for the opinions, powers, or goals of the so-called great, the mighty Cimmerian BECAME an archetype unto himself. Sword and Sorcery, though written by others, is defined by Conan, measured against Howard's greatest achievement, and all too often is found wanting. Him, too, I first encountered in that old apartment in Schenectady, a battered paperback in Steve's collection.

9) Amber. "There is only one True City. All others are but Shadows of Amber." While there is not, to me, any one CHARACTER that stands out, that entire concept -- the multiplicity of universes, all connected to a single world of immortal, super-powered beings who were nonetheless all too human... it has both grandeur and tragedy to it, something that offers a hint of the numinous and mystical even in one's own world... for we, too, could simply be Shadows in Amber, or, perhaps, a child of Amber... lost and forgotten....

10) Kwai Chang Caine. Not a titanic figure in his own right. Not even played by someone with authentic Oriental ancestry. No real knowledge of martial arts. But when you're young enough, it's enough to have the imagery; the orphaned half-American, half-Chinese boy taken into a temple, years of teaching in meditation, in philosophy, and in a gentle yet irresistable way of defense; passing from the temple with a ritual of pain and discipline almost impossible to understand; searching for a half-brother he knows only by name, wandering in a land that understands him even less than he understands it, and pitting a strange philosophy against prejudice, hatred, and fear. And winning. That was the key. A man who could meet hostility and overwhelming force with pity and sympathy, and win. In that era, Kung Fu was unique. There was nothing to compare with it. He was no titan, "just a man... as other men." Yet, somehow, he WAS a titan, an image larger than life. Play that haunting flute again.

11) Captain Nemo. A man who gave up the land and embraced the ocean. A scientist and philosopher. Creator of a dream that was realized nearly three-quarters of a century later. The ultimate man of science. "I am Captain Nemo." Those words are enough to do it for me. I read him first when I was 8. Every incarnation I've met since has been touched with the same force of myth.

12) Hari Seldon. Forget the later sequelae that ruined the myth. Remember the master of Psychohistory, who plotted out a thousand-year course to save the galaxy ten thousand years of barbarism. "... And the chamber was not empty! "I am Hari Seldon!" "

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