With the advent of franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, popular memes that ‘quiz’ you on your personality have have sprouted all over the interweb, and as meaningless as they may seem, the fact that there is a system that will help you determine what you’re most like is intriguing all the same. For those who are fans of either the Boy-Who-Lived or the Ring-That-Cannot-Be-Destroyed-Except-for-In-Mount-Doom, who wouldn’t want to know how their own person could potentially fit into said fantasy world?
For us fantasy/sci-fans, living our idyllic dreams is painfully improbable, though advances in technology have allowed us to slowly realize a world closer to Star Wars and iRobot (but not quite). It’s far easier to fantasize or daydream about these things as we read books or sleep in our beds. Is the possibility of living a world with superpowers, alternate fable history, or more epic confrontations just innately more appealing than the dull reality we currently inhabit? To be honest, despite humans of 2012 not having any awesome unnatural mutations like those in X-Men, our lives are already pretty complicated and exciting whereas the additional layering of dragons, nearly infinite lifespans, and greater-than-human capabilities is only icing on the cake. Though races like the elves have an affinity for sword, as well as bow-and-arrow, proficiency, the acquisition of such expertise is only gained through time and hard work, which is no different from our world. Fantasizing about fictional worlds is similar, if not the same, as dreaming about your own future profession or family. Though wishing away being an elf seems far more appealing, no?
A Whole New World
A couple of days ago, I picked up Paolini’s Inheritence, the fourth book in the Inhertience Cycle (otherwise known as the Eragon series) and splurged through 552-page novel (including the summary chapter and pronunciation index – which I also read) in under 24 hours. EFuzzy linked me to a New Yorker article about the fantasy genre and how the genre offers the enchantment of of an alternative world, seemingly popularized and modeled after J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. The author, Gopnik, makes an effort to point out how, in comparison, Paolini’s writing is far from the level of, say, Tolkein or Lewis, yet his books are just as popular among teen readers, if not more. Why?
Tolkein’s prose is definitely more formal and old-age than Paolini’s; Paolini’s writing is geared for young adults, and his protagonists’ language reflect that, which is evidently something Tolkein did not consciously keep in mind. The manner in which Eragon is written, is more accessible, though much like bland coffee (I don’t drink coffee…but you get my point). Rather than getting into specifics, however, about Paolini’s writing versus Tolkein’s (since I’m not expert in literature), it is interesting to note what about the fantasy or sci-fi genre draws readers in. Despite being fictional, worlds such as Eragon’s Alagaësia or Lord of the Ring’s Middle Earth are fantasies uniquely thought through and constructed, with every creature has its own origin story, script, or grammar; nothing is gratuitous. Perhaps it is breadth, depth, and color in which the lands are depicted that make these other worlds so attractive.
It is also worth pointing out Gopnik’s observation how “the narrative sweep is, curiously, the least significant part of” the books’ appeal. Often is the plot/story execution of a film put on the back burner when a film or movie is being discussed. More often than not, only the jaw-dropping sequences remain in recent memory and hold any memorable value. Readers and movie goers don’t necessarily relate to cool incidents, says Gopnik. Rather, they relate awesome elements. “You hear about the Elders, the dragon riders, the magical fire-sword Brisingr; what drags readers in is not the story but the symbols and their slow unfolding.”
I agree with the sentiment on all accounts. Though I only recently finished the book, I am merely left with an overall impression of how the book was; sorting out the particular plot events in order is a fairly difficult task and one that does not seem all too important. Each epic battle, political discussion, and bonding experience are not dull by any means, but their specific details are lost within the grand scheme of the novel’s entirety. This is assuming, however, that the plot is the book, but even for books like The DaVinci Code or other thrillers, what remains are only imprints of the journey.
I’ve always harbored a personal fascination for elves. Their slender proportions, graceful movements, and respectful (if not slightly haughty) conversations have always been attributes I admire. Possibly because I aspire to express these same traits, I always dream of myself as an elf. Characters like Vanir and Arya in Eragon similar display characteristics that are awesome and frightening to behold.
Paolini’s elves, long-boned, graceful, and living in trees, as poetic as they are dangerous, are Tolkien’s elves; his dwarfs, short and bearded and brave, though slightly comic, are Tolkien’s dwarfs; his dark lord, Galbatorix, “cruel ruler of the Empire,” is a variant of Sauron (overlaid with bits of the galactic emperor from “Star Wars”); and his mortal hero is, of course, just one vowel (and a consonant) away from Tolkien’s mortal hero, Aragorn.
I will admit, however, that dwarves, humans, ents, urgals (I know I’m mixing races from different worlds, but who cares) all possess qualities that are all admirable. It’s similar to trying to choose which is the most fun to “bend”. Although I do admit earth bending feels way more powerful and awesome in it’s sturdiness, fire bending has always been my favorite due to its flashiness and burning/passion character (choosing isn’t made any easier by how Toph is probably the coolest character in the entire The Last Airbender series).
Dwarves, similar to earth benders, possess a certain squatness and physical build, while Urgals are essentially intelligent Balrog (albeit the giant-human scale). Ents also have some traits that are just darn cool (like talking slow and just naturally being walking trees). But perhaps all these races are cool and awesome solely based on the fact that they portray these small array of characteristics. If there existed a race that epitomized the essence of all three races, what a strange race we would behold. Even the thought of it destroys any sense of balance the world would have.
I was explaining to EFuzzy how epic the Inheritance was, and although he described a dragon’s ability to kill 20 soldiers dead with a swipe from its claw as overpowered, dragons themselves are already a very specific breed of magnificent creatures, magical and powerful, and do not exist in large numbers. They’re not exactly considered rare either, but it may be sufficient to say that dragons were like Gods of Alagaësia, but through Dragon Rider bonds with chosen elves or humans, links between the different races provided understanding that nullify any inherent feeling of aggression.
Who Am I
What makes the act of forming a bond with someone different from yourself so appealing? I’ve mentioned how this fostering of familial relationships between different creatures is partially a reason that makes imaginative worlds inherently wonderful and fantastical. Much like with a dog or cat, the ability to forge an intimate and valuable relationship with others who are of a different kind portrays the idealistic act of overseeing the things that are not similar. Watching films and reading books of those who overcome inherent differences to form a common and shared bond resonates within our souls since it’s something that most people wish for, but have difficulty doing. Perhaps when a successful link is created, the definition of one’s self is further fortified and molded by those who are connected.
But while these types of relationships might epitomize portions of mankind’s better half, maybe a far more tantalizing prospect is the fact that they exist. Manifesting abstract human characteristics or ideals in an external, nonhuman form has been a popular and effective idea in literature and other mediums of entertainment throughout history. Astrological zodiac symbols/animals and Chinese zodiac elements/animals are examples that attempt to illustrate a derivation of one’s own personality in a more universally understood form. Even the idea in the form of the Hogwarts House mascots imply a set of characteristics, with lions roaring bravery and valor while snakes slither sneakily and disgustingly on the ground.
These symbols in literature and media have consequently become so powerful that it’s difficult to not draw a relationship between multiple symbols, or assign a symbol to particular people. A series that exemplifies in a cliche, but effective manner, is Gundam. What is personally exciting about this series, for me, is how each Gundam’s design is slightly representative of its pilot. Like the characters, the mobile suits themselves that contain singular but yet distinguishing traits all have their uses and are given equal time to stand out. The Wing Gundam functions as an all rounder, the DeathSytche being close range, and HeavyArms serving as long range. Most series would fall flat, however, in not thoroughly exploring how these various Gundams relate to their pilots; under the hands of a different pilot, each Gundam acts with different levels of optimization, revealing just how much each Gundam serves as an extension of each character’s identity.
Gopnik’s point of how symbols and themes are the most prominent elements of storytelling remain true here as well. EFuzzy points out, that though physical manifestations of an ideal are potentially powerful, in a sense it can also limiting. Characters function as an organic whole and are usually difficult to characterize with one symbolic form. It makes sense, then that a character can be developed much more richly with many different “manifestations.” If you have a super strong manifestation, then you’re condensing a character into an archetype.
What would probably be even more appropriate would be to describe the richness and complexity of a character as dynamic and always changing. In works such as Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials, dæmon act as a separate, but indicative, manifestation of a person’s soul and are probably one of the more fitting physical versions of abstract personalities. Humans in every universe are said to have dæmons, although in some universes they are visible as entities physically separate from their humans, and take the form of animals, while in other universes they are not. Dæmons have human intelligence (and are capable of human speeech) and usually behave in all respects as though they are independent of their humans. Prepubescent children’s dæmons have the ability to change form voluntarily, almost instantly, to become any creature, real or imagined (though there is an upper limit to the physical size they can attain). At some point during their adolescence a person’s dæmon undergoes what is called “settling”, in some universes, an event in which that person’s dæmon permanently, involuntarily assumes the form of the animal which the person most resembles in character.
This is particularly representative of a common mindset that we experience as we get older. With passing years, our personalities settle and we become less affected by the constant change around us, or we learn to prefer remaining stable. Old age is commonly associated with conservatism and the unwillingness to change (while youth is the opposite), and this is wonderfully executed by Pullman. Some other common examples that properly express the dynamic changes that people constantly undergo are Snape’s patronus (which switches from a previous form into a doe, though this is debatable) and numerous characters in the Inheritence Cycle that experience changes in their “true name” (a word or group of words in the Ancient Language which represents a person’s true self).
All this thinking about representation of oneself was not only a tangent thought from reading fantasy novels, but also an issue that I constantly wrestle with all my life. As someone who is still normally confused with what kind life he wants, understanding my own character and core personality has never been easy (and maybe it’ll never be); even answering a simple questionnaire about my personality (credit to EFuzzy) is no easy task for me. Perhaps this difficulty arises from how I’m afraid to accept my own faults, though, in contrast, it is considerably easier to think about what fantastical Harry Potter character or LOTR race I’m most similar to.
To close off the post, I found it fun (regardless of how pointless) to list out all of my personal favorite answers to the “what would you be…” for all the possible series I could think of.
ERAGON/LORD OF THE RINGS
Dragon Color: Black
Weapon of Choice: Sword / Bow and Arrow
Lightsaber Color: Green
Hogwarts House: Ravenclaw
Quidditch Position: Seeker
AVATAR: The Last Airbender
Pokemon Partner: Cyndaquil
Unit: Dark Templar