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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


A quick review of the three categories before going on:

The category of the ATYPICAL describes the phenomenality of those works that take place entirely within a sphere of mundane causality, where no marvels are possible.

The category of the MARVELOUS is precisely the opposite. Of course it's a given that there must always be some resemblance to the reader's phenomenal reality of cause-and-effect: as Brian Attebury points out in his FANTASY TRADITION IN AMERICAN LITERATURE, "We cannot picture the unknown unless we hear it described in terms of the known." But the emphasis in a marvelous story is clearly upon the break with the commonplace natural law.

The UNCANNY is midway between the two. In cognitive terms it is *isophenomenal,* in that the rules of accepted reality are validated in the narrative, but in affective terms it is *metaphenomenal.* In Todorov's THE FANTASTIC he views the uncanny as being a category of "the real," as with his most prevalent example, the Radcliffean Gothic-tale, in which spooks and spectres are proven to be false or delusory. As I've noted earlier I don't agree with this categorization. On top of that, whereas Todorov only considers his "uncanny" within the sphere of horror-fiction, focusing on "the fake supernatural," i have in addition to "fake supernatural" nine other categories of "affectively metaphenomenal" story-elements. I won't detail all nine here, though in earlier essays I've mentioned that certain stories about psychotic madmen (though not all) fall within the sphere of the uncanny, a la PSYCHO.

Some of the other nine categories *might* be applied to this essay's subject, JONNY QUEST. However, though I lost any bid for "simplicity" on this blog long ago, I will invoke it here. Thus in surveying the phenomenality of JONNY QUEST episodes I'll only label an episode "uncanny" if it contains an element of "the fake supernatural," as per Todorov's reading.

The Mystery of the Lizard Men (18 September 1964)-- This episode begins with a sort of "sea-Gothic" conceit, in which enemy agents masquerade as "lizard men." However, the villains' attempt to use a laser-gun to shoot down an American capsule propels the episode into the MARVELOUS category, as such laser-weapons are an extrapolation from then-current laser technology.

Arctic Splashdown (25 September 1964)-- This episode, involving spies in the Arctic and polar bears, falls under the ATYPICAL

The Curse of Anubis (2 October 1964)-- story begins with a plot to fake an Egyptian curse, but ends with the MARVELOUS introduction of an invulnerable mummy

Pursuit of the Po-Ho (9 October 1964)-- an ATYPICAL adventure against savage jungle natives

The Riddle of the Gold (16 October 1964)-- another ATYPICAL adventure involving counterfeit gold and a mundane impersonator

Treasure of the Temple (23 October 1964)-- ATYPICAL lost-treasure search

Calcutta Adventure (30 October 1964)-- MARVELOUS in that it includes the heroes invading not only a hidden sci-fi installation that makes poison gas, but the villains are defeated by Dr. Quest's use of a "sonic gun"

The Robot Spy (6 November 1964)-- one of the most MARVELOUS episodes, in which an entire army fails to stop the invulnerable "robot spy," and again Quest's super-technology comes to the rescue

Double Danger (13 November 1964)-- another ATYPICAL impersonation-plot

Shadow of the Condor (20 November 1964)-- ATYPICAL thrills when Race Bannon is forced to engage in a biplane duel with a mad World War I aerial ace

Skull and Double Crossbones (27 November 1964)-- modern-day pirates; ATYPICAL

The Dreadful Doll (4 December 1964)-- UNCANNY, in that the villains use drugs to fake voodoo curses

Dragons of Ashida (11 December 1964)-- a mad scientist gives rise to MARVELOUS flesh-and-blood dragons

A Small Matter of Pygmies (11 December 1964)-- ATYPICAL jungle-adventure

Turu the Terrible (24 December 1964)-- MARVELOUSly, a giant pterodactyl survives into modern times

The Fraudulent Volcano (31 December 1964)-- Doctor Zin using MARVELOUS technology to make a dormant volcano blow its stack

Werewolf of the Timberland (7 January 1965)-- fake werewolf, so UNCANNY

Pirates from Below (14 January 1965)-- more modern pirates; ATYPICAL

Attack of the Tree People (21 January 1965)-- apes and blackmailers; ATYPICAL

The Invisible Monster (29 January 1965)-- a MARVELOUS (and scary!) invisible critter

The Devil's Tower (4 February 1965)-- madman forces natives to dig for diamonds; ATYPICAL

The Quetong Missile Mystery (11 February 1965)-- another MARVELOUS sci-fi installation with a missile buried beneath a swamp (!)

The House of Seven Gargoyles (18 February 1965)-- phony gargoyle; UNCANNY

Terror Island (24 February 1965)-- MARVELOUS giant monsters

Monster in the Monastery (4 March 1965)-- fake Yetis give way to a real one; ergo MARVELOUS

The Sea Haunt (11 March 1965)-- and topping it all off, a MARVELOUS marine monster

(And would you believe I just now got the joke of "Sea Haunt," a pun on that old 1950s deep-sea diving teleseries!)

So this analysis comes down to:

TWELVE episodes of JQ are in the "marvelous" category: Lizard,Anubis, Calcutta, Robot, Ashida, Turu, Volcano, Invisible, Quetong,Terror, Monastery, Sea H.

ELEVEN episodes of JQ are in the "atypical" category: Arctic, Pohos, Gold, Temple, Double, Condor, Skull, Pygmies, Pirates, Tree People, Devil's Tower

Using Todorov's schema only three fall into the "uncanny" category: Doll, Werewolf, and Gargoyles.

A straight comparison of "atypical" and "marvelous" gives the latter category a dominant position in terms of narrative phenomenality: sort of the narratological version of a "51% controlling interest."

However, the category of the "uncanny" functions as something like a "swing vote."

If one considers that the exposure of the supernatural element as false puts the episode's phenomenality into the domain of "the real," as Todorov does, then those three episodes join with those of the "atypical" and give reality the "controlling interest."

If one considers (as I do) that the simple evocation of the supernatural orients the episode's phenomenality toward that of "the unreal," and considers "the uncanny" as being no less an expression of the metaphenomenal than is "the marvelous," then "fantasy" retains the upper hand.

And this is without even taking into account a lot of the little fantasy-touches that are tossed into the series as diversions: minor inventions of Doctor Quest, or Hadji's famed "sim sim sallah bim" levitation gag.

So my verdict is that though Joe Barbera and Doug Wildey probably would *rather* have crafted a hard-hitting adult-pulp adventure series after the exampe of TERRY AND THE PIRATES, what they gave fans was a work that better fits into the idiom of the superhero.

Not all serial works are so affected by their use of fantasy-tropes. Marvel's long-running RAWHIDE KID was a serial that flirted off and on with various superhero conceits, particularly costumed villains. Yet a full-fledged analysis of the original series in terms of Rawhide's opponents would certainly put that character in the "atypical" mode, since Rawhide faced far more injuns and gunslingers than he ever did costumed cavaliers.

Next up: some justification as to why this kind of categorization is important.

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