This story begins with Topaz Bond – The Call (1). To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.
After they buried the kola nut, Abelard and Opele left the oasis behind and walked for quite some time. Opele listened with interest to the chime voice and cello voice; sometimes they interacted with each other, sometimes they addressed her directly, sometimes they made other observations. The cello voice liked to quote lyrics. When it said “The tolling on the iron bell calls the faithful to their knees to hear the softly spoken magic spell,” Abelard responded.
“Hey, I know that one.”
Opele stopped walking. Abelard kept on for a few steps, then noticed her pause and wheeled to face her. She stooped, picked up a handful of blue sand, and threw it in his face. “You were in my head again!”
Abelard reared up on his hind legs. This looked impossible for his hippo side to accomplish. He shook his head, trying to blow the sand from his eyes by puffing a curled lower lip. “Hey! I can’t help it, Opele! You’re totally projecting those voices!” He dropped back down.
“I’m not doing anything with them, except maybe talking back once in a while. They do their own thing.”
“Well apparently ‘they’ like to broadcast. You might want to teach ‘them’ to contain ‘themselves,’ or you’re going to find it very hard to move stealthily in Aum.”
“I heard your singing from a mile away!”
“Yeah, well, I wanted to be found.” He shook his head again and blinked his watering eyes furiously. “What’s it like, anyway?”
“What’s what like?”
“What do you think it’s like? It’s not my job to educate you.” She rattled off her stock response. “Go read a book or take a class or something. There are plenty of voice hearers out there who have wanted to share their experience. Leave me alone.”
Abelard sounded plaintive. “I don’t want to go back to Earth! Not yet.” He continued to blink.
“There’s a way to get back?”
“With practice, powerful athletes can go back and forth, and can even bring people or objects with them. Us beasts generally can’t do it without help, like from the vortex. But why would anyone want to go back to sickness, old age, and death?”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned ‘the vortex.’ What is it?”
“Could you rub my eyes???”
Opele sighed. After Abelard closed his eyelids, she pushed from the bridge of his wide nose out to the corners of his eyes and down, a few times. The deer lid and the hippo lid felt surprisingly similar to each other beneath her fingers.
When she had squeezed out most of his tears, Abelard said “Thanks” quietly, and opened his eyes.
Opele felt unprepared for the intensity of his animal gaze, and backed away.
Thank you for reading! In my next installment, Abelard shares some hearsay about the vortex.
(Warning: This review may contain a spoiler at any time. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, reader, the film came out in 2005, I think I’m entitled.)
According to my favorite online etymological resource, the word “serene” (from which the title of this excellent film derives) has its origins in the Latin word serenus, translating as “peaceful, calm, or clear”. The term was used originally for weather, and in English has only been used to describe people since the 1630s.
I call this to attention because if there is one thing I have observed about Joss Whedon’s material, besides the fact that it is pretty uniformly awesome!, it is that names found in it are never chosen randomly. Sometimes the significance is extremely obvious, such as the choice to name a believer of religious texts “Book”, and sometimes the significance gets teased out when the name gets shortened, such as the choice to name a conventionally beautiful vampire “Harmony” and then refer to her by the nickname “Harm”. But the significance is always there, and I am sure the principle holds true for other proper names in the series for locations and objects, including Malcolm Reynolds’ Firefly ship, Serenity.
The diegetic reason for Serenity’s name is obvious: the final, decisive battle of the official war against the Alliance took place in Serenity Valley, and because Reynolds continues to wage a private, guerrilla war against the oppressive entity, it makes sense that he would proclaim that battle as if it were ongoing. But look past that skin. Why did Whedon choose to name Serenity Valley as he did?
The answer to this question is key to understanding the thematic heart of this sci-fi opus. Whedon’s central point is the juxtaposition of two opposing principles in a paradoxical unity: peace is only found through struggle. This is certainly true for Malcolm Reynolds as an individual character, but the stark horror of the fate of the population of Miranda relies on its awful truth for humanity as a whole.
According to Whedon’s painstakingly realistic future, when Miranda’s population was unwittingly subjected to an unavoidable (it comes to them through the process of respiration, the most basic process of life – according to ancient Jewish tradition, life begins with the first breath) chemical designed to get rid of aggression, they lost their will to live. Whedon’s underlying assertion is that life is inherently aggressive, and I believe him. On a basic molecular level, life is a process of constant transformation of energy. Making things different than they were before. Asserting that things must change to fit a new proposed pattern. No exertion of will… no life.
So what place do the Reavers have in this theme? To an extent, the Reavers are present for purposes of plot, and it could be argued that it is not realistic that they would be present more than briefly in the Firefly universe (I can’t see any reason why they would not eat each other rather than hovering in space waiting to prey, and they certainly don’t seem motivated to breed to replace numbers lost this way – and even if they got so far as breeding, do you really think a pregnant Reaver would live for a full gestation period without clawing herself and the fetus to bits?). But on a symbolic level, the Reavers are completely necessary as a dire warning about the theme’s implications. Life, as a process, is ferocious. When pushed, it pushes back. And the process of civilization has no equipment to handle the ferocity of its push. The Reavers came into being as a natural response to the Alliance attempting to meddle with the equation of life. Their percentage of the total population of Miranda was small – but the Alliance does not dare try to wipe them out because the depths of their ferocity cannot be measured.
Captain Reynolds and his crew, the story posits, are diverse points of dynamic tension to be found in an equilibrium between the absolute ferocity of life as a process (struggle) and the absolute smothering stagnation of civilization as a process (peace). They are peace inside struggle, united and integrated with it. They are S/serenity, to the extent that it exists. And the death of lovable Wash proves with heartaching conclusiveness just how fragile that beauty truly is.
My husband, who reminds me very much of Wash (as I noted in my review of the Firefly series), called Wash’s death “unnecessary”. I considered this point before responding to him, to the extent that anyone can consider anything when bawling their eyes out, and then said that I agreed – but only to the extent that death is unnecessary, period.
I wish Wash hadn’t died, just like I wish no one would have to die, because I love life. But we do die, and I can’t fault Whedon for including this element in this story, which from the beginning with its genre-bending has always been an exploration of what is truly timeless.
You may have noticed that this review is not structured like my other film reviews. Usually I use a five-paragraph essay format, intro, conclusion, three body points highlighting the elements of the film that struck me as most significant. I have chosen not to do that with this masterpiece, and I do not use that word lightly. The way the elements of Serenity reinforce each other does not lend to that convenient breakdown and structure of analysis. Nothing is excessive, nothing is wasted here; and even the elements that I found personally distasteful, such as what felt like extreme exaggeration of the Western speech patterns that I knew from Firefly, or the assassin villain who feels stilted, absolute, and too much of a scenery-chewer, even these elements I can recognize as “necessary evils” (ho, ho, ho, now I have a machine gun too!) critical to the success of the piece of art in its entirety. All I can say is what I have said before, In Joss We Trust. Whedon will never steer you wrong.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is like a geek version of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. It is designed to provide comfort to those who delight in imagination and flights of fancy. It paints in broad strokes of vivid color a world in which rascally heroes laugh, love, and yearn to regain youth, though the presence of the character of Sally proves to the audience that youth is as perennial as grass. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not made for intellectual dissection; in fact, it mocks the rational, turning the Enlightenment age of history in which it is set into an absurd parody of the twentieth century in which it was filmed. Still, despite his plea of “No doctors!”, I will attempt to dissect the good Baron. What makes The Adventures of Baron Munchausen great?
This film simply would not work if Gilliam and the rest of his creative team did not have diamond-brilliant senses of creativity. If this cry on behalf of the irrational were matched with fleshed-out explanations and logical structure, the clash between form and content would sink the picture. Instead, we get trips to the moon and oceans that meet at the center of the world and hair-ropes that can be cut at the top without falling until the oddity is commented upon. I will freely admit, I do not have the vision for this sort of thing. As the narrator of The Little Prince asserts when confronted with his inability to know from looking at a picture of a box what the sheep inside is doing, I guess I’ve gotten a bit like the grownups.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not cryptic. This is not David Lynch territory, where the viewer is left confused, alone, and shiveringly vulnerable by the side of the lost highway. Exactly as much explanation as is needed for the story is provided. The explanation provided may leave the viewer guffawing and slapping their knee and/or forehead – but it’s there. If you have the capacity to suspend your disbelief, the old archetype of the Hero’s Journey will never let you down. It has the undeniable ring of emotional logic.
The central conflict of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is, according to Psych 101 classes, as old as the human mind as we currently know it: Eros vs. Thanatos, or, Sex vs. Death. When the Baron, in his decrepit state, seeks out death world-wearily, it is the prospect of “beautiful ladies” that he cannot deny and still holds interest for him. The catch is, our heroine, Sally, is too young to understand either the attraction of sex (making the joke of the King of the Moon tickling the Queen’s feet possible) or the permanence of death (hence going to the embattled city’s wall and throwing stones at the invading Turks seems like a perfectly understandable course of action for her). So a secondary theme comes into play: call it Youth vs. Adulthood, or perhaps, Innocence vs. Wisdom.
I am not sure how long ago I first watched The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I want to say it was right around the time the film was released, in 1988, though I didn’t watch it in the theater. At any rate, I can’t have been much older as a viewer than Sally is as a character (I was certainly too young to care about Uma Thurman’s plunging neckline during her performance as Venus!). While I enjoyed it then, found it memorable, and would have considered it a good film, it is in watching the film with adult eyes that it becomes great. In that respect, I must again draw a connection to The Little Prince. It is only after the viewer has had experience with the phenomena being described in this type of art that the chord of recognition can be struck, and the work be appreciated. This particular breed of allegory is of limited use as a caution or warning to the unwary, and frequently is not even entertaining (I’ve heard at least one person who read The Little Prince as a child evaluate it as “weird” based on that reading). The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’s feverish zaniness (Robin Williams was the perfect choice for the King of the Moon, he provides just the right touch of lunacy for the part) can still entertain the kiddies, but it’s their parents who will chuckle contentedly at the one-liners and set-ups.
I found it remarkable just how well the special effects for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen have held up despite advances in the industry over the past 26 years. The skeletal Angel of Death was clearly not done with CGI. When I was young, it scared me well enough. This playthrough, I wasn’t scared a jot, but I didn’t need to be. The point of the film when seen by adult eyes is not to be scared, even when there is reason to be. Baron Munchausen is a hero who can walk straight into leveled guns and come out unscathed, or be struck down by a primitive sniper only to reveal that at some point, the film became a story-within-a-story, and when you ask the real Baron to please stand up, you should discover that you have lifted yourself onto your feet. In this film, reason is the enemy, so being scared when there is reason to be scared lets the enemy win. It is enough to know that there is an Angel of Death with a skull for a head, a cloak and a scythe. All the elements are there. The viewer can choose to breathe life into them or not.
I would not recommend The Adventures of Baron Munchausen to someone who does not have a good imagination. That is, above all else, the prerequisite for enjoying this film. Imagination is critical, but creativity is not; Gilliam and his team will supply you with all the pieces you need, all the moving parts, all the tools, all the adhesives, and the workspace. But only your imagination will make this paper dragon fly off into the marmalade sunset while marzipan harpies caw at the quartzy stars. If you can’t dream, don’t bother with this romp.
One night each year
to wear black velvet, crushed
by unseen hands.
One day each year
to dole out sweetness to
strange children wearing masks.
Burn black tapers now to summon
memories of shades;
paint your eyelids dark as the abyss
to make the horror sexy.
It will lose its power if you make it part of you.
Bring the gates that close off realms
down to the ground; lift the curtain
that parts half from half
high enough for crossing
space to space.
Mix and mingle with your loved dead.
Ask them for their wisdom, like a child asks
adults they trust implicitly
for food, drink, shelter.
They loved you when you saw their faces.
With all that they have seen,
they will love you now, just as truly.
Trust their voices, calling through the vapors
vanishing beneath an autumn moon.
The cycle of the year
has given you one blessed night
to burn through all the barriers
and see the other side of truth.
Make it count.
Basically, the story of the God’s incarnation begins at the year’s first Quarter, the Winter’s Solstice, when, after the year’s longest night, the darkness begins to give way to the returning light. The Light is reborn as the Sun — the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. The Yule celebration honors the annual Birth of the Holy Child as a time of joyful innocence, possibility and hope.
Halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox is the first Cross-Quarter Day of the Pagan calendar. This is Candlemas or Brigit’s Day or Imbolc, which mean’s “ewe’s milk” for the time of the year when the ewes begin to produce milk for the new spring lambs, when the infant God is a rapidly-growing child. The Goddess is beginning to awaken from her winter slumber and the sleep from which she gave birth, and in the growing warmth and Light of the Son, her fertility returns.
At the next Quarter-Day, the Vernal Equinox, the God is a young man, dancing the dance of returning life with the Goddess who is now fully awakened as the Maiden. Spring has returned; Persephone has been freed from her confinement in the land of death, and Demeter, rejoicing, brings the green and growing plants of springtime back to life.
At Beltane — May Day — the Cross-Quarter Day half-way between Spring and Summer — the God and Goddess celebrate their marriage, and all the earth celebrates with them. Their marriage is consummated at the Summer Solstice — and the God is consumed by his passion. The year is turning now back toward darkness, and the Summer-Crowned God dies.
At Lammas or Lughnasad — August 1 — the Goddess mourns the God’s death, which is actually his life’s fulfillment, and the God is buried, returned into the earth — to the Goddess as Death Crone and Eternal Mother. The God is now in the grain, which having lived to ripen, is now nearly ready for harvest.
At the Fall Equinox, the Harvest has come. The grain is cut down with thanksgiving for the life of the world that gives itself for the sustaining of life, and the god sleeps within the womb of the Goddess as she carries him to rule the Shining Realm Beyond the Waters. This Realm is part of the Netherworld, the place where the souls of the dead grow young again and prepare to be reborn.
At Samhain, the God arrives at the Land of Youth and becomes its ruler. He opens the gates between the worlds so that the spirits may visit their loved ones. His own spirit continually growing younger, within the earth, within the Goddess, he prepares for his birth to the again Virgin Mother — at the Winter Solstice… The Lord of Death becomes once more the Lord of Life (and if any of this sounds vaguely familiar from your Sunday School stories, that is not an accident)…..
This holiday cycle holds a poetry for me that I find lacking in those of Judaism and Christianity, the dominant religions of US culture. Going to family Christmas parties is very difficult for me now, because every time someone says “Christmas” I have to fight back the urge to say “You mean Solstice, right?”
This poem is a tribute to a secular or psychological reclamation of the holiday most US natives think of as Halloween, the time for children to gorge on candy, teens to toilet paper each other’s houses, and adults to ogle each other in costumes, yes, even the ones that aren’t intentionally framed as sensual – the holiday most Neopagans refer to as Samhain, or if you feel like having a Scottish brogue, Samhuine, the polar opposite of the love-holiday Beltane. Even as an atheist, I believe that it is a good idea to have certain days marked to remember certain aspects of my worldview. Kind of hard for me to call them holidays when that word derives from “holy” and I don’t know if anything can be “holy” without a deity. I guess “observance” might be a better word for what I have in mind.
Samhain/Halloween, for me, has become a time to acknowledge the value of fear. I believe there are many things in this world that it is appropriate to fear. Chief among these is dying. Note that I did not say death. There’s no more reason to fear death than to fear a dreamless nap. But the process of dying… being conscious of the fact that soon you will never be conscious again… that scares the dickens out of me. And I believe that is healthy. It’s also healthy to fear pain, in its sundry permutations, although it is possible for this fear to reach pathological heights and cause paralysis; it’s a fear that has to be worked through (and I suppose one day the fear of dying will be worked through too, simply by the process of time). Fear also has value in that it serves as the counterpoint to love. Just as without two eyes, the human brain loses depth perception and some actions become clumsy if not impossible, without both halves of the binary pair of fear and love, the human mind loses the ability to nuance its view of the world.
Ultimately, the significance of October 31 in your life is a delicate interplay of culture, subculture, and your personal perspective. I hope this poem has provided you with a way to re-image that significance. Stay tuned for a spooky film review tomorrow!