Book Wyrms Archive | 11/9/2012
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By Fleetwood Robbins

In sitting down to write this column, I have spent at least two and a half hours reading about “spleen” on Wikipedia and other sources. I’ve run the gamut on the subject. From Baudelaire to Mystery Men and back again, I’ve got it covered. The organ? Let’s just say that red and white pulp are not divided by Bolshevik sympathies (another odd tangent I pursued).

I followed spleen into a little lauded practice known as haruspication, or divination through the entrails of animals, most commonly birds. Oddly, swollen spleens are described ad naseum on the internet when it comes to birds. Apparently, it’s something to look out for. But what might it herald? Is that what the soothsayer saw when she warned Caesar about the Ides of March? It makes sense that we might learn something of the divine from birds, given their home in the firmament. An ambitious fortuneteller might even catalogue abnormalities in viscera to cross-reference with the events of the day—like early statisticians charting corollaries between enlarged spleens with instances of betrayal.

What does any of this have to do with Book Wyrms? I’m sure the answer is nothing. I’ve just been looking up and down for inspiration, trying to find that one little kernel I could bring to the column and hopefully relate to a book that I’ve read recently.

So maybe that’s it: inspiration. Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, gave a wonderful Ted talk in which she explores creativity and its source. She talks about inspiration as an external influence, citing the experience of Tom Waits when a song came to him while stuck in traffic with nothing to record the notes. Frustrated, Waits apparently told the song, spoke to it like it was a person, that he was busy, and that if it wanted to be realized in the world it needed to wait for him to get back into the studio. If it wasn’t happy with that, it could go bother Leonard Cohen.

That inspiration comes from somewhere outside the individual is not peculiar to Mr. Waits, however. I don’t need to tell anyone about the Muses, and Ms. Gilbert does a far more entertaining job of it than I can, but I would be curious to know what readers think about this, especially readers of this column given what I presume is a penchant for magical leanings.

Another thing that I wasted spent time on in preparation for this column is Artemis. After watching the premiere of the absurd yet entertaining show Revolution, I began mixing the batter for what has become a (not-so-original) half-baked idea on the role of women in SF.

The Artemis archetype has never been so fashionable as it is right now in popular culture. Many would say that we have Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games to thank for that. Katniss Everdeen is, after all, the most visible example. She is given attributes that traditionally are ascribed to boys: She hunts, she provides for her family, she is a protector. Yet through all this she remains feminine, displaying poise, empathy, and beauty even as she eschews the tender sympathies of the boys in her life. Revolution’s Charlie Matheson follows that blueprint exactly. They even dress her like the image of Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss. But then, no one ever accused Hollywood of subtly. They see that something works and they run with it, detractors be damned. But why does it work and where is it going?

I will not be the first to compare Katniss to Bella Swan. You can find any number of articles on the internet that do so with varying degrees of success, but their differences are important to point out precisely because they represent two very different concepts of the heroine. Bella represents the old guard, the awkward wallflower who realizes her worth vis à vis Edward’s adulation of her beauty. As she is drawn into his world, she assumes a subservient role. She enlists his protection. As I stated earlier, Katniss is the very opposite of that. She chooses her own path out of a desire to be the protector of innocence. Bella in many ways surrenders her own innocence in exchange for protection.

Just as the Twilight star fades with the coming of the final movie, the Hunger Games is in full ascension. We could be looking a turning point in the culture. Gone are the days of swooning maidens. Be prepared for the new image of femininity that adheres to the more feral and independent qualities of Artemis.

It’s happening everywhere you look. What do you think about this? Does FR do a good job portraying capable female characters? (I say female, because I can think of at least a couple that aren’t women, per se.) Does a character’s sex matter to you? We’d love to hear from you on this in the comments section.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to justify my time spent on the internet as exploration into inspiration. I’m working even when I’m not working.

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