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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, November 30, 2012


In the previous essay I wrote:

To reiterate the Harvey Pekar example, clearly the vignette in which Pekar makes himself some lemonade requires no "strength" beyond this elementary level-- and neither do a variety of mundane, life-sustaining tasks-- driving a car, building a birdhouse, etc.

Admittedly, I'm more likely to use the adjectival forms I coined in the THREE-PART essay: *microdynamic,* *mesodynamic,* and *megadynamic." But the one disadvantage of these terms is that they don't lend themselves as well as do the noun-terms in some regards.
What I should have written was that the "adjectival forms" were applicable to fictional characters, and, on occasion, non-human "focal presences."  Generally speaking, only characters are microdynamic, mesodynamic, or megadynamic, and only characters are to be designated as "x-types," "y-types," or "z-types," as noted in DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.  I also used these terms to desigate the way a given character, even if he possessed "x-type/megadynamic" power as with Batman, might exert differing levels of power for different occasions, as seen at the end of THE THREE-PART HARMONY OF DYNAMICITY.

However, Kant's original use for his terms "might" and "dominance"-- from which use I extrapolated my third term, "basic strength"-- applied not to characters but to situations: generally, the manifestation of "might" in nonhuman natural phenomena.  I've repeatedly disagreed with Kant's proclivity to find sublimity only in natural forces.  Despite this disagreement, I assert that Kant's terms are elastic enough to be applied to wider use than Kant made of them-- as with respect to analyzing the *dynamis* within fictional plots.

Once again, then, I'm applying the "plot-character schism," referenced in terms of "mythoi-determination," and pressing it into the service of the "conflict and combat" distinction, if that makes things any clearer.

Patently my last few paragraphs of the previous essay applied to plots, not characters:

For instance, in my earliest discussion of "conflict and combat," I originally designated three levels of conflict. Later I simplified these to "combative" and "subcombative." Operatively, though, there is some significance to labelling some types of narrative as "noncombative." Certainly there is a mindset in some literary circles that true literary works don't deal in gauche violence. Pekar, with his kitchen-sink renditions of his own life, seems to have subscribed to this notion. In a similar vein, Northrop Frye once noted the irony that despite the popularity of Shakespeare, most later dramatists hewed more closely to the realistic example of Ben Jonson-- which means, if only in part, that this tendency eschewed the Bard's bloody-mindedness.

"Might," as situated in Kant's argument, is simply a superior force amid inferior ones. This would parallel the type of story in which there exists an anomalous force (say, the vampire Dracula) with which a group of ordinary people must contend.

"Dominance" generates a very different type of plotline, in which at least two superior forces are arrayed against one another. I'll explore this in more depth in my next essay.
I made a loose correlation between the level of "basic strength" and the overall idea of the "kitchen-sink fiction," but I don't want to imply that only modernist narratives exclude references to the sublimity-producing concepts of "might" and "dominance," though as a rule modern genre-narratives explore these concepts on a more sustained basis than do most modern would-be literary efforts.

For instance, there's no violence in the "Harvey Pekar lemonade" vignette, but it's not inconceivable that Pekar might have written of, say, some schoolyard tussle in his high school days. Had he done so, such an episode would have remained, plotwise, at the level of "basic strength," unless there were something extraordinary about the ability of one or both combatants.

Folktakes of all nations fulfilled the same basic function now assumed by genre-fiction, and many of them were, to use my earlier phrase, quite "bloody-minded."  However, there were certainly those that did not employ any sort of "might" or "dominance" in their violence, but remained at what I've called elsewhere a "functional" level.  One such tale was that of "The Bremen Town Musicians."  The story's one violent scene, occuring at the climax, is summarized on the tale's entry in Wikipedia:

Later that night, the robbers return and send one of their members in to investigate. He sees the Cat's eyes shining in the darkness and thinks he is seeing the coals of the fire. He reaches over to light his candle. Things happen in quick succession; the Cat scratches his face with her claws, the Dog bites him on the leg, the Donkey kicks him and the Rooster crows and chases him out the door, screaming. He tells his companions that he was beset by a horrible witch who scratched him with her long fingers (the Cat), an ogre with a knife (the Dog), a giant who had hit him with his club (the Donkey), and worst of all, the judge who screamed in his voice from the rooftop (the Rooster). The robbers abandon the cottage to the strange creatures who have taken it, where the animals live happily for the rest of their days.

By my lights there is nothing either "sublime" or "spectacular" about this form of violence, although there's some deliberate irony in that the robber who's been attacked by ordinary animals imagines that they were a host of powerful beings, including a witch, an ogre and a giant.

In contrast to this, we have a real witch in the Grimms' tale "Hansel and Gretel."  This tale is so well-known that I hardly need summarize its plotline, but  in it the cannibalistic witch with the candy cottage fulfills the same function of the "anomalous force" mentioned above; a force which, like Dracula, possesses such "might" that the protagonists can only overcome this antagonist through endurance and cunning.

I would generalize that most of the Grimms' folktales fall into one of these two categories, but there is at least one, semi-obscure story that qualifies as reproducing the narrative value of "dominance" in its plot, albeit with a comic touch at the end.  Again from the entry in Wikipedia for "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was:"

The first night, as the boy sat in his room, two voices from the corner of the room moaned into the night, complaining about the cold. The boy, unafraid, claimed that the owners of the voices were stupid to not warm themselves with the fire. Suddenly, two black cats jumped out of the corner and, seeing the calm boy, proposed a card game. The boy tricked the cats and trapped them with the cutting board and knife. Black cats and dogs emerged from every patch of darkness in the room, and the boy fought and killed each of them with his knife. Then, from the darkness, a bed appeared. He lay down on it, preparing for sleep, but it began walking all over the castle. Still unafraid, the boy urged it to go faster. The bed turned upside down on him, but the boy, unfazed, just tossed the bed aside and slept next to the fire until morning.
Most of the hero's encounters in the story are like this, where he easily bests whatever supernatural terrors attempt to strike fear in his heart.  Even at the story's comic conclusion, the protagonist still remains undefeated and never knows what it means to fear a superior power, so that the comedy of the story depends on his demonstration of Superman-like indomitability.

 Having shown how the three types of "plot-dynamicity" affect my chosen folktale-examples, I'll work my way back to current patterns of genre-fiction.

NOTE TO ANY REGULAR READERS: I revised paragraph 3 on 12-9-12 for hopefully greater clarity.

Thursday, November 29, 2012



...the use I made of the term in MIGHT VS. DOMINANCE was by my current standards incorrect:
Dynamis= any kind of energy
Might= an energy which to some degree is "superior" to some unspecified lesser forces
Dominance= a superior energy which specifically arises from conflict
By my revised standards, the first term should be *dynamicity.* This would include all forms of narrative "energy," from the lowest level to the highest. In the DYNAMICITY essay I specified three levels of energy-- "exceptional," "good-to-fair," and "fair-to-poor"-- all of which cry out for better terms.
The lowest form of energy, what encompasses "fair-to-poor" is best conceived as energy almost at rest, on the level of a coral bed simply growing in place, or of Harvey Pekar making lemonade.

I missed another mark here.  "Dynamicity" as I've been using it hereabouts can't stand for "the lowest form of energy," since by implication it takes in all forms of energy, just as my not-often-used term "conflictive" takes in all forms of conflict, "combative" and "subcombative."

Since Kant, the source for the terms "might" and "dominance," provides no term for what I called both "the lowest form of energy" and "unspecified lesser forces," I'm going to try out the neologism "basic strength."

Why "basic?" Because the word "strength" by itself connotes nothing about the level of strength involved.  "Basic" suggests that the possessor of such strength has not developed or elaborated his natural abilities beyond the basic level of existence.

To reiterate the Harvey Pekar example, clearly the vignette in which Pekar makes himself some lemonade requires no "strength" beyond this elementary level-- and neither do a variety of mundane, life-sustaining tasks-- driving a car, building a birdhouse, etc.

Admittedly, I'm more likely to use the adjectival forms I coined in the THREE-PART essay: *microdynamic,* *mesodynamic,* and *megadynamic."  But the one disadvantage of these terms is that they don't lend themselves as well as do the noun-terms in some regards.

For instance, in my earliest discussion of "conflict and combat,"  I originally designated three levels of conflict.  Later I simplified these to "combative" and "subcombative."  Operatively, though, there is some significance to labelling some types of narrative as "noncombative."  Certainly there is a mindset in some literary circles that true literary works don't deal in gauche violence.  Pekar, with his kitchen-sink renditions of his own life, seems to have subscribed to this notion.  In a similar vein, Northrop Frye once noted the irony that despite the popularity of Shakespeare, most later dramatists hewed more closely to the realistic example of Ben Jonson-- which means, if only in part, that this tendency eschewed the Bard's bloody-mindedness.

"Might," as situated in Kant's argument, is simply a superior force amid inferior ones.  This would parallel the type of story in which there exists an anomalous force (say, the vampire Dracula) with which a group of ordinary people must contend.

"Dominance" generates a very different type of plotline, in which at least two superior forces are arrayed against one another.  I'll explore this in more depth in my next essay.


Note: I'll probably keep using the phrase "stalking the perfect term" over and over, world without end, until someone correctly identifies what book-title by a famed comic-strip author I'm punning upon.

I introduced my literary neologism "dynamization" way back in this 2008 essay.  It was already a real word coined as computer-science jargon:

"In computer science, Dynamization is the process of transforming a static data structure into a dynamic one"

I was seeking a value-neutral description of the process usually called "gratification," which has over the years acquired a negative value-connotation, despite the attempt of Leslie Fiedler to provide perspective with his distinction between "unearned gratification" and "earned gratification."

I don't renounce anything I've written thus far about the *process* of dynamization, but as I contemplate a new series of essays that explore why audiences have varying tolerances for *kenotic* as well as *plerotic* pleasures, I find that "dynamization" doesn't quite fit the bill.

I acknowledged a possible problem with the term the following year in DYNAMIZATION= SUPERIORITY DANCE, though I didn't follow up on it:

There's no reason that dynamization itself-- described here as a movement from a static to a dynamic state, at least as judged by the observer's set of parameters-- *must* connote that the latter is automatically superior to the former. Equally, the reverse would be no more true of any hypothetical "staticization." However, inasmuch as human society and culture is inherently hierarchical in one way or another, the dominant tendency is to say that what is perceived to be dynamic is usually assigned superior status to that which is perceived to be static, as was the case when Henri Bergson used the terms in his philosophy.
I didn't specify what works might be examples of the opposite movement, from relative dynamism to stasis.  But lately it occurs to me, as I contemplate Gaster's idea of kenosis, that a story like Franz Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS serves my purpose well.

I confess that I've read no biographies of Kafka except the one illustrated by Robert Crumb, but I find it hard to believe that another biographer could offer a significantly different picture of the writer.  While it might not be strictly correct to term Kafka a "masochist," his work shows an obsession with imagining his idealized self-- such as Gregor Samsa in the short story-- subjected to all manner of humiliations and self-denigrations.  In METAMORPHOSIS, one might regard the worst aspect of Samsa's unhappy cockroach-ification is that once he's dead every one in his family is seen to be better off without him.

What's the appeal of such a self-abnegation?  Whatever it is, "dynamization" doesn't describe it well enough, since the character actually descends into the stasis of an unimportant death.  And I certainly don't seriously contemplate using the term "staticization" at all.

Plainly, since the processes of plerosis and kenosis take so many different forms in art and literature, they must have a common appeal for humanity.  One could argue that even in a downbeat irony like this tale, both author and reader are to some extent "gratified" by descending into such kenotic depths, but again the accumulated connotations of the word work against its use in this manner.

Currently, though, I can see "validation" as working across the board, whether one is speaking of the kenotic or plerotic, the simple pleasures of "unearned gratification" or the more demanding ones of "earned gratification," and all of the Fryean mythoi with their varying types of *conviction* and *stature.*

In addition, since I use the terms *dynamis* and *dynamicity* quite a bit, "validation" has the advantage of avoiding yet another sound-alike.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I recently finished a 1999 book by Michael Ruse, a "philosopher of science" and academic writer attached to the Florida State University: MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES, subtitled "Is Evolution a Social Construction?" 

The short answer is, not entirely.  In the course of about 250 easily accessible pages, MYSTERY grapples with the claim, advanced by certain "science critics," that science is entirely a projection of the social attitudes of its proponents.  Ruse, in surveying the life and work of several key figures in the development of evolutionary theory, traces the way that both "epistemic values" (those dealing with 'falsifiable' scientific data/theories) and "non-epistemic values" (those stemming from the role of culture in the lives of the scientists).  His first chapter provides a strong summation of the conflict through a contrast of Karl Popper, the representative of "science as objective knowledge," and Thomas Kuhn, the representative of "science as conditioned by socially significant paradigms."

I'll admit that while I don't have a problem with Ruse's "not entirely" verdict, I bought the book hoping that it would reveal the ways in which particular objectivist scientists had allowed their personal prejudices to influence their work.  Instead, I felt Ruse let a couple of them off the hook too easily, barely examining the controversies in which notorious blockhead Richard Dawkins embroiled himself.  And once I learned that Ruse himself had collaborated with Edward O. Wilson, I wasn't surprised that sociobiology wasn't examined in depth for its cultural constructions.  In contrast, though I don't doubt that at the time of the book's writing Steven Jay Gould had been marginalized in the world of evolutionary science, I felt that Ruse didn't spend nearly that much time on the reception received by Gould's frequent opponent Dawkins in professional circles.  

Nevertheless, I found it interesting that Gould's position as stated by Ruse has a strong resemblance to the philosophy of pluralism:

"...no one level (especially not the micro-level) is to be privileged... one cannot hope to explain away everything at the upper, bigger levels by expressing them in terms of the lower, smaller level."

I also appreciate Ruse's summary of the objectivist attitude re: cultural metaphors:

"The point which should be obvious to anyone (says the objectivist) is that, although metaphor is extremely widespread in human discourse, it is not essential.  It is in a sense-- an important theoretical and perhaps practical sense-- eliminable.  We all use metaphors, but they are in the last resort short-hand for literal language."

A page later Ruse refutes this by pointing out the value of metaphors as being "absolutely vital  for their 'positive heuristic' as they push one into new fields and new forms of thinking."  I agree with this in part, but it's unfortunate that Ruse-- who is arguing that science is in part a "social construction"-- does not decisively refute the "short-hand" definition of metaphor, sticking purely to metaphor's applications to science in a practical sense.  It might have proved challenging, at least in his conclusion, to have pointed out, as did Philip Wheelwright, that "literal language" was merely one form of language as such:

Wheelwright sees the two "strategeies" of language as not only complementary, but necessarily intertwined throughout history. "Steno-language" (the language of plain sense) is, he tells us, the "negative limit" of language in its more expansive form, "expressive" or "poeto-language."--  A PAGE RIGHT OF PREHISTORY.

I can appreciate Ruse's choice to hew to a narrow application of his theme, but he may have missed the boat on a greater theme, in which one might examine the role of "steno-language" in terms of scientific analysis, and of "poeto-language" in terms of cultural expression.  However, I'm not sure that anyone since Ernst Cassirer has approached these subjects in depth, so I may be expecting too much of Professor Ruse.

Monday, November 19, 2012


In a recent issue of my comics-apa, the question arose: can one fairly make symbolic interpretations of a work when there’s no evidence that the creator of the work intentionally structured the work to reflect that symbolism?

On one hand, any answer one gives must take into account the centrality of symbolic action to the experience of fiction.  The human mind has the ability to associate the nature of a fictional character—that is, whether he represents “goodness,” “badness,” or something in between-- with the reader’s concerns, so that the reader can identify (whether in a mood of sympathy or antipathy) with that character.  Without this ability, fiction holds no meaning.  It might be tempting to dispense with any symbolic associations that are not explicitly called up by an author’s text.  But direct allegory, while to some degree present in all fiction, is not the way most authors express themselves.  Perhaps the reason so many critics must hunt literary meanings is because authors have evolved so many ways to camoflague their symbolic themes and motifs.

On the other hand, everyone has seen examples of critics who can be fairly accused of “snipe-hunting”—with the modification that in such cases, it’s the critic who creates his own Monster of Deep Meaning and proceeds to hunt it anywhere and everywhere.  The first semi-thoughtful critiques of the comics-medium boiled down to snipe-hunts, where the critics found in comics symbols of immoral modernity and psychosexual perversion.

One approach, possibly designed to circumvent the problem, takes a relativist tack.  One of my apa-members described having seen a poet who, upon meeting a reader who subjected the poet to a long and earnest critique of his Real Meaning, responded to that reader, “If you see that there, then I meant for it to be there.”  The poet may have spoken this way to avoid a conflict, or he may have been of the honest opinion that there are no untrue responses to a given work.

I would frame the problem differently: there can be untrue responses, but they may spring from true causes.

In the same apa-issue that continued this mini-debate about symbol-hunting, another member cited the opinion of writer Alan Moore on the best-known character of another author: Ian Fleming’s James Bond.  Quoting from an introduction to Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Moore said:

“…we begin to see that the overriding factor in James Bond’s psychological makeup is his utter hatred and contempt for women.”

Years later, Moore would produce a satirical version of Bond for BLACK DOSSIER, a chapter of his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN series, in which Moore’s Bond-doppelganger was in every way a rotter, an abuser of women, etc.

Moore’s second commentary on what he thought of James Bond, since it takes the form of fiction, cannot be deemed criticism as such.  His first comment can, although it’s extremely weak criticism. 

Nowhere in the introduction does Moore cite examples of the “utter hatred and contempt for women” he finds in the Bond books, nor is he clear as to whether Fleming presented his misogyny overtly or covertly.  I *suspect,* however, that at the time of the comment Moore knew that Fleming, though predominantly an author of “male” fiction, did have female readers.  Thus Moore would be most likely to claim that Fleming’s female readers did not pick up on the misogyny of either author or character because it was hidden, though not from the discernment of a dedicated snipe-hunter like Alan Moore.

In case it isn’t evident from my calling Moore a “snipe-hunter,” I do deem Moore’s critique of Fleming to be a case of an untrue response to the symbolism present in the Fleming Bond-books.  That response does however spring from true causes, both within the fiction being critiqued and within the critiquer.

Ian Fleming was, in essence, what critics today would call a “masculinist.”  Many authors have written fiction aimed at a predominantly male audience without being masculinists. Bond’s multiple conquests of beautiful women were a staple device in popular men’s fiction.  Fleming is often attacked for this trope, but that in itself does not make him excessively masculinist.  Moore’s animus for Fleming may have originated from Bond making sexist remarks that were typical for men of that period.  Some of these remarks mock women, or show confusion about women.  But do they connote “utter hatred and contempt for women,” or are they attempts to capture the real way men of the period spoke? 

Based on my own readings of the Bond books, I do consider Fleming an arch-conservative who had little empathy for anyone outside of his own bailiwick.  That lack of empathy for women, however, does not translate into “hatred and contempt.”  A woman-hater might pretend to defend women from attacks in order to bed them, but Bond does not bed Tiffy in “Man with the Golden Gun” after villain Scaramanga kills her pet birds; instead, he gives her money to buy new birds and never sees her again.  One can’t imagine Moore’s phony Bond sparing the life of the female assassin in “The Living Daylights” out of a knightly reluctance to kill a woman.  Despite Fleming’s masculinist tendencies, the Bond books are replete with powerful or imposing women, ranging from villainesses like Rosa Klebb and Irma Bunt to heroines like Domino Vitale and Tracy Draco—possibly one reason Fleming has sustained a female readership.

The other “true cause” results from the critiquer’s own biases and priorities, which are inevitably present in all readers.  The most desirable relationship between reader and work is one I call “projected reciprocity,” in which the reader faithfully absorbs everything the author says, whether direct or indirect, and projects it upon the “viewscreen” of his own priorities, to gauge in what ways he agrees and/or disagrees with the author’s world.

However, when the reader rushes to judgment as I believe Alan Moore did, what one gets is “pure projection.”  Here the reader is “set off” by whatever offends him and recognizes no ambivalences.  A reader like Moore may have “true” cause for his animus against, say, real-world misogyny, but he’s aimed his ire at the wrong target.

Whenever I attempt to “read” the latent symbolism of a work—by which I mean, whatever the author has not made literal and manifest—I frame it as a philosophical proposition, for which I can offer proofs drawn from my own experience of “projected reciprocity.”  Because so much symbolism is covert—sometimes hidden even from the author—the propositions of a symbol-hunter are not so much “X symbolism is there” but rather “X symbolism could be there, if it can be justified by some chain of associations.”  But even these justifications must be mediated by a reader’s subjective reaction to the work.  So it’s understandable that for many, even the most articulate search for covert symbolism may seem no better than an Alan Moore snipe-hunt.     

Sunday, November 18, 2012


In the comments-section for COMIC HERO VS. COMIC DEMIHERO, Richard Bensam provided a possible corrective:

"One quibble: starting with the issue after Kirby's departure and lasting through the end of the series a couple of years later, there was an effort to reinvent Jimmy Olsen as a crime-fighting adult reporter. This started with a short run of issues drawn by Mike Sekowsky, one of which also wrapped up a couple of dangling plot threads from the Kirby issues. This was followed by the "Mr. Action" era, which tried to marry the two-fisted investigative reporter angle with more traditional SF elements and the return of Lucy Lane. Both tries came across as an attempt to bring a contemporary TV action hero style to comics.

After that, the Superman Family book picked up the issue numbering from Jimmy Olsen and kept going for quite a few years, but I stopped reading so I don't know what happened to Jimmy after that.."

All true, but it doesn't affect my overall estimation of the JIMMY OLSEN series, because all of my speculations on characters' "mythos" or "persona" are governed by my formula of the "51 percent rule," which might need some expansion in future.

I commented in the aforesaid essay that the JIMMY OLSEN feature started off with a fairly serious "Hardy Boys" tone, portraying Jimmy as a resourceful fighter, despite the humorous-looking cover of the first issue.

Soon enough, however, the tone of the series shifted to more overt wackiness, as in #4.

DOMINANTLY, the comedic orientation continued for most of the run, up until the Kirby period.  This doesn't mean that there weren't occasionally some very adventure-oriented issues.  JO #99-- written by none other than Jim Shooter-- eschewed the usual comic mishaps and showed Olsen battling the forces of a supervillain, the Weapons Wizard, with the aid of costumes that gave him Legionnaire-powers.  Usually whenever Olsen wore a costume or assumed a tough-guy persona, there was some element of parody involved, but not here.

Nevertheless, most of the covers before Kirby depicted either sitcom-style antics or phony melodrama, such as the last issue before Kirby appeared in #133.

Kirby finished up his run in #148 (albeit a run interrupted by at least one reprint issue).  Richard is correct that during the remainder of the OLSEN run, the creators did attempt to make Olsen's adventures less comic in tone.  Here's a fairly suspenseful cover for issue #151:

However, three issues later, JO #154 gives us a return to what looks like Mort Weisinger-style sitcommery.

I confess that though I've read the remainder of the OLSEN run through its last issue in #163, I don't recall the stories well, but I'll bet the Leo Dorfman script for "Olsen the Red, Last of the Viking Warriors" was somewhat less than serious-minded.  That's essentially why I don't regard those last fifteen issues to be a "sustained" attempt to keep Olsen in the mode of a serious adventure-hero, as he was in Jack Kirby's hands.

As for the SUPERMAN FAMILY stories featuring Jimmy Olsen, I've probably read most or all of them, and one might make an argument that they were more consistent in presenting Olsen in the mold of the many forgotten crusading reporters of Golden Age Comics like "Scoop" Scanlon. Probably the melodramatic stories about Lucy Lane's return were played straight as well.  So that *might* be the only other time Olsen was consistently portrayed as a "formidable adventure-hero" in addition to the Kirby run. I'd have to do a re-read to check them out.

However, even if you take however many SF Jimmy-stories there were-- twenty? thirty?-- and add them in with the fifteen Kirby stories-- they don't outweigh the dominant image of Olsen as a comic demihero-type, more concerned with just getting by than with being a crusader-type.

So if I do a reread on the SF Olsens, I may well need to modify the statement that the Kirby run was Olsen's only sustained outing as an adventure-hero.  Time (as in, how much time I have) will tell.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


The hero of the tale may be one of two types: (1) if a young girl is kidnapped,,,, and if Ivan goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is Ivan and not the kidnapped girl.  Heroes of this type may be termed seekers. (2) If a young girl or boy is seized or driven out, and the thread of the narrative is linked to his or her fate and not to those who remain behind, then the hero of the tale is the seized or banished boy or girl. There are no seekers in such tales.  Heroes of this variety may be called victimized heroes.-- Vladimir Propp, MORPHOLOGY OF THE FOLKTALE, p. 36.
"Fellow members! I vote to install Johnny [Thunder] as a member of the Justice Society!  Anybody with his luck ought to be a member!"-- Hawkman, ALL-STAR COMICS #6.

In the MORPHOLOGY Propp doesn't discuss the nature of heroes much beyond the above quote.  The Russian folklorist's sole purpose in that book was to emphasize the way different "dramatis personae" acted in terms of storytelling devices, what Propp calls "functions."  Nevertheless, though Propp doesn't apply any aspect of his function-theory to any narrative outside folklore, it has strong applicability to my own theory of literary personae.

Now, in this essay I offered one distinction between the "hero" and the "demihero" based loosely on the observations of Christopher Reeve.  To re-quote the actor:

“What is a hero? I remember how easily I’d talk about it, the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous act without considering the consequences… Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to perservere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
I still believe that Reeve's opposed categories of "courage" and "endurance" have strong applicability, though I never meant to imply that these categories summarized all distinctions between hero and demihero.  It is interesting, however, that Propp's summation of his two protagonist-types also turns on a distinction between a protagonist who makes a grand gesture based in "courage"-- that of the seeker following a villain who's seized someone else-- and the survival-instincts of a "victimized hero," whose principal virtue is one of "endurance."

"Courage" and "endurance" may not adequately describe the values of Propp's protagonist-functions,though, because Propp is attempting to produce a scientific, value-free description of folklore practices.  Similarly, my Schopenhauerean distinction between "intellectual will" and "instinctive will" would probably be too value-laden for Propp.  What Propp's paradigm describes is essentially a difference between "heroism in activity" versus "heroism in passivity."  "Heroism" in this context must be divorced from the nature of any particular hero: in folklore studies it connotes simply the actions (or non-actions) of the characters with whom the audience is supposed to sympathize.  The same parallel obtains with characters who dominantly represent the forces of chaos, with villains representing a very active form of evil, while monsters tend toward greater passivity (dragons who are minding their own business guarding their hoards when knights come calling, and so on.)

I've produced a couple of essays to explicate the differences between "hero" and "demihero."  The first was DEMIHERO DELIBERATIONS,which compares a comedy demihero (Dr. Craven) with a dramatic hero (Harry Potter); the second, MORE DEMIHERO DELIBERATIONS, pursued the Craven/Potter comparison and made a brief comparison between comic demihero Craven and comic hero Ranma Saotome.

However, Craven, as a character in a stand-alone narrative, doesn't make a symmetrical comparison with characters designed for serial formats.  So for this essay, I'll focus on two serial characters from the same medium-- comic books-- and who are dominantly viewed as "comic bumblers" who, like most of their kind, tend to get by on luck (an important element in the mythos of comedy, as explicated here).

First up is Johnny Thunder, of whom I've written before:

JOHNNY THUNDER, on the other hand, frequently shows the titular hero falling afoul of hoods and gunmen, whom he usually vanquishes with the help of his magical powers. However, in his first adventure he’s unaware of the power, which is conferred on him for an hour’s time when he pronounces the holy word “Cei-U” (which Johnny only does when he accidentally uses the words “say” and “you” consecutively). The same “origin story” establishes that Johnny, though moderately skilled as a fighter, is “just an ordinary guy trying to lead an ordinary life,” which aligns him less with heroic magicians like Mandrake than with the comic protagonists of Thorne Smith.

I would grant that within the comic mythos, Johnny Thunder is, like the Inferior Five analyzed earlier, a hero who gets into a fair number of fights. But these agonic elements are subdominant to the comic elements, such as the scene where Johnny, unaware of his power, tells a man to “go jump at a duck,” which of course the fellow does. In later stories, Johnny’s power becomes embodied in a separate character, a genie called “Thunderbolt,” but the presence of this super-being never takes the focus away from Johnny’s status as a good-hearted bumbler. Even as a member of the heroic Justice Society, Johnny plays the funny sidekick to the “serious” superheroes. Thus even in this adventure-oriented feature Johnny Thunder remained a visitor from a strangely comical domain.

The only correction I'd make to this is that although Thunder does indeed have a different "mythos-stature" than a character like Mandrake, given that one belongs to the comedy and the other to adventure, in terms of "persona-stature" the two of them are closer to one another than either is to a demihero character like Thorne Smith's Topper or his comic-monster ghost-buddies.

Although Thunder is a dimwit who often survives more by luck than by skill, he does show a tendency toward the intellectual will of heroism-- which is not to say that he himself is ever intellectual-- in that he does, as shown in ALL-STAR COMICS #6, audition for and successfully join the Justice Society.  In JUSTICE SOCIETY he is, as I said earlier, a comic hero hanging out with straight adventure-heroes; in his own 1940s feature he tended to simply blunder into trouble. Yet even in the solo series he is an "active" hero in the sense that he makes it his personal business to play crimefighter.

Jimmy Olsen, in contrast, seems a more passive character, for all that he like Thunder frequently blunders into conflict with criminals, invading aliens, etc.  Olsen debuts as a minor supporting character for the SUPERMAN radio show in 1940-- though some fans have tagged an unnamed office boy from a 1938 comics-story as "Jimmy" simply because the character wore a bow-tie.  Olsen made scattered appearances in the comics, and disappeared for roughly a decade until he was revived, again as a support-character, in the 1952-58 ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN teleseries.  Two years following the character's return, Olsen became the central character of his own comic-book series.

Strangley, though the Olsen of the teleseries was played as comic relief, the first three issues of the comic book attempted to portray him as a resourceful "Hardy Boys" type of hero, able to fight thugs with his own skills and one or two trick-weapons.  By the fourth issue of SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN, Olsen started having wackier adventures, and this became the norm for the series until it was cancelled.  During those years Olsen sometimes became a "superhero manque," occasionally transforming himself into "Elastic Lad" to fight crime in Metropolis or into "Flamebird" to battle evil in the bottle city of Kandor.  But the only sustained period in which Olsen was treated as a formidable adventure-hero was during Jack Kirby's tenure on the title from 1970 to 1972.

Though Olsen blunders into trouble just as Thunder does, the similarity ends there.  While popular media had seen any number of heroic crime-busting reporters, Olsen doesn't crusade against crime in his adventures as a Daily Planet reporter.  Reporting the news is the character's first love, not fighting crime.  For all of his flirtations with heroism, Olsen is first and foremost an "ordinary guy," which allowed him to show an "endurance" sort of heroism in some stories, and to be a pure "victim" in others.  Johnny Thunder is seen with a mundane job in his first appearance, but over time he becomes a rootless do-gooder with no visible means of support, as if getting into trouble and fighting crooks has become his job in a diegetic, as well as an extra-diegetic, manner.

At present I don't plan to explore these distinctions within the mythoi of adventure and irony. I will note in closing that my persona-theory as expressed here probably necessitates a modification of this statement from this essay:

Because of the lack of spectacular violence, I see VOYAGE as a subcombative form of adventure. The heroes are perhaps a little better at combat than the average man-on-the-street, but not by much. This type of hero thus fits my definition of the mesodynamic hero from this essay as possessed of a dynamicity ranging from "good to fair," a grouping that thus far also includes the original version of Aladdin, Doctor Who and Brenda Starr, three other subcombative types analyzed here.

I haven't changed my dynamicity-ratings for any of the characters discussed here, but would probably distinguish the Seaview crew and Doctor Who as belonging to the persona-category of the hero, while Brenda Starr and the folkloric version of Aladdin belong to the persona-category of the demihero.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


For part 1, I used as examples of "isothymotic conflict" in comedy two stand-alone films, 1942's I MARRIED A WITCH and 1937's TOPPER.  The 1942 film may have influenced a well-known TV show of the 1960s; a program which offers some perspective on how the same isothymia works out in a serial format.

Whereas WITCH includes a potentially fatal menace to the happiness of the lead couple, only rarely is there any threat to life and limb in BEWITCHED.  Going by my schema of focal presences, the witch Samantha is the imaginative center of the series, to whom hapless Darren Stevens provides support even as Akane is the support to Ranma in the Takahashi series.  Her "opponents," if I may stretch a point to call them that, are almost always Samantha's mischievious relatives, not least her mother Endora (seen above).  Their function is usually to embarass husband Darren in the eyes of straight-laced society by forcing him to violate some societal norm-- acting strangely, dressing funny-- though they don't have the marginally noble motivations of the ghostly Kirbys in TOPPER.  That said, I'd argue that BEWITCHED offers the same basic dynamization as TOPPER, that of seeing the regular routines and priorities of society temporarily thrown into chaos, although with the understanding that order will be restored at the end of every episode to the accompaniment of some thoroughly lame explanation that allows society to ignore the ongoing activities of chaos.

In Part 1 I said that the characters of Jennifer in WITCH and the Kirbys in TOPPER conformed to the persona I term a "monster," since all three of these focal presences operate to create chaos, albeit in the name of goodness.  However, Samantha, despite being a supernatural being, functions to maintain the status quo, and her central virtue in the stories is the virtue of endurance, by which I characterized the persona of the demihero in D IS FOR DEMIHERO PT 3.

My repeated mentions of "order" and "chaos" are not accidental, for the terms might apply as a corrective to a statement I made in the above essay, though a corrective that principally applies to the comedy mythos.

As a general rule two of the four, the “hero” and the newly christened“demihero,” are the life-affirming forces, while the “villain” and the“monster” exist to thwart the forces of life. However, experienced readers will be familiar with other permutations.
In that essay I cited two exceptions, the monstrous Man-Thing and the villainous Joker, who ended up supporting the forces of life more or less accidentally.  The accidental nature of their good acts is necessary because they belong respectively to the two "serious" mythoi: "drama" for Man-Thing and "adventure" for the Joker.  There may be anaologues in the mythos of the irony, though I haven't located an example as yet.

However, "comic monsters" can get away with doing good, with affirming life, without a lot of excuses.  Paradoxically, they create chaos, which is generally a bad thing when monsters or villains do it, yet by the principle of comic dumb luck, the chaos can be easily dispelled, and may even end up benefitting the natural order of things.

"Comic villains" used to be rather rare phenomena.  In the Silver Age I can recall only this one-shot Charlton character, SINISTRO BOY FIEND, shown accidentally helping the law in this panel:

However, in recent years, animated movies seem to have found gold in this lode.

I considered revised the terms "life-affirming" and "life-thwarting"-- strongly influenced by Gaster's schema-- with some neologisms along the lines of "order" and "chaos."  But in the end I've decided not to introduce yet more neologisms.

It's probably sufficient to note that there can be "positively-toned" and "negatively-toned" versions of all four personae.  It's characteristic for the comedy-mythos, given its paucity of audience-conviction, to get away with positively-toned villains and monsters.  It's also possible within the serious mythoi to invert the virtues of instinctive endurance (signified by the demihero) or of larger-than-life intellectual will (signifying by the hero). In D IS FOR DEMIHERO PT 1 I showed that it was easy for a writer to portray a demihero as a nasty customer, as seen in my example of a Steve Ditko story, "The Gentle Old Man."  It's less typical for focal heroes to have negative manifestations.  Marvel Comics' Punisher would probably be one example, in that his obsession to eradicate crime, though certainly larger-than-life, is rooted in his personal animus rather than in concern for life.  The Punisher does end up supporting the forces of life, but he's not always admired for his persistence, so that he ends up becoming a quasi-villain in the features of other Marvel heroes like Daredevil and Captain America, or getting beat up by Batman in a throwaway scene of JLA/AVENGERS.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Posted this on a thread which, like many, tended to blame "the Big Two" for their scurrilous promotion of the Superhero Cult, which alone is to blame for dwindling sales of the entire comics-medium:

To the subject of the OP: I'm possibly in the minority here, but I don't think there's an Iceman's chance in Hell that our beloved medium could ever make a return to newstands in the pamphlet format.  There might have been some small chance to regain a toehold for serial comics in bookstories, had the Big Two pursued the TPB format for original comics; the equivalent of how the Japanese compile ongoing serials into the *tankobon* format.  But they didn't.

I've encountered any number of fan-writers asserting that what killed the rep of comic books with big distributors by the 1970s was the fact that the majors reduced page-count in the 1950s to keep prices low for their juvenile fan-base.  The JOURNAL even devoted a whole issue to the topic in the late 90s.  By the time the 1970s rolled around, the price-point on comics was no longer competitive.  It wasn't even worth it to distributors to bale a few comics in with their usual stuff, because the comics yielded so little profit for the distributors.

Part of what we're dealing with is perception.  People expect candy bars to increase in price; if one wants a candy bar, one pays the current price.  But outside of hardcore fans, I don't think the average "comic browsers" were willing to pay more for what comics offered.  As long as the pamphlet cost under a $1.00, it was still feasible junk-reading.  Past that point, most people didn't care for comics enough to pay the going rate.  A lof of people who might've once bought comics migrated to videogames, which offered more continuous bangs for the buck.

Yes, it's a dirty shame that comics-fans focused so hugely on the superhero.  But without that concentration on one genre that you couldn't get from other media with any consistency, the fandom of the burgeoning DM might have drifted away and found other toys.

And the form of comic books might have fallen into the same disuse as Big Little Books.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


At the conclusion of PERSONAS OF GRATIFICATION I said:

The great failing of Quiller-Couch's breakdown is that its arrangement suggests that the "man" in the position of "protagonist" must be the main concern of the story, whereas I've detailed many examples in which the imaginative center can be the protagonist's villainous/monstrous opponent, whether it's a specific human threat (Fu Manchu), a natural phenomenon (Jules Verne's "Center of the Earth"), an unusual society, or a separate manifestation of one's own, as with Edward Hyde. 
Quiller-Couch's arrangement, by its use of the opposed terms "protagonist" and "antagonist," also suggests opposition in every sense.  And yet, it's possible-- particularly in comedy-- for the conflict to be one that results in accomodation rather than confrontation.  In this essay I cited the sociopolitical work of Francis Fukuyama, with special attention to his distinction between two "thymotic" processes, "megalothymia" and "isothymia:"

"Megalothymia can be manifest both in the tyrant who invades and and enslaves a neighboring people so that they will recognize his authority, as well as in the concert pianist who wants to be recognized as the foremost interpreter of Beethoven. Its opposite is isothymia, the desire to be recognized as the equal of other people. Megalothymia and isothymia together constitute the two manifstations of the desire for recognition around which the historical transition to modernity can be understood." (The End of History and the Last Man, p. 182).
I summed up my application of Fukuyama to literary studies thusly:

The phenomenon of sthenolagnia, of "strength-worship" in both real and literary worlds, could be said to abide in both of Fukuyama's categories. In "megalothymia" one worships a superior force which extends its power vertically downward. In "isothymia" one worships a commonality of interlinked and interdependent forces.
I'll admit that in most of my recent writings on the "persona-pairs" of "hero/villain" and "monster/demihero," I have tended to focus upon "megalothymic" conflicts, because so much genre fiction depends on such conflict.  I would argue that of Northrop Frye's four mythoi, adventure, drama, and irony are particularly dependent on this form of conflict.

Comedy, however, complicates the matter.  I should perhaps suspect some such permutation, though, given that I wrote in GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 4 that the comedy-mythos was characterized by the least degree of audience-conviction in the fates of the characters:

This arbitrariness, this freedom from real consequence, is the reason I consider the comedy-mythos to be the one in which the audience holds the least degree of conviction—though such levity is precisely comedy’s appeal.
This is not to say that there aren't a lot of comedy-works that hinge on violent, megalothymotic conflict.  I'd hardly argue that after having frequently used the example of Rumiko Takahashi's RANMA 1/2 as a example of a "combative comedy."

However, it should be noted that the prime focus of the series-narrative-- one of the factors that trumps the adventure-elements of the stories-- is the romantic relationship of star Ranma Saotome and support-character Akane Tendou. Not every story in the series is about their rocky romance, but it sets the tone for the series; one that I call (in imitation of Theodor Gaster) the *jubilative.*

Ranma intrudes on the essentially placid home life of the Tendous and creates comic chaos.  To be sure, he isn't responsible for all of the chaos: before he arrives Akane has been having regular duels with Tatewaki Kuno in her attempts to fend off Kuno's ardor.  But once Ranma does arrive, the household is constantly invaded by people with grudges against Ranma.  Although Ranma certainly functions as a comic hero in the eyes of the audience, one might forgive Akane for regarding him as something of a "monster."

In many other comedies, however, the "monster" is neither heroic nor physically monstrous.

As this still from Rene Clair's 1942 film I MARRIED A WITCH suggests, Jennifer, the comely witch played by Veronica Lake, casts a forbidding shadow as she makes up to Fredric March's character Wallace.  She starts out the film intending to cause Wallace nothing but trouble, but accidentally drinks a potion that causes her to fall in love with him.  Though she is still in my reckoning the "focal presence" of the story, she becomes Wallace's ally against both her hostile witch-father and Wallace's shrewish fiancee.  Of my four "persona-types," Jennifer the Witch is still closest to that of the "monster," but plainly a benign one, like some of those discussed at the end of this essay.

As noted in ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE a story may have more than one focal presence, as seen in the 1937 comedy TOPPER, based like WITCH on a Thorne Smith novel.

In this film there's no literal "antagonist," comparable to Jennifer's witch-father, against which the merrymaking ghosts George and Marion Kirby strive: theirs might be called a "man vs. society" struggle in that they endeavor to free up their henpecked, mousey buddy Cosmo Topper by encouraging him to act out and to remind his wife of his needs.

In both WITCH and TOPPER, supernatural beings bring conflict into the lives of drab humans, but it's clearly conflict that the humans need to break out of their respective ruts.  One might consider WITCH to still have some *megalothymic* elements given that Jennifer must at least outmaneuver her nasty daddy.  However, the Kirbys supply an entirely *isothymic* form of conflict.  Topper's narrative position approximates that of Jonathan Harker in DRACULA, but where "demihero" Harker is oppressed by the vampire's power, Topper's *thymos*, his power to be recognized as a willing subject, is enchanced by the ghosts' machinations.

Note that I'm not stating that no such *isothymic* arrangements pertain in drama, adventure, or irony.  But since all three mythoi are stronger in terms of the element of reader-conviction, one may speculate that *isothymic* scenarios simply don't appear as often.  It may that comedy can best deal with the idea of an anomaly that exists just to improve the life of a viewpoint character.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I debated whether to follow up on "part one" of this post, since I know from my own experiences that it's no fun to read bitch-sessions about "who's dishonoring me now," to misquote Steven Colbert.  But I decided that I would record, if only in diary-fashion, that I did make a second attempt to post on Sequart regarding my disagreements with Chicken Colin's essay on the Lee-Kirby X-MEN.  I didn't think there was any *real* likelihood that the first post had been eaten by the 'net, but I felt I should post twice before officially condemning Sequart for wussing out and protecting the Chicken from my broadsides.

The first post was simply an observation that the Chicken's political misrepresentation of the 1960s X-MEN was easy to disprove, with a link to the essays in which I did so.  Once that disappeared, I decided not to work too hard at the second post, and simply excerpted a couple of paragraphs disputing the Chicken's misconception of Stan Lee's words.  The next day-- also gone.

I imagine that the head cheeses at Sequart justify their actions by viewing me as a troll rather than a proper debater.  To that imagined accusation I quote from my post OPPOSITION VS. OPPUGNANCY:

...most trolls don't bother with degree. Their primary reason for posting on forums is to play "king of the hill," to trumpet their opinions with such overwhelming "oppugnance" that eventually everyone else gives up the game. If a troll thinks that Alan Moore's SWAMP THING kicks the ass of Harvey Kurtzman's TWO-FISTED TALES, then he will never recognize any aspect in which the latter exceeds the former, not even to the slightest degree.

In contrast, an argument between two opponents in search of the stimulation of "opposition" can be a genuine exploration as to what constitutes one's concepts of "quality." These two ideal opponents need not back down any more than the troll does. But a sustained rational argument must make use of the power of "degree."
I was fully prepared to take on the Chicken in rational debate, if he had the guts to meet the challenge.  I might have even consented to quit calling him the Chicken for the length of said debate.  Did CC not want his precious screeds argued over?  It's possible, but not likely, that he demanded the deletions.  I still think he's chicken, of course, but I will admit that it's more likely that the cheesy administrators of Sequart made the decision to X out my responses. 

I realize that nothing forces anyone on the web to tolerate divergent opinions.  However, since Sequart already has a history of having tolerated divergent opinions in their comments-sections-- certainly when I was writing for them, I was not so shielded-- that makes their behavior inconsistent at best, and at worst a betrayal of the standards of rational debate to which they (seem to) aspire.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


In this essay I said:

In WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION, Schopenhauer distinguishes between "intuitive" and "abstract" representations: humans share "intuitive representations" with other animals, in that they are based in the body's "percepts." But humans alone have the power to conceive "abstract representations," for humans alone can base representations in "concepts." I will use this basic opposition here, though I'll substitute "intellectual" for "abstract" purely for euphony.

A little later "instinctual" took the place of "intuitive," but I don't think I adequately explained that these representations are not inherent in the hearts and minds of the characters themselves, which is a mistake I find in the opinions of other genre-sussers cited in that essay, such as Jeff Rovin and S.C. Butler.  Rather, these Schopenhaurean representations are narrative patterns imposed upon those characters by their respective authors, irrespective of how "intellectual" or "instinctive" the characters themselves may be.

So I am not claiming that the character denoted as a hero must be intellectual, nor that the character denoted as a demihero must function by instinct alone.  The willing aspects of the characters are to be found in the narrative functions given the characters by their authors, not in the personalities of characters themselves. 

In this essay I defined Vincent Price’s character Dr. Craven as a demihero, saying that he was defined by "instinctive will."  This doesn't mean that instinct alone rules the character; rather, it rules the pattern of his narrative.  Craven is certainly more intellectual than many of the characters that qualify as heroes.  Craven is governed by “instinctive will” because even though he makes a heroic effort to oppose the villain of the story, he doesn’t become a hero.  He remains defined by his own personal goals alone, without any hint of a transcending altruism.

I’ve defined the persona of the “monster” as the generally negative counterpart of the demihero.  Usually the monster is also defined principally by self-preservation, whether the creature is destructive on a large scale (Godzilla) or covets some forbidden prize (King Kong).  Self-preservation and endurance also typify even benign monsters, like Man-Thing, of whom I said in D IS FOR DEMIHERO PT 3: 

A comics-series like MAN-THING portrays its monstrous protagonist doing good not as a conscious act but in response to instinctive tendencies. 

And yet there are monsters who do good as a conscious act.  A prominent example is the Incredible Hulk.  In Peter Coogan’s 2006 SUPERHERO: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF A GENRE—referenced here—he denies that Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be a superhero due to his method of “genre exclusion.”  Yet he doesn’t disallow the Incredible Hulk from superherodom despite that character’s clear alliances to the horror-genre.  And he’s correct in the latter instance.  The Hulk, though a character with no more than a brutish intelligence, exemplifies the same “intellectual will” in his narrative function, in that his authors emphasize that he makes conscious choices to battle evil.  While there are various stories in which the Hulk himself proves an unwitting menace to humanity, it’s far more typical to see him engaged in combat with outright villain-antagonists. The Hulk even has a "rogues' gallery," which is atypical for the majority of monsters of purely kenotic orientation.

The greatest exception are those serials in which a monster is drafted to become a hero in terms of plot-function, even though the monster retains the kenotic *character* of a monster.
Some examples include the 1966 KING KONG kid-cartoon:
Not to be outdone, several of Japan's Godzilla films from Toho Studios also cast the Big G in the unlikely role of Earth's protector.  In GODZILLA VS. MEGALON the Zillinator even allies himself with Jet Jaguar, one of the many progeny of UltraMan, in the battle to save Earth.

Toho's competitor Daiei Studios went even further in "super-heroizing" their monster Gamera.  After just one film in which the giant super-turtle proved a menace to mankind, every other film cast him as a heroic monster who acquired a "rogues' gallery" of mostly one-shot menaces.  A later revival even gave Gamera a backstory to explain why he was so darn beneficial.

Hanna-Barbera revisited the "hero-monster" idea in the 1978 GODZILLA TV-cartoon.  To be sure, though every episode Godzilla had to pit his reptillian righteousness against the Monster of the Week, at least the writers kept the sense that Godzilla was a big irritable beastie rather than a crusading hero.  He only protected the show's human regulars inadvertently, because his son "Godzooky" hung out with these mediocrities and the Big G had to put the welfare of his family above any possible preferences to fry the humans like so many ants beneath a magnifying glass.

So are of these permutations of respectable monster-personas "heroes?"  Only if one prioritizes the *dynamis* of plot over the *dynamis* of character.  I first established the separability of plot-dynamis from character-dynamis in KNOWING THE DYNAMIS FROM THE DYNAMIC, but my fullest examination as to this sort of division appeared in RISING AND FALLING STARS.  Examples here focused purely on the opposition of the "adventure mythos" to the "drama mythos," so that:

Observations include:

STAR WARS serves as an unreserved example of the "pure adventure," in which both plot and characters evoke the dynamis of adventure.
...in STARGATE the mythos of drama pervades the plotting of the series, overshadowing characters who would otherwise fit adventure-archetypes.
Another negative example, but one in which the mythos of drama dominates the characters rather than the plot, would be the 1978-80 versions of BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA. The plot, in which noble humans repeatedly faced the menace of Cylon invaders, clearly takes inspiration from STAR WARS, but the characters lack the *dynamis* of the adventure-mythos, tending toward drama in its manifestation of "melodrama." 
DC Comics' STARMAN, in most of the iterations of the franchise, has usually been a "pure adventure." However, the Starman introduced by James Robinson, whose continuing series ran from 1994-2001, exemplifies the type in which the plot is the main source of the adventure-dynamis.
My final example must be one in which characters with the adventure-*dynamis* override a plot with a dramatic emphasis. My choice here is the 1978 American STAR BLAZERS, adapted from the Japanese anime TV-series SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (which I have not seen in its original form). 
I didn't give an example in which both plot-dynamis and character-dynamis were both aligned to the drama.  But in other essays I have mentioned Classic STAR TREK as one such, so I include it to fill in that space for symmetry's sake.

I mention all these mythoi-examples because I propose the same ambivalence applies to the narrative "persona-patterns."  King Kong, Gamera and Godzilla may follow the plots of heroes in these assorted works, but I assert that in terms of fundamental character they still represent "instinctive will," while the not much more intelligent Hulk represents "intellectual will."  So the Hulk does make that hypothetical "wiki-list of all superhero works that fall into the adventure mythos," mentioned in RISING, while the three big honking monsters cited would still fit the persona of the "monster" rather than that of the "hero."


Some time back I reread Saul Bellow’s rambling, kvetch-happy novel HERZOG.  Though I liked it, the book no longer seemed as profound to me as it did when I was in college.  Its titular protagonist makes various pronouncements on major philosophers like Nietzsche and Buber; pronouncements I now find muddled and meretricious.  Bellow gives Herzog a particular animus toward Buber but doesn’t adequately explain it.  The closest I can come is that Bellow, speaking through his protagonist, seems to think that Buber’s conception of the “I-it” relationship—on which I descanted in this essay —was some sort of license for any “I” to dick over anyone that person chose to regard as an “it.”

So I gave Buber’s I AND THOU a re-read.  I’d read it in college as well, but didn’t remember much about it beyond a basic favorable impression.  I AND THOU, first published in 1923 (though it became a college favorite in the 1960s), was written by a philosopher who had renounced the practice of the Rabbinic tradition but nevertheless incorporated that tradition into his philosophy.  I AND THOU, rather than offering a series of reasoned arguments, puts forth a concatenation of incantatory meditations, centered upon Buber’s two schemas of human relationship: the “I-thou” and the “I-it.” I found nothing in I AND THOU to substantiate Bellow’s weird take on Buber’s work. 

Technically, the word Buber uses in the original German is closer to the informal pronoun “you” than the more formal “thou."  However, the translator who used “thou” showed good marketing sense, for I AND THOU is certainly a more memorable title than the alternative.

Buber calls his two schemas “word pairs.”  By this he meant that even though he was well aware that all three words—“I,” “thou,” and “it”—were independent words, he believed that in terms of human relation it was impossible that any “I” could exist apart from its relationship to other phenomena.  Only two relationships were conceivable to Buber: either one's "I" related to a "thou" or an "it."   Thus he regards his two schemas as “word pairs” that are existentially insoluble.
It's occured to me that the four combinations of persona-types which I introduced here-- combinations I called "scenarios" and "metaphors" in Part 2-- are also "word pairs," in that I took the four proposed terms for the dominant personas-- "hero," "villain," "monster," and "victim"-- and combined each of them into symbols of the four Fryean mythoi.  I revised the application of these "persona-pairs" in Part 3, but the logic of the argument remained unchanged, as I did when I changed the term "victim" into the neologism "demihero" here.
Though I didn't say so in these 3 parts, the foundation of my argument about the "persona-pairs" is inseparable from the famous literary analysis of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, explored here.  To repeat a section therefrom:
the British literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch attempted to set down patterns as to what variety of entities or forces a story's protagonist might contend against. Quiller-Couch listes seven basic types of conflict, but many (including myself) tend to pare them down to less. My chosen four are as follows:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Himself
My "persona-pairs" can be adjusted to parallel any of these four oppositions.  Some permutation of Quiller-Couch's types of conflict is necessary to bring about a literary effect, whether one subscribes to Aristotle's idea of "complication/resolution,"  Frank Cioffi's concept of the anomaly, or Todorov's notion of equilibria.

The great failing of Quiller-Couch's breakdown is that its arrangement suggests that the "man" in the position of "protagonist" must be the main concern of the story, whereas I've detailed many examples in which the imaginative center can be the protagonist's villainous/monstrous opponent, whether it's a specific human threat (Fu Manchu), a natural phenomenon (Jules Verne's "Center of the Earth"), an unusual society, or a separate manifestation of one's own, as with Edward Hyde.