Friday, October 9, 2015

The Poet's Gift

We are a people of symbols. We are wired to recognize patterns and make associations. It is the cornerstone of human learning. From our earliest days, before we can even crawl on our hands and knees, we make connections between the light patterns, air vibrations, and other things that our senses deliver to us. As we grow, the picture these things paint in our minds is edited, with details being filled in and sections being painted over or cut out to form a more coherent whole.

Our symbol-recognizing nature has one effect that is particularly interesting to storytelling: it makes possible the use of metaphor. Through symbolism, we associate all kinds of things: sounds, colors, ideas, emotions, and more. Many of the things we associate seem to have nothing to do with each other, yet somehow most people make the same symbolic connections. This gives us the groundwork to write unimaginably rich stories, immersing the readers in a precisely crafted experience through all of their senses.

We use symbolism to teach each other
different ways of thinking and feeling about the world.
        The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man
        –Jan Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Paul Rubens

Consider the following two statements:

By feeling and understanding these connections, we can smith our words into sights, smells, and emotions to bring to our readers.

By feeling and understanding these connections, we can forge our words into sights, smells, and emotions to bring to our readers.

Interchanging “smith” and “forge” makes the two sentences feel different. The first speaks of the sounds of metal clanging against metal, of making words into tools to do things. If done well, the result is something to take pride in. The second sentence speaks of heat and creation, letting the words fall together to become a fine work, perhaps with some special value. If done well, the result is something to be deeply satisfied with. It is a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless, and such a choice of symbols can be the defining feature of a chapter, an act, or an entire story.

Symbolism is the soul of art. It is how the artist can touch our thoughts, whispering things into our subconscious minds. This gift of the poet is the key to the barrier between writer and reader, letting them commune at a level we may have thought impossible with mere words.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Star Wars Countdown IV: A New Hope

Not long ago in this very galaxy . . .

(Opening Fanfare)

It is a time of shaky peace on the planet Earth. Several deluded terrorist groups have attempted to sow fear among the first world citizens, with some success. In addition, the looming global threat of climate change threatens to drive thousands of species to extinction and make life miserable for human beings several generations down the line.

In the interest of securing a bright future for the planet, the Alliance of United Nations prepares for its 70th General Assembly, where the representatives of its countries will try to find peaceful and responsible solutions.

Meanwhile, in a small apartment near a Midwestern university, a young blogger excitedly anticipates the upcoming new Star Wars movie. In celebration of this film, he has decided to watch one of the previous movies and write a brief discussion of it each month leading up to the grand release of Episode VII. Now, he has come to Episode IV: A New Hope, where it all began....

Notable John Williams music debut (besides the opening fanfare): “Binary Sunset

This is the one that started the grand fantasy. When the boy in the desert followed the old hermit on an adventure to the stars, the hearts of millions were captured around the world in a storm that has lasted for generations. It landed science fiction a solid foothold in film, and lit the first spark of science fiction’s passion in my soul. Star Wars brought forth many iconic staples of nerd culture that have only grown stronger with the time that has passed.

Right from the get-go we were treated with the lovable droid duo C-3PO and R2-D2. 3PO’s insisting on proper behavior, based on his protocol programming, clashes brilliantly with R2’s mechanical “get the job done” directive.

Not five minutes later, a half-man, half-machine walks onto the scene in a black life support suit, with a mask that speaks of a life devoted to power and intimidation. He is Darth Vader, the trans-universal symbol of evil.

That's no moon.    
It's a space station.

The terror of the Empire, the death star was the ultimate weapon. Powerful enough to destroy planets, it was the perfect tool of fear to keep anyone who might question the supreme dominance of the Empire in line.

Next up, we’re given the lightsaber, the weapon of the Jedi Knights. Like a sword, but with lasery-like-ness for the blade. Everyone who saw the movie as a kid has dreamed of owning one and dueling some grim-masked bad guy.

And there is the Force itself. Though confined in this movie to the idea of a mystical energy, the Force may be the number one memorable aspect of all of Star Wars. A source of energy and power, with a light side and a dark side, the Force guides events in the galaxy and can be used to obtain superhuman powers.

Of memorable and iconic things in Star Wars Episode IV, many more, there are. If I were to write about each one this post would far too long. Here are a few more of them in one big Force-saturated montage.

It is hardly imaginable that one single movie could bring up so many things that have so thoroughly permeated the culture. Star Wars Episode IV has spawned not only five other movies with three more on the way, but hundreds of novels, comics, and video games spanning tens of thousands of years in the galaxy’s timeline. Heck, “Jedi” is even an official religious affiliation in real life. It is unfortunate that the Legends—that is, all of the media besides the movies and cartoons—have been de-canonized, but they still remain as a testament to the timeless legacy of A New Hope.

Star Wars Countdown:
A New Hope