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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Friday, March 5, 2010


DYNAMIC (noun): An interactive system or process, especially one involving competing or conflicting forces.

"The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place."-- Aristotle, POETICS.

The "interactive system" of conflicting forces I'll discuss here are "plot" and "character," which Aristotle deems the two most important elements of "tragedy." Certain sections of the POETICS imply that the dynamic between the two applies to other forms of art as well, so I see no barrier to the idea of applying the dynamic to all narrative art, with the caveat that plot may not *always* be more significant than character: just that it is dominantly so because the plot is so often the structure within which the characters' acts are determined, rather than the characters imposing "their" will upon the structure.

In keeping with Aristotle's privileging of plot, Frye's formulation of literary categories is dominantly based upon plot-elements shared by works in the same category. At the same time, it should be noted that one of Aristotle's earliest points in the Poetics-- one which Frye reiterates and reformulates-- is that characters act within the plot according to expectations set up by their power of action, which connotes whether they are average, better than average, or worse than average. So even within Aristotelian theory it's easy to see plot and character joined in an interdependent pas de deux. Thus, despite the natural inclination toward plot-evaluation, the evaluation of character has unquestionable relevance if one desires to separate the dancers and see what each contributes to the dance.

In BUFFY THE MYTHOS SLAYER, my argument was largely plot-based. I focused on the plot dynamics of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER TV series as a means of demonstrating why I believed that it was best placed in the category of the "adventure" mythos, even though the series also demonstrated that it contained substantial elements of the other three *mythoi*: of drama, irony, and comedy. I also made brief mentions of three other serial works which each represented one of the other three *mythoi*, and compared some of their plot-functions to those of BUFFY. These, too, I discussed in terms of how the protagonists functioned within plots typical of those *mythoi.*

However, after I examined the concept I term "myth-radicals" in SUBCATEGORIAL IMPERATIVES, and discerned that there were certain subcategories within these four divisions, it further occured to me that many of the irregularities could be explained as irregularites of either plot or character with respect to the dominant dynamic of a given mythos. As mentioned earlier I chose to focus upon the adventure mythos because (as I can't stress too much) so little of worth has been written about it, but I think my mediations on categories and subcategories apply across the board to all four mythoi.

Explanatory preamble done, I move on to two specific examples of works that seem to belong to the adventure genre but which I label "subagonistic" because they have what I called a "less agonistic value." Here for the first time I'm explicating why the difference may be one either of plot or of character.

My example for character is DOCTOR WHO, as portrayed in his initial 1963-89 series and in the current BBC version. (I disinclude the American-made TV-movie because I just don't remember much about it.) Clearly, in terms of the general range of plots used on both serials, one would tend to believe that it falls within the category of adventure. Like BUFFY, DOCTOR WHO borrows liberally from other *mythoi," most obviously from that of the comedy. But since the generic WHO plot would probably boil down to something like "Those Damn Dirty Colonial Alien Overlords," it's obvious that elements of physical peril take precedence over the dynamizations of the other three *mythoi.*

Yet against the galaxy-spanning might of Sontarans, Cybermen and Daleks we get...


In DOMINANCE, SUBMISSION I concluded with another comparison of Haggard's SHE and KING SOLOMON'S MINES, with the verdict that KSM was a true agonistic work due to its focus on the heroes' winning their battle through armed combat and perservance, while the heroes of SHE, despite a certain formidable nature, basically "get lucky" because their opponent destroys herself. The Doctor is typically portrayed by a male actor who is, for one reason or another, not meant to resemble the typical he-man of adventure-fiction, which is one element that signals the serial's intent to avoid the pattern of dynamization set by those more typical stories. The Doctor, though, does not triumph over his many foes solely by luck-- though on many occasions he is considerably outgunned, and luck is at times invoked as a force that keeps him from being vaporized. But typically, the Doctor fights his foes with the centuries-spanning knowledge of a Time Lord, not with martial abilities. His doctrine is *froda,* not *forza.* This puts him very close to the territory of the typical dramatic protagonist of mainstream science fiction, but in the end DOCTOR WHO is still about external peril rather than internal instabilities, and so it still falls within the category of the adventure mythos, for all that its protagonist lacks the *dynamis* of an adventure protagonist.

Moving on to STARGATE, the comparison of the two strikes me as felicitious, since when I first saw the 1994 feature films I thought of its "colonist alien overlords" plot as being "Doctor Who without the humor." And its plot, too, seems to belong to the category of adventure by virtue of the emphasis on physical peril, while its characters, unlike Doctor Who, are definitely typical agents of *forza:* gun-toting American soldiers and their alien allies who are out to clean up the territories dominated by various overlords-in-gods'-clothing. Indeed, one of the articles in the essay-collection SUPER/HEROES:FROM HERCULES TO SUPERMAN even refers to the star of the first TV series, the Richard Dean Anderson character, as a "superhero."

Yet I find it hard to see these rather unremarkable soldier-boys (and girls) as belonging to the idiom of the superhero.
I considered that this might simply be a matter of taste-- the fact that I didn't care that much for the movie and less for the TV show(s)-- but I dismissed that idea. I'm aware of many, many unremarkable protagonists whom I do see as belonging to that idiom, who possess roughly the same *dynamis* as the STARGATE soldier-boys. To use two othe SYFY-channel serials as counterexamples, I'm not hugely fond of the characters on either SANCTUARY or WAREHOUSE 13. But I can see both of them as having stronger ties to the superhero idiom, even if the heroes are not superheroes per se.

My final verdict, then, is that there's something about the execution of the generic STARGATE plot that edges a little too far out of the bounds of the adventure-story and into those of the dramatic story with adventure-elements. Over time the first serial and its epigoni took on an increasing resemblance to the "starship melodramas" of the STAR TREK franchise. I don't think STARGATE was ever as much about what Faulkner called "the human heart in conflict with itself," as all of the TREKshows have arguably been. But in the STARGATE franchise the adventure-mythos became somewhat dennatured. I view this as a lack of heroic *dynamis* within the overall plot-structure, rather than within the concept of the characters, as it is for DOCTOR WHO.

As I've said before, this basic rule of character-irregularities and plot-irregularities would apply across the board to the other three categories and their subcategories. At present I don't think it's possible for *both* plot and character(s) to be irregular and still deserve to be labeled a part of the regular mythos. For instance, a DOCTOR WHO without the adventurous plot-elements would probably look something more like HITCHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, and so would be more properly termed a comedy.

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