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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...

Monday, December 18, 2017


In Part 1 I said, "I'd been giving more thought to the categorization of different types of presences, focal or non-focal, that appear in fiction." To be more specific, while most of my writings here about persona-types have concerned focal presences-- i.e., the stars of whatever stories I'm discussing-- the idea of personas applies just as much to any support-characters. I've touched on these classifications on occasion, though it's occurred to me that it might be enlightening to explore a particular type of supporting-character: the authority-figure who either empowers or initiates the central protagonist (what Vladimir Propp might call the *donor.*)

I did touch on an example of a powerful figure who was not the star of his show in PALE KINGS AND DEMIHEROES:

Gaiman's work in THE SANDMAN generally rejects the heroism expoused by earlier DC characters who shared the "Sandman" name. Nor is Morpheus alone in being a great ruler who exists largely to police his domain: this principle also applies to the character Lord Emma in LOVE IN HELL, though admittedly he (she?) is a support-character to the starring demiheroes of the series.

As I said in my review of the manga-collection, the two stars of the series are Rintaro, a minor sinner consigned after his death to a lesser form of Hell, and Koyori, the female demon assigned to levy punishment on him. However, Hell itself is a "character" in the story, for most of the narrative deals with Rintaro learning the ropes of an afterlife that looks suspiciously like the life of a living wage-slave. Both Hell and its usually-unseen ruler mirror the quality I've termed elsewhere "positive persistence," and so they, like the protagonists, are also demiheroic.

"Negative persistence," however, dominates the persona of the monster. The monster desires the ordinary life which the demihero usually obtains as a matter of course, but for whatever reason the monster cannot fit into that matrix, and usually either parodies its nature (the vampire, who seeks a new aristocracy of the undead ruling the living) or tears the matrix to pieces in fits of unreasoning rage (Godzilla, the Frankenstein Monster). The persona of the monster can even be attached to entire races of sentient beings who function as monsters to human protagonists: the Martians of H.G. Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS are a familiar type, and in the same line are Buck Rogers' nonhuman adversaries, The Tiger Men of Mars.

Villains, however, have a quality of "negative glory" that makes them more pro-active than monsters. I touched on two authority-type villains, both of whom were coterminous with their environments, in ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS PT. 2:

In the SON OF SATAN story "Dance with the Devil, My Red-Eyed Son," the soul of Daimon Hellstrom is apparently drawn down into Hell, with whose denizens he must battle. Only by story's end does the reader learn that this particular version of Hell is not one that exists independently of its satanic master, for it's actually Satan's own dream.
In a less direct manner, some environments can be seen as being more metaphorical expressions of a character's good or evil: thus in Kirby's NEW GODS saga, New Genesis embodies the creative empathy of its patriarch Highfather and Apokolips is the expression of the corruption of its master Darkseid-- though admittedly both worlds already show those predilections, long before either of the respective "New Gods" comes into existence.

As for heroes, it's fairly easy to see the heroic virtue of "positive glory" in support-characters like Odin, Lord of Asgard, or Doctor Strange's perceptor The Ancient One. It's perhaps a little harder to conger the mantle of heroism on donor-figures who merely gets the ball rolling, such as the mysterious "Voice" that gives powers to the Hawk and the Dove, or the goddess Rama Kushna in the original DEADMAN story. Still, even if these presences don't do anything more than place the heroes on the path of heroism, they too align with the plerotic value of positive glory.

The same formula applies with respect to donor-figures who initiate heroes but are not sources of numinous authority. This would include types like Mr. Miracle's teacher from the story "Himon," who seems relatively human even though technically he, like the aforementioned Highfather, is a "good New God." Another parallel example is the character of Io from the 2010 film CLASH OF THE TITANS. A new creation with no parallel in the original 1981 film. Io doesn't precisely set Perseus on his heroic path, but she does watch over him from his childhood onward, and she gives him a certain modicum of martial training that aligns her with the figure of the authoritative donor.

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