Topic: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

The following isn't really a review at all. It starts as a review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, but that's just a jumping-off point to discuss the nature of nostalgia porn in general, specifically as it relates to recent film culture. I wrote it as a blog entry and thought I'd post it here, see if it has any merit. Writing it was a cathartic experience, as it basically sums up my extreme frustration with nostalgia porn in general but also touches on my hope for franchise films as they relate to art.

Also, Ready Player One spoilers--that wouldn't fit in the title. tongue

* * * *

When did we, as a culture, become so scared of stories that matter?

I ask this having recently finished Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, a book that is apparently widely beloved. And certainly wildly successful—as of this writing it has over 200,000 reviews on Goodreads, was placed in the Top 10 lists of multiple publications the year it was printed, and is being adapted into a feature film directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. All of this inordinately depresses me, because the book is, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking awful.

Ready Player One tells the story of a dystopian future in which climate change has ravaged the planet, economic inequality runs rampant, and people are living in stacks of mobile homes supported by steel scaffolding. Rest assured, however, readers—none of this is explored with any substance whatsoever. Rather, it forms the necessary background for the book’s true concern: the 1980s. See, the future’s resident eccentric billionaire, James Halliday, has created a massive virtual reality/MMORPG called OASIS, an escapist realm that is stuffed to the gills with references to his favorite movies, video games, books, and music, most of which come from the 80s. When Halliday dies, he reveals that his entire 200 billion dollar fortune will be given to whichever OASIS player can use their knowledge of 80s trivia to complete a massive quest and pass through three gates to a final challenge. Thus, most of the world is now living almost entirely in their computers, obsessed with memorizing details of Halliday’s favorite pop cultural artifacts. Our Hero, Wade, is himself one of these searchers, and, in a plot arc that holds pretty much no surprises at all, manages to use his 80s knowledge to beat the odds, win the fortune, and—of course—get the Manic Pixie Dream Girl with absolutely no personal growth on his part.

I don’t say that Ready Player One is fucking awful because it’s poorly written, although it is. The prose is riddled with the voiceless “I did X, she did Y, the vase looked like V” syntax that plagues the YA market, none of the characters’ voices are distinguishable from each other, and the plot is painfully predictable. No, I say it’s fucking awful because it’s the epitome of a tyranny that has our current popular culture throttled in its grip—cheap nostalgia.

In his famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U. S. Fiction”, David Foster Wallace lamented what he saw as the slow death of popular culture due to cheap irony. It’s important to clarify that DFW didn’t object to all irony—he viewed it as a crucial component of effective satire. However, in his words:

Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the  unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, then what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most  of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to  do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy.  Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the  prisoner who’s come to love his cage.

Similarly, not all nostalgia is bad. What’s bad is the kind of nostalgia that runs rampant through our culture in general and Ready Player One in particular: the kind that has nothing to say about the things it’s nostalgic for, and more importantly what those nostalgic objects stand for in their own right. Here’s a representative sample of the book’s engagement with a cultural artifact:

“I was just reading this great piece on Ewoks: The Battle for Endor.”

“Made for TV. Released in 1985,” I recited. Star Wars trivia was one of my specialties. “Total garbage. A real low point in the history of the Wars.”

“Says you, assface. It has some great moments.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “It doesn’t. It’s even worse than that first Ewok flick, Caravan of Courage. They shoulda called it Caravan of Suck.”

The first thing that’s wrong with this exchange is that there’s absolutely nothing real about it. Two actual fans of a property would never stop in the middle of a conversation to name-check the movie’s name, release date, and critical reception—this is a full half dozen lines of dialogue that serve no purpose except to assure the audience that if they don’t get it, it’s okay, the book is going to explain it all to them.  This, however, could be forgiven—it’s bad writing, sure, but this kind of as-you-know-speak is all too common in any sort of fiction these days, and has been for all eternity. The larger problem is that this is the deepest that any of the book’s copious references goes. In real life, while the two friends may not have begun a deep critical introspection on the meaning of The Battle for Endor, they would at least bicker as to the precise reasons whether or not it’s a work of artistic merit. Here, their conversation serves no purpose other than to wink at the reader. Hey, remember that obscure Star Wars TV movie? It sucked, right? Ha, okay, moving on. More often than not, it’s even shallower than this; Cline simply uses pop culture references as set dressing, saying that this vehicle looks exactly like the DeLorean or that enemy is dressed like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica ad nauseum. There’s not a single original description that I can think of offhand.

As much as I despised Ready Player One in particular, this is a problem that is far from limited to one particular novel. Our current film landscape is saturated with it. Quick, what do Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator: Genysis, A Good Day to Die Hard, and Star Trek Into Darkness have in common? A complete lack of respect for their source material. They and other franchise-zombie cash grabs like them don’t even attempt to understand what made their predecessors great movies to begin with, or to take the values and ideas presented by those predecessors and examine them in a new light. Rather than attempting to make their own artistic, philosophical, or cinematic statements—or, hell, even just to make their own memorable moments—they’re replete with nothing but nods to past movies. Hey, remember when Indy was scared of snakes in the first movie? He’s scared of snakes again! Ha, okay, moving on. Hey, remember when Arnie said “I’ll be back”? Let’s repeat it completely out of context for the canned laughter! Ha, moving on. Hey, remember when Spock had a meaningful, thematically resonant death in The Wrath of Khan? Let’s restage that death down to the camera angles, only switch Kirk and Spock’s positions. And then bring Kirk back, because we can’t kill our box office draw. Moving on. Hey, remember when...

And, like a copy of a copy of a copy, the life drains further and further away with each successive installment.

It seems idiotic. Why would anyone want to spend ten dollars to see reference after cheap reference to a great work of art when they could simply just go back to the great work of art itself? Unfortunately it works damn near every time. Crystal Skull and Into Darkness were each the highest-grossing films of their respective franchises. A Good Day to Die Hard tripled its production budget. Genysis didn’t do as well as expected, but still grossed a cool $440 million and has sequels on the way. Our third Spider-Man series in eight years is on the way. And, of course, the alarmingly cynical Jurassic World just grossed 1.5 billion dollars, placing it in the top five highest-grossing features of all time.

We should want better. As a culture, as filmgoers, as readers. But we don’t seem to particularly care. And the result? A decade full of stagnant, tired ghosts of Way Back When that, in another decade, will be worth absolutely nothing because they didn’t bother to say anything themselves.

* * * *

“Which came first, Star Wars or the cynicism?” asks Chris Hanel in his film The Formula. It’s a question that I had on my mind throughout my read of Ready Player One. Has our culture always been this plastic, this shallow, or has franchise growth genuinely lessened our culture’s desire to interact with art?

The Formula, released thirteen years ago, is prescient in this way about much of fan culture in general and Star Wars fan culture in particular. It’s an exercise in metafiction—a fan film about a group of four friends making a fan film. Hanel’s character, Tom, has been utterly embittered by the disappointment that was The Phantom Menace, and is attempting to work through his issues by making his own lightsaber duel in his backyard. Unfortunately, even this is tainted by his utter hatred for the thing he once loved. “Did I watch Star Wars because I was miserable?” he asks, “Or was I miserable because I watched Star Wars?” As the film progresses, Tom finds himself bankrupt from filming costs, alienated from his best friends, and transformed into a contemptible, embittered person. By the end of the film, he’s been brought around, realizing that his film is “only a movie” and through its completion purging himself of his hatred for Star Wars. But a throwaway reference to Attack of the Clones’ upcoming release is a subtle reminder that disillusionment may again be just around the corner.

Hanel’s film resonated intensely with me when I first saw it, and remains a work of art that I see quite a bit of myself in. Besides this, it’s a shining example of how a book like Ready Player One should be written. The Formula’s fifty-minute runtime is absolutely stuffed with references to pop culture—there’s a fight scene that’s a blatant homage to The Matrix, a shell-shocked Tom delivers a line-for-line recreation of Quint’s famous Indianapolis monologue (waiting for rescue whilst being devoured by sharks has been replaced with waiting in the rain for The Phantom Menace’s premiere), and of course bits and pieces of Star Wars and Star Trek mythology litter its script. But none of it feels cheap, or unearned. The reason for this is that Hanel understands Star Wars, understands its fans, and made a film that grew out of this understanding. It’s a film that delights in referencing its influences, and that delight is there because it’s not simply parroting them word for word. It’s turning them over in its hands, examining their cracks and fault lines and mechanisms, and attempting to say something new and meaningful about those bits and pieces rather than simply using them for a cheap laugh. To paraphrase the line that the film’s title is taken from, there’s a difference between mastering a form and plugging in a formula.

A similar instance of a pop-culture-laden piece of media becoming meaningful art in its own right is the rise of RedLetterMedia’s reviews of the Star Wars prequels. By the time the first of the reviews was released, The Phantom Menace had existed for a decade. Fandom still hadn’t healed. Indeed, it had gotten if anything even more toxic, endlessly wailing about various minutiae that existed in the movie as evidence of its “raping their childhood”. RedLetterMedia could have simply exploited this, posting a fifteen-minute rant about the stupidity of Jar-Jar Binks, the idiocy of Meatbeard, and so on and so forth. The video may very well have been popular, and would have pressed all the right buttons among prequel-haters. Instead, the reviewers strove for the same understanding that The Formula possesses—just why are these movies so reviled? What do their flaws say about art in general? And should we care?

The result was a masterpiece of criticism. “Mr. Plinkett”, the aged serial killer who delivers the reviews, uses the prequels to study film theory, story structure, and film’s effect on pop culture. His rants are carefully constructed, the videos that accompany them meticulously edited. And not a shred of pandering is present—there’s nary a mention of Jar-Jar Binks and other superficial problems. In crafting their reviews this way, RLM created works of art themselves. You don’t need to have watched the Star Wars prequels to be alternately stunned and uproarious at Plinkett’s incredibly black sense of humor, or to appreciate his insights into how movies work. The reviews stand on their own, because rather than simply repeating tired gags and talking points they determined to say something new about the property they analyze. And chances are, when no one remembers anything meaningful about Terminator Genysis or Star Trek Into Darkness, Mr. Plinkett will still be floating around the internet.

* * * *

Most franchise installments these days don’t follow the wisdom present in The Formula or the RedLetterMedia reviews. And they don’t need to—Jurassic World had nothing new or interesting to say and still succeeded beyond its makers' wildest dreams.

But. But.

It’s worth considering that the two biggest movie phenomena of the first decade of the 21st century were the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series. Neither of these is an original work—both are adaptations of equally popular novels. Each grossed billions of dollars, but of course that isn’t a hallmark of art—as I said above, Jurassic World managed to make over half the money the Lord of the Rings trilogy did. More interesting is their staying power. It’s been almost fifteen years since The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theatres, and its pervasive cultural presence shows no signs of diminishing. The same applies to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Obviously, the fact that both were based on pre-existing properties is a large reason for their success. But their staying power can’t be attributed to that. The reason that they have and will continue to endure as classic works of art long after most other franchise-based films have faded away is that they understand the foundations that they’re based on. That’s not to say they’re perfect adaptations—Potter in particular is often a pale shadow of the books it’s based on. However, each series ultimately reflects the qualities that are at the heart of its source material. The importance of love, and faith in one’s friends. The magic that can be found in other worlds. The knowledge that the triumph of Good over Evil is never quick, and never easy, but always worth fighting for. These films have meaning, and that is why they’ve endured.

That, I honestly believe, is why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the most important film that will be released this year, or for a few years. Why the reaction to its trailers and posters and other bits of advance media have been absolutely massive. Why it’s already set to, in its opening weekend, obliterate any and all box office records. Part of it is that it’s based on a beloved pre-existing property, and Star Wars fans can and will endure anything that bears that name. But the part that goes beyond brand loyalty, that has people wildly excited rather than simply expectant, is that J. J. Abrams understands Star Wars.

It’s the film’s second teaser and theatrical trailer that have made this most plain. “The Force is strong in my family,” says a distant Luke Skywalker in the former. “My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too.” And in the latter. . . “It’s true—all of it,” says Han Solo, looking worse the wear for the thirty-five years since we’ve last seen him. “The dark side, the Jedi. They’re real.”  “The Force,” says a mysterious voice, “it’s calling to you. . .just let it in.”

This is what matters, ultimately. Not that Abrams has a visual sense for what Star Wars should look like, although he certainly does. Not that he’s gotten the old cast back, although God bless him for doing so. What matters is that he has an intuitive sense for what Star Wars is about. That anyone can be a hero, that redemption is beyond no one. That Good and Evil matter, and we are all fighting for them whether or not we wield a lightsaber. That the Force is indeed calling to us, whether that be metaphorical or literal. And that, in the end, the universe is at its most terrifying and most wonderful when seen through a child’s wonder. “What delights us?” These are what Abrams has said were the guiding words for putting together The Force Awakens. Not “What will bring a chuckle out of the audience opening night?” What delights us.

Franchise films needn’t be nostalgia porn. Nostalgia itself needn’t be artistically bankrupt. Critiques such as The Formula and the Plinkett reviews prove this. The rare well-crafted sequels or reboots, such as this year’s transcendent Mad Max: Fury Road prove this. Artistic homages such as Abrams’ own Super 8 prove this. And while it’s tempting fate to say so, I’m confident that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will prove it too. Bring on a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, a Jurassic World sequel, yet another Die Hard installment. They will suck, and they will be soulless, and it will depress me that they make money. But in the long run, our culture does recognize artistic merit, and meaningful stories. And it’s my firm belief that this will, eventually, be the case as regards the art of this decade, Ready Player fucking One be damned.

Last edited by Abbie (2015-11-21 00:23:54)

Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

I really liked Ready Player One and thought it worked for all the reasons you obviously didn't. I also like that you've written this and probably agree with most of it.

There's a writer called Javier Grillo-Marxuach who does a great podcast on TV writing called 'Children Of Tendu' made the point that films needed to stop quoting Star Wars despite running a show called 'The Middleman' which did movie references every week and he's right.

I feel similarly about big ongoing movie franchises, I love Star Wars and Bond and would welcome another 3, 5 or 20 part film series that entertained me similarly but I don't want every movie to try and be that, I still want some movies to have, you know an ending!

But seriously, Ready Player One was a lot of fun and you are way to hard on it.

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Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

I'll fully admit that I have a pretty visceral distaste for it, probably more than it deserves. For me, in addition to its mediocre writing and its reliance on pop culture as a crutch, it's just so masturbatory. It's unhealthy, IMO, and it's the exact sort of fantasy I'd have had a few years ago--the whole world becomes obsessed with the things I like, I get the perfect girl without having to undergo any personal change whatsoever, etc. etc. Sure, Cline pays lip service to the notion that you have to get off the computer and have real relationships, but that's not a theme that's prevalent throughout the book, it's sorta just dropped at the end as an escape route. All of which wouldn't bother me nearly so much if the book did have interesting things to say about all the pop culture stuff, but it just doesn't.

It's kinda like the WAYDM crew feel about Pan's Labyrinth, for me. If it weren't so universally acclaimed I wouldn't have nearly as much hate for it, but as is the overwhelming love coupled with its flaws coupled with my overwhelming dislike for nostalgia porn just made it the perfect storm. I don't begrudge someone their enjoyment of it, just like I don't think someone is an awful person for liking TPM, but I just had this visceral hatred for it that I had to exorcise.

Last edited by Abbie (2015-11-21 02:31:39)

Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

Well, you at least articulated your points well. I might pick it up out of curiosity and a bit of 80s nostalgia myself. The Goldbergs interest me for a similar reason.

Personally, I think The Force Awakens works for me, not due to nostalgia, but because it actually feels like a new film. It may not be, and time will tell, but I watch all the trailers and promo material and I get excited because it looks like something interesting. Maybe it is nostalgia, and I know I got excited for TPM in high school, but it genuinely grabs my attention.

One of my reactions to popular culture as a whole is not just the trending in nostalgia but the free availability of different content. There is no longer a wait for content to be produced, and so there is a lack of appreciation for what it takes to produce art.

It reminds me of a reaction video to "50 Shades of Grey" and commenting on how sexuality has become more voyeuristic rather than relationship oriented. Content is viewed but not really participated in. It all strikes me as very interesting development based upon the advancing technology.

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Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

For what it's worth, Prax, I agree with your sentiment so much that I gave up on modern culture entirely six months ago and became a communications monk.  big_smile

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Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

Darth Praxus wrote:

And, like a copy of a copy of a copy, the life drains further and further away with each successive installment.

It seems idiotic. Why would anyone want to spend ten dollars to see reference after cheap reference to a great work of art when they could simply just go back to the great work of art itself?

If you go back and read some of the period reviews of Star Wars, this is very similar to what some critics said.  That it was just mixing and matching all the sci-fi tropes we'd seen up to that point,  that it was basically The Hidden Fortress dressed up differently, that it was just rehashing Flash Gordon etc. 

But for those of us that love Star Wars, we know that the sum of the parts is not the whole.  The fact that a work of art is assembled using a set of known vernaculars does not mean that the work itself will reflect the basest or most familiar tendencies of those vernaculars. 

But that's kind of a portrait of the subjective nature of artistic and creative work right? Maybe each of our reactions to a piece of media have more to do with how our brains synthesize information than whether or not that piece of media is actually "good."  It might all be more based on inherent personality and upbringing than objective analysis.   

Basically, what I mean to say is, I LOVED READY PLAYER ONE, whereas you didn't at all. As such, the rest of this post will likely upset you, although certainly that's not my intent. on if you dare (dun dun dunnnn!)

Like I really loved this book.  Like me-back-to-being-8-year-old-fanboy loved.  If I took the probably 300 or more books I've read in the past 5 years, and normalized my rating of them such that Ready Player One was rated 10/10 (which it definitely isn't in an absolute scale), the closest book by my rating would be somewhere around 7.5. 

I get what you're saying, though.  You're just tired of every fucking thing being a reboot, rehash, callback, based-on, entity that's created by simply plugging in numbers into "the Formula" and churning it through the mega-Hollywood-corporation assembly line so fanboys can wank with their 20 bucks paid at the box office (and concession stand).  I get it.  I feel exactly the same amount of roll-my-eyes nausea at the state of things.   

But RP1 is not that.  I don't believe it's that at all.  In fact, I believe RP1 to be the Star Wars (ep IV) of modern fiction in almost every way.  It takes a series of things we're all familiar with:  Virtual reality, treasure hunts, Joseph Campbell hero shit, yes 1980's nostalgia, grim post-apocalyptic dystopia brought on by climate change and nuclear bombs: and weds them all together into something wholly new, magical, and fascinating.   

Thing is, I have no reason to have much nostalgia for the 80's.  I'm too young for the era to have had much meaning for me, and I actually don't even like most 80's music or B-movies (with the exception of AC/DC,, some of the early hip-hop).  However, when it was presented in the book, I totally bought it, and here's why: The nature of a contest treasure hunt plot is that the main characters would be obsessed by some wide but limited body of content by which they can gain clues.  It happened to be the 80's in this story, but it could have been anything and it wouldn't have mattered.  The 80's trivia was merely plot fodder, almost like a textural maguffin, if you will.

So if you were to view it that way, and say, mentally redact all the 80's stuff, I really think you would find it to be a unique and charming feel-good hero fantasy.   

Also, to address your criticism that the writing sucks:  i think there's a difference between good writing and good story telling.  For example, to me, the writing in LOTR is inconsistent in it's quality and I would give Tolkien an overall passing grade on writing, but it's nothing I would deem exemplary (with the exception of quite a few truly beautiful passages spread throughout the book...the death of Theodin for example).  But overall it's my favorite work of fiction bar none, no competitors in the running. This is because Tolkien is the utter master of story telling.  His use of multi-layered themes, and deep meaningful lore etc. etc. are just sublime, and his huge extended conclusion to the story is unquestionably profound.   

So what I'm saying is, the specific wording and prose used in a book are more like dressing on the cake that is the story.  So if you didn't like the way RP1 was written, I'm arguing that there's still a significant and noteworthy story in there even if his writing was either infantile, or amateur (which I don't think it was, but I think I've said enough already lol).

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Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

See, I just don't understand where you're coming from when you say it takes all its influences and synthesizes them into something new. That's exactly the opposite of what it does--it simply regurgitated its influences verbatim. Like I mentioned in the review, in description after description it simply pulls stuff like "It was like this thing from x movie" or "It looked like a Cylon", etc. Star Wars is absolutely indebted to its influences, but there's a huge amount of invention going on at the same time--the sheer visual creativity at play in the OT is one of its chief delights. I can enjoy that visual inventiveness and worldbuilding without having any knowledge of Hidden Fortress, but if I were to read RP1 without any context for the stuff it's referencing I would have absolutely no idea what the fuck things look like the majority of the time because it uses pre-existing works as a crutch rather than a foundation.

To address your point that there's a difference between good writing and good storytelling: I absolutely agree, and Tolkien is a good example. However, RP1's bad writing directly feeds into bad storytelling. For instance, when describing his girlfriend, the protagonist talks about how she made him a better person, opened his eyes, and in general "changed how I see the world". Does the book bother to actually show you any of this through their interactions? No, we're simply told it happens in spite of the fact that the protagonist remains basically the same character throughout the book. Cline's sloppy writing leads to sloppy storytelling which, to use the cliche, tells us an arc has happened rather than actually organically, plausibly showing it.

None of this is an attack on your love for the book--you liked it and I didn't and that's fine. I just genuinely don't understand what you mean when you say the book was magical, wholly new, or in any way a synthesis of influences rather than something that uses them as a crutch.

Re: Ready Player One, Star Wars, and the Dangers (And Joys) of Nostalgia

hmmm.  I think our disagreement has more to do with expectations than anything else.  And, again, I think this plays into the idea that each person's brain synthesizes information differently. 

Most of my highest rated books are the heart-on-its-sleeve, cheesy, immutable archetype, hero fantasy stories. I love that stuff.  I really don't care if a character has an arc or not, because if it's fun, has a lot of heart, and makes me feel the joy of victory at the end I'm all for it baby.   

But see, that's just my sociological predisposition. Yours is obviously quite different, in that lack of character arc is a big issue for you.  For me, my love for books like that stems from my old-school upbringing, and my uber love for unabashed geekery, which RP1 has in spades!  The whole text of the book bleeds the sort of authentic and over-enthusiastic love for all things 80's, and even though I argued it's a Maguffin, I think it only enhances the text because it's obvious to me that Cline is doing it because he actually loves it and not because he's fanwanking. 

To address your point about the "having influences" vs. actually using the things themselves, I'm not sure what to say.  To me it was like "okay, Cline established the rules that the contest is based around all things 80's.  It therefore makes total sense and is actually really cool that the characters get to physically use, interact with and embody all these 80's icons."  Again, I think it comes down to vernacular, but a totally different kind whereby the 80's ephemera themselves are used as individual words and sentences that make up a unique whole.  Yeah, someone without that cultural knowledge wouldn't be able to imagine the things he's talking about, but neither would I be able to understand a novel written in Russian.  By it's very design it is a sectarian book not meant for everyone.           

Lastly, back to the character arc idea, what's so fantastic about it for me, is that instead of the events changing the character, the character changes events.  His actions help ratchet up the dramatic tension page by page throughout the book until finally, with everything held so taught so as to be almost unbearable, he unleashes this titanic narrative climax that serves as a shouting testament to his nature as the penultimate hero.  So, basically I'm arguing that by contrasting his unchanging solidarity with the overwhelming state of change in the plot, it only serves to underscore how awesome he is.   Which, to me, is rousing and incomparably uplifting.

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