Not the Monthly Post

The Fall of the Chosen Ones

I’ve long since stopped trying to second-guess where to look for insights into the crisis of our time and the first stirrings of the future ahead. I read a lot of news and a lot of blogs, covering a non-Euclidean landscape in which the conventional categories of Right and Left are temporary agglomerations at most, but as often as not it’s a data point from some other source that gets me thinking and sets one of these weekly essays in motion. In this case, it was a review of one of my novels, and the response I got when I talked about that review on my Dreamwidth journal.

I think most of my readers are aware that my writing includes a certain amount of fiction, and that the most recent product of that end of my work is a series of fantasy novels that stand H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos on its head and play merry hob among the cyclopean ruins and tentacular horrors thereof. Those novels have fielded a modest number of reviews, mostly quite favorable. I was startled, though, by a detail in one recent review of the fourth book in the series: the reviewer was flabbergasted that the main character of that book was just an ordinary person.

The reviewer was quite correct, of course. The protagonist of The Weird of Hali: Dreamlands is an elderly professor at a small Massachusetts college who’s coping with terminal cancer. She has no superhuman powers, no mythic identity, no grandiose destiny, not even a spandex suit and a cape, just a fair amount of curiosity and a stubborn streak. These and a good helping of sheer dumb luck send her tumbling head over heels into an adventure in that strange dimension of being Lovecraft called the lands of dream, as a result of which—well, I hate spoilers as much as anyone else, so let’s leave it there, shall we?

She’s not alone in that state of ordinariness. Nearly all the protagonists of my novels and short stories are ordinary people who end up in extraordinary situations. The one lead character who’s got abilities that stray a little past the human—Jenny Parrish, the protagonist of The Weird of Hali: Kingsport—is otherwise a very ordinary young woman, notably mostly for a bookish streak and an unusually plain physical appearance. The others? Some of them are odd in one way or another, as indeed many of us are; none of them are paragons in any imaginable sense. They’re people like you and me, and their struggles to deal with the wildly unexpected events of a fantasy adventure provide much of the entertainment value of the tale.

So it didn’t surprise me that the reviewer noticed that Miriam Akeley is an ordinary person. What startled me was that he found this astounding. I pondered that, considered some of the recent fantasy fiction I’ve read (or, rather more often these days, started to read, got bored, and set aside), and took that to my Dreamwidth journal, where among other things I post musings about subjects not yet ready for this blog—and I got an earful.

Apparently for decades now—since about the time I got bored, for entirely different reasons, with most of the latest offerings of fantasy and science fiction—those genres have been packed to the point of nausea with endless retellings of the same basic story. You know that story already, dear reader, even if you’ve never opened the cover of a single fantasy or science fiction novel. It’s the story of the Chosen One: the spunky, unfairly treated kid or young adult who’s far more talented than anybody else and who’s been marked out for a big shiny destiny. Maybe he has a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, maybe she’s got unparalleled numbers of macro-handwavians in her blood, maybe—well you can fill in the blanks for yourself.

The character in question doesn’t have to do anything or learn anything to get assigned the status we’re discussing, by the way.  No, the Chosen One is the Chosen One because he or she or fill-in-the-pronoun is the Chosen One, that’s why, and that’s also why the entire plot and, in too many cases, the entire cosmos revolves around that particular character. What’s more, the Chosen One is always special.  He or she or what have you is always set apart from the rest of humanity by being specially special in some excruciatingly special way that alone can solve whatever problem is central to the plot, and vaporize whatever Evilly Evil Lord of Evilness is causing the problem out of pure pointless malice. (That’s another neurotic twitch central to too much modern fantasy, but it’s also a subject for a different conversation.)

Not every such story is quite as dreary as this summary sounds. I’m not a fan of the Harry Potter books—the boy wizard and his chums barely held my interest through the first few books and lost it completely in the fourth—but I’ll grant that as Chosen Ones go, the Harry of the early books is a little more interesting than most, largely because he retains an entertaining capacity for doing the kind of dumb stunts that kids his age generally do. There are many other stories about Chosen Ones that are far, far duller. The extreme form is the sort of story that consists, in effect, of placing the Chosen One on a rotating pedestal so that every admirable quality can be displayed at a variety of choice angles—and those are quite common these days.

I should clear away one potential misunderstanding at once. There have been stories like this since people first started telling tales. Sir Galahad, from the overripe latter days of the Arthurian legend, is a great example. Christian mystics love him and nobody else can stand him, because he’s the Chosen One and he can do no wrong; he sets out to find the Grail, goes through a predestined set of adventures, finds the Grail, and promptly dies in a vast billowing stench of sanctity and is wafted away to heaven. It’s because the rest of Arthur’s knights and ladies are far more ordinary, and thus far more interesting, that anyone bothers with the Arthurian legends at all.

For that matter, the guy who invented the English novel—Samuel Richardson—had a clunker of the same variety. His first two tales, Pamela and Clarissa, were romance novels featuring lusty villains in hot pursuit of reluctant heroines. (Yes, you read that correctly. The very first English novels were bodice-rippers.) His third, Sir Charles Grandison, also had a reluctant heroine and a lusty villain, but then there was the main character, the aforementioned Sir Charles, who was a moral paragon of the dreariest sort. For example, when he and the villain are about to duel over the heroine, what happens? Why, Sir Charles lectures the villain on the evils of dueling, and sure enough, the villain is so overwhelmed by this display of pompous priggishness that he renounces dueling on the spot. It gets worse, but some of my readers may have eaten recently so I’ll leave further examples unmentioned here.

The thing to keep in mind is that back then, Richardson wasn’t the only game in town. His novels inspired the first actually good English novelist, Henry Fielding, to pick up his pen and unleash a series of counterblasts: first, Shamela, a good hearty parody of Pamela; then, Joseph Andrews, which does Shamela one better by taking the basic plot of Richardson’s first two novels and swapping the genders, so that innocent young Joseph is pursued by a lustful noblewoman, resulting in one hilarious escapade after another; and then Tom Jones, generally considered the first great English novel, a thumping tale (in any number of senses) about a young, good-natured, and not exactly chaste young man who stumbles from adventure to adventure and bed to bed until happiness and true love finally catch up with him.

The history of English-language literature from then on features a small number of Sir Charles Grandisons and a great many Tom Joneses—that is to say, a small number of characters who are paragons of perfection and thus stunningly dull, and a much vaster number of more ordinary characters who lead more interesting lives. When William Morris up and invented fantasy fiction in 1895 with The Wood Beyond The World, the same basic division applied. Morris was a genius at making ordinary, believable, vulnerable characters the center of his imaginative worlds. The hero of The Wood Beyond the World, for example, is a young merchant named Walter, who gets away from a catastrophically failed marriage by taking the next ship to anywhere; adventures follow. He’s an ordinary guy in an ordinary situation who ends up in an extraordinary tale.

In Morris’ next novel, The Well at the World’s End—the greatest work of fantasy until Tolkien’s day, and still one of the best works in the genre—the protagonist is named Ralph, and he’s about as special as that sounds; he’s young and rather silly, in fact, and among the many themes of that very complex novel is the process by which this clueless young man achieves greatness.  In case you’re wondering, yes, Morris has female characters, and they’re not merely ornamental, the way most of Tolkien’s are. Ursula, the female lead in The Well at the World’s End, has a long journey of her own and takes charge of the quest for more than half the way; Birdalone, the heroine of The Water of the Wondrous Isles, comes out of a ghastly childhood and becomes strong and capable to a degree that puts many of the heroines of today’s woke fantasy to shame—and somehow Morris does all this without assigning any of his characters a birthright of special powers or a bright shiny destiny.

Do I need to go on to Tolkien, and Bilbo Baggins, who (hairy feet and all) probably counts as the most embarrassingly ordinary character in all of fantasy fiction, if not all of literature? No, let’s skip over Bilbo and the countless other perfectly ordinary characters who encounter perfectly amazing adventures in fantasy fiction, and take things right up to the brink of the transformation I want to discuss. Yes, that would be 1977, when Luke Skywalker suddenly became a household name. In the original Star Wars movie, later retcons aside, he was a callow, clueless farm kid who happened to have an interesting father, and because he was in the right place at the right time when the right two droids came tumbling out of space onto the isolated desert planet Tatooine, he got swept up in a grand adventure.  Luke isn’t special—in fact, for most of the movie he’s hopelessly out of his depth—and it takes him a long journey through danger, love, grief, and encounters with an ancient wisdom, to get to the point where he can do exactly the right thing at the right moment, and save the people and the cause he cares about.

In 1977, Luke Skywalker was Everykid. (That’s why I went to see the movie seven times in its original theatrical run, at the UA 150 cinema in downtown Seattle; if you sat in the front row, the opening scene with the Imperial ship thundering overhead was almost hallucinatory in its intensity.)  So was Bilbo Baggins, and his nephew Frodo as well. So were hundreds of other heroes and heroines in the fantasy and science fiction I devoured by the ream in those days: the eponymous protagonist of Edgar Pangborn’s Davy, who was clearly a distant descendant of Tom Jones; Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the best of Michael Moorcock’s many iterations of his Eternal Champion mythos; Menolly of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, the entire cast of Andre Norton’s scores of novels, and many, many others. So, to jump genres, were Kwai Chang Caine, the hero of Kung Fu, the last TV show I ever watched regularly, and Emil Sinclair, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s visionary masterpiece Demian. Even the characters who were special in some way—Paul Atreides of Frank Herbert’s Dune is a good example—were far from flawless and had to rise, struggling all the way, to meet the challenge of their destiny.

Then there’s Rey, the protagonist of 2017’s The Last Jedi. Rey’s the antithesis of Everykid. She’s so specially special, she’s literally unable to make a mistake or to fail at anything she attempts.  That is to say, she’s Sir Charles Grandison with a sex change and a light saber, and she’s every bit as stunningly dull as her 18th-century equivalent. There were plenty of other reasons why The Last Jedi got a frigid reaction from a great many former fans of the franchise—you can read a good thorough critique of its stupidities in this review by SF author John C. Wright—but the sheer boredom that comes from watching an invincible character go through the motions of being in danger made a good hefty contribution to that.

Rey is an extreme case, but she’s not alone. Consider the endless rehashing of old comic books that’s become a nervous tic of Hollywood studios now that they’ve given up on being creative. Partly, of course, the Baby Boom generation is well on its way to senility, and recalling the passions of childhood is something the old often do.  Partly, too, like every other art form, movies had a certain notional space to explore and consume, and that space was used up by the end of the twentieth century. Within a half century or so, as cinema follows the usual cycle, new movies will be no more common than new grand operas are at present, and film will survive the way classical music does today, by replaying and appreciating the classics. In the meantime, cultural necrophilia is the usual last stand of an art form approaching death.

But the endless dreary parade of superheroes and superduperheroes also fills the same soporific niche as For The Love Of God I Hope It’s The Last Jedi. Superheroes are special; that’s their sole excuse for existence. Some few of them—Batman and Green Arrow are among these—are relatively ordinary human beings who become extraordinary through harrowing experiences and fanatical self-discipline. (It will probably not surprise my readers to find out that these two were the ones featured in the comic books I read most passionately as a kid.)  Most of them, though, are special because they’re special, and their adventures have to feature a constant parade of gimmickry of the Kryptonite variety in order to meet the first requirement of good storytelling and give the audience some reason to care about what happens to them.

I could go on at considerably more length, but I trust the point has been made. Where ordinary characters thrown into extraordinary situations used to be the bread and butter of imaginative literature and its equivalents in other media, an enormous amount of storytelling for the last couple of decades has fixated obsessively on people who are special, not because they’ve done anything to achieve that status, but simply because of who they are. They’re better than other people, and because they’re better than other people, they’re set apart for some grand and glittering destiny, which usually means that they alone get to decide what happens to the world.

Now take a few moments to think through the political implications of that obsession.

It was precisely because he was Everykid that Luke Skywalker inspired a generation. I know that I was far from the only teenager who treasured that first Star Wars movie, because what it said to us was that we weren’t stuck forever in our equivalents of Tatooine. It didn’t matter that we were nothing special, because neither was he.  He taught us that we could rise to face the challenges that confronted us, learn some metaphorical equivalent of the ways of the Force, and aspire to be in the right place at the right time to do something that mattered.

That’s not what Rey and her endlessly regurgitated equivalents have to teach, though. What they teach is that there are certain people who are special, important, destined to greatness, not because of what they’ve done or learned or overcome, but purely because of who they are. Those are the people who matter, and if you’re not one of the special people, you don’t matter and can’t expect to have any kind of role in determining what happens. You can’t learn the ways of the Force or do anything of any importance—that’s for the special people, not for you.  All you can do is choose between two rigidly defined alternatives. You can stand passively by, admiring the special people, applauding them for being so special, and doing what they tell you as they go through motions they claim will save the world. Alternatively, you can get in their way, in which case you must be evil and will be annihilated.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that this is deliberate propaganda—it’s too crassly blatant for that, and it’s also a money sink on the grand scale. It’s not just Hollywood that’s flushing billions down an assortment of heavily marketed ratholes, after all. The big corporate publishers in New York City have had to rent warehouse after warehouse in industrial districts of New Jersey to hold millions of unsold copies of novels that were supposed to be bestsellers, that were marketed with every trick known to Madison Avenue, and that made prodigious bellyflops because people turned a few pages in a bookstore or clicked on a sample online, rolled their eyes, and bought something less stunningly dull instead. If you’re running a deliberate propaganda campaign and people aren’t buying it, you change your approach; you don’t double down and make sure your next project has more of every feature that drove readers and viewers away from the last one.

No, I think what we’re seeing is the product of the ideology of the industrial world’s managerial caste, the people who earn absurdly large salaries deciding which novels are going to get picked up by the big corporate publishers, which scripts are going to be turned into Hollywood films and publicized from here to Tatooine, and so on.  More precisely, I think we’re seeing that ideology in its extreme form, the kind of thing you see when the defenders of an belief system have been driven to the last ditch. The producers of The Last Feeble Excuse For A Jedi didn’t have to go out of their way to vilify the character of the insufficiently special Luke Skywalker, nor did they have to go quite so far in presenting Rey as a plaster saint for public adoration; the fact that they did both these things suggests that they know they have nothing left to lose.

I think we all know who was supposed to be the Chosen One in the 2016 election, and she lost. Too many of those ordinary people who were supposed to stand by admiringly, applaud on cue, and do what they were told, while their soi-disant betters decided the future of the world, noticed that the Chosen One was chosen by a corrupt and arrogant clique of career politicians in the teeth of widespread popular distaste, and either stayed home on election day or cast their vote for the most embarrassingly ordinary presidential candidate of modern times. The frantic attempts to find a new Chosen One since then have had very mixed results at best—I suspect one of the reasons behind the wild adulation being poured out on current media darling Greta Thunberg is that her story, at least as massaged by the managers of her glossy and well-funded publicity campaign, so closely echoes the stereotyped origin story of the special characters we’ve been talking about.

Exactly how all this will play out will have to be seen over the years immediately ahead; I have my guesses, but guesses is all they are.  One way or another, though, I think it’s pretty clear that the time of the self-proclaimed Chosen Ones is running out, and a rather more Skywalkeresque era may dawn thereafter. One way or another, dear readers, if you find yourself thinking that you have to wait for some special person to fix the world for you, it might be a good idea to ask yourself where you got that idea—and you might also consider going out of your way to find things to read or watch that will remind you that people as ordinary as you and me really can rise to challenges, take action, and change things.


  1. It’s really interesting that you mention unsold books pushed by publishers. I was just reading about James Daunt, who turned around Waterstones, the bookseller chain in Britain, by forswearing the payouts from the publishers that let them dictate what you sell. Instead he (gasp!) encouraged the local managers to promote what they thought would be of interest to their communities. The percentage of unsold books returned to publishers went from 20 to 4!

    So obviously paying people to promote books that don’t get sold is a losing proposition, yet it went on for long and is still happening at Barnes & Noble (which Mr Daunt is about to take control of). So it’s not money influencing the behaviour, but ideology. I thought of this parallel when you mentioned what we’re seeing Hollywood crap out onto the world.

  2. The idea of writers using a recipe of “central-figure-as-super-hero” reminds me of some comedians referring to sex and scatological humor as the easy way to get a laugh, Comedy Hamburger Helper, as it were.

    Talented comedians could take everyday people in everyday situations and with an insightful angle, and make us laugh at our human foibles.

    About a decade or so ago I recall coming across a few different novels whose main characters, while seemingly ‘average’ in every way, had a “knack for finance” and money always saved the day. Like The Chosen, that recipe got old real fast.

    I once remember former Missouri governor Eric Greitens, a Stoic, writing that he thought the fascination people had with SEAL team operators was the ability of regular folks to transform themselves. I don’t think we’re that deep as a species, they are our super heroes, our “Chosen”, in the flesh.

    Like Ayn Rand on public support, we’re all just human…

  3. John–

    Something that occurred to me after my first read of this week’s essay is that the notion of a chosen one presumes that the arc of events has an exogenous purpose. That is, as we’ve discussed the term “evolution” on this blog–adaptation to changing circumstances versus terrain with a pre-existing gradient and thus a direction–such a person serves the theme of existence in some way by enabling or furthering its goal.

    But, of course, if there is no goal (or, as Whomever She May Be has told me, “the point of the Dance is itself”), then the notion of anyone being an extra-special chosen person is rather nonsensical, as there is no purpose to be furthered.

    If, rather, each of us chooses his or her own direction and purpose, and creates his or her own life–which is how I am beginning to understand the Dance, as this great, ongoing creation to which we each contribute our own part–then we foster our own power and manifest our own will. Which, I suppose, is precisely what the narrative of the “chosen one” seeks to prevent: one cannot have the unwashed masses manifesting self-empowerment, after all. How could one possibly control that?

  4. Greetings ADJMG! Hope you are well,

    There’s a recent series on Amazon video that flips these tropes. “The Boys” is about superheroes who are mass produced through the secret giving of “superhero steroids” to infants by an evil corporation that wants to profit off marketing them to America. The public is told that superheroes are chosen by god, not a marketing committee. The superheroes secretly have terrible human flaws, such as drug addiction, made worse by their extraordinary power. In contrast the good guy human characters trying to stop them are one dimensional.


  5. There’s that old saying about how every insane asylum has its Jesus and Napoleon. The yoke of the Chosen One strikes me as rather obviously the yoke of madness. If you have been consigned to this status there is no way to take corrective action if one has erred, hence one is doomed to do the same thing and expect different result, hence insanity.

    Indeed, last night I stayed up reading an excellent translation of Euripides’ _The Bacchae_ and I must say, the Chosen One strikes me as having more than a mere touch of Pentheus…

  6. Yeah, I haven’t seen any of the Disney Star Wars movies, but Rey is what Internet fan-fiction refers to as a “Mary Sue”. And anyone who has any familiarity with Internet fan-fiction culture knows that there’s nothing more dreary and unentertaining to read than a Mary Sue Story. The only reason I can think of for the new Star Wars movies continuing to make money is that it is still able to coast on the fumes of the original trilogy and to a lesser extent, the vastly inferior prequel trilogy of the previous decade. Disney’s plan is to just crank out one after another of those turkeys until they stop making money doing so, and at this rate, I’m guessing that’s going to be sooner rather than later.

  7. I think this is related to your topic… maybe… Anyway, Ran Prieur made this remark recently:
    “…a quick note on jury duty. …. one thing I noticed was how unattractive everyone was — or really, how the media skews our perception of the attractiveness of the average person. For example, on a show like Masterchef, the contestants are supposedly ordinary people, but every person on that show is hotter than every person I saw at jury duty. …. “

  8. I think I watched the first Star Wars movie closer to 18 times. I found it a revelation in my early twenties( late bloomer I guess). I gave up on SF and fantasy stories because they were so repetitive. I don’t read much fiction these days, present blog author excepted, because I generally get the feeling that the author is either become very formulaic or that they are trying to manipulate their readers.

  9. I’m not sure the dichotomy is as cut and dried as you make it to be here. Young adults will refer to their ‘super power’…a talent the feel is their trusted strong suit. Perhaps part of the story, at least, is that we all have shiny elements that need to emerge and take action. The perspective here is that in a myth or dream all characters are part of a single personal or cultural ‘system’, for lack of a better term and the complexity is in the interrelations of less complex characters.

  10. To follow on with Dave By The Lake’s comment on the unwashed masses: That was also the difference between the romance and idealization of drug use in the ’60s versus the crapulization of drug use in the ’70s. In the ’60s drugs, for the most part, were the domain of the educated and intellectual searchers. By the ’70s, drugs were used by EVERYONE and were considered more like just too much warm Miller Highlife.

  11. For me the most insulting feature of the Star Wars series is we’re expected to believe that nobody ever realises that if you’re trying to build and maintain an interstellar empire, planet-killer weapons are not an efficient use of military resources. None of them have even survived an hour in battle conditions. I’d have loved if in one of the later films the rebels received intelligence on the Planet Smasher Mk8, but it turned out it was planted false intelligence. So when they jump into the system it’s supposedly being built, there’s no superweapon, but the entire sky is full of medium-sized Star Destroyers in battle formation, each with a fighter wing aboard. They’ve spent all their resources on practical and versatile weapons systems that actually work. That’s how you’d really trap Admiral Ackbar. 🙂

  12. I think it also ties in to what you’re saying here that the “creative” minds behind Disney Star Wars appear to be doing everything in their power to insult and further alienate long-time fans of the franchise who find these latest incarnations dreary and depressing. “Silence, yon peasants, you are not the Chosen Ones and we are!

  13. Dear Mr. Greer, I would be very interested in your take on great American novels, most of which, such as Moby Dick,, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Rise of Silas Lapham, for examples, don’t seem to be about sex at all.

    I take it the theme of the special, special person, in your view, is not a reworking of the motif of the Fair Unknown, Gareth of Orkney being perhaps the most famous example?

  14. JMG I have to ask how much of the new Disney Star Wars have you watched? Or maybe a better question is how much movie popcorn did you spill laughing at these films?

  15. What you describe as well is part of why I love Latin American literature so much; the characters tend to be eccentric, to do interesting things, and get into bizarre situations. All the while being fully human. This is also why I find so much inspiration in the immense creativity of African American culture. The Blues is not about being the Chosen One, of course. Neither is the music of Louie Armstrong, or the novels of Toni Morrison. A film that I really cherished in my misspent youth is Spike Lee’s _Do The Right Thing_ and guess what? Every character is flawed, interesting, and the film builds masterfully to an immense and powerful catharsis. Spike Lee mentioned in an interview that white folks would ask him if Mookie, the protagonist, managed to do the right thing. He noted that no black person ever asked him that.

    On account of that I seriously wonder if the popularity of the Chosen One is on account of Calvinism, with its intense focus on the Elect. Equally, I wonder how much of The White Man’s Burden has snuck into the modern iteration of The Chosen One. The Civilized amongst the Savages, or what have you. There is always a little bit of the missionary in the Chosen One, their Mission being themself. Seriously, it seems like all sorts of supposedly outdated Victorian mores have snuck into this archetype. Perhaps this is an example, then, of the more things change the more they stay the same.

    It seems that other cultures are not beholden to the same sort of imbalanced archetype. Indeed, I wonder to what degree the Chosen One is related to the Unbalanced Power of Tiphareth. The Chosen One is, to my mind, clearly very Solar and in a very imbalanced way.

  16. Oh, and ditto on the Seattle UA 150/Star Wars … except that I was taking the kids to see it 🙂

  17. Agreeing with all you say, I’d like to point out another turn-off which is that in quite a few books the “hero” is boring not because he’s a Sir Galahad but for the opposite reason, i.e. he’s a total slob. Admittedly it sometimes works – Jack Vance’s marvellously picaresque “Cugel the Clever” saga is a case in point. But it only works with lashings of of humour.

  18. 1977, after an hour in line the only seats were in the front row. I thought I had out grown juvenile sci-fi. The stuff we had smoked in line was much stronger than expected, I was not a regular pot smoke, so it was rather hallucinating…I still have not seen the last three, which considering the impact of the first, speaks volumes.

  19. Maybe the actions of a culture in its final days become reflexive? Merely a pre-wired twitch of the muscles with no real thought behind it anymore. Media managers advance in careers, playing it safe, and come into their positions with little real life in them. So the whole cultural apparatus has a “phoning-it-in” feel to it.

    Neither they, nor we (who should hold them accountable, lustily) believe it’s worth trying to change things anymore. We are hemmed in on all sides by complexities, by vested interests. Really, we’d like to just go to sleep.

    I see a parallel here with the “excitement” around automation of every kind. Tired of sorting your vacation photos? Let Google create a little video, choosing music for you and fancy Ken Burns-style cuts. But…but that used to be part of the fun!

    No one will look at those photos, of course.

    As our lives are automated we can drift into sleep. Our bots will watch the movies for us. If the movie is sufficiently like another “good” movie, then we’ll call this one good, too.

    I completely agree about Harry Potter. A real snooze. I’ve got to check out William Morris, sounds incredible!

    Only the edges of things will be interesting for a long, long time.

  20. I can’t relate it back to the culture at large, but as far as fiction goes, I see something much more prosaic. When I read The Hobbit, Bilbo wasn’t exactly the most interesting character. That was Gandolf. So of course I’d want to read some stories about wizards. So of course a writer is going to add some abilities to make the main character more interesting… and then you have bloat, and someone has to come along and simplify again. Happens in music and religion all the time.

    Accretion and distillation, over and over.

  21. I think of the popularity of “The Chosen One” centering around the “Me” generation. That’s the label we tail-end Boomers had during the early Reagan years, as the U.S. shifted from the anti-war and pro-peace movements of Vietnam to a cranked up Cold War, with the new oil fields in the North Sea and Alaska fueling the last binge on fossil fuels. Most kids raised in that era by parents who lived or were affected by the Great Depression were treated as “special”, and we’re living with the aftereffects today. Little did I know (though I was quite aware how spoiled I was) that the “Me” generation was getting plenty of competition from older Boomers and members of the Greatest generations, as the riches provided by fossil fuels and policies of infinite growth allowed both the government and private sectors to expand wildly.

    Today we’re living with 60+ years of mass media influence, and I suppose it could be debated which is cause, and which is effect, when so many of the habits and values in society were re-enforced by television, movies and popular books of the time. I recall when cable got hooked up in our neighborhood, and my dad was horrified at first because he worked for a local ABC station, and knew more channels meant more competition which meant lower revenue. But as soon as he found ESPN, I never heard another complaint about cable.

    It’s this incredibly self-centered focus on “Me” that seems to make the predicament of Long Descent so scary. Many of us have a better understanding of limits, balance and the cycles of history having followed your blogs, JMG. But I agree most are looking for a Chosen One to fix things, as being a good and productive citizen is too much work. And while I can look to the future with some positive angles, what gives me pause is the effect it will have on the majority of the population – which seems to be very unprepared for what’s coming down the pike…

  22. JMG,

    As the superhero stories of my childhood matured with me into (sometimes) serious, award-winning films, I’ve noticed that they had to deal with a few fundamental issues at their core, and perhaps the biggest was the conflict between their characters being a Chosen One and an Everyman. Being a superhero means, by definition, that they have to be especially capable, and a human character like Batman can be very interesting – but there are still sharp human limits on what they can do in a story. On the other hand, as you mentioned, the more super-human a character is, the more they can do, but the less relatable they are.

    Most writers, especially in that genre, struck gold with some hybrid of the two: Luke Skywalker can be a Chosen One by having a particular talent and lineage, but still must train, make mistakes and earn his victory. I personally loved the X-Men comics, who – on their good days – had characters that were born with superhuman abilities, but no superhuman wisdom in using them. Characters born “mutants” could choose to use their powers for personal gain, and many did – and even when some chose to use their abilities to fight for a moral code, they had different leaders, like Xavier and Magneto, espousing conflicting philosophies.

    In a piece I wrote for the American Conservative a few years ago, defending the current fashion for superheroes, I pointed out that there has never been an interesting story about Superman. Any interesting story is about Clark Kent. Clark Kent has the power to leave his desk, punish his bullies, and reveal himself at any moment—and every day he must refuse to turn the stones around him to bread. He must endure casual disrespect from the woman he loves, knowing secretly that he is the man she loves. That makes for an interesting and sympathetic character in a way that a man in underwear throwing giant things does not.

    In the more recent films, though, I noticed that one relatable aspect of the character was removed. He seems to spend almost no time as Clark Kent, and the characters close to him all know his identity. The film-makers seem determined to double-down on Superman as the Chosen One, and surgically removed any humanity from the story. They also removed any concern for the ordinary people killed in the destruction he causes, which – as I was one of many to point out – sort of disqualifies him as a hero.

  23. You write:

    … the entire cosmos revolves around that particular character. What’s more, the Chosen One is always special…

    So the Chosen One is a Mary Sue.

    What I’d like to see is a fantasy where there’s a Mary Sue, whom the other characters get tired of, and defeat.

  24. Thank you for mentioning Andre Norton. She was, and remains, one of my favorite authors. Back in jr. high I characterized her stories as ” young person gets screwed by the universe but manages to make a place for themself”. All of those characters had it really hard from the get go and just wanted to have a decent life, like all of us. When my parents divorced in 8th grade I found a deep solace in the idea that I could still fashion a good life as those far flung “friends” of mine had.
    I am still a fan of sci-fi and fantasy but not a whole lot has piqued me recently, Peter Hamilton’s Reality Disfuntion series was the last best new thing. And of course most anything by James Blaylock or Tim Powers. After coming back to Lovecraft ( after a particularly frightening dream in high school) I began to wonder why, exactly, were the Old Ones evil? They were different, but “evil?”, I’m not sure anymore. I have yet to read your take on the mythos, discretionary funds being in short supply, but I look forward to it.
    Your criticism of Rey is spot on. Frankly it’s what bothered me about episodes I, II , and III; that inevitability of destiny thing is boring. I had the same problem with most of the series “High Fantasy” of the 80’s and 90’s. Most of it seemed comic book in it’s plot sequencing.

  25. Great essay as always, JMG, and much food for thought. You’ve nailed why I’d rather get my cavities filled or clean out the contents of eight month old stir-fry Tupperwares in the back of the fridge rather than see a superhero movie or its endless sequels. Watching the Boomer generation and its sycophants grasping at the phantasms of their faded glory by attempting to reanimate the corpses of beloved comic book heroes according to woke principles is like seeing a fifty-six year old woman with butt implants: it’s grotesque. I’ve never connected it with the attempt to ordain a clueless, technologically and ethically retarded monster of entitlement to executive power in the US, but yeah, if the delusion fits…

    The thing that irritated me most about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey was the perfection of its characters. Every single character in both series, male or female, was a Mary Sue. People were not allowed to be ugly in those books/films, and the few disabled or old characters were virtuously caricatured into saccharine cartoons, like Santa Claus if he were missing his legs. I couldn’t make it through either series — I made it through part of one sequel on both and became so incensed, I wrote a parody novel called Shadeylight:

    “Meet Vella Vaughan, hottie coed at Sharts Community College, the innocent, young, chestnut-haired, virgin sweet dreams are made of. When tri-color haired billionaire and concert pianist Xavier Cash sashays into her life, he sweeps her into a world of sexual intrigue that endangers her chances of wearing magical long underwear on her wedding night.”

    In my parody, characters are part fairy, part unicorn, part vampire, you name it. Cash is extremely well-endowed and is besties with Lang Lang. I think I made one character fifty percent vampire, twenty percent troll, and forty percent leprechaun (rules of math be damned). This was my unsubtle critique of the Sookie Stackhouse novels/True Blood series, which jumped the shark by forcing its characters to assume every variety of magical creature and anthropomorphic beast and to go to each’s respective world. Oooh, and don’t get me started on all of the aforementioned movies and novels and their vapid obsession with female virginity.

    So there you have it, the older generation’s graceless clinging to past stories and past glories succinctly encapsulated by JMG in a single essay. Supposedly Fifty Shades made its publisher a ton of money, and they handed out their first bonuses in a decade, but at what cost? We all saw the piles of Fifty Shades books at Half Price Books, a good many of them unread. The problem with forcing the lowest common denominator on the general public is that serious readers only skim-read that garbage to see what all the hype was about. Maybe all of this is a sign that we’re collectively ready for substantial characters with authentic inner lives and a lack of window dressing, whether in fiction or in politics. I hope so.

  26. Yes! And Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Kim O’Hara, in fact all of Kipling’s heroes, Heinlein (until he got to Stranger in a Strange Land. Even so…). All the third sons and younger daughters in the fairy tales….. even, for heaven’s sake, Thor!

    [From my professor’s translation of one of the tales: Thor and Odin, on opposite sides of the river, arguing. Odin “Who’s that peasant calling me from across the river?” Thor: “Who’s that pipsqueak answering back?”]

    The stories of the period about the Special Child always ended up with him or her thrown among the common folk and having to scramble for a living and learning a valuable lesson thereby. Captains Courageous. A Little Princess. Mary and her cousin in The Secret Garden (the real hero of which was the gardener’s boy).

  27. The Mary Sue/Gary Stu/perfectly perfect annoying protagonist is so common in fanfiction that it has spawned its own genre of parodies, as well as a smaller number of interesting desconstructions and takedowns of the whole chosen one idea. These latter are fairly few and far between. The parodies are common, especially in the Lord of the Rings fandom, which is notorious for its unusually high proportion of Mary Sues.

    And while taking a class on Arthurian legends, I read Fergus of Galloway and nearly fell over laughing as he’s one of the most over the top examples of a Gary Stu I’ve ever seen. This really is older than print.

  28. Dax, I’m delighted to hear that sanity is beginning to creep back into the bookselling business — it’s not accidental that the period in which publishers dictated which books went on the shelves was also the period when one bookstore chain after another went broke. Shall we draw a conclusion about the problems of making economic choices on the basis of centralized authority, rather than letting people choose for themselves?

    Rancher, oh, no question, it’s a gimmick for those who don’t want to work hard. The thing that interests me, though, is the way that it went from an occasional gimmick to a mandatory requirement in imaginative fiction and media.

    David BTL, an excellent point! You can’t have a Chosen One unless the narrative is already scripted. That’s another gimmick that sometimes works well in fiction, but it can be overused. In real life, it’s as common as hippogriffs…

    Dashui, interesting. Thanks for this.

    Violet, an excellent point!

    Mister N, that’s Disney all over. They really do have the reverse Midas touch — anything they handle turns to crap.

    Nancy, I spent some time in public spaces with TVs recently, as a result of some train travel and assorted events at the far end. Have you ever noticed the way that everybody on television has that peculiar kind of fleshless build that you can only get if you have the kind of privileged lifestyle that lets you eat a cubicle-worker’s diet and spend hours each day in the gym? That’s what passes for attractive these days. (To my eyes, unused to the ongoing televised spectacle, they looked gaunt and plastic.)

    Jonathan, thanks for this! I hadn’t yet gotten the email from KMO.

    Kay, it really was a grand movie. Pity Lucas got too rich too fast, and lost his way.

    Alantabor, I think you’ve missed my point. I’d suggest that it’s because the media keeps hammering on superpowers that young people have to conceptualize whatever talents they have in those terms — a nice bit of what the Situationists used to call detournement, turning the rhetoric of the Spectacle against itself.

    KevPilot, true enough!

    Yorkshire, hah! That’s a very good point. One of the most pervasive features in mass market fantasy and SF these days is that the bad guys always do whatever will make it easiest for the good guys to win. That goes all the way back to Tolkien. Years ago I read a thoughtful essay analyzing the strategy of the War of the Ring and pointing out that Sauron quite literally chose the worst possible approach — the only one, out of all the options available to him, that gave the other side a chance of winning militarily. I sometimes wonder if the reason so many people lose it so completely when their opponents do something smart is that subconsciously, they’re assuming that since the opponents are Bad, the rules of the game require that they act in ways that let the self-defined Good side win.

    Mister N, exactly.

    Nastarana, that would be a discussion for another time. The very short form is that the American literary tradition is an offshoot of the English literary tradition, and by the time it emerged, English writers had also gotten past their early focus on sex. As for the Fair Unknown, er, did you not notice that I mentioned that the theme of the Chosen One goes back a long ways?

    Doll, I stopped watching the series after the first of the prequels; I take in very little visual media these days. I based my comments, as noted in my post, on comments on my Dreamwidth journal entry.

    Violet, I think the Chosen One theme has its roots in Calvinism, and in various other places, but it’s got much more specific antecedents in the particular socioeconomic arrangements of recent decades and the rise of a culture of managerial elitism.

    Nancy, I caught the bus up from Burien, WA on weekends to take in the first showing, and got there a couple of hours in advance so I wasn’t too far back in the line!

    Zendexor, of course! The opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea, and a paragon of filth and loathesomeness is usually just as dull as a paragon of virtue. Jack Vance could probably have carried off a Chosen One novel, too, though I don’t think he ever did — quite the contrary, his novel The Gray Prince is among other things a brilliant and very edgy sabotage of that trope.

  29. I’ll be honest and admit that I like chosen one stories more than it sounds like a lot of people here do. It’s a trope that has been overused, and often falls flat on its face these days, but it has its place and I can and do enjoy them.

  30. Young whippersnappers, Mary Sue was around long before the Internet, having made her first appearance in a Star Trek fanzine in the ‘70’s. If I find the article again, I’ll post it.

    Auto correct is getting kinky. It tried to change “whippersnappers” to “whips Apple.” 😳

    As late as the ‘90’s, Richard Adams was able to get Mary Sue past the editors. Maia, in his novel of the same name, is incredibly beautiful and every man she meets falls in love with her. She saves the day several times with her astonishing talent (at least he only gave her one). She tries to stop a war by giving her side’s plans to the other side, but is forgiven because she’s just so goshdarn adorable. (I always wondered how General Sherman or Genghis Khan would have reacted to someone who did that.)

    If you don’t want to track down obscure fanzine stories, Maia is a good example of the classic Mary Sue. Oddly enough, the same book has a fun, if melodramatic, female villain. And the world-building is as good as always. (When Adams was writing about people, instead of rabbits, he was only worth reading for the world-building.)

  31. This narrative of the “Chosen One” is definitely hard at work in the collective psyche of the world. Counting how many people tell me that something cannot get done because of not being a member of the chosen class is like trying to count the stars. Many people say this with complete belief in what they are saying, although there are quite a few who say it with disdain. A lot of people are aware of the hypocrisy in thinking one person is more special than another, especially if they are special just because of a birthright. The political implications of this are huge, and I definitely agree that many politicians, such as Hilary Clinton, definitely acted as if they were a superheroine and nothing could stop her from taking the throne of glory so rightfully hers. It is astounding really how many politicians, rich, and so-called leaders act as if they are invincible. Companies are so obviously guided with this principle in mind. Something many, if not most, of the “elite” have forgotten is that the superhero’s made ordinary people feel safe. Today, many act as if their presence should make everyone safe. It doesn’t work that way. A few, very important details of the story line have been forgotten. So while the safety blanket of “inclusiveness” is presented in a symbolic form, those of in touch with reality are quite aware that they have not been included.

  32. While there is so much empty hope in the escapisms by technotopia or “Chosen Ones”, there is one real on! “…people as ordinary as you and me really can rise to challenges, take action, and change things.”

    I am unnerved from the amass of void ideas to save the world and do indignantly oppose them. It may give the notion, that my idea is that all is lost.

    True, I despise those fruitless attempts, to present technotopian or even cornucopian miracles in order to save the day, or those big daddy fantasies of a “Chosen One”, a saviour who opens us the door to heaven already on earth. Those I see as hubris, illusion and empty self-aggrandizement.

    Yet I see a new world shimmering on the other side, by going with the tide. Here I mean using ways to suffice or survive. To make oneself more resilient, getting better through collapse and into the dark age.

    Haven’t given them too much thought yet. I consider it to be such things as getting out of the way where collapse hits hardest. Searching and using ways to ride the wave, i.e. prospering in collapse, or collaborating and assisting with others to survive collapse. Primary is all what kept you in good terms with yourself and with others, being the real you.

    Such I understand JMG´s words: “… people as ordinary as you and me really can rise to challenges, take action, and change things.” This is hope of the realistic type.

  33. It has probably already been noted in the comments above mine, but if not here goes:

    Ironically – or not – the explicit theme of The Last Jedi was that Rey was not special, at least in the sense of having special parentage or heritage or training or “privilege,” and the end of the film suggests that she heralds a new age where the good, special-by-being-unspecial co-produce knowledge of the Force. Where once the Force was something mysterious that permeated all life, and then it was hippie mitochondria, the Force is now more like UBI than something that takes focus, discipline, training, and *gasp* hierarchies.

    Ma-Rey Sue was special, as you note, in just being herself – which like all of us means being able to wield a light saber like a pro on the first try, fly the Millennium Falcon like Maverick on the first try, take out three TIE fighters with one shot on the first try, etc.

  34. Harry Potter plays a twist on the Chosen One theme, though not until the fifth book. Voldemort hears a prophesy about a Chosen One, and decided that Harry is it. There were actually two boys who fit the prophesy’s requirements; the other was Neville Longbottom. Harry is the Chosen One only because Voldemort chooses him.

  35. “If you’re running a deliberate propaganda campaign and people aren’t buying it, you change your approach; you don’t double down and make sure your next project has more of every feature that drove readers and viewers away from the last one.” Well, perhaps, unless you think you’re a Chosen One and therefore can do no wrong…

  36. Darkest Yorkshire said, “…planet-killer weapons are not an efficient use of military resources.” For some reason (cough cough Twilight’s Last Gleaming) that left me thinking of a nuclear aircraft carrier with a deck full of F-35s…

  37. It’s common to point out the Dark Lord’s motivations make no sense: no one is evil for the mere sake of being evil; a realistic villain is someone who wants something so badly that they are willing to act unjustly to get it, or even more commonly someone working to attain an apparent good while rationalizing their actions. And those are just the true villains: an antagonist who simply has conflicting interests is even more realistic.

    Perhaps a similar diagnosis needs to be made of the Chosen One: perhaps the notion that you can be good for goodness’ sake is also confused. “Why be good?” is, of course, a question that’s bedeviled ethics since approximately forever, but probably only came to a head when the notion of various things being goods – that is, valuable – got abstracted into the notion of “The Good,” in its full Platonic glory.

    There’s a thought experiment that I can’t find right now (if anyone else can link it I’d be grateful) in which you find a magic amulet that releases you from the moral law: while wearing it you can do anything you like and it won’t be immoral for you. So you go out and adopt a kitten and torture it to death. You still feel guilty, you still get in trouble with the law, it still ruins your relationship with a future partner (turns out it was her kitten who had gotten lost and picked up by the shelter), etc. The point of the story was: what’s actually different by the fact that it wasn’t strictly speaking immoral?

    So perhaps a realistic hero is not someone who loves Goodness Itself, but someone values certain things that happen to be good, and who is willing to take risks to attain or keep those things, while maintaining a sense of perspective.

  38. I know Star Wars fans on the East Coast who also watched the opening sitting on the front row. However, I also know at least one father-son duo who quite proudly swore they slept through the entire first SW movie; not sure I believe them.

  39. It seems that in the contemporary cultural scene of “polite society” there is an almost direct correlation between Plot Armor and Safe Spaces. It’s almost like the uninspired writers of these vapid dreck pieces basically act like helicopter parents to the dull characters they create.

    Also, speaking of contemporary pop culture, I think there is one big huge exception to the Chosen One trope that’s so ubiquitous today: that is George RR Martin’s (still unfinished) series of novels: A Song of Ice and Fire…or better known as its TV form, Game of Thrones. In this rather Machiavellian fictional setting, every character is rather flawed, if not outright amoral and power-hungry. Fans expecting their Mary Sue Chosen One character (which she never was in the first place) to reign triumphant in the end were massively let down, as she turned out to be the bloodlust-filled mass-murdering tyrant than any astute reader or viewer predicated she would precisely become. As rushed and nonsensical the last season one, at least there was a stroke of sanity in the end.

  40. Hi JMG,

    I love ‘specially special specialness’ as a counterpoint to ‘evilly evil evilness’. Certainly both fixations reflect the extent to which our culture is captured by hopelessly simplistic, black&white
    narratives about practically everything. It’s a depressingly vapid, one dimensional, colorless landscape In most every instance. Who are the chosen and who’s doing the choosing? It’s rather self evident that our ruling self proclaimed chosen ones are losing their grip and I have to confess I rather enjoy watching them squirm and sweat!

    @Violet ” The Blues is not about being the Chosen One, of course.”

    I don’t know Violet…they say Robert Johnson found his mojo after a meet up at the crossroads with the Devil!


  41. Dennis, it does indeed.

    Michael, Oswald Spengler would agree. In his view, a civilization has about a thousand years of actual creativity, and then settles into a steady state in which the healthy arts all repeat old classics as perfectly as possible (think of classical music today) and the quest for novelty turns for a while to sheer gigantism before guttering out completely. We’re in the twilight perion of our civilization’s thousand years, and that kind of phoning it in is what comes right before people shrug and go back to watching Casablanca for the twentieth time instead.

    Nothing Special, I think that’s part of it, but it’s not the whole picture. Not every author is doing the accretion-and-distillation thing; there are also new things happening — just as Tolkien was doing something radically new in his day. We happen to be in a situation where until quite recently, most of the fantasy that saw print was published by a small number of big publishers owned by giant corporations, which did (and still do) a lot of gatekeeping — a process that excluded anything that didn’t fit the ideology of the corporate flacks that ran said big publishers.

    Drhooves, I ain’t arguing. That’s why it’s important to have conversations like this one, and try to get alternative ideas out there.

    Brian, I ain’t arguing. A good superhero story can be a good story; I retain my youthful fondness for Batman and Green Arrow, and may just go looking for a good anthology of old Dr. Strange comics one of these days after a reader posted a spirited defense of that particular comic character. Every culture needs its larger-than-life heroes — but please, by the Eye of Agamotto, can we not have them turn into plaster saints who double as political fashion statements, with a double scoop of virtue signaling over the top?

    Paradoctor, yep — the Chosen One is a Mary Sue for the privileged classes. Please write that novel!

  42. I think a good bit of this generation have been trained to only look for the appointed authorities in their lives to guide them for their choices. A decade ago I was at a hotel in Boston where a prom was being held. The atrendees had to show up in a bus, no private transportation was allowed. The kids were screened and ‘checked in’ and then ‘out’ of prom later that night. No opportunities to screw up, these kids are too special to risk poor choices. These are the same kids who live programmed lives by moral authoritarian super safe parents. All school choices, dressing, extra curricular activities, play dates—all decisions made for them. They have no organic time to be bored, invent something to do, get into trouble, suffer the consequences and actually learn. Bored kids born of a consumerism culture where every life choice is a transaction in ‘correct choices’ made by somebody else.

    No wonder they are aloof and bored. We set up entire tent cities to coach…..I mean worship them on the soccer field. Fields full of kids so special they all have last names for first names. So special that their special soccer leagues literally travel across the country for tournaments Passionate about nothing they have yet to live. Fill them with Ritalin and reprogram their defects.

    I’m so thankful I grew up when my parents scarcely knew where I was, what I was doing, the classes I was taking. I made plenty of mistakes and nobody sent me to counseling or doped me up on happy pills. What a disservice the world did to this super special, super safe generation. Now let’s all burn a few bicycle helmets, put the sunscreen away, take off the seatbelt and live a little!

  43. Martin’s characters are reverse Mary Sues. Mary Sue is unbelievably good, his characters are unbelievably bad. Except for the ones, like Beric, Tyrion, and the Hound, who have a handicap or deformity. Methinks Martin had a hard time in school for being so short.

    The exception here is Caitlin, who was bad before she was a zombie and didn’t reform after being zombified.

  44. @JMG – Hmmm… I grew up loving the original Star Wars trilogy, and have seen both the new ones. I think Luke has more than a little ‘chosen one’ in him. After all, he is the son of the most evilly mc evil villain in the galaxy (at least in the first movie), and I don’t recall the original film ever explaining how Luke knows how to pilot an X-wing just in time for the climactic attack on the first death star. Of course, as the series moves along through Empire and Return, we find out that Luke is very much special due to his lineage, even if he is not, per se, the ‘chosen one’
    As for Rey, I think a lot of the criticisms leveled at her character are a mixed bag, at most. Is she a bit too ‘good’ at solving every challenge she encounters? Yes, BUT in Last Jedi, Kylo Ren makes a point of telling her that she is no one special, and that her parents sold her for drinking money. If anyone is the ‘chosen one’ in the new films, I would argue that Ben Solo is the more ‘chosen’ of the two, and his ‘chosen-ness’ turns him to the dark side. I suppose you could argue his arc is more interesting than Rey’s, but I’m not sure her character is quite are dreary and one-dimensional as you’re suggesting.

  45. Mentioning Adams and his rabbits reminds me. I’d like to recommend “The Cockroaches of Stay More,” by Donald Harington, which does for cockroaches what “Watership Down” does for rabbits. It’s a unique fantasy. It’s available for $1.99 from time to time on Kindle.

  46. RE: Game of Thrones

    Laughing Sage, et al

    Thanks for spoiling the ending for me 😉

    A good reason George R.R. Martin has made a realistic story line was the fact, as he admitted, to basing the story on real history, specifically the War of the Roses. I was shocked with how many people actually enjoyed watching the show, but it was evident how special people felt certain characters were when a petition was started to change the ending. Kudos to Martin, and HBO, for not giving in. That show really touched a chord with a good many people. On the day of the season finale, my place of employment actually made provisions to allow people the day off to deal with the ramifications of the ending. That speaks volumes of the situation society is in. Drastically out of touch with reality so that a story, which was definitely emotionally charged, left people do distraught that they couldn’t function.

  47. I sympathize with your frustration over “Chosen One” narratives. They’re politically reactionary and almost always boring.

    But I think you’re being a bit unfair to The Last Jedi.

    First: I’m not a huge fan of the film, but I get what the director (Rian Johnson) was going for, and it’s much more in line with the sentiments you’re expressing than you give it credit for. This comment is not about whether it’s a good film; it’s about whether it’s fair to call it a “Chosen One” narrative, especially by way of contrast to the original trilogy.

    Second: Johnson was constrained by the choices made by JJ Abrams in The Force Awakens, which was in my opinion a featherweight trifle of a film, a superficial homage to A New Hope that poisoned the well for any future entries. Most of the “Chosen One” tropes you point out about Rey were established in that film. I would submit that Johnson did everything he could to undermine and reverse the Chosen One narrative established by Abrams.

    Third: The original Star Wars trilogy is structured as two or more adventure narratives running in parallel. Typically, the audience gets to jump back and forth between (1) an epic, mystical narrative centered around Obi-Wan (in the first film) or Luke (in films 2 and 3), (2) a more conventional swashbuckling adventure centered around a hero with feet of clay, typically Han (or Lando in film 3), and (3) a comic misadventure centered on the droids (and sometimes the Ewoks in film 3). You’re right that the Chosen One narrative doesn’t kick in until the second film; this is what gives Luke’s character arc some richness, as he moves from Ordinary Boy to Chosen One, and the films’ dialogue even comments on this shift in the tone of the narrative (“Luke? A Jedi? I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur.”) I agree with you that switching back and forth between these different levels of the narrative gives the films a nice, rich texture that is missing from straight-up Chosen One stories that pick their Mary Sue and track her scene by scene for the film’s entire run time. But the Chosen One stuff is all there, and it comes to the fore by the end of Return of the Jedi.

    Fourth: The recurring motif of The Last Jedi is precisely that it is ordinary people willing to put in the work and make sacrifices are more important to the good fight than either magical Chosen One wizards or hotshot mavericks who are willing to risk it all on a roll of the dice. Luke Skywalker, revered as a kind of god through TFA and the first half of TLJ, is revealed as all too human, fallible, and ultimately impotent in the face of the enemy’s forces. His status as an unbeatable Chosen One master wizard is ultimately revealed to be, quite literally, a trick of the light that can do nothing to defeat the bad guys. He’s the Wizard of Oz. Even the hotshot cocky pilot Poe Dameron is revealed to be an irresponsible, impulsive liability to the good guys. Instead, as in the original trilogy, the climax of the film cuts between parallel narratives of the “Chosen One” Rey and the decidedly ordinary Finn and Rose. And then Rey herself is revealed to be an Everywoman after all: no magic bloodline, no divine prophecy, just a nobody born to nobodies on a nowhere planet.

    So you can not like the film (I think I may be with you on that), but I think it’s a bit unfair to cite it as a “Chosen One” narrative when it spends its entire runtime actively working to undermine the stupid Chosen One mythology that was built up in the first three films and reinforced in each entry since.

    Also it has Luke drinking green milk from space-walrus nipples, which is pretty sexy.

  48. Do you remember who wrote the article about the strategy of the War of the Ring? A general search just brings up a tabletop game.

    That kind of in-depth analysis also reminds me of reading a spoof Marxist commentary on Hieronymus Bosch paintings (could have been some Bruegel as well). I remember it being on a blog like Crooked Timber or Lenin’s Tomb, but unfortunately can’t find it now. It really played with the theory and terminology, and had lines like “When the guy building the tower goes on strike, who do they get to scab? The guy with all the scabs?” 🙂

  49. The mention of television reminded me of the fact that television shows, Facebook accounts, and all the other stories on mass media have a profound and forcing-into-line effect on especially the younger part of the population (at least women). Young women today often look stiff, glued to their smartphones, and overly fashionable in a salary-class-looking way as if there were a deep-seated fear of being an individual.

    And the warehouses full of unsold books reminded me of the purported fate of the Library of Alexandria. I wonder if these books will end up as heating fuel or as fillings for cushions and the like. A shredder is quite suited for the latter kind of things.

  50. I blame the concept of “learned helplessness.” It seems like a lot of people do ill considered things, then when it goes badly for them, they expect mom or the govt. to make it all better. I know MANY people who could do a lot more to become more self sufficient, but they refuse to make the effort. Is the person we choose for president really going to fix anything?

  51. As a filmmaker I have to say your comment about the creeping obsolescence of film stung a little, perhaps because I have a sneaking suspicion you might be right. It certainly seems like no one really cares about films anymore, but talking to people they usually say it’s because the movies are terrible. I have to say I have the same reaction to most of the trash that comes out these days, I’d really rather just watch Seven Samurai again.

    But I’m far from sure this means the notional space of film is filled out, to me it seems to have only been filling out in one direction: that of spectacle. When it comes to depicting emotions deeper than the surface level, mood and atmosphere, interiority and subjectivity, anything beyond the obvious, I feel film remains pretty unexplored. It was something filmmakers used to explore, which is why those golden age Hollywood films are so delightful, but it all got tossed aside in favour of wowing the audience with gimmicks.

    I’ve often thought that technologically there may not be a future for film, since it’s so dependent on so many different industries, but I guess I’m just hoping there still might be room for someone like me. People still write plays and novels, after all.

    I am also sick to death of chosen one narratives, and like ordinary protagonists much more, though I perhaps like mine a little more introverted and inhibited than most people. Personal bias, no doubt!


    Regarding your comment about opera, I recall a couple of years ago I was given a free ticket to an opera version of The Merchant of Venice written between 1968 and 1982 by Andre Tchaikovsky (not that one), and found it a thoroughly miserable experience. I came out ranting that the melodies were so atonal that they could have been made up on the spot and you’d be none the wiser, and that every time someone started singing a soliloquy, I thought “Oh God, there’s another thirty lines of this.”

  52. I think one of the most effective uses of ordinariness was in the television series Columbo.

    The murdering elite WASPs who he inevitably put behind bars were always quietly overjoyed at the beginning of each episode, when they saw for the first time the shambling, forgetful, lower class, socially inept klutz who was had come to investigate them.

    In fact, Columbo would make a good parable for the politics of our age – an elite who are so convinced of their superiority that they are totally unable to see through the signifiers. Trump and Boris Johnson are both rather Columbo-like, with the former’s lack of airs and graces and the latter’s shambolic appearance.

  53. Dear Mr. Greer – I was never much of a superhero fan, and, particularly not a Batman, fan. But I saw a trailer for one of the newer movies (which one? Who can keep track?) and there was a line that was so … refreshing. Someone asks Batman what his super power is. He deadpans, “I’m rich.”

    A situation I find myself in, that I think may relate. I occasionally find myself telling a young person, “The rock star and super model who are you’re REAL parents, are not coming to get you, and take you away from your (perceived) dull and boring life. If you want an interesting life, you have t make it, yourself.” Sometimes, they get very thoughtful. Most often, not. Lew

  54. I guess Hillary Clinton is an example of a Chosen One whose superpower is boring the electorate. The more she spoke the less likely people were to vote for her.

    In contrast the Dark Orange Lord is very entertaining because no one ever knows what he will say or do. Covfefe indeed. And he talks like a New Yorker you would meet in a bar. No filter.

    I think your post struck a nerve because we are fed up of the tedious “heroes” the elite serves up for our consumption. Biden seems to be the elite’s new Chosen One and he comes across as both senile and sleazy. He even forgot Obama’s name and then had to call him “my boss”. Another winner for the elite 😂

  55. John, of course you didn’t enjoy Harry Potter. They are boarding school stories with a twist written for teenagers. I saw one of the films and quite it liked but I loved boarding school stories as a child.
    I am not a fan of Fantasy or SF. One of my children really liked Fantasy as a young teenager and I read some to have a talking point. I remember Eddings, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Also read some others. Never do any more
    When I read anything with a touch of Fantasy as a kid I really was interested in the ordinary bits. Perhaps I didn’t like Superman so much as Clark Kent. Never thought of that before.
    I have no special talents for which I am very thankful. I know lots of people who do have them but they don’t really. Do you think it is my duty to point this out to them? Perhaps not.

  56. Lady Cutekitten, Richard Adams also wrote The Plague Dogs, which was made into an animated film by the same people who did Watership Down. I haven’t seen it but it’s supposed to be even more traumatic to watch, so it must be really bad. For other good animal-based books I’d add The Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis. Antagonists include rats, a cat, an owl, and evil magic. Yay even more childhood trauma. 🙂

  57. Kevin, Andre Norton was one of my half dozen favorite authors in my teen years, and her books still stand up well to rereading — she could pack more story into a thin little 30,000-word paperback than today’s self-indulgent authors manage in a 500,000-word trilogy. As for Lovecraft, that was a core reason why I wrote The Weird of Hali — the Great Old Ones don’t strike me as even slightly horrible, and all that rhetoric about those evil cultists who practice human sacrifice, where have we heard those claims before?

    Kimberly, hah! That sounds hilarious. Thank you also for the butt implant comment, which is spot on.

    Patricia M, exactly!

    Pygmycory, that’s one of the reasons I stay away from fanfic. I encountered it in its first fetidyouth in the form of those dismal Star Trek fanfic anthologies of the 1970s, backed away making the Elder Sign, and haven’t gone back. As for Chosen One stories, sure, they have their place — it would just be nice to get something else for a change!

    Your Kittenship, Richard Adams was one of those unfortunates who had one really, truly great story in him, wrote it, became famous and rich, and then was expected to keep on producing fiction anyway. I’m quite sure that a hundred years from now Watership Down will be remembered and everything else he ever wrote will be consigned to a merciful oblivion.

    Prizm, true enough. Batman made the people of Gotham City feel safe because he was actually out there, night after night, carrying on his mad vendetta against crime. If he spent all his time in the Batcave admiring his reflection in the Bat Mirror, not so much…

    Hubertus, exactly. In the real world, great changes are made by ordinary people making ordinary choices.

    Monster, that is to say, Unfortunately Not The Last Attempt To Cash In On The Jedi was riffing off the myth of meritocratic elitism, rather than the myth of hereditary elitism. Rey’s equivalent in our world are those people from merely middle-class backgrounds who spend their entire youth jumping through the baroque array of hoops that get you into Harvard, and graduate into some position of privilege. It’s just as toxic as the myth of hereditary elitism, because it still fixates on the notion that some people are just naturally perfect, unlike the rest of us.

    Terry, it would have been a much more interesting tale if Neville Longbottom had turned out to be the Chosen One after all, and Harry had been left standing there going, “But what about me?”

    RPC, there’s that! Nothing guarantees failure more effectively than believing your own PR.

    James, that’s an excellent point, on several levels. I’ve been brooding over a post on the fallacies of contemporary moral thought — fallacies, that is, on both sides of the spectrum, the post-post-postmodern as well as the traditionalist — and that metaphor brings up one of the core points I’ll want to discuss.

    Jenxyz, I suppose it’s possible; there are people who enjoyed the remake of Ghostbusters, after all.

    Sage, I like that! I hadn’t encountered the term “Plot Armor” before — thank you for that — but you’re right that a lot of bad authors like to make their stories safe spaces for their pet characters, with predictably dismal results.

    Jim W., here’s hoping!

  58. @JMG,

    Plenty of interesting thoughts here – this idea of the “Chosen One” taking over literature will take a while to unpack. About Tolkien, though, I think his work was more of a mixed bag than a triumph of the Everyman – Frodo and Sam may not have been Chosen Ones, but Aragorn certainly was. Though I’m curious as to what role Tolkien’s religious sensibilities played in his decisions to balance choice and destiny in the way he did – it seems to me as though a completely unscripted world would not have appealed to him.

    As for the new Star Wars trilogy, I too feel like it was a letdown – as are so many movies today – because of the sheer instantaneousness of the hero’s transformation. To compare: In the first trilogy, Luke doesn’t wield his lightsabre at all in Movie One, in Movie Two, he confronts the villain prematurely, against his mentor’s advice, and is defeated, and he isn’t able to stand on his own until Movie Three. Nowadays, Rey picks up a lightsabre and is immediately a match for the current Sith Lord.

    By the same token, I actually liked the new Rocky movies (Creed and Creed II) because they were true to the idea behind the 1976 original, wherein the amateur hero knows full well that he isn’t going to go out and win the championship on his first try, so he sets the more reasonable goal of lasting all twelve rounds, and doesn’t actually become champion until the sequels.

    But on the whole, I do share your belief that the Chosen One mythos is a good way for ordinary people to avoid doing something about the problems in the world around them. I think that the run of superhero-filled CGI-orgies that are leading the box office today may well qualify as the apotheosis of the idea that ordinary people and their thoughts and actions are irrelevant.

  59. It does seem that the masses are being taught that Chosen One or Hero is a synonym for Job Creators and having a big bank account is a special kind of superpower granted only to the best people bestowing all sorts of privileges and obligations like fighting the evil Poor Guy and his Immigrants minions.

    I can’t help imagine now a reverse superhero movie where the superpowers are passed on to their children and fighting people is how they steal more power. The heros form an elite class with utter contempt from normals and later on it shows they set up normal people as evil masterminds so they can fight them and secretly steal more of their health and power. Of course normals figure this out in the end, turn on them and find out the so called heros have a glass jaw.

  60. I’ve already watched Casablanca at least 20 times. It’s good that the time of the “Chosen One” is closing. It will improve our politics. One of the multiple reasons I couldn’t vote for HRC was her status as the “Chosen One”. (It’s her turn) With HRC it didn’t seem to be a public image, she really seemed to believe she was the chosen one. I for one have had enough of know it all -smartest person in the room- Presidents.

  61. D-trox, the thing that gives me hope is that that sort of appalling jail-cell upbringing is only inflicted on the children of the upper 20%. The neighborhood I live in is mostly working class, and there are kids (of every skin color, btw) playing together unattended in the local playgrounds all the time. They walk or bike to and from school, and do all the other things that kids in a healthy society get to do. That was just as true in the poor, mixed-race neighborhood in the flyover-country town where I used to live. It’s only the children of the overprivileged that are being rendered incapable of independent life…

    Ben, in the original movie Luke was the son of an ordinary Jedi — the “I am your father” business came in later. (That’s why I specifically excluded the retconning of the later versions.) As for Rey, as I noted above, she’s simply upholding the myth of meritocratic elitism as contrasted to the myth of hereditary elitism. A character who can’t make mistakes and can’t fail is a puppet, not a person.

    Boštjan, thanks for this. Maybe common sense is beginning to creep in…

    Picador, first, notice that you’re dragging in the rest of the first trilogy. I specifically talked about the first movie, not the (much less interesting) sequels. Second, as I’ve noted twice already, The Last Jedi is pushing the myth of meritocratic elitism against the myth of hereditary elitism. It doesn’t matter what Rey’s background is, the fact that she cannot make a mistake or fail at anything makes her a plaster saint rather than a human character, and reinforces the theme of elite superiority; if you have to go through a learning curve, and aren’t superhumanly gifted at everything you try, you’re not Rey — that is, you’re not one of the special people. (In our society, that means that you weren’t perfect enough to get accepted at an Ivy League college and be assigned a position of privilege that way.) The meritocratic myth and the hereditary myth are equally toxic — and equally opposed to the idea that ordinary people with ordinary skills and talents, who can fail and have to learn, can accomplish things that matter all on their own.

    Yorkshire, I wish I did! I read it close to two decades ago, in the early days of the web — I think, though don’t quote me on this, that I got there via the links page on a Tolkien fandom-and-sarcasm site called “Gothmog’s Little Corner of Hell.”

    Booklover, of course they’re scared of being individuals. There’s no surer way to be excluded by your terrified peers than to express an unapproved opinion or do an action you haven’t been told to do by the media.

    Dana, the president of the United States is an elected administrator, not an elected deity. It’s because so many people load so many impossible expectations on what is, after all, just the head bureaucrat of the executive branch that we’ve had so much political dysfunction of late. That said, who ends up in that office does make a difference, since the head bureaucrat has some latitude in choosing policies and can make things better or worse in certain areas.

    Llewellyn, I’d certainly encourage you to keep on exploring; the only way we’ll know whether cinema has finished filling in its notional space is if such explorations consistently fail. As for opera, the irony here is that I’ve just finished writing the second of two novels (The Shoggoth Concerto and The Nyogtha Variations) about a young musician and composer who can’t stand fashionable atonal music either, and ends up embarking on a career writing Baroque music. In the second novel she composes a chamber opera in that style; given the Lovecraftian themes of the tale, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the libretto is that famous play, “The King in Yellow”…

    Phil K, hmm! Fascinating. I never watched Columbo, but I heard a certain amount about the show back in the day, and that makes sense.

    Lew, I like that! Exactly; Bruce Wayne is rich, he’s obsessed, and he’s willing to go to extremes to live up to the demands of his mad crusade for justice. He has a gym in the Batcave and works out by the hour — can you imagine most superheroes having to do that?

    Bridge, good! I rather like the phrase “The Dark Orange Lord.” No doubt before long he’ll be being called “Lord Orangemort” and the like…

    JillN, I know quite a few adults who raved about Harry Potter, so I don’t think it was out of place to point out that he bored me.

  62. Wesley, with regard to Tolkien, no argument — that’s why I stressed The Hobbit and Bilbo, who’s as un-Chosen as you can get. To my mind Aragorn was one of the weak points in the trilogy — as Strider, he was good, but the closer he got to his bright shiny destiny the duller he got. When and if I get around to my epistolary novel on the same theme, working title The Lord of the Crimson Land, the Aragorn-equivalent is going to be exactly what you’d expect from a guy that had been raised all his life to believe that he was the rightful king of Everywhere.

    JC, write that story! It would be a fun read.

    Christopher, got it in one. The slogan “I’m With Her” was so revealing precisely because it showed so clearly that, in the minds of Clinton and her flacks, it was all about her: all about being one of the cheering minions following the Chosen One to her destiny. Thank the gods we were spared that.

  63. Glad to see it isnt just me. My favorites books, movies and the very occastional TV show I hear about, are all the ones that are very realistic about the flaws in us.

    One book and movie that did get a lot of attention and featured this was Fear and loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. A very honest depiction of folks just out to serve their own needs in a drug fueled weekend in vegas. Its not a great book by any means but it is at least fresh in its perspective.

    When it comes to comedy, that is the gold to me. Those that can be completely honest about the silly things we do. I always called it “The monkey in the man”, man wants to be nice and proper, the monkey just wants what it wants and now, we are the fight between the two states.

    One movie that I would recommend to folks is Being John Malkovik (1999), it is a very good depiction of a somewhat esentric everyday person who suddenly finds themself with a very interesting special ability, something that is almost pointless but also has a lot of potential for ones life. I will not spoil it one bit here, but it is so rare to find a film that can maintain a cascade of originality across the whole film and end in just a wonderfully bitter sweet spot.

  64. It does seem that both political parties are trying to act out this “chosen one” narrative. The Republicans are forever searching for another Saint Ronnie who is a perfect embodiment of conservative values and deflects attacks from the enemy with a skin of Teflon. While the Dem’s are forever searching for another JFK or Obama who is an unassailable pinnacle of their values. The Dem’s are uniquely flawed in that at the same time they have purposeful amnesia with regard to a far better and more flawed president, Jimmy Carter. The biggest problem with Hillary was not that she was the embodiment of the chosen one, but that she was such a flawed candidate ( almost a villain in some respects) but that the Democrats wished for purity so badly they overlooked the deep blemishes of this candidate and projected on to her the glitter of JFK and Obama with a frosting of triumphant feminism. That many did not drink the koolaid is unthinkable to them even today.

  65. Not through the comments yet, so someone may have brought this up, but I wanted to share the comment I made on your Dreamwidth because I think it’s relevant.

    I said:


    I was thinking about this recently, and something else occurred to me that seems related.

    In Jordan’s novels, there is a location called “The Blight,” which is his equivalent of Mordor– the evil place where the bad guys live. By the end of the first book, the characters have gotten to the Blight, and it turns out that it is far and away the most interesting setting in the entire series! While the ordinary world is a standard American fantasy world, with different “nations” more closely resembling American states and Americanized ethnic groups than the European countries they’re supposed to be based on, the Blight is a fantasy realm full of fascinating creatures.

    I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings lately, and the contrast couldn’t be more stark. The main thing about Mordor is that it’s utterly, fantastically BORING. It’s a desert where nothing grows and where you can’t see the stars. Its only interesting feature is one volcano. Other than that it’s nothing but dust and ashes and biting flies. The only people who live there are orcs, who build nothing interesting and are portrayed as incredibly unpleasant– constantly fighting and stabbing each other in the back while threatening to report one another to the Nazgul. The chapters in Mordor are actually very hard to read– and I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

    It’s worth noting that this was the biggest failure of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. He managed to make the elves unbearably dull and the orcs fun and interesting.

    I’m not sure why, but it seems to me like these two phenomena go together– super special snowflake protagonists who did nothing to earn their amazing powers except to be born to the right parents, and villains who are the only actually interesting people in the whole story. Maybe it’s related to the way that opinions, habits, and patterns of thought are actually unbelievably restricted among our elites, while the lower classes and those willing to sacrifice membership in the elite are able to choose from a much broader and more enjoyable range of ways to spend their time, from deer hunting to NASCAR to ceremonial magic.


    The only thing I would add is that I’ve continued, as I’ve been finishing up The Return of the King, to notice just how badly Peter Jackson fell into this trap with the Lord of the Rings films, especially the first one. If you look at The Fellowship of the Ring movie, the most interesting setting in the whole film is Isengard, while Lothlorien looks like all of Fabio’s cousins having an awkward family reunion in a Thomas Kinkaid painting. The best you can say about the new Star Wars films, meanwhile, is that they avoided the same problem by making absolutely everything completely boring– though the First Order is still at least slightly more fun to watch than the Rebels.

  66. Regarding the Harry Potter series: I read it as a child and enjoyed it; Rowling is a very skillful writer who definitely knows how to spin a good yarn. It has loads of weak points, though, and right now I think the biggest one is that, while Harry is far from being a plaster saint, he’s also never in a position where his choices are what moves the plot forward – in other words, Harry never has to CHOOSE to confront evil; Voldemort is trying to kill him as long as they’re both alive, so there aren’t any other options open to Harry except to become the hero who defeats Voldemort.

    Tolkien’s work, it seems to me, is much stronger on this point. Several characters have to confront the temptation of simply taking the Ring for themselves, and as for the Hobbits – well, almost nobody expects Hobbits to have adventures, so it’s kind of a big deal when the choose NOT to do what comes naturally and just stay in the Shire. Even Star Wars is superior to Harry Potter on this point – the hero must decide what to do when tempted to join the Dark Side, which is a temptation that Harry never faces, since Voldemort simply wants him dead.

  67. Thanks JMG! I had a good time being as gloves-off awful as I could possibly awful. As I am sure you well know, writing novels is one of the world’s best ways of venting thoughts you’re forced to repress in everyday life.

    Prizm, what you wrote about people using not being born into the Chosen class truly hit home. Long ago I wrote an essay called “Paris or Bust” where I lambasted the type of person who stews in misery and bad choices while putting off being a better person until they come into the easy money they think they deserve. These people frame life into two choices: either live the heiress life of Paris Hilton or die of despair.

  68. Re: Neville as Chosen One

    You’re not the first to suggest that that would have been a better ending!

    The post’s author – who incidentally is also the guy who catapulted the Mandela Effect to its brief window of fame/infamy by pointing out how many of us (myself included) misremember the Berenstain Bears as the Berenstein Bears – has a number of posts on why Harry Potter is not a good series.

    The main reason he cites is that Rowling started out with a children’s fantasy world, where she could do things just because they were cool and didn’t need to worry about them making sense, but then she tried to bolt a coherent adult fantasy world on top of it and pretend it always was that world.

    I’m not sure I agree that that’s the main thing wrong with it, but now that I notice it, I can’t un-notice it.

  69. Sorry to drag last week’s discussion over here, but JMG, late in the cycle you asked “I wonder — are there also plains people?” There certainly are, and the late poet Bill Holm wrote an essay about the “prairie eye” as opposed to the “woods eye.” This should be a link to download it as a .doc: › wp-content › HorizontalGrandeur2

  70. Greta recently tweeted:
    ‘I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.’

  71. Hi Darkest Yorkshire,

    I tried to read “The Plague Dogs” when it first came out and skipped large portions because the fox’s dialect was unintelligible. Then they released a different edition where his dialect had been cleaned up so I read that. Meh. In addition to cleaning up the dialect, a happy ending had been tacked on where Sir Peter Scott (son of Robert Falcon) happens along at just the right time. Which ending does the movie have?

    I liked Adams’s book about the weird bear cult. “Maia” was set in the same world. I imagine Adams’s family was considerably embarrassed when Grandpa’s wet dream was published.

    He had another one, “The Girl in a Swing,” with an interesting idea—Mary Sue turns out to be anything BUT perfect—but oh, darling, the dialogue is really hard to take, dearest, dearest, dearest! But, dearest, if you can get past the gooey dialogue, darling, darling, it’s pretty good. I read that during the 15-year-writer’s-block and sure missed Rev. Fastleft, who, though he has his faults, is not at all prone to gushing. He’d have told the lovebirds to get a room, and by a third of the way through I was saying the same thing at about every fifth paragraph. But under all the goo is a good creepy story.

  72. So hearing it drives men mad, sounds about right! One of the things that gets me down about other aspiring filmmakers I meet and the films I see is that everyone seems to be so busy trying to get noticed and chase trends that they forget to serve the material. I always felt like my films should have a story, and that it should be told as simply as possible, in as few shots as possible, to leave room for the performances to breathe, and just allow the audience to quieten down and lean in a little, to be absorbed. Modern films seem to take the opposite tack: much more like advertising, the images come fast and hit hard, like a sledgehammer to bludgeon the audience into submission. It’s exhausting.

    Thanks for the encouragement! It seems like every step I take there’s another step waiting for me that I couldn’t see before. We’ll see how far it goes.

  73. JMG, have YOU read “The Girl in a Swing”? Probably not, I can’t imagine a man slogging his way through the dialogue, but just in case you have, there are a couple of weird scenes where Adams seems to be implying Kathe is a goddess, and I figure a Druid is just the person who would know. (If anyone else knows, and you’re not JMG, by all means please speak up, dearest.). To me these scenes conflict with the main plot of her being punished by God or a set of gods.

  74. I agree that Frodo brings no special qualities at all to the quest. The funny thing is that he does have a special gift, which is true dreaming. I once read a study on Frodo’s dreams (sorry to have forgotten the author’s name), and each of them is interesting in its own way: a dream at the outset of the quest about his arrival at Eressea, the dream at Bombadil’s house etc. However, they are completely irrelevant to his completing the quest!

    Beowulf has two growing-up stories. In one version he is the dull youth, despised by everybody and sitting beside the oven until he finally proves his strength and courage. In the other, he has always been a hero. Apparently the poet found it unnecessary to decide between the two!

    I can’t say much about recent fantasy or SF because I found the few exemplars I read after age 20 all unsatisfying.

  75. Maybe OT, but does anyone remember “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” by Stephen Donaldson? The protagonist was a leper who gets hit by a bus and travels to a place called The Land, where he is restored to health by the power of The Land. His specialness is that he had a wedding ring of white gold that had a magic that only he could wield. He spends most of the trilogy rejecting his ability and refusing to do anything with it.

    That’s the way I remember it, anyway. It’s been at least thirty years since I read it.

  76. Consider a three-way division: everyman hero, “chosen one,” and in between, the “gifted” hero. The latter would include Luke Skywalker, most fictional detectives and warrior heroes, and a hefty plurality (perhaps even a majority) of the rest. (1)

    All three types of stories are around all the time (2), even within specific genres like superheroes, but cultural shifting of prominence between them could possibly reflect social, and especially, parental aspirations. The everyman hero often gains a good life by working hard and avoiding snares and following parents’ earthy wisdom. (For example, Wang Lung in The Good Earth.) They overcome the villains less often by direct confrontation than when the unfairly advantaged villains slip up on the basics. (Elliot Ness vs. Al Capone.) One might expect that kind of story to be culturally prominent in societies where it’s plausible for those things to actually happen.

    The gifted hero parlays a talent into spectacular success, taking severe risks and overcoming many obstacles (usually including head to head confrontations with a comparably gifted villain) to do so. When this kind of narrative becomes prominent, as it has been in the U.S. for two generations now, perhaps it reflects the anxiety that hard work and good behavior aren’t enough any more. This is equally due to narrowing of opportunity and inflation of expectations. Forget the earthy parental wisdom; Johnny is never going to get anywhere working hard in his father’s career, but maybe he’s smart enough to become a doctor or lawyer, or has the talent to become a sports star or a rock star or an entrepreneur or inventor or Senator. But for that to happen Johnny has to be motivated to focus solely on competing head to head against all the other talents out there for the limited pool of prizes. Hence, the experiences you described in a recent Dreamwidth thread about the repercussions of being labeled “gifted.” (And mine, nearly identical except for the style of eventual coping.)

    The chosen one hero, in this schema, turns the dials all the way up on both inflated expectations and limited actual opportunity. Only the chosen ones can succeed… but fortunately, everyone (or rather, everyone’s kid) is the chosen one. When the motivational poster that reads “work hard and behave” has been ripped down, and then the one that says “go out and beat the opposition,” the one that finally occupies that space says “you be you.” The chosen one narrative is a throwing up of hands; it basically represents giving up on success being in any way related to qualities or behavior, and leaving it up to destiny.

    A few footnotes: (1) It seems to me that Frodo has elements of all three: mostly everyman, but partly fated (Faramir’s dream), and gifted with Hobbit constitution and also, literally, the One Ring (“the gift is also a curse” being a very common trope, see also e.g. Sherlock Holmes). Few stories are going to fit precisely into only one category, but most seem to fit predominantly into one of them. (2) This schema is very Western and doesn’t apply to other bodies of literature. In the original Arabian Nights stories, for instance, the most everyman hero can end up residing in a jeweled palace through no great effort of his own in one story, and end up casually executed through no fault of his own in the next. Naturally the most well-known Arabian Nights tales in our milieu are the ones that happen to align with Western expectations.

  77. For other good animal-based adventures, Martin of Redwall. Redwall Abbey. Monastic mice. The Abbess is a badger, IIRC. Yes. Martin is a mouse, just an ordinary mouse forced to play the hero when the time comes. Lovely series. I watched it when I was laid up from foot surgery back in 2001 and went out and bought the books.

  78. …the Aragorn-equivalent is going to be exactly what you’d expect from a guy that had been raised all his life to believe that he was the rightful king of Everywhere.

    “Still not King.”

    (I suggest Googling this, if it doesn’t sound familiar.)

  79. A thought about Dune. While it certainly seems like a chosen one narrative to start with, by the end of the novel he’s much closer to being the antichrist than the messiah, albeit reluctantly. It’s always been interesting to me that both the film and television adaptations of Dune failed, in part, because they didn’t see the intended irony and tried to shoehorn him into the classic messiah role instead. We can’t have our heroes being morally questionable after all. Frank Herbert claimed to like the film adaptation, but the one sticking point he had with it was that his Paul was a man playing at being a God, rather than actually being one.

  80. Oh, of course the Chosen One narrative is everywhere. It’s shoveled out by the maloderous ton because the people doing the shovling– the self-described “creatives” — are “Chosen Ones”.

    Each and every blessed one of us is: Special! Unique! Important!

    I was raised to be a Chosen One. Then I couldn’t find a death star to blow up. To be honest, I’m barely functioning as a human being, and that’s a big part of it. (Luckily I can fake well enough that I haven’t fallen entirely out of my class. I still get a salary.* You don’t need to be a fully-functional human being for that.)

    Notice how everything has to be a virtue signal? It’s not enough to start a company; you have to start an ethical company, with a triple-bottom-line, because you’re the Chosen One. You’re the Good People. You are saving the world. By definition.

    As JMG clarified in the comments (thanks for that– I missed it in the main post)– Star Wars:FA & TLG’s Rey is ‘chosen’ in just the sort of special way the so-called ‘gifted kids’ are chosen by our school system. (That is, without facing any real challenges.) Just so gosh-darned talented! So special! Unique! Important! Now go save the world, little girl!

    (Does anyone else think about what this is doing to poor Greta’s psyche? Honestly, if she survives falling off her pedestal then she’s made of a much stronger alloy than I.)

    *Don’t get too excited. Count my hours and it’s minimum wage or less most weeks.

  81. Speaking of fantasy, my favourite use/deconstruction of the Chosen One narrative is in the forever-unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles.

    I know you won’t read it until the third book is published, JMG, but I think you would approve of how Rothfuss handles it. His Kvothe is incredibly gifted. A hyper-intelligent magical musician could make for a godawful gary-stu, but Kvothe isn’t. Why? For one simple reason: Rothfuss doesn’t conflate intelligence with wisdom. Most of the plot is just the poor kid tying himself in knots with overthinking. There’s no prophesy, no ancient evil that only our brave hero could possibly vanquish. (There is ancient evil, but it appears to be untouchable, and it is heavily implied in the framing-tale of the first 2 books that our “hero” has pretty much ruined everything for himself, and possibly started an apocalypse.)

    If “Name of the Wind” had been written as a stand-alone novel, it would have been the perfect antidote to the fantasy genre. Its chosen hero is a frack-up. Its magic has strong rules, and stiff limits. The only overly-common flaw Rothfuss fell into was writing a door-stopping epic. (And, worse, not finishing it!) I still have hopes that its popularity will help bring the genre around. Maybe it being unfinished will even serve as a warning to those tempted to put out needlessly expanded epics!

    One can hope…

  82. Thanks Jonathan Eaton for linking to that interview with KMO. It’s the first time I’ve heard our host speak, he sounds quite different than I imagined. Very interesting interview though.

  83. “The Chosen One” – not a new concept. I absolutely loathed (and still do) a certain fairy tale had that theme (at least in the version I read): “The Princess and the Pea”.

    I remember back in the day the dreck about being ‘special’; the children (especially middle-school years) had a rather unkind, special-education concept of specialness (except, of course, when they wanted something, not because they needed it, but, gosh-darn-it, because they were special…).

    JMG – thanks for this blog!

  84. Prizm,

    “Counting how many people tell me that something cannot get done because of not being a member of the chosen class is like trying to count the stars. Many people say this with complete belief in what they are saying, although there are quite a few who say it with disdain. ”

    This shows that people nowadays feel pretty helpless because they see how little representation the non rich really get.

    Cancer patients, for example, have to go home and die because real treatment is outlawed.

  85. It’s a relief to know that I wasn’t the only one in this forum who saw the original Star Wars seven times! Couldn’t get enough of that film when I was 13 – and the theme of a “farm boy just trying to find Old Ben” was definitely a part of the appeal (besides the cool special visual and sound effects, addictive music score, etc.).

    It is interesting to observe the counterpoint of “special protagonist” versus “common protagonist” in English literature over the centuries, as you’ve outlined, JMG. It says much about the times in which they were written. Richardson, for example, spent his early life under the restored Stuarts (who were obsessed with their divine right) and later under the Hanovers (who, I believe, thought themselves a bit less “special” – at least in the religious sense); Fielding spent nearly his entire life under the Hanover Kings. Moving to the 20th century, I note how C.S. Lewis’ protagonists (in both the Narnia series and SF series) were endearingly common. I wonder if the “common protagonist” of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s day were a reflection of their experience with WWI – the Great Leveler – in which men of all backgrounds could show their mettle (or lack thereof) regardless of whether they were a Lord or a labourer. Much of the 20th century – at least until the ‘80s – was also a period of unusual egalitarianism in which the Upper Class were mocked (by Monty Python and others). Then, with the turning of the tide, the era of the “specialist” and “expert” and other “special people” gained ascendancy. I do hope they get their come-uppance once again.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be “jumping cultures” but I can’t help but reflect on Indian literature in this light. The traditional literature covers an interesting spectrum from the “very special people” (the avatars of gods, who incarnate for particular reasons and absolutely nothing can stand in their way – although they seem to have fun pretending to be mere humans) to the “special people” (children of gods, like the Pandavas of the Mahabharat, who are endowed with superhuman powers, but are not invincible) right down to the lowest of the low who became great saints (Valmiki – the woodsman turned composer of the epic poem Ramayana comes to mind).

    Much to ponder over…

  86. In defense of the helicopter parents, appalled as I am by what they’re doing to their kids, these kids are the grandchildren of parents who had their adolescence in middle age, who set great store by freedom and doing their own thing and heading our to California to Find Themselves, ad nauseum. Meanwhile the children of these seekers, who sold out en masse in the Reagan years with great relief, I think, were raised seriously underprotected in a world slowly growing harsher (run the numbers past Hubbard’s Peak) – an the network of mothers and grandmothers who used to be there for children was already pretty well dissolved.

    The helicopter parents made their own way and the mothers clawed their way into the salary classes as offering some sort of safety – and the benefits no longer provided by public schools and civic organizations and the long-vanished network.Working class women went to work to put food on the table. I speak as the mother of at least one such helicopter parent – the one left in Albuquerque has a strong network of down-to earth in-laws with a large family, and that daughter and her husband agreed that she should take care of the home front while he brought in the cash.

    And she was supported in that decision by family and husband – unlike some who (see Archie Bunker) treated their stay-at-home wives like retarded servants.(Which I’m sure also helped fuel the rush to the workplace for respect, status, and money of their own.)

    It’s not pretty, what’s happened to the 3rd generation, but on our own heads, the children of an affluent empire at its peak, it was and is. Mea culpa; nos culpas.

  87. I think there’s a basic vulnerability=suspense rule of sorts. A character has to be Everyman enough to be vulnerable so we can wonder if they’ll succeed or fail. But they can’t be so Everyman that they rely utterly on luck, so that the luck becomes ‘plot armor.’

    Bilbo is the perfect hero for the world and story of The Hobbit but would be too hapless for the world and story of the Rings Trilogy. Frodo is more like a Luke Skywalker-level Everyman with particular advantages (having Samwise/being able to pilot a fighter) but still an Everyman in relation to the complexity of the world.

    For Dashiell Hammett’s more complex, ambiguous, and convoluted world, his detectives need to be smarter, tougher, and more knowledgeable still, but they still have an Everyman quality in comparison to far more cynical world surrounding them.

    Characters need the powers to barely succeed or barely fail. If we perceive they have too much power or too little, it’s dull.

    At least that’s my not-so-humble opinion.

  88. Salutations, oh ever-productive Archdruid! It strikes me from my personal experience that something Earned is of value and of interest, where something Unearned is definitely in the “Meh” or even “So what, that’s boring” category. This seems to apply especially to so-called superpowers. The phrase that suggests itself to me as being tied to things earned, especially given my neurological makeup, is “Compensatory Adaptations.”

    If you strive really hard at something, the striving itself molds your character and your surroundings. When failure is an option and you, perhaps barely, escape failure, that is much more memorable and much more praiseworthy than if you succeeded because through a quirk of fate you were handed success on a platter. You characterized this striving as “…relatively ordinary human beings who become extraordinary through harrowing experiences and fanatical self-discipline.”

    I think there’s little to be learned from, or even much to be admired of, a Superhero Chosen One, and much to be learned from those who are, to quote an old book on motor racing, “Struggling with their Demons on the Edge of the Infinite.”

    Thanks so much for this forum and for your reflections!

  89. JMG,

    I liked what you said about Sauron, and thus the Evil Overlords in nearly every subsequent fantasy series, being stupid about their strategies. A similar thing happens in various genres of movies and books, enough so that someone came up with a list of better strategies for the Evil Overlords.


  90. Your Kittenship,

    So “whippersnappers” became “whips Apple” with your autocorrect? That sounds like the title of something I’d expect to see on the Onion satire site: “Young Whippersnappers Whip Apple Computer”.


  91. Don’t read fiction, never seen a Star Wars movie, haven’t seen any new movie in two decades, never watched Star Trek or any of its offspring. I have no idea what a Mary Sue is.

    What you describe is the way every kid grew up when I was a child. Mom sent us outside in the morning and told us to come back for dinner. We and our friends played in fields, in the woods, rode our bikes all over our rural town and went home about the same time Dad did, no adult looked over our shoulders or played umpire in our squabbles. It was great. When I tried to do the same for my own kids in the late 1980’s, the neighbor called Child Protective Services on me.

  92. Michael, Thompson is worth reading precisely because the people he describes are weird without being special. They’re ordinary freaks. I found Las Vegas and his book on the 1972 presidential election well worth the time spent.

    Clay, oh, no argument there! And of course there’s a hardcore Trump fandom that calls him GEOTUS, “God-Emperor of the United States” — and I’m not at all sure how ironic it is in every case. We are surrounded by would-be Chosen Ones…

    Steve, that may be the best description of Peter Jackson’s cotton candy Lorien I’ve seen yet — thank you. Of course you’re quite right: what used to be called “the treason of the intellectuals,” the habit of making evil seem far more interesting than good, is very much with us. Tolkien saw through it, but the ninth-rate epigones who borrowed his machinery and missed his point haven’t managed that.

    Wesley, exactly! That’s one of the things about the usual Chosen One gimmick — the Chosen One is chosen, he or she or whatever doesn’t choose. There may at most be a pro forma moment of wavering before accepting the Big Shiny Destiny. Another of the good things about the original Star Wars movie is that Luke tries to back out of it; it takes the death of his aunt and uncle to push him into accepting the call to adventure.

    Kimberly, did you publish that, and if so, where can I find a copy? I could use a good laugh.

    James, hah! I’m not at all sure that’s the only thing that made the bulk of the Potter series dull, but it certainly didn’t help.

    Onething, by all means.

    Darkfeydreamer, that’s the one! Many thanks.

    Mog, oh dear gods. I have Aspergers syndrome too. If that’s a superpower, so is blindness, or being born without arms.

    Llewellyn, yeah, atonal music does that. In my retelling of the Cthulhu mythos, though, what happens when you watch “The King in Yellow”, read the Necronomicon, or what have you, is that you go sane — it really sinks in that you’re just a little bitty life form crawling around in the wet film on an uninteresting planet on the fringes of an ordinary galaxy, nothing that matters to anything in the cosmos but a few other little bitty life forms in the same weet film, and if you deal with that, you can go on to lead a perfectly happy life secure in the knowledge that the great cosmic powers aren’t out to get you — in fact, they haven’t even noticed that you exist. Those of my characters who have that experience typically find it a source of profound relief!

    As for your films, I’m glad to hear that. They sound like something I might actually enjoy watching.

    Your Kittenship, nope. I read Watership Down many times, Shardik two or three times, the first third or so of The Plague Dogs once, and gave up on him thereafter.

    Matthias, that’s an excellent point. That might be something worth using in a fantasy novel — “you have a great and special talent, which will be of precisely no use to you at all in the fulfillment of the quest.”

    David, I remember it well. I wasn’t a serious fan, but Donaldson did a tolerably good job of turning the Chosen One motif inside out, and presenting a Chosen One who not only isn’t perfect, but is a world-class, self-centered jerk, and nonetheless still manages to do the right thing and save everyone.

    Walt, that’s certainly one factor. Equally, though, I’d expect the same shift to happen as a society’s popular culture moves from a relatively populist ethos to a relatively elitist one — and I think that’s a large part of what’s involved in the present situation. As for “still not King,” why, yes, I was thinking about that. (Snicker.)

    Llewellyn, exactly! Dune gets much of its power through its sheer moral ambiguity; Paul goes through all the dangers he faces, guided by a terrible purpose — which turns out to be mere population biology. It’s a brilliant twist, especially as set up by all the previous focus on ecology.

    Dusk Shine, the whole “everyone is special” business is particularly cruel, because it sets up most people to fail. Most people aren’t special in any way that matters, and even those with the kinds of talent or intellectual ability that get you label “gifted” — I’m speaking from my own experience as well as that of others — are usually ordinary at best, if not below average, on things not connected with that narrow slice of the self. I managed, by dumb luck and a lot of help from a very small number of people, to get myself into a headspace and then a life where I can use my talents to cover for my considerable defects, and have a tolerably happy life — but that required me to reject the entire ideology of giftedness, and recognize that a facility with language and a talent for abstract thinking don’t make me “special” in any way that really matters. I really, seriously pity those who buy into the rhetoric of specialness, and then find themselves in a world that could not care less about their alleged importance if it tried.

    As for the Kingkiller Chronicles, my wife read the first two volumes — I’m not sure why — and I paged through the opening part of the first one. My main reaction was (a) to rename the main character Kvetch, and (b) to suspect that a lot of readers really wished that someone had just stuck a spear through him early on, and spared everyone else a lot of annoyance. Still, I’ll refrain from a final judgment until the twelfth of Never, which is when I expect Rothfuss to get off his rump and do his job, i.e., finish the fracking trilogy.

    PatriciaT, you know, that’s really a fable for our times. “I’m so neurotically oversensitive that I can feel a pea through seven mattresses!”

  93. apropos of nothing, well maybe tangentially: saw a tee shirt send-up of ‘Les Miserables’ featuring a picture of a rag-tag group waving flags and with text ‘Proud Member Les Deplorables’

  94. Thank you, JMG! You put your finger on the mystery of why I caught the 130 bus at Normandy Park, just down the street from Burien, to go and see Star Wars a whopping 11 times. I’m not a fantasy or science fiction fan, but I was all over that movie. Now I see why. Makes perfect sense!

  95. But doesn’t Star Wars IV have some of the chosen-one rot in it? Although I don’t think we were explicitly told that Force sensitivity is hereditary until the prequel trilogy, Luke isn’t just an ordinary farmboy (although he and just about the rest of the galaxy thinks he is one), he’s a farmboy with, unbeknownst to everyone, special abilities. Of course, unlike the protagonist of the latest trilogy, Luke did have to work hard to master his abilities. You could argue that Rey is tough because she lived a hardscrabble life on a desert planet, but so did Luke.

  96. Ron, a good point. English literature, and Indian literature even more so, have been around long enough to have a good assortment of characters running the gamut from special to utterly ordinary — a good reason to read both, and more generally to read books by people who died before you were born and so don’t share the preconceptions of your era. As far as “jumping cultures,” I’ll happily accept correction, but everybody I’ve ever met who’s Indian (as in, from India) who finds out that I grew up on a children’s version of the Mahabharata and adored it was pleased, not offended.

    Patricia, thanks for this. Of course it’s not a simple thing, and there are reasons for it — but I pity the kids raised without ever having the chance to make choices for themselves, or risk failure.

    Joel and Bryan, that’s one of the most basic principles of storytelling. Your protagonists need to be just good enough to succeed if they throw everything they’ve got into the balance; that way if they succeed, it’s exciting, and if they fail, it’s tragic. A character who can’t fail and a character who can’t succeed are equally boring.

    DJSpo, you might be interested to know that I studied that list, and used it, during the twelve years I spent as Grand Archdruid of AODA. The advice worked uncommonly well. I suppose that makes me an evil druidical overlord!

    Beekeeper, a Mary Sue is a character who’s all too obviously the author’s imaginary alter ego, acting out everything the author wishes she could do. (They’re rather more common with female authors than with male, thus the gender; the male equivalent, equally annoying though not so often met with, is a Marty Stu or a Gary Stu.)

    Ron, got it and fixed it.

    PatriciaT, yes, I’ve seen that also! “Les Deplorables” was all over the place in 2016, after Clinton’s world-class outburst of stupidity on the air gave the Trumpistas a convenient label for themselves. (I appreciated the t-shirt that said, “I was deplorable before it was cool.”

    Er, Ottergirl, where in Normandy Park did you live? I lived on Sylvster Avenue about a block outside the Normandy Park town limits, and caught the 130 all the time. We may have been on the same bus…

    Justin, no, that was all retconned in by the later movies in the trilogy and then the prequel, which is dripping with Chosen One nonsense. Watch the movie sometime with no preconceptions and see what it says.

  97. @JMG and @D-trox

    What advice would you give a young adult of that upper 20% who is “rendered incapable of independent life”?

    I have watched several friends of mine be dragged kicking and screaming into college, as in their parents literally pinched their arm and pulled them into the financial aid office to be handheld as they signed their life away on the dotted lines.

    The three friends of mine that stick out most in this regard, live in suburbs where walking to work is impossible and their parents never took them for their driver’s licenses or learner’s permit so effectively they have to be where their parents tell them. It is only the richest of these friends that actually seem to have gotten their drivers license accompanied by a nice BMW. (The friend that got that promptly wrapped it around a tree. Then bought another one.) The one with a BMW doesn’t have job because of being spoiled. The others it’s either laziness of no transportation…. When I listen to them I often wonder what is a valid excuse and what is not..

    JMG I suppose that’s another question I have after reading this post on Star Wars, how do you know when someone is making a valid excuse? The top 20% seems so full of excuses that I’d almost say it is a kind of trolling in its own right.

    It is clear to me that many of these households position of privilege is to be undone in the next few decades. (Long decline etc.) One of the more interesting dichotomies I’ve witnessed is a friend of mine, from a well to do house, looking to go homeless because the parents are too tyrannical. Being homeless almost seems a trendy thing to do now among this particular group of 20%er young people if you check YouTube out. I see the appeal in that, it just irks me a lot of such young people seem to do it only to indulge in Weed.

    It seems like in trying to raise a generation of somebodies, our generation has yet to make the discovery we’re nobody. But being nobody is perhaps more profound.

  98. Thanks for another enjoyable post, JMG.

    This got me thinking of The Matrix. The initial movie worked because even though Neo was told he was the chosen one, he didn’t believe. Eventually, he convinced himself that he wasn’t The One leading to an act of self sacrifice and love, which elevated him to really be The One.

    The sequels, two of the worst movies ever made, didn’t have that luxury. Neo could no longer doubt that he was The One. And so the whole thing came crashing down along with all the tenuous metaphysics the first movie had set up but could never deliver on.

    Incidentally, I just heard that a fourth Matrix movie is about to be made.

  99. @Joel and Bryan

    “A character who can’t fail and a character who can’t succeed are equally boring.”

    JMG This is really profound. I submitted a comment a few seconds ago and this was there when I refreshed the page. It seems like this the biggest problem with being a chosen one, in any sense of the word. Perhaps only the wisest parents would not want their children to be so chosen.

  100. You know I am having to suppress an OG Star Wars nerd desire to rant about the dumpster fire that is Disney Star Wars. However that would be more than a little ranty and I seem to recall something about long screeds being prohibited so my dissertation on why Poe is the only competent Resistance officer and/or why Finn is was criminally misused will have to wait.

    Either way this whole subject gets dangerously close to one of my hobby horses in how bankrupt Hollywood is. I do like comparing the top grossing movies of 1988 vs 2018. That year had a more diverse selection of genres in the top 20 and quite the stable of classic movies. That year even gave us another another George Lucas Everyman in Willow.

    Other Dave

  101. Hi DJSpo,

    I think I may have driven spellcheck insane. It happily accepts “fooftawoo” and “Fastleft,” and wants to capitalize “nuisance” even if I am typing about a plain old nuisance, e.g. a skunk, rather than about General Nuisance. 😳

    Has anyone else read “The Cockroaches of Stay More”? I loved the hero, Sam, and heroine, Tish. The roaches worship the guy whose house they infest, and when we first see poor Tish she’s in big trouble for her iconoclastic, if true, observation that their god is “drunk as a biled owl!” Sam is deaf but a perfectly cromulent hero despite his handicap. If you can get hold of a copy you’ll love it.

  102. They haven’t learned from the failures of Catholic education in the past 50 years or so, I guess. I spent six years of my childhood “education” in Catholic school, and I found nothing more boring than religion class, especially they started talking about the lives of the saints. “St. Therese of the Plaster Jesus was born, felt she had a special mission from God at age 5, entered the convent at age 16, died at age 30 while smiling peacefully in the middle of prayer.” It all sounded unnatural, and crucially, unattainable. “Yeah,”, I thought to myself, “people say I’m a Good Kid, but these stories sound like they’re something else, this sainthood thing ain’t for me…”

    A little later in life I returned to my childhood faith, and lo and behold, if you read may of their actual writings (as opposed to the respectable-society, abridged plaster hagiographies found in Catholic school textbooks of my youth), they come across as perfectly normal people struggling with ordinary or extraordinary situations, trying, sometimes succeeding, often failing, to follow Jesus. Well, that sounds like an epic adventure I can sign up to!

  103. It’s curious that no one here has yet dwelt on how decisively Frodo failed in his heroic quest at its very end. It was only Gollum’s unthinking lust for his “precious” on that final ledge over the pit inside Mount Doom that led to the One Ring’s destruction, and it was finally destroyed only by an unheroic accident. Without this detail, the entire trilogy would have still been an enjoyable fantasy, but not a truly great one. Frodo’s decisive failure was Tolkien’s greatest master-stroke, IMHO, and one of the few truly great master-strokes in all of English literature.

  104. I’m a fan of comic books, including superhero comics. To me, the appeal of a good Superman story or what have you is not that he’s destined to save the world singlehandedly. The appeal is to watch a creative team go buck wild with their imaginations.

    The Earths of DC and Marvel always need saving but never change – it’s always modern day, there’s always crime and folly, there’s always a new crisis. These fictional Earths are canvases against which various writers and artists act out the largest stories they can come up with.

    The movies, on the other hand, need irrevocable story arcs, because movie audiences won’t put up with the sort of nonsense us comic dorks do. So the superheroes become savior figures. (My real problem with them, though, is that they’re an overwhelming sensory barrage that drowns out my imagination. I’d much rather read a faded comic from the 1980s, silly ads and all.)

    Also along the lines you mention are movies based on YA fiction. The Hunger Games worked, I feel, because the main character was an ordinary person who was good at bow hunting. The real sludgy stories out there feature angsty teens who have super aliens or gods or what have you for parents.

  105. Doll, that’s a good question I’m not sure I know how to answer. Becoming homeless for a while might actually be a good choice — that way there’s nothing your family or society can hold over you as a threat — but of course it has its risks. My way out was to go to work in a series of minimum wage jobs and live in a series of tiny, rundown apartments for a while — in those days two people working minimum wage jobs could afford an apartment.

    The crucial point is to say no, and make it stick. That’s hard, but it’s a lot easier than the meatgrinder of a life the privileged are facing now.

    Simon, duly noted. I wasn’t a fan, but by all accounts the sequels sucked like hard vacuum.

    Doll, thank you. Now make use of it!

    Other Dave, thank you also. Trust me, I get the temptation to go on a geek rant — and fall victim to it now and then. 😉

    Carlos, have you considered writing a guide to saints as real people, aimed at the teen and young adult market? It might help…

    Robert, everyone was waiting for you to bring it up. 😉 You’re quite correct, of course. That’s one of the reasons that The Lord of the Rings will be one of the few dozen or so novels in English during the last century that will be remembered a millennium from now.

    Cliff, there’s that! I also prefer comics to movies — what an artist and writer can do on sheets of cheap paper is far more enticing to me than what millions of dollars of special effects can do on a screen.

  106. @JMG,

    As for the hard sell of The Chosen One mythology by a managerial caste, that may be true, but I don’t think it’s a conscious decision on their part. Instead, as the middle class becomes extinct, those voices just aren’t in the boardroom anymore. I’ve witnessed this over my career. Middle aged middle manager with a Midwestern state college degree gets replaced by yet another Ivy League go-getter. As nice and hard working as these kids are, they’ve just never socialized with people who work by the hour. Groupthink ensues. After work, the virtual worlds of Nextflix, pithy Ted Talks and yes – superhero movies – reinforce these themes ad nauseam.

    But who are the heroes of the managerial caste? Well, Ayn Rand is a reference point, but not mentioned in polite company. Instead, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and the Dalai Lama and other “oracles” are the ones who tell the people what they want before they want it. Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama… there’s limited spots in this world for “proteges” to join the C-suite and no respect for those that don’t aspire to it.

  107. To everyone: I’m loving the comments here. I’m pretty much out of the pop culture loop for the last decade or more, so this post has helped me get a picture of what I have missed. Many of you have provided lots of great synopses of novels and movies so that I may choose from a buffet of authors to read rather than going to the library and aimlessly wandering the stacks.

    To JMG: Here’s a link to my novel, Shadeylight. Anyone else who is interested is welcome to it as well.

    You can also read it for free on Kindle:

    It’s incredibly offensive, which is why I wrote it as a nom de plume. That said, I hope you enjoy it. I wanted to write something funny as I sensed I would be trying my hand at some more serious fiction in the future (it was penned around 2013). I don’t feel it is my best book by any stretch. I’ve written other vampire books, so the very few who have actually read one of those may recognize me spoofing my own material. If you enjoy it, please leave a review on the Kindle page; reviews really help.

  108. John, true anecdote: the other day I was talking to my eleven-year-old, Harry Potter-obsessed niece and she was telling me something about one of the villains in the story (I know very little about the story as I came of age a few years before the books came out). Bare in mind, both her parents (my brother and his wife) are very liberal, get their news from the usual left-leaning corporate sources, live in Brooklyn, well… when she was 9, her mother brought her to the women’s march in Washington. You know, the one with the p*ssy hats…well…you get the idea. So anyway, the other day she inocently referred to this character in the Harry Potter series as a “Voldemort Supporter”. I’m pretty sure she heard something about those deplorable Trump Supporters somewhere along the way, and since mommy and daddy can’t be wrong, anyone who they say is wrong must be wrong, well then a Voldemort Supporter must be something like a Trump Supporter. Needless to say, I had to chuckle to myself. Coming from my absolutely adorable niece it was kind of cute, but then I thought, wow people ACTUALLY believe this stuff, and they’re teaching it to the next generation.

  109. Sylvester Road! Bet that was near Sylvester Middle School (Sylvester Junior High, back in the day). My baby sister, now 53, went there, and then Highline High School. We lived just off 1st Avenue South, on Normandy Park Drive. You might remember the mega church that blew up (metaphorically, that is) when the “spirit dancing” thingy turned out to be not exactly spiritual. Anyway, that place was about a 15 minute walk from our back door, not that I ever visited it. Last I heard it became an academy for the State Patrol.

    That is so cool we were kinda sorta in the same neighborhood!


  110. For that matter, the guy who invented the English novel—Samuel Richardson—had a clunker of the same variety. His first two tales, Pamela and Clarissa, were romance novels featuring lusty villains in hot pursuit of reluctant heroines. (Yes, you read that correctly. The very first English novels were bodice-rippers).

    Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe says hello. 😛

  111. A recommendation for a sci fi series with a fairly ordinary soldier thrust into a meaningful role. Expeditionary Force by Craig Alanson. The first book is Columbus Day.

  112. I recall the snarky Prof. Snape became the third most popular character in the series. His following included many victims of childhood bullying, who found’s Snape’s response to that far more believable than Harry’s. They also recognized him as someone with important input for Harry’s development. The author vindicated them in the end.

  113. Re fanfiction

    It’s one of my guilty pleasures – precisely because the good ones (IMHO) either a) take the greyish/evil characters in eg Harry Potter and create a whole world of backstory/understandable motivations mixed with actually semi-competent scheming or b) take the ‘good’ and ‘chosen one’ characters, add a few twists and retell the story from the villain’s viewpoint – revealing all the seamy politics, self interest, corruption, basic incompetence etc underlying the surface heroics of the ‘good guys’.

    Of course, even using recommendations, you need to trawl through a lot of dreck to find the good stuff. Also, it then makes the original stories completely unreadable for me because they become even more tediously lacking in complex characterisation.

  114. Well, I’m guessing it’s one of the “Chosen Ones” who is also the “they” who is going to “think of something” that will “save the world” and stop it collapsing – so the rest of us don’t have to.

  115. Greetings all
    JMG wrote: “what used to be called “the treason of the intellectuals,” the habit of making evil seem far more interesting than good, is very much with us.”

    I have begun to write a short story and I am thinking about writing another one. I also noticed that in many films or books, the bad guys seemed far more interesting than the good guys.
    How do we go about neutralising this habit? Surely not by making evil sound dull? Or should we make both evil and good both sound interesting?

    Many thanks!

  116. ” “God-Emperor of the United States” ” Cracked up laughing – do NOT run that one by anyone who has read “God-Emperor of Dune.” Orange Julius as a giant sandworm – a la Jabba the Hutt?

  117. I do worry about what these children with border-collie parents will do when they’re ‘grown’ and TSHTF.

    My ex-husband was born into the 20% and his parents’ style was endless haranguing him, with an additional dose of “If you can’t learn this, you’re either lazy or stupid.” Which made him very hard-working, but tagged “stupid’ in their minds – and his, until a genuine certified Degreed Professional told him he was gifted-learning-disabled. He still made a decent living as an electronics technician, which may or may not still be possible today. His idea of parenting was to get the kids off the hook for their mistakes and then lecture then for hours. Alas, my non-Albuquerque daughter adopted that style as a matter of course. (The Albuquerque one is the one with common sense.) But I do have a perfect totem animal for such as they: The Border Collie. A Pedigreed, inbred,high-strung Border Collie.

  118. Lady Cutekitten, I’ve had to give up on several books because of the author’s attempts at accent and dialect. The film of The Plague Dogs has the ambiguous downer ending.

  119. Thanks for the clarification re: King in Yellow, my mistake. It certainly sounds like a realisation I could have used earlier in my life! And it’s precisely this obsession with raising children to believe that they are special or gifted and full of boundless potential or whatever else that puts them on a hard collision course with reality. I’m still sorting through the wreckage of mine, which happened eight or nine years ago now, as I was going through university and came to the sudden realisation that the future that was supposed to be out there for us didn’t exist. At some point I stopped letting people say things like that to me.

    On the other hand, I had a few creative failures from about the same time, and though I cringe to remember them, I think failing in that way really helped me. Talent is one thing, but actual skill is quite another. That only comes through hard work, reflection, and conscious experimentation.

    There were a few times I considered giving up the ghost, partly out of fear that it was only a wrongheaded belief in my own specialness that had made me want to pursue a career film in the first place. But in the end I kept going, because I hadn’t managed to do anything else with my life, because it brought me a lot of happiness, and because no one else seemed to be thinking about the things I was.

    I don’t know how people managed to convince themselves that if they told their children they would be extraordinary, their children would magically become so. If we’re leaving that behind it can’t come soon enough.

  120. “That’s not what Rey and her endlessly regurgitated equivalents have to teach, though. What they teach is that there are certain people who are special, important, destined to greatness, not because of what they’ve done or learned or overcome, but purely because of who they are. Those are the people who matter, and if you’re not one of the special people, you don’t matter and can’t expect to have any kind of role in determining what happens. You can’t learn the ways of the Force or do anything of any importance—that’s for the special people, not for you. All you can do is choose between two rigidly defined alternatives. You can stand passively by, admiring the special people, applauding them for being so special, and doing what they tell you as they go through motions they claim will save the world. Alternatively, you can get in their way, in which case you must be evil and will be annihilated.”

    I’m not quite sure I agree about this not being propaganda (or not conscious propaganda anyway). It sounds rather like the logic used by various strands of elitist protestant Christianity to justify grabbing all the wealth, keeping it and throwing everyone else under the bus. ‘People who have money have it because they are ‘chosen by god to be saved, if you have no money, you are predestined to be dammed into hell etc etc…

  121. I’ve read the article on Sauron’s strategy, and now is the time to geek out on the plot of LoTR. 🙂

    One gaping hole in the Fellowship’s strategy that Tolkien was aware of but never explained, was why the whole thing wasn’t a Great Eagle based airborne commando raid. I’d explained it to myself that maybe Gandalf only became able to communicate with the eagles after he fought Balrog and became Gandalf the White, and everything was a mess by that point. But looking it up I’d remembered it wrong. Anyone can talk to eagles, just like ents. Lots of characters, including Gandalf, had dealings with eagles.

    So why not just summon eagles to the Shire and get on. Depending on how fast they can fly with a load, either take a route between Elrond’s house, Lothlorien and Minas Tirith, resting and gathering intelligence on the way, before making a final push on Mount Doom. Or just fly direct. Since in this scenario Frodo will have had the Ring for at most about four days, it shouldn’t have been too difficult for him to cast it into the fire. If he did have second thoughts, Gwaihir could ‘encourage’ him. Can a creature be tempted by the Ring if it doesn’t have a finger it could fit on? 🙂 Unfortunately Tolkien never explained why this couldn’t happen, so it’s been at the back of a lot of people’s minds.

    Frodo’s failure has been mentioned as good storytelling, but I’d like to see an alternate history where Frodo, or someone else, succeeded so Gollum didn’t have to. If Gollum had survived the destruction of the Ring, how long would he have lived? What state would he have been in? Frodo and Bilbo were messed up from holding the Ring relatively short times. Gollum had it something like 800 years. The elves had tried to help him before, but couldn’t do much while the Ring was still intact and had a hold on him. Once it was gone he’d need some serious Ring rehab. That could make for an impressive redemption arc. I’m going to look it up now – somebody must have already written this fanfic. 🙂

  122. @ Dr. Hooves, what you say about my Me Generation is so true! And thank you for writing, about that, because I thought only I was special. (In the in-bred town where I now reside, “special” is the euphemism for mentally handicapped.)
    I escaped from that mind frame by moving off to Japan, my honest reason being I wanted to experience a completely different culture and way of viewing the world in depth. I dread to think, however, what a nuisance I was to the people here at first with my peculiar form of “specialness.”

  123. Gday JMG i can never work out why you have never discussed “Game of Thrones”, is GeorgeRR a druid mate of yours or something ? Is there an agreement to not speak about each others magic ?
    I mean, this thing is huge, and it definitely had no chosen one. The ending was amazing. It featured an interplay between the Dragon, Unicorn and Phoenix, with the Unicorn triumphing. No one but no one saw the end coming. I felt like i was witnessing something deeply archetypal occurring, but i cant quite explain how.
    Perhaps it was the unfolding of Jean Gebsers emerging Diaphainon ? The four fold aperspectival quantum consciousness unfolding, casting aside the mental rational and some earlier magical-mythical modes.

    GeorgeRR seemed to borrow heavily from the Mabinogeon which made it even more fascinating i thought.
    How did you see it ?

  124. @Darkest Yorkshire

    “That’s how you’d really trap Admiral Ackbar.”

    You were totally living up to your chosen nickname there 😉

  125. @JMG

    Either its flying over my head completely or we’re talking about several issues at once without distinguishing them. So far, I see 4 issues.

    1. Supermundane versus mundane abilities

    2. Special destiny versus circumstantial destiny.

    3. Earned versus unearned skill

    4. Presence or absence of setbacks

    There’s various combinations of these. Rand al’Thor has a special destiny and supermundane abilities, but had to work to develop them and suffers as he meets his fate.

    Luke Skywalker has supermundane potential, but had to work for it. And you go either way talking about his destiny, he certainly had setbacks.

    Conan had unearned mundane abilities and… I couldn’t tell you about his destiny, as I havent finished the stories. No spoilers! Sometimes he has setbacks and sometimes he just sails through.

    I can’t criticize fantasy authors for writing leads who can do something fantastic. Characters who don’t work for their abilities are boring, except Conan never met a mortal he couldnt best in combat and is still a fascinating character. Gandalf has completely unearned abilities. In fact he’s a giant duex ex machina in every story, yet it all hangs together. Admittedly, he only suffers one major setback as far as I can remember.

    So earned versus unearned is the issue here, mostly, and yet my favorite characters, and yet I dont think putting a character through a training montage really does it. We see those with Rand Al’Thor and… meh… he’s not as interesting a character as Gandolf.

    No, we need more differentiation. The idea of showing how a character gets his abilities is the more recent development. The modern Mary Sues people complain about are actually getting back to an earlier style, just done poorly.

    (A big part of it could be lack of setbacks, but that only goes so far.)

    Does anyone want to see Gilgamesh do a training montage? Or Abraham? The closest we get in the old stories is Buddha going from master to master, and sitting under the Bodhi tree for 40 days. Even then though, he was always presented as a hyper talented meditator.

    Maybe the idea of earning it has less to do with the character and more to do with the reader? Characters in the old myths don’t work for their powers. Their powers are a given. It’s the weird choices they make that make the stories interesting. I would say reading the Old Testament is one example after another of having to say “why the hell would God do that?” And yet those weird choices make the reader feel like they earned it.

    I think the issue is the intrusion of fake realism on the realm of myth. Tolkien is not about measuring the size of Gandolf’s fireballs, nor is Howard about the speed Conan’s sword. Wheel of Time is partially about complexity of Al’Thor’s spells, and that’s why, although a great advdntire, it doesn’t have that depth of resonance.

    No, I think the issue is interesting choices. Do they reveal something about human nature?

    But instead we have this overly literal, materialistic view of reality that makes no room for the numinious.

    No, I’m going to hang my hat on “interesting choices.” Gandolf leaving the Fellowship to wander alone, Conan giving away his wealth, these make the stories interesting, I’d say. Let me hang my hat on that and see if it holds up.

    (I need to sort out the writerly aspects before I can look at the gatekeeping.angle.)

  126. @JMG: Love the longer post on this subject here. You hit a lot of points and its given me some food for thought on other matters as well. Thank you.

    @Tude: Thanks for your comments to last weeks open post. I really appreciate them. I had penpals through the skating, punk & zine scenes as well… but none that I’m in touch with now. That is special. Interesting about your grandpa being a hobo. I just love that part of our history.

    I hear you about wanting to hang out with the travelers instead of going back to the office. My department just moved out of the main library into a distribution center 🙁 –but I am closer to the train tracks now so I hope to get a bit more train spotting in. It’s nothing I’m very practiced in but I like to monitor the train frequencies on my radio, and want to learn more about. I’ve never hopped trains but read about, accounts and biographies by some of the famous hobo and love that part of our American history. I’ve met some hobos though just working downtown. And I do see the traveler kids coming through.

  127. Wonderful post once again. Thanks JMG.

    What could be less boring than the ordinary? When seen in the proper light, the ordinary is the common well from which all good things originate. The ordinary is the foundation of human life- the collective social knowledge that is built up thru the generations and passed along to ones children and comrades.

    Hopefully the time of the great Hoodwink will be soon over. The hoodwink is that social foundations can and should be destroyed to make way for the “new”. What people are dying for is purposeful collective action. The push for superheroes and extreme individualism seems to be a mechanism designed to keep people confused and powerless. Celebrity worship keeps people form seeing and realizing that they have the creative power within themselves to shape their own lives.

    But thats the dilemma though, when things are going well, the security and routine knowledge brings on a sense of boredom and people start to desire more. They travel out into the world in their endless searches for excitement and adventure, leaving behind security and ultimately undermining their very existence. They are left with a life of travel and toil. They are never home- always wandering.

    To me, the interesting story of our times must follow the line of the ordinary leading to the exceptional, but ultimately must lead back to the ordinary. A here and back again story. -Sounds like a Tolkien story!

    I’ll take a common heroin every time. What is more powerful than to laugh in a superhero’s face. In order to do that though you have to have some personal skills and be able to feed and take care of yourself.

  128. I think there’s something like a democratic feeling, in addition to democratic rules of decision-making. This democratic feeling, the desire to make fun of self-important leaders, predates democratic governments by a long way; hunters and gatherers are said to be fiercely democratic in this sense, as they mock and take down anybody trying to be more important than his peers. Thersites in the Iliad mocks the aristocratic leaders of the Achaeans. Moby Dick takes every opportunity to mock English aristocracy.
    However, this democratic feeling was, I think, not embraced by many of your Founding Fathers, most of whom were quasi-aristocrats. It is certainly frowned upon or even dangerous to express this kind of democratic feeling in a true monarchy. As far as I can tell, it became widespread in the Jacksonian revolution, and if you are right, it may be on the decline right now in the USA, as many movies and series glorify military discipline and elite soldiers or super-heroes.
    Even though, in real life, I am all for democratic decision-making, I do enjoy less Thersitean fiction. Aragorn or Gandalf as protagonists would make for very boring stories, and the hobbits themselves on their final parting from Aragorn, after his marriage, find rather cool and reserved words to describe him. However, as backdrop I feel no need to parody him like in the “still not king” diary cited above. He is actually more of a gifted hero, in Walt F.’s classification, since in spite of his lineage he had a very slim to non-existent chance of acceding to the throne, and he worked hard for many years, going through “harrowing experiences and fanatical self-discipline”, in the OP’s words, as anonymous soldier in Rohan, Gondor and Harad.
    All this is to say, JMG, you have a strong democratic or Thersitean temperament in addition to your intellectual appreciation of Robert’s Rules of Order and the American constitution. After all, you appreciate Bored of the Rings or the Discordian writings. I don’t think that is either good or bad in itself, I certainly prefer this democratic levelling to idolatry of the military. However, a republic can exist without such a strong democratic temperament.

  129. John–

    Re the role of the adoring masses

    Something, too, that struck me here with respect to the drama that played out back in ’16 with HRC’s anointed status as the CO for that epic moment in history. (The moment was truly epic, in the end, just not in the way those folks had imagined it to be.)

    I forget who in the community here commented toward the end of last week’s open thread about the curious belief that some appear to have that it is somehow penalizing or shaming to have voted for a non-winner in an election. I encountered similar attitudes last presidential cycle as well. In the run-up to that November, I had made no secret on the PW discussion threads that I had voted for Sanders in the WI primary (which he won) and that I was not going to be voting for HRC in the general, most likely to be voting for Stein (which I did). I was repeatedly harangued for that position (of course) and one of the points made was that I was voting for a loser and not standing with the tide of history and not backing the candidate others were backing. Well, anyone with a functioning brain knew that Jill Stein was not going to be the 45th POTUS, but I voted as I did b/c I couldn’t quite pull the lever for Trump back then.

    But I also remember thinking: why would I vote for a candidate simply b/c I thought they would win? (And to be honest, when I woke up the morning of Nov 8th, I fully expected that HRC would win the election that evening.) Why would I cast my ballot based on other people’s values rather than my own? Why would I stand with the crowd simply to be a part of the crowd? This made no sense to me.

    However, I wonder if part of what drives that attitude is a desire to be among the adoring crowd cheering the CO onward and basking in vicarious glory. Seems like half a life to me, like some kind of reflected existence that has no meaning or purpose of its own but only that derived from proximity to a CO or similar god-figure. A rather sad subordination of one’s own being and potential.

  130. I remember on retreats with one of my spiritual mentors (we do group self inquiry retreats) he would ask us, “what makes you ‘special’? Why do you believe that you are ‘special’? And I would list a dozen or so reasons why… I was homeschooled, I have talents as a musician, good looking etc… it wasn’t until this year (maybe 8 years after those retreats) when, prompted by a question by him, I meditated on the sources/underlying beliefs that produced suffering by being an incorrect judgement of my place in the world. I realized that I had finally seen through being ‘special’ and that I no longer believed that I was. Sure, talented in some ways, different from many people, but not special, not entitled to my desires being met by the universe just because I’m me. I was born in the late 80’s, middle class, but on the lower end, and I have spent a lot of time in poverty conditions, and have worked a heck of a lot to see through my beliefs. Being “special” is a hard belief to see through… even after a lot of work, and I was lucky. It makes me shudder to think of the suffering that is in store for many people before they realize the same.

  131. Simon, actually, there is a “Film Theory” that proves pretty convincingly that Neo is not “The One.” (See YouTube) It’s sort of the Director’s joke, for as you say, Neo doesn’t believe it himself, and the Oracle tells him as much. However, being meta, people just take the more boring face value. That the Villain is “The One” who restores order to the universe through single-minded evil is a lot more interesting.

  132. @JMG

    Alternate theories as to why Ordinary/Extraordinary (O/E) is out of fashion…

    #1 O/E doesn’t play well to the Millennial growth market. In the “everyone gets a trophy” culture, everyone is special, not ordinary. Of course, if everyone is special, no one is. So, the Chosen One is wish fulfillment that they really are special and not just because mommy said so.

    #2 O/E doesn’t play well overseas. Hollywood’s profits are global now and they need simple story arcs that cross cultures. O/E is just a little bit too… Anglo in origin. In particular, O/E just doesn’t seem plausible to audiences in hierarchical cultures like China and India. And that’s where the money is nowadays.

  133. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fantasy writing of Philip Pullman. His Lyra appears to be chosen, but she is free to make choices, many of which she bungles. She has the gift of insight with the alethiometer, but she loses that grace as she comes of age and discovers affection with Will (aptly named!). In the latest volume, La Belle Sauvage, Malcolm is a decidedly ordinary boy; his super power is his admirable character, which strengthens him to make heroic choices to save Lyra from the corrupt theocratic elites who control the world. Thoughts?

    Also, I spent every Tuesday night in the summer of 1977 at the $1 showing of Star Wars. I was about to study abroad in London, and I reveled in the thought of finally getting off my own Tatooine and having a grand adventure. I liked Han Solo, the narcissistic opportunist who found a cause worth the sacrifice and struggle. He had the only palpable character development in the entire series. Best wishes.

  134. Always enjoy your blog. This was a somewhat depressing but insightful take on the deplorable state of fantasy and science fiction from a boomer who shares most all of your views on the topic. Perhaps it’s time to upend the cliches. I think we are all in need of a good belly laugh, and so you might want to check out The Boys on Amazon. To quote the website, “THE BOYS is an irreverent take on what happens when superheroes, who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians and as revered as Gods, abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good. It’s the powerless against the super powerful as The Boys embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about “The Seven,” and their formidable Vought [corporate] backing.”

  135. It occurred to me that Barak Obama was a chosen one – seemingly for no other reason than he was chosen! Then he was turned into a plaster saint by the MSM. Any less than saintly utterances were ignored or glossed over. I distinctly remember him saying something about “bitter clingers”, or “you didn’t build that”.

  136. A few friends of mine did that, working minimum wage jobs at Sears, JC Penny etc. and made the mistake of asking a friend who refused to work join them. It was the first time the non-working friend had been kicked out of anywhere….being told either you work or there are consequences.

    I laugh about that apartment. One friend grew up in a trailer, the next two small houses on the same street, the lazy one grew up in a Victorian Mansion on top of a hill. One time this friend’s mother randomly bought each of us $800 coats. We all took a step back and said there’s something wrong with this picture. In school the following week we were speculating how careless and how loaded you’d have to be to do that.

    Then there was the college roommate who kept buying Gucci shoes….. I asked once if she had ever read a Tale of Two Cities. I truly believe at this point wealth corrupts you. I just want to be a teacher.

  137. @Kimberly Steele I just looked at your Amazon page. I’m going to have to read that 50 Shades of Gray/Twilight cross over. Honestly I think this whole elitism/chosen one thing kicked into full gear with the Twilight books.

    Dear god, how did I love those books in middle school? Those books messed me up for a little while. My biggest problem with the Vampire Lore is that immortality is a given in most of it. I think that stories about immortal characters have damaged the younger generations as much as bulldozer parents. It’s like taking the Never Land gimmick as far as you can. (I prefer to call it never laid.) Characters are supposed to change in stories and the modus operandi of Twilight Vampires is that they can’t change. Bella was also retconned in the last book to be being the chosen one savior.

    Vampire stories seem to have fallen out of fashion the past several years, thank god! Zombie tales seem to have taken their place.

  138. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the role probability and chance play in our lives, and it has led me to believe that we are all chosen ones. If you think about the probability of that one sperm and that one egg when combined would contain all of your DNA (rather than your hypothetical sibling) is infinitesimal. You (me and everyone) are all incredibly unlikely to exist, we have all been chosen to come into existence.

    But being chosen to come into existence does not make any of us more special than anyone else who exists. In this world of Chosen Ones, if you want to be special you have to willfully choose to be “special” over and over again. Now by special I do not mean you get to tell others what to do, but rather you become special by more fully deciding for yourself what you should do.

  139. Brian, I don’t think it’s a conscious decision either. The stories the managerial elite chooses to promote are determined by their own prejudices, which unfold in turn from the ideology they’ve embraced uncritically — an ideology which justifies, at least to them, their absurd wealth and privilege.

    Kimberly, “Vella the Virgin Vegan Vampire” is worth a gold star all by ltself. Thank you; I’ll give it a read.

    Ethan, and when she turns fourteen or fifteen and wants nothing more than a way to shock her parents, watch her line up on Voldemort’s side!

    Ottergirl, we were two blocks from Sylvester Junior High — I walked past it on the way to Highline every schoolday for three years. Before then I lived on the other side of First Avenue, about six blocks from the church –> State Patrol academy, and before then, about two blocks east of Marvista Elementary, right above what’s now an Ace Hardware and used to be the XL Sooper grocery store. So yeah, right in the same neighborhood!

    Strda221, talk to the English professors. Last I read, Richardson’s works are considered the first true novels, and Defoe’s fictional works are assigned to an older genre.

    Jason, so noted!

    PatriciaO, also duly noted.

    Tim, yeah, I bet that would have caused some world-class meltdowns, not least because Chapelle is African-American, and thus is expected by too many people on the left to parrot the lines rich white people want him to say.

    TamHob, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some interesting stuff going on in fanfic; it’s just not something that interests me — and I know people who do it, who could become successful authors (as in, with a career and income) if they created their own characters and settings, but they’re stuck in the fanfic rut and there they remain.

  140. Whenever stories come up I see a lot of people complain they aren’t realistic. And I’m also thinking, “yes, they’re stories.”

    Some might be shocked to learn, for example, that the Mona Lisa is a fake. It’s not really a woman. It’s actually just a few globs of chemicals on a rectangular surface. If you don’t believe me, check it out in person sometime, from the side. That’s the most realistic view!

    It’s a rather dated notion that anything should occur in a story that doesn’t occur in real life with statistical reliability. Clearly no civilization has survived without its central text being the daily journal of it’s most representative member, told in plain language, confirming what everyone already understands about human nature. Why we tell stories about rare events remains a mystery. They hardly come up. Why prepare?

    Or perhaps mundane life is already fascinatingly strange enough as it is, and a wizard hurling fireballs at a Dark Lord isn’t half as bizarre as the fact the we decided at one point it would be a good idea to climb down from those comfy trees.

  141. Hi Strda221,

    I still remember the classic scene where Crusoe strips to swim to the shipwreck, boards, and fills his pockets with things he needs. Oops.

  142. Your topic this time intersects neatly with another essay I’ve been reading in an interesting way.

    That essay, from Umair Haque on Medium, takes up the subject of mass shootings, and the largely young, largely white, American men who commit them. These men, he asserts, have been taught that they are to be the ‘Chosen Ones’ (in your phrase) – given (saddled with?) the expectation that he’ll be more powerful and have more opportunities to exercise his dominion than his father, who in turn had more dominion than his grandfather. These young men thus expect to have access to those things dominion brings: women’s bodies, money, time. Of course, that’s not working out for them.

    So the problem is that such young men – thinking themselves ‘specially special’ – have been dispossessed of this “existential sociopolitical power.” He says “The guilt and shame of having great expectations — but living a humble, meagre reality — become the rage and anger of the dispossessed.” This rage and anger then gets projected outward in the form of these shootings.

    I wonder if the storytelling you cite plays a role? If the message young boys and young men take from exposure to The Last Jedi and the decades of such garbage is not just the binary you posit – to either admire the elite-designated Chosen Ones, or to ‘get in their way’ – but at least a third option: to assume the mantle of a Chosen One (maybe a ‘Proud Boy’ or similar?) themselves.

    Only then, reality is what gets in the way of that fantasy as those who are supposed to see that ‘specialness’ – such as that girl they fancy but who doesn’t fancy them – don’t. Following which, that rage and anger boils out, and those around them – or perhaps in some cases those designated as lesser, as ‘least special,’ by ideology – pay the price.

    It seems to me unlikely that this Chosen One message is limited to the elites on the Left…

  143. JMG,
    I was going to argue with your thesis that the Ivy League Schools convey on their students the distinction of the “Chosen One,” because in my experience this is usually reserved for those students who entered as members of the elite and magically became members of the right clubs, fraternities and sororities. But then I remembered something from my time at the workingman’s ivy ( the one with the Ag School). During football season there was always one home game every year outside the actual Ivy Sports League. Predictably these were almost always loses as these other schools did not use their sports teams as conduits for the offspring of the elites who could not quite make the cut academically ,but could if the “recruited athlete” title was on the application. Near the end of the game ,as the loss was obvious a chant would rise up from the home student section.

    ” Its alright, its ok, your going to work for us someday.”

    Hard to argue with that I guess.

  144. The question of why you’d shy away from voting for a candidate who can’t win (in your view) seems obvious to me, and doesn’t call for any theorizing about wanting to be in fashion. It’s a lot simpler.

    If you vote for someone who loses, then That Dirty Rotten Ratfink in That Other Party will sail right into office, and you will have made it happen! For those who’s sooner find a dead rat in their stew than for that to happen, believe me, that’s a very powerful motivator. Nightmarish, in fact.

    Pat, 2 months and one week out of the echo chamber.

  145. Do you see the novel running out of notional space the same way as movies or opera? If so, how and when might that happen? If not, what makes them different? They’ve been around quite some time as it is…

  146. With the discussion of Star Wars, and the “Chosen One” I’m surprised at the lack of mention of the movie “Rogue One” and its lead Jyn Erso. While she was the daughter of the Death Star’s architect, and there was a hint she might have a little Force, she was very much the common person. And her story ends with her death too. Not many people seemed to have liked the movie but I did.

    As for the discussion of helicopter parents and kids, anyone else even come across the list of “20 Reasons Why Kids From the 60s and 70s are Lucky to Be Alive”?

    In case that link doesn’t work, try this one

  147. Scotlyn, I suspect you’re right!

    Karim, there are plenty of ways to do it, but the best, I tend to think, is not to structure stories as good vs. evil — instead, you have protagonists who are flawed human beings, and antagonists who are also flawed human beings, and they’re on opposite sides for good and sufficient reasons, and nobody has a monopoly on either virtue or villainy. That makes for really solid stories.

    Patricia, I know. Donald the Hutt? As for border collie parents, well, it’s happened before at various points in history, usually to the children of the privileged, and our species survived although many of the children didn’t.

    Llewellyn, nah, that’s just my version of it. The orthodox version is that “The King in Yellow” really does drive men mad. As for telling children they’re special and expecting that to stick, I don’t think it’s anything like that conscious. It’s rather like that bizarre behavior pattern psychologists call “Munchausen syndrome by proxy,” where a parent will insist their child has an endless series of bizarre health problems that don’t actually exist; one of the ways parents can feel special is to convince themselves that their children are special. The constant lectures to the children are part of that. It can go to absurd lengths; a while ago there was a great deal of hoopla in the New Age scene about so-called Indigo Children, who were specially special with a side order of special sauce; various parents went around proclaiming their (usually) spoiled darlings as Indigo Children — and then inevitably, in the true spirit of mystical one-upsmanship, you had another round of parents proclaiming their (usually) spoiled darlings as Crystal Children, who were even more specially special than Indigo Children. I pity the poor kids, and hope they got some therapy eventually.

    Jeremy, thanks for this.

    BB, it does sound like that, doesn’t it? The reason I don’t think it’s deliberate propaganda is purely that it’s so hamhanded and obvious. Competent propaganda is subtler than that.

    Yorkshire, well, there’s that! In general, Tolkien’s plot has holes you could fly Smaug through, but that’s a big one.

    RommelSpargel, I haven’t discussed it because I haven’t read it. (I don’t watch television, in case you were wondering; I haven’t owned a TV in my adult life.) I’m not a great fan of the kind of fantasy that’s all murder and rape and general nastiness, and I gather from reviews that that’s a lot of what Martin’s into these days. Once the series is finished I’ll check out a few reviews and decide whether to revisit that.

    Patricia M, here we go again. I well remember the version of that same schtick that got deployed, and marketed, in the 1980s and 1990s — “Iron John,” “Fire in the Belly,” middle class men chanting and drumming and trying to reconnect with their masculinity, et al. I knew some guys who said they benefited from it, but I also knew some people who exploited it in some remarkably corrupt ways. I somehow don’t think that marketing seminars to bored suburbanites is going to accomplish much in the way change…

    Nothing Special, of course there are various subdivisions of specialness, and various media narratives exploit one or another. The fixation on the Chosen One is more a matter of emotional tone than it is of fine details, though.

    Justin, you’re welcome.

    Scott, I ain’t arguing.

    Matthias, of course! I’m as much a product of my culture and background as anyone, and there are certainly many far less American ways to run a republic. As for the Aragorn parody, it’s not Aragorn as such I want to talk about — and, to be frank, not Tolkien as such. It’s the endless parade of derivative schlock fantasy that copies all his machinery and catches none of his depth and spirit. The Heir of the Kings of Men who will be playing a large and ultimately rather inglorious role in The Lord of the Crimson Land isn’t Aragorn, he’s all the third-rate Aragorn wannabees who populate bad fantasy these days, not to mention all those ninth-rate children of entitlement who are convinced of their own special specialness.

    David BTL, that’s an excellent point. I suspect there’s also some confusion with sports teams here — do you really want to root for a team that has no chance at making the playoffs?

    Isaac, you had a good mentor. Thanks for this.

    Red Oak, fascinating. Here again, watching common sense seep through…

    Brian, maybe so, but I think my theory explains a lot about contemporary American cultural politics that alternative theories leave unexplained.

    DD, I haven’t read Pullman. What I’ve read is that the first book is pretty good but it sinks slowly into a swamp of rationalist-atheist preaching thereafter. Was your experience different?

    Curtis, so noted! One of my other readers also referenced that.

    Dana, very much so. He was a genial, corrupt machine politician who was good at campaigning, and could be counted on not to change anything that mattered, so the corporate media fell into line behind him and flooded the airwaves with propaganda in his favor. Watching his fans cheer him on when he did exactly the same things they denounced Dubya for doing was the thing that made me lose my last scraps of respect for the American left.

    Doll, having to work for a living is a good experience to have. I loathed being an employee, but it taught me plenty, and motivated me to get off my rump and treat writing seriously as a way of making an income.

  148. I didn’t care for The Last Jedi because I thought it had the exact same story line as the 1977 first movie. Exact. If I had watched it in a theater, I would have demanded my money back.

    As for optical illusions, I do recall getting queasy sitting near the front row when watching The Empire Strikes Back in the theater back in ’79 or so, at the beginning when the the fighters are zooming over the snow covered planet.

    But overall I’ve never been that big of fan of Star Wars. I always was more of a Hardy Boys fan, because I could do the same activities Frank and Joe engaged in – riding motorcycles, driving a car, piloting their speedboat, using a short wave radio, and getting involved in an endless number of coincidences to be working on the same case as their father Fenton.

    You know. Like real, on the planet Earth real.

  149. Off topic, so … Biden’s eye bleed last night, which I only learned of today, reminded me of your KeK Wars series during the last election cycle. Have “they” been at it again? If so, they’ve done a great service for the Democratic Party if they’ve helped Biden lose the nomination. To be honest, I think it’s nothing more than a broken capillary in the eye. The same thing happened to me twice in the years just before I retired, and in the 21 years since I retired and went to law school, it has not recurred. That must say something about the stress level at Pac Bell in the 1990s. I went to my physician to ask about it, and he didn’t seem the least bit concerned. He laughed it off, basically.

  150. Moon of Alabama just posted an article entitled “Putin Trolls Trump.” The tenth comment to this gives a good plug for the Archdruid’s “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”

    Antoinetta III

  151. JMG,

    I’ve witnessed the demise of the movies from the trenches, initially as a cinematographer and later as a movie projectionist. I agree with you that good movies peaked in the last century. I blame the shift to digital filmmaking for part of this demise. This shift in technology, from film to digital, forced upon the film industry by studio executives and producers — not the filmmakers themselves — in the name of making more money, eliminated the need for projectionists and was a huge step backwards for the art of cinematography. Studio executives forced the switch from film to digital because it is cheaper to shoot on digital and to distribute it. Movie theater owners celebrated not having to pay for projectionists anymore, as digital projectors and cinema servers didn’t require the constant attention of movie projectors, but this “gain” was offset by the fact that theater owners were forced to buy digital projectors and servers. So they didn’t really benefit. Plus movie projectors were a long-term investment — except for a few upgrades, a movie projector could be used for decades — whereas digital projectors need to be replaced every so many years due to (unnecessary) technology changes. I used to work at a small movie theater that had film and digital projectors. Mostly we showed classic movies. Our audiences loved them. Many of the classics have been transferred to digital, and I must admit they do look good on digital, mainly because they have been restored, and most film prints are in pretty bad shape these days. But I loved showing film on our 35-mm projector, and we had some people visit our theater who came just to see films shown on 35-mm. Movies shot on digital have super sharp resolution, surpassing film, but they all look the same to me. Film had grain, texture and color nuances that digital lacks. Movies shot on film are like paintings, whereas movies shot on digital lack a unique artistic signature.

    When I was a kid I fell in love with movie making, not just the creative aspect, but with the cameras. I used to love looking at behind-the-scenes pictures of movies being made. The Panavision cameras were especially beautiful — a talented designer, a sculptor in my opinion, took time to make them look very cool. In contrast, digital movie cameras make me cringe. They look like a shoe box with a lens stuck on, bristling with a rat’s nest of wires sticking out in every direction. They are truly ugly. I don’t look at behind-the-scenes pictures anymore. A movie camera that shoots film is a living thing the way a steam locomotive is alive. There’s something about its clockwork clicking and humming, its sewing-maching-like pulldown mechanism, a fresh roll of film being tugged through its channels and over its sprockets, the flickering image in the optical viewfinder. Film cameras require human brain-power; digital cameras rely too much on technology, taking the human element out of the process. When I was a camera assistant, keeping the image in focus, called pulling focus, took the practice and skill of a concert pianist — now technology does most of the work for you: where’s the satisfaction in that? Plus film involved a seemingly magical chemical process of the latent image. A cinematographer would use a light meter and his or her experience to create and best capture an image on film. It was an act of faith that the image would turn out. It was a wonderful moment to view the dailies the next day to see how things turned out. That magic is totally lost with today’s digital cameras. Film directors used to stand beside the camera during a take, and watch the actors a few feet away, trusting that the camera operator would properly frame the image. Now the director and a dozen crew members huddle in a tent, some fifty feet or so away from the action, viewing a set of video screens. Framing and composition of the film image used to be the skill of an individual artist; now a group in a tent micromanages that skill. Imagine if that same group began to tell the director how to direct! But the cinematographer and camera operator have to keep quiet if they want to keep their jobs, and put up with their skills and abilities being stripped away.

    I think that the managerial class is stripping the humanity out of the arts it funds, and that is one reason movies are past their peak. It’s taken away projectionist jobs, has ripped out the soul in the filmmaking process, and has turned most movies into junk.

  152. Skyrider, and that kind of special — the kind that happens when people get off their rumps and make something interesting out of the raw materials heredity and environment give them — is interesting.

    Nothing Special, er, did I say or imply any of that?

    Oz, combine that set of dysfunctional attitudes with massive overprescription of antidepressant drugs that have explosive rage episodes as a known side effect, and yeah, that’s a hypothesis worth investigating.

    Clay, exactly. Even those who don’t go on to become part of the national elite are part of the privileged classes more generally, with attitude to match.

    Curtis, the novel’s exhausted its notional space a couple of times already, and each time writers have taken the basic framework (which is very flexible — a long prose narrative centered on one or more protagonists) and repurposed it drastically for a different notional space. That’s one of the things that genre fiction is for — it’s an exploratory process whereby writers try out the basic novel framework on other kinds of narratives and see if they can make it work. The classic novel — the tale of social interactions that was born with Richardson’s epistolary tales, hit its stride with Jane Austen, and finished up its course in the years right before the First World War — has been dead as a doornail for a century; that’s why the romance novel, the heir of that tradition, has settled into the normal post-creative phase of recycling a fixed stock of motifs. The very different 20th century English-language novel is dying, though I don’t think it’s quite dead yet; several other novel-derived genres such as the mystery are still exploring new ground, though I suspect there too it’s just a matter of time, and fantasy and SF are looking pretty moribund just now. Will there be a new repurposing or two? Very likely, yes.

  153. Yeah, I think (and viscerally feel) that cinema is dead. I haven’t seen a well done movie in quite awhile. The only memorable movies I can think of from the past several years are “Thor:Ragnarok” (a movie that is so absurd it somehow works), “John Wick” (which is just a refinement of ’80s classic action) and “Holy Motors” (“what the hell did I just watch” in a good way).

    On the other hand, TV (and I use the term ‘TV’ loosely, really streaming services) seems to have mastered a narrative arc that lasts over a six to ten episode “season” per year. (If you ignore the 95% of stuff that is crap, that is.) I really enjoyed “Good Omens” and all three seasons (eight to ten episodes each) of “Stranger Things” have been solid.

  154. There have been a lot of “Chosens” either leaving or been thrown out of the Conservative party in the UK just recently.. I think it might be a good thing long term as the leadership of the party might end up representing their membership more but even for me (a hard core brexiteer and long time conservative party supporter now living in the USA and of course a supporter of Trump) it almost seems as if the stars are falling….. The US equivalent would probably be the likes of Nancy Pelosi being asked to leave..

  155. Since it’s come up, I find it fascinating that a huge number of my problems relate to being told growing up “of course you’re special” and “You can do anything you want” and being gifted in school (thank the gods my fine motor-skills are so bad my handwriting is practically illegible; it’s the only thing that kept me out of the gifted program!). The awkward fact of the matter is I’m a remarkably clumsy geek with social skills impairments and a chronic tendency to overthinking, who just happens to have very strong analytical skills. My life has started improving dramatically since I sat down and went “What am I good at?” and decided to work at using those skills. Equally though, I needed to do “What am I bad at?” and work out ways to cope with those.

    I think about half of my high school will be dead by the time we’re 40 or so, and that a mix of drugs, alcohol, a lack of any skills worth having and fantastic sense of entitlement will do them in. It mkay sound morbid, but as a young man from a very “privileged” family, it’s gotten quite bad for a lot of us…

  156. I love a good mention of Casablanca (I recently got my 19 yo daughter to watch it – she loved it!) my favorite accidental masterpiece.

    The screenplay was forged from an un-finished stage play, bought on the cheap since the playwright was dead. Bogart and Bergman were both distant 3rd or even 4th casting choices; the studio wanted Ronald Reagan and another equally generic female lead I cannot recall for the leads.

    The writers were still writing even as the actors were acting. Bergman complained that, since there was no ending yet, she couldn’t home in on Ilsa’s (her character’s) motivation. (This sounds a lot like real life to me.)

    They even filmed three endings, divied up the studio’s secretarial pool into thirds and released the most tear-stained version in what was the 1st focus-grouped movie I know of. The three endings were: 1) Rick and Ilsa run off together 2) Rick and the dastardly German shoot each other and both die in the hanger and 3) The one we all know and love.

    I don’t need more than 2 good amber ales to get all teary-eyed and stirred up every time that “diverse” group in the casino drown out the evil, rather ugly, Germans signing the Horst Vessel Lied (or whatever song it was) with their rambunctious performance of Le Marseillaise. OK, maybe masterpiece is a little strong for this movie, but it touches me deeply and I still love it madly even after an unknown number of viewings. Heck, I still love to get all liquored up and re-watch Branagh’s Henry V for the same reasons.

  157. JMG,
    “you might also consider going out of your way to find things to read or watch that will remind you that people as ordinary as you and me really can rise to challenges, take action, and change things.” Thanks for this eminently practical encouragement. I hope we all take it to heart and nurture it in others.

    @ team10tim Thanks for posting the link about Chappelle…I’ve been a big fan for a long time and am psyched now to see this new special on Netflix. Good politically incorrect humor almost always floats my boat, and Dave’s one of the best (even if there’s an occasional wince). Many of our greatest standup comedians have been wicked sharp social critics (George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor). Chappelle’s a fascinating guy with an unusual background…both parents college professors, mom was the first black woman ordained as a UU minister. I’m pretty sure it was my then-teenage son who turned me on to him sometime in the mid aughts. In one of his most brilliant skits he plays Clayton Bigsby, an elderly blind-from-birth black man who is a raging white supremacist. It’s pretty strong stuff…he’s very good at sniffing out hypocrisy and proud or willful ignorance.

    @ D-Trox & Beekeeper “What you describe is the way every kid grew up when I was a child. Mom sent us outside in the morning and told us to come back for dinner. We and our friends played in fields, in the woods, rode our bikes all over our rural town and went home about the same time Dad did, no adult looked over our shoulders or played umpire in our squabbles. It was great.” This is a good description of my childhood as well and I’m deeply grateful I knew that. To this day, wearing a helmet while riding a bike kind of ruins the fun. Now our society is so completely captured by screen culture that robust physical play has all but vanished. All the action is digital and virtual (fake)…it’s an alarming trend that’s been around for a while now.

  158. Carlos M:

    I spent the first couple of years of my early educational life in a Catholic school back when real, no-nonsense nuns taught the classes. I vaguely remember the saints, etc., but what really, really stuck with me was the self-discipline we learned. My first-grade teacher, a nun who was hardly taller than we were and looked to us to be at least a hundred years old, kept order in a classroom of 40 six-year-olds and taught us how to study, how to work hard until we had mastered the material and that by taking shortcuts we were cheating ourselves. As a child I was terrified by the nuns (we all were), but I am so grateful for my parents’ decision to send me there, despite the financial cost to them at a time when they had limited income. I can’t speak to the state of Catholic schools today, but Rod Dreher occasionally writes about Christian and Catholic schools; his articles and the comments by readers that follow would seem to indicate that they’re not what they used to be.

  159. @ Oz “It seems to me unlikely that this Chosen One message is limited to the elites on the Left…”

    Agreed…many glaringly contemptible iterations of the theme from this cohort to be sure, but I completely agree that it goes well beyond that. Seems to me that people from all classes and ideologies have some version of it going on. The dominant religion of this nation has a doozy of a Chosen One story!

  160. @Lacking Clever User Name – That was a beautiful elegy to film making and it’s technology. For just your reasons, I went out of my way to see Dunkirk in 70mm with a state-of-the-art sound system of Mann’s Chinese in Hollywood. It was so worth the effort to take the Metro there.

    While the movies themselves are not doing well, film scoring is not quite so moribund. Speaking of Dunkirk, I nearly burst into tears when Hans Zimmer, who wrote the film’s score, sewed Parry’s setting of the hymn Jerusalem, at something like 3x slow tempo, into the underbrush of his score as the little boats made it home, back to that green and pleasant land. I may have been the only one on the theater to notice. That became my little secret with Zimmer.

  161. @JMG

    Did I @ you?

    No, that was from reading the comments and also many conversations like this one.

    I remember watching Pirates of the Caribbean with my friend’s group and one kid complained the sword fighting wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t that half the combatants were skeletons that irked him, however.

    Also listened to a podcast on Chinese history the other day and the presenter snarked his way through the legends surrounding the Xia.

    I still don’t really know what you mean by the emotional tone of the Chosen One archtype. Without a definition it’s too easy to tie the idea to whatever cultural or political development one doesn’t like.

    I see the archtype all the time in video game RPG’s. But it’s very easy to see. Someone explicitly says “theres a prophecy that hero X will do Y” and then lo and behold, you’re the hero. I can’t blame anyone for being bored of it. There may be some reasons it works really well for games, or maybe it’s just lazy storytelling. I don’t play games enough to be bored by it yet myself.

    The only books I’ve read with an explicit prophecy are Wheel of Time (which I like but won’t defend) and Lord of the Rings.

    However, to support your case the two series I gave up on may also had such explicit prophesies: The Talisman of Shannara and the Chronicles of Prydain. I never finished these so I dont know. I vaguely remember nobodies getting an object they would eventually use to defeat a Dark Lord and become somebodies in the process.

    Are these series the shlock you speak of?

  162. @ Dana re: Obama’s less than perfect utterances. How about “I’m really good at killing people”?

  163. Oh gosh, Indigo Children, I’d forgotten about that. I dimly recall being dragged to a couple of New Age conventions as a child, back when they were all the rage. And of course the people who were running these things back then are now the same ones who rant about how the new generation is the most entitled in history (wonder why), and then seem genuinely baffled as to why everyone is so angry at them. I’d say it boggles the mind, but somehow it’s all so very predictable.

  164. For 3 glorious years, we had a woods behind our house when I was a kid, and in summer the dog and I spent every dry day back there. Not a caring adult in sight.

  165. As a real outsider my observation of those who are involved in school shootings is that they have often been bullied to within an inch of their lives and finally snap. They have no hope of things changing and see this endless awfulness ahead of them. Be very careful of depriving anyone of hope.

  166. Jim W. – I must’v missed that one! Yikes! That ranks right up there with Hillary’s pronouncement “We came, we saw, he died” Cackle, cackle.

  167. Chris,

    Your comments about movies and TV make a lot of sense to me.

    One thing that I’d like to see attempted is a revival and refinement of the half-hour sitcom, the genre that dominated prime-time TV during the latter half of the 20th century. The high water mark for that genre to my mind was Good Times.

    One genre that seems to have died and been genuinely revived and refined is the whodunnit. I grew up with Matlock and Murder She Wrote, both of which I loved but which were definitely showing the symptoms of an overplayed genre. Then the whodunnit seemed to collapse completely under the weight of the gritty police procedural.

    Recently, though, we’ve had two modern reboots of Sherlock Holmes (as well as the Robert Downey movies), a new Murder on the Orient Express movie, a new Father Brown series that reimagines him as a parish priest in the 1950’s (instead of a wandering priest in the 1910’s), and even an all new show, Death In Paradise, that’s both a full-throated whodunnit and kind of a send-up of police procedurals.

  168. Maybe not for posting: your decision. How do you manage to keep the only readable user-comments sections I see these days? All others are SO danged toxic. Are your readers just by nature more housebroken or do you leave tons of comments in the trash?

  169. FWIW, I finished the LOTR re-read today. One of the first things that occurred to me is that, at the very end, you’re left in Sam’s perspective. If Frodo is ordinary, he is still a member of the upper class of the Shire, and has inherited a magic ring. Sam is the ordinariest of the ordinary characters, or even sub-ordinary– even after everything he’s still can’t address any of the other characters without adding the honorific “Mister” before their name. And it’s Sam who rises to become king– or, rather, mayor– of the Shire.

  170. Hey, I just bought the new Farmer’s Almanac. On the back is an ad to get $15 off a $50 order from . Use promo code ALMANAC20 at checkout.

    Now tape this info to your computer for when you start seed-shopping in February. 🙂

  171. Hi JillN,

    Yup, one of the things boys used to be taught, with a view to their becoming men, was to never, never put the other guy in a position where he thinks he has nothing left to lose.

    Hi KevPilot,

    JMG housebroke us all with regular walks and frequent treats (every Monday and Wednesday!). 😀

  172. You know, this week’s theme ties into an internal debate I’ve been having about whether to set my next D&D campaign in the Forgotten Realms (the now-default setting for the game) or the World of Greyhawk (the old-default setting), and is definitely throwing me toward the latter.

    FR is full of Chosen Ones – or “DM’s pet” characters, as I’ve seen them called – that save the world again and again because they’re the good people; really, they’re the only ones that matter. They – and it is mostly the same set in each case – have been the main actors in three major cataclysms over the course of the five editions of D&D and about 200 in-game years.

    Greyhawk, by contrast, is much more muted and draws more inspiration from pulp fantasy like Conan and Fafhrd. Even the controversial Greyhawk Wars, which involved both a half-fiend demigod and a conspiracy of evil racist monks taking to take over the world – were more of a fantasy World War 2 than an Armageddon-Lite.

  173. Drhooves, for what it’s worth, I was also a major Hardy Boys fan back in the day.

    Phutatorius, interesting. I haven’t heard anything from the Kek brigade lately, but I suspect they’ve tightened up their game and embraced thorough operational secrecy now that they know they’ve got an opposition ready to use magic against them.

    Antoinetta, delighted to hear it. I know the one place where that novel of mine found a significant readership was among military geeks on the rightward end of things.

    User Name, vinyl records are coming back as a niche market item, and film for film cameras is still selling to a steady, lively audience. Typewriters are coming back into fashion again, too. Have you considered seeing if it’s time for 16mm film to begin to stage a comeback — perhaps by getting a camera or two (they ought to be cheap) and seeing what you and as many other aficionados as you can find can do with it?

    Chris, I suspect what’s going on here is that the season-long story arc is still relatively new ground for TV and has possibilities not yet explored.

    Naomi, the sooner Pelosi is asked to leave, the better!

    Will, I get that. I had to go through exactly the same process, and figure out what I can do well, what I can do adequately, and what I can’t do at all — and in the process, figure out how to make use of my strengths and avoid having to rely on my weak points. No, it wasn’t easy.

    Hmm. I wonder if it’s time for a book titled You’re Not Special, And You Can’t Do Whatever You Want?

    KevPilot, it’s a great example of pure dumb luck as a workable substitute for genius. Also a really solid movie.

    Jim, you’re welcome. Now get out there and read something good. 😉

    Nothing Special, since this comments page is for people who want to comment on my posts, and the text above the comment window specifically asks people to stay on topic and not just post whatever cerebral flatulence passes through their brains, I didn’t think my question was at all out of line. With regard to your question, nope; my post explains why.

    Llewellyn, yep. “What do you mean, my actions have consequences???”

    KevPilot, it’s quite simple: ruthless moderation. When people behave badly, their comments don’t get through. If they keep on trying to behave badly, I bring out the ban hammer. I’m perfectly fine with people disagreeing with me, but I require a basic level of courtesy and I also don’t permit concern trolling or the very common habit of taking someone’s comment, twisting it out of shape, and using it as a weapon. So far, it seems to be working.

    Steve T, true enough! I honestly think it would have been a better novel if Sam rather than Frodo had been the focus of the narrative from the beginning. Still, to each their own.

    James, in your place I’d definitely go with Greyhawk! Much more fun…

  174. One of the biggest real world ( if the words and minds of the NYT and MSNBC are the real world ) examples of the promotion of a Chosen One was of course the MSM and Democratic parties promotion of Robert Mueller as a saintlike warrior sent from on high to vanquish the hated Orange Julius in the Russiagate fiasco. At its peak he was endowed “by the true believers” with superhero powers. But his eventual downfall in the final hearing is a clear warning of the potential fate of raising real people to the height of “Chosen Ones.” He appeared a bit disengaged and senile but it may have been the contrast between his constructed image and his actual flawed human self that made it look so bad on TV.

  175. It’s interesting to hear about the movies that Ecosophia readers favor. I don’t have a deep bench of dramas to call on since I prefer comedies if I’m going to sit through a movie (Movies should be fun!) and I am partial to old silent films so my favorites include “The General” (1928, Buster Keaton), anything else with Buster Keaton, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963, every old-time Hollywood star available at the time), and the Pink Panther movies (Peter Sellers). I do make an exception for those eerie, silent German movies like “Metropolis”, “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” and “The Golem”. Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 silent film, “October” was pretty interesting too.

  176. @JMG,

    Having read LOTR innumerable times since my sister gave me the infamous pirated ACE edition in the 60’s*, I have always felt like Sam got plenty of focus. Indeed, Frodo seemed almost incidental at times.

    The more I think about it, the more incredibly nuanced the whole story gets!

    * I still have that edition – it was printed on extra-added-acid paper, and the pages are brown and crumbling, the books were held together with rubber bands, which themselves have crumbled to bits over the decades. Yet I remember reading them, fresh and new, in my bunk at summer camp in ’67. What a thing.

  177. @ Lacking Clever User Name

    Thanks for sharing your story, it was a good read, and a depressing one.

    Speaking of projection, my local Independent Cinema/General Trendy Place was doing a thing a year or two ago where they were showing Paul Thomas Anderson’s films on 35mm, since they still had their old projector lying around. Trouble is, they pay their workers terribly and treat them like dirt, so the same people who pull pints at the bar, wait tables and do the ushering and everything else now have to sit up in the projection booth and try to make the best of it.

    The result: missed reel changes, segments that play in silence for twenty minutes, and what I would generally consider film vandalism.

    This happened on multiple nights. You’d think they could’ve shelled out for a decent projectionist, at least for the sake of appearances, but apparently not. And pretty soon, there’ll be hardly anyone around who can even do it any more. It made me sad, I have to say.

  178. I can’t help but note that the Chosen Ones narrative has a feature which helps explain something weird about US foreign policy: it’s radically open about lots of things. I’m pretty sure that at least some of the opponents of the US have internet access, and subscriptions to the media. What’s interesting is that next to no one seems to realize this is a bad idea.

    Of course, if they’re the chosen ones, they’ll win in the end, and so it doesn’t matter what actions they take, any setbacks are only temporary. Thus, there’s no need to learn from what is happening, and so counterproductive strategies are held in place because they know they will win in the end.


    The fact you went through the same process I’m on now gives me quite a bit of hope for me. Thank you, and thank you for your writings. These are the reason why I started down this road in the first place, and it’s much better than where I was going….

  179. Dear Kevpilot – housebroken I’m not. I’m known around these here parts for having a bad temper, a foul mouth and a prodigious wine habit. But when I post here I am forced to “up my game” so to speak. All thanks to our host, JMG.

  180. Oz,

    “These men, he asserts, have been taught that they are to be the ‘Chosen Ones’ (in your phrase) – given (saddled with?) the expectation that he’ll be more powerful and have more opportunities to exercise his dominion than his father, who in turn had more dominion than his grandfather. These young men thus expect to have access to those things dominion brings: women’s bodies, money, time.”

    This strikes me as the veriest nonsense, unless you are speaking of the elite young men whose families donate to Harvard?

    I don’t think those guys are the shooters. No, this is just more race baiting and white male bashing. That each generation has been taught to expect more dominion? Quite false. That sort of dominion went out of fashion many decades ago.

    Obfuscation. There is no real investigation into these shootings.

  181. @JMG, others

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and defend the style of parenting that involves constantly telling your kid that he or she has a lot of potential – that was how me and my siblings were raised, though thankfully without all the class baggage that often goes along with it. My parents intentionally moved to a poorer town at about the time their children began to be socially conscious, in order to avoid raising us in a materialistic and snobby environment, and, being Mormons, we always drew most of our friendships from our local congregation without regard to class distinctions.

    But my parents never stopped telling all the children that we were very talented and intelligent had could achieve, well, not quite anything, but a lot more than most people would end up aspiring to. And ultimately, I think that was a good thing to do, because

    1) People nearly always operated at below their full potential
    2) The higher the expectations on a child, the more he or she will accomplish

    Now, we weren’t the kind of kids whose days were filled with carefully-crafted regimen of extra-curricular activities, our parents didn’t cherry-pick our friends for us, and while we went to a mix of private and charter schools, they weren’t particularly expensive ones. It was all more along the lines of telling your kid that he’s talented, letting him have a lot of latitude in what he does with his talents, but making it clear that he’s expected to work hard at whatever he chooses to do, and to achieve more than the average kid. And I think it turned out pretty well for us, and I’m grateful we were raised that way.

  182. JMG, this makes me smile big! I walked a mile or so to Marvista for a few years, then on to Olympic Junior High, then took the school bus/drove to “Dead Moines” to Mount Rainier High School.

    XL Sooper was our family’s first choice for groceries. Do you remember the nearly-naked lady/cuts of “meat” poster in the butcher section? It would probably set people’s hair on fire today, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s, it was just part of the landscape.

    Not saying that’s good or bad; just interesting how perceptions change.


  183. I lost interest in western superheroes somewhere into my teens when I discovered wuxia fiction out of the east, only really available then to an English-reader in comics form.

    What set kung fu heroes apart from their western superhero counterparts was that there were none who were gifted with magical, technological or mystical powers or destinies. The moment a character appeared on the page you were instantly certain that their abilities, fantastical though they often were, were achieved through grueling, life-long dedication. Basically anyone, from emperor to street beggar was eligible for kung fu supremacy. Determination was the deciding factor that would elevate a character to greatness. That I reckon places them alongside the everyman, even if their abilities sometimes become so great that they distance themselves from those of the mundane world.

    And also addressing JMG’s points about interesting female protagonists as opposed to the Mary-Sue’s we’re presented with these days, the most pulpy wuxia fiction can do this really well, both luridly playing up women’s loveliness while also arranging them at the top of the kung fu hierarchies, or in the case of something like Gu Long’s The Celebrity, casting the hero as a spoiled princess gradually having her romanticism replaced by pragmatism the more she learns about human nature.

    Some of the tales have been translated by fans and be found in corners of the internet:

  184. @Yorkshire and oz (and HISHE), about not simply walking into Mordor:

    It’s clear that once the Nazgul were flying, sending the Ring by eagle against the Nazgul and the Eye would have been foolish.

    But, what about earlier, such as directly from the Shire or at least from Rivendell? It’s possible that Mount Doom, whose volcanic fire generally waxed and waned with Sauron’s activity, wasn’t active enough yet. Sauron was still acting stealthily at the time. Until Sauron ignited the mountain (which represented a very public battle cry), an aerial mission could end up with the ring-bearer and some eagles standing in a lukewarm cave of solid igneous rock as an army of orcs surrounds the place. As the ancient writings say, “fortune strums a mournful tune, for those whose campaigns peak too soon.” Presumably the eagles could escape again with the Ring in that case, but the plot would be revealed, making any subsequent quest in that direction unachievable.

    There’s one scene in the novel where Gandalf, upon learning from Faramir how Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are planning to enter Mordor via Cirith Ungol, is not at all approving of that choice. But that seems to be the only route that’s even remotely possible for them, and Gandalf never says what better route he’d planned to use if he’d still been with them at that point. My crazy fan theory is that Gandalf didn’t anticipate flying Nazgul, so his original plan for the Fellowship was to summon the eagles for the final leg as soon as the party caught sight of Mount Doom on fire. Things didn’t work out that way, so the eagles couldn’t be of any help inside Mordor until the rescue operation after the Nazgul and the Eye were down.

  185. @ kevPilot

    Thank you for your comment. I too enjoyed Dunkirk and also was moved by the flotilla scene you described. There still are some very good movies being made, if you look for them, and you’re right: film music hasn’t reached its peak yet.

    By the way, are you a pilot? I fly a Cessna (though not as much as I’d like).

  186. JMG,

    I appreciate your advice that I should buy a movie camera, find, or form, a group of like-minded film-makers, and start filming. Thank you.

    I’m hoping that there is a movie theater in Retrotopia, and that film is projected there.

  187. To me, the interesting thing about the season-long story arc is how effectively it parallels the novel format.

    Each individual episode is functionally a “chapter” (Stranger Things even calls it such), with the season as the whole forming a book. Multiple seasons? Simply means you’re dealing with a trilogy (or pentalogy, or whatever). And yes, it seems there’s still notional space to be explored there – they were theoretically possible as soon as TV itself was invented, but I think streaming and the streaming culture made it more viable.

    Part of the reason is that in “old-fashioned” TV, there was scarcity imposed by the clock and by the studios – you only had so many channels to choose from, there are only so many half-hour time slots available, etc. Sitcoms work well for this format, because for the most part, while there is often some strand of continuity for the loyal, week-in/week-out viewers, you can more or less pick up a traditional sitcom at any point without needing to know what’s gone on since the pilot – they tend to be driven by character interactions in episodic mini-plots rather than by an overarching story.

    (Also worth noting: Most traditional sitcoms tend to deal with “everyday” people doing “everyday” things. Sure, there are gimmicks, but they’re families or groups or whatever that you can envision actually existing and maybe even encountering.)

    With streaming, and also with things like DVD re-releases, you generally buy (or have available to you) an entire season at once. Like reading a novel, you can watch it all in one sitting or watch an episode at a time and come back to it later, and newcomers can start at a building. So like a novel, you can have a more story- and plot-focused script. But unlike a novel, everything’s being done through an audiovisual medium rather than a written one, meaning that the possibilities are different, as are the constraints.

    I’d imagine something similar exists for audiobooks – in particular, audiobooks designed as audiobooks from the start rather than simply being “translations” of an ordinary written novel.

    Streaming is new, so the notional space for art forms enabled by streaming hasn’t filled up yet. (Will it fill up before the Long Descent renders streaming unviable again? Only time will tell.)

  188. I cannot resist recommending a book starring not one but two ordinary people, which is now being called a classic of dystopian fiction and has been selling steadily for the last 16 years: The City of Ember. It bears no relation to the “stunningly dull” fiction so rightly pilloried by our Archdruid, whom I’ve been following nearly since the beginning. I confess I wrote this book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d suggest it as an antidote to the tales of super-special heroes.

  189. Right on, JMG, and glad you didn’t like the new Star Wars, either! Blade Runner 2049 ended up being one of my favorite movies for just this reason, because (spoiler) for the majority of the movie it acts like the protagonist is some sort of special chosen one, and that’s the direction it’s going to go, but then it didn’t, strongly, and the protagonist was not special by birth at all. While the twist wasn’t difficult to see coming, I just had a hard time believing that there would be a big budget modern movie with no chosen one.

    Rey is especially toxic, though, since not only is she always good and her enemies always bad, but she’s only good because she thinks she is, and the villains are only evil because they look evil and aren’t on the hero team. The first order hasn’t done anything particularly evil (by Star Wars expanded universe standards) except use Nazi imagery. The Resistance hasn’t done anything good, either, other than try to protect their own hides. Kylo Ren has every reason to be good, and Rey has every reason to be evil, but they still have to be in the roles they were initially pegged.

    Worse, with these big-budget fan-fiction films, Disney has made the Empire more reasonable. In Rogue One, there’s an imperial convoy of professional soldiers and armored vehicles travelling through an occupied desert city that gets attacked by turban-wearing religious nuts with lots of explosives and no regard for civilian casualties…as a US soldier, I know which side I’m on. Add the treatment of Luke and Poe by the plot and other characters, it’s clear that I’m not welcome on the ‘good guy’ side in he brave new Star Wars after all. I’m definitely not interested in paying money to be told I’m evilly evil just because of my birth. I can get that online for free.

  190. To JMG: Spoiler alert: the Shadeylight novel is 99% raunchy sex. In a word, everything about it is gratuitous. I had been vegan for three years when I wrote it and I’m now at the ten year mark. Please keep in mind I’ve mellowed my views considerably since then. My apologies for it in advance; I truly don’t know what comes over me sometimes.

    Doll, don’t feel bad. Scads of young girls loved the Twilight books — mostly because they were tame romance novels at their core with dashes of the supernatural thrown in to keep them lively. I don’t think it is any more complicated than that. I

    grew up upper middle class in the seventies and eighties and was told I was special. Never tell a kid they’re special. Unique maybe, but not special. I was a terribly unhappy child, oversensitive, massively confused, and suicidally depressed as a teen. My circle of friends as a teenager was toxic. The elite suburban upper twenty percent was a cesspit back then: actually, in my more “serious” novels Forever Fifteen and River’s Heart, I go into lurid detail about mothers who seduce or attempt to seduce their daughter’s fourteen and sixteen year old boyfriends out of boredom and jealousy, cliques who drive marginalized kids to suicide on purpose, and Christians who only care about the poor insofar as they can brainwash them into their cults of hatred. I’ll let you guess if I based my material on real life experience or not. I remember there was a clique of girls who did things like compulsively cut themselves. One took small doses of arsenic because she wanted to have that pale, gaunt look. A good looking, rich boy at the high school on the opposite side of town boasted sleeping with hundreds of girls by the time he was 17. I was one of only two girls who were known never to have slept with him. My graduating class numbered a thousand kids. By the time he was eighteen, he fathered a special-needs baby (both teen parents abused drugs) and got himself fired for stealing cash from Burger King while he was cashier. He spent his days playing video games and watching children’s cartoons when all of us other kids went off to college. He was far from the only rich kid who sat around his parents’ house like an overgrown child between the ages of 16 – 22. Money and a cushy, easy life is horrific for the developing brain of a kid, boy or girl, even if they do as they are told and get their college degree. Now that I’m much poorer and live in a neighborhood where most people are struggling just like me, I can legitimately say I’m much, much happier. I love it here. You learn to detach yourself from worrying about money and status.

  191. Clay, there’s a lively market among Trump supporters for the “Mueller Time” t-shirts and other memorabilia the Democrats were brandishing a couple of years ago. It’s tough when you fail so signally to live up to your billing… 😉

    Sgage, *the* edition for me was the original Ballantine version with the hallucinatory Barbara Remington covers, though I also recall the Ace pirate edition. I literally remember the first time I saw the trilogy: there was a row of boxed sets in the library of the second elementary school I attended — a library, btw, into which pupils were not allowed except when the class went there for a project, and you couldn’t check anything out that wasn’t for the project. Nautilus Elementary was a cutting-edge, avant-garde, open-concept disaster of a school in which I learned almost nothing, but they had this inaccessible row of boxed sets in the library with the eldritch word TOLKIEN in strange lettering on the sides. I managed to get access to a copy two years later, and didn’t surface for breath for most of a decade.

    Bruce, it makes a fine Stoic principle!

    Will, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Sgage, hmm. I wonder whether the online fanatics agree with that characterization…

    Wesley, interesting. The thing I found most grueling about the status of “gifted” was that whatever I did was never good enough — my very best was taken as the minimum for any future attempt. All that rhetoric about “you can achieve anything” amounted to “why aren’t you living up to our expectations?” — and those expectations had nothing to do with the reality of a kid with Aspergers syndrome (which next to nobody knew about in those days). Instead, they were used systematically to dismiss the possibility that if I failed at anything, it might have a cause other than my not having tried hard enough. Thus I’m far from sure I agree that “the higher the expectations on a child, the more he or she will accomplish;” I suspect there’s much more going on than that.

    OtterGirl, I would have gone to Rainier HS also, but we moved to Sylvester Road between my 9th and 10th grade years and thus into Highline’s catchment basin. I don’t recall the poster, but I used to buy science fiction books at the little drugstore kitty-corner from XL Sooper, for whatever that’s worth! Blast from the past…

    Jamie C, Wuxia has been on my get-to list for a while. It would be seriously worth while for an aspiring publisher to find a couple of good translators and start bringing them out in English translation.

    User Name, of course — not merely theaters, but movie palaces with good buttered popcorn for sale at the concession stand! I’ll look forward to hearing about your next film — and the one after that…

    Duprau303, glad to hear it. I’ll put it on the look-at list, as time permits.

    John, I really get the impression that they’re trying to drive as many people away as possible. That’s the classic third phase of the Rescue Game, the circular firing squad phase, which ends when your movement has dwindled to six people sitting in a room, all eyeing each other suspiciously, waiting for someone to say something that proves they’re Wrong…

    Kimberly, I was assuming that, since it’s partly a Fifty Grades of Hay parody and partly a parody of fantasy-romance writers I haven’t read but Isabel has — and I know her tastes. My equivalent creation, Flaming Koolaid by B.M.W. Flunkey, was cleaner but no less gratuitous!

  192. The stories we share explain to us the world we experience. They provide context and meaning to our personal experiences. Stories shape our worldview and provide contexts for us. This essay is very important.

    I also noticed the teen romance genre, the teen fantasy genre, and the teen dystopian fantasy genre all succumb to this flaw. Each story centers around a very special character (who just wishes they were “normal” and “like everybody else”) who then goes on a series of adventures that usually include a makeover, a dance or prom of some kind, and being the leader of a group of “almost as special” characters. (I read a lot of these because my niece would recommend them, and they weren’t terrible, they were similar to trashy romance novels or sports movies).

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I think it’s lazy publishing, following the formula that’s making money (just like the formulaic romance and detective stories… both of whom still have really ordinary protagonists most of the time). These formulaic novels continue to exist because they fulfill an emotional need. Romance novels help lonely people imagine love. Mystery novels provide puzzles that make the reader feel smart. This new formula exists because today’s teens want to feel like special people. I suspect it’s related to the way we raise children now, with giant, impersonal schools and daycare and both parents working (and those participation trophies probably didn’t help).

    Though the new stories come at a cost, as you rightly point out. Those “I want to feel special and elite” novels are taking up space that used to be reserved for “I want to feel pride and accomplishment after hard work, I want to accomplish something great” which is a much more useful personal narrative.

    I wonder if the change in stories parallels the loss of pride in accomplishment of most of the working classes as workmanship, honesty, and durability all got chucked out the window with the good wages.

    The ordinary character is still around, it’s just got some competition. There’s a famous cartoon called Futurama about a ordinary (slightly stupid) pizza delivery boy who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen until 2099, when he wakes up in the flying car, rocket ship future. The entire first episode he’s struggling not tobe assigned a job as an ordinary delivery boy. At the end, he gives in, becomes a delivery boy and happily discovers he’s going to be delivering packages in a space ship.

    In a later episode, he tries to draw a comic book (called Super Delivery Boy or something like that) where he struggles to find the balance between a ridiculously overpowered superhero and a laughably ineffectual one. I think that’s another problem with some of these modern stories. Some of these superheroes are so overpowered they can’t possibly fail at anything (like Marvel, my husband’s favorite). There’s no drama, no sitting on the edge of your seat. The win is inevitable. These extreme high power heroes are probably filling another emotional need (the need to feel in control?)

    I have also noticed a lot of shoddy, formulaic music marketed on the radio. I wonder if our culture would be in the same artistic decline if its creative works were not distributed by multinational corporations… Obviously, there would still be these types of emotional works, but would great works percolate to the surface more easily if more small, independent presses were available?

    Jessi Thompson

  193. @JMG,

    Perhaps what made my experience of growing up as a “gifted” child so positive was the sheer unregimentedness of it. I was constantly being told how intelligent I was – and yet nobody ever tried to make that intelligence fit into any sort of rigid mold. So when I started reading college textbooks for fun at age 9, my paremts homeschooled me for a few years so I could get the most out of that style of learning. When, at 13, I began interacting socially with other children for the first time in my life, they encouraged me to start high school. At 16 I graduated high school and started college, and so forth – I never really felt any pressure or stress at these junctures – I just loved to learn and loved to move on to new ways if doing so when I felt ready.

    I was aware that I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but I was never taught to see it as a disability; I just realized that I had a different set of strengths and weaknesses than most children, a set which I would never have wanted to trade away. As a teenager, I researched the history of that diagnosis and convinced myself that the whole idea that children such as myself were disordered was Nazi junk science and unworthy of serious consideration. Whether or not that last point is actually true, I really think that I owe my success in life to the fact that my parents encouraged me to see my peculiarities in a highly positive light.

    My four siblings, I should add, chose more ordinary educational pathways than I did, though they all ended up quite succesful; the overall ethose of unregimented exceptionalism being the same with all of us. In short, we spent most of our childhood playing, relaxing, reading, and generally pursuing whatever goals caught our fancy from moment to moment – the catch was that, when we decided to throw our effort into something we liked, we were told that we were geniuses and that if we pushed ourselves, we would end up at or near the top.

  194. Oz and Walt F, this version of the video doesn’t require you to sign in – The thought of the Fellowship ending up in a lukewarm cave is hilarious! 😀 I also hadn’t thought of the need for a distraction. But thinking of the movie, Mount Doom lights up pretty early on. Gandalf goes to the Minas Tirith library near the beginning because he has “questions that need answers”, and the volcano is already erupting in the background.

    The Nazgul lose their horses only a few days before the Council of Elrond. When do they next appear? It takes them a while to get flying mounts. So the eagles could have approached through uncontested airspace. Even if the Nazgul did rise to meet them, there are only nine of them and their bat-winged things are presumably slower than eagles, and a lot of eagles could be sent to keep them busy.

    If the Ring could just be dropped into the open crater it could be done easily enough even if they were spotted on their approach. But if it has to be taken inside the mountain, that would get a lot more complicated once the alarm was sounded and the Cracks of Doom filled up with orcs.

  195. I think some online reviewers also correspond to your analysis. What Rey embodies which contrasts with other super-powered characters that manage to be far more compelling:

  196. re: Comments
    “I require a basic level of courtesy.”
    So simple, so very rare! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  197. @JMG @Kimberly Steele

    What advice would you give someone looking to write one of those cheap romance novels? I’ve started a few of them but end up laughing at how cliche they become by chapter five. I can only think of a few ways to say sleek slender girl meets big bulky muscle guy. They get laid out of wedlock. Bad guy dies. Happily ever after.

    I’ve tried getting political a few times with them but that adds a layer to them that I feel would turn a raunchy audience away that’s looking for a one night stand with a book.

  198. Going with the idea that the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea, the opposite of the Chosen One would be a culture where conformity is prized and people with unusual ideas or talents, especially those that came easy, were resented and disdained. Where knowing your place and putting people in their place are high moral ideals. Obviously this is not just a theoretical possibility and in real life has various names like anti-intellectualism, tall poppy syndrome, and in Scandinavia is called Jante Law. Works that deal with this kind of culture are Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and Wilhelm Reich’s Listen, Little Man! (the latter being what my internal monologue sounded like for a number of years). 🙂

    This attitude also has a distinct Puritan heritage, where suffering is currency and anything easy and fun is suspect. In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich shows how the puritan ethic was turned against more than carnival cuture. The racist association between African Americans and watermelons is part of a broader thing that includes the West Indian pumpkin and the South Pacific breadfruit tree. These plants allow people to have a secure food supply and economic independence, while still living an easy life. That’s anathama to both puritanism and capitalism.

    It’s an ideology that pops up in some funny places. You may have heard Michael Albert’s Parecon described as an inspirational plan for how a socialist society could be organised. I was repulsed by it. Partly because it’s a design for an arid bureacracy. Mainly because it seems to have been written in the fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a happy working life. It rewards people for sacrifice. So those who make a poor career choice and are miserable every day get more than someone who chose a job they were naturally good at, enjoyed and could do easily. Even someone who chose a satisfying challenge would be at a disadvantage to the Bleeding Fingers Martyrdom Brigade.

    On a similar theme, it’s been interesting to see people’s views on gifted children. I come at it from the opposite angle from those here. I was IQ tested when I was six, and knew I wasn’t like other people before that. Getting tested was a joy because I got to stretch my mind, and those who administered the test understood me, something I hadn’t really experienced outside my family at that point. But that was the end of it and there was nowhere else to go, because there is no gifted education in Britain. So for me it became a promised land that I never got to see.

    It’s curious to hear accounts of people who were exposed to gifted programmes and weren’t impressed by the results. If JMG were thinking about doing a post on the subject, it’s got my vote.

  199. JMG hits the big time! This article is in today’s Naked Capitalism “Links.” So let’s all sit up straight and use the coasters for their intended purpose, rather than as itty-bitty Frisbees as we usually do when JMG is out of the room.

    I already put the Hounds out in the yard, and fed them a little extra so they won’t eat the mailman. And the shoggoth has her surface nicely polished. I believe we are ready for new visitors!

  200. Thanks John for the advice! I was sort of going that way, making opposite sides fight for a given objective, each for its own purposes, both capable to using violence and cunning. I’ll see how it goes.

  201. Hi John Michael,

    Chosen Ones rarely have to put in a days honest hard work. And they probably aren’t expected to hustle for a living. And attempting to learn something and then failing, well that is probably something they never quite got around to experiencing.

    To quote the catchphrase of another film which failed to get a mention in your excellent essay: Nuff Said!

    The cover art on the Harry Potter books was enough to put me off reading them (or watching the films for that matter). And I haven’t watched any of the recent Star Wars films. I mean, the economics of the evil empire makes no sense. How many Death Stars can they afford to build – and lose, before they go off and do something more useful with their evil time?



  202. Lacking Clever User Name, I have made the same observations about artistic and aesthetic quality in the realm of photography. Digital photography is heavily about technology, often with complex menus which are rather a disadvantage. The images themselves look clean and the quality is good, but they don’t have the same aesthetical quality like images from analog film.

    A further observation of mine is that the technological art forms of the current Western civilization, like photography and film seem to have had a relative short life span before their notional space began running out of options (that is true of photography as well). My theory is that it has to do with the fact the creativity with film and photography is as a consequence of technolgy limited to recording scenes which already exist or are arranged out of existing material things. And I’m not sure what abstract photography even is for.

    It may be interesting to add to these observations that in the last few years, the camera makers have brought full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market, which are not cheap; the new lenses for them are even more expensive, and it is clear that the cameras with the APS-C-sized sensors will be languishing, with more or less only cheap consumer zooms made or them. That means, in this or that way, prices for digital cameras are unsteadily rising again, after a low point of prices for interchangeable-lens-cameras in the early 2000ers.

  203. Blessings and thank you for the thought fodder! With the 2 points in mind of the elite’s environmentalism backlash and the over reliance on chosen ones, I’m now surprised Godzilla 2019 did as well as it did. One of the main characters is pretty heavy handed on the environmental aspect and not even The Big G himself is a chosen one but one aspect of nature, though thankfully this time he got more than 5 minutes of screen time!

    I think Disney’s biggest mistake was just scrubbing the Expanded Universe (now I believe called “Legends”) and replacing it with their own. That was a LOT of creativity dumped right in the trash and I think the “Fandom Menace” is right to call the ongoing trilogy Disney’s fanfic. Between the severe treatment of that, Star Trek, the inscrutable hara kiri of the HBO Game of Thrones, I’m just done with Hollywood and Washington alike. Even media lampooning other media is getting rather dull. I happily support small and or local that don’t come under such foolish management with what shoestring budget is available.

    This has compromised my business/libertarian/meritocratic worldview too. All it takes is one bad character to get into the wrong power position and blood curdling sums of wealth can vanish in very short time scales. Not to the point of abandonment but enlightenment that there are many, many aspects and contraindications and nuances to any matter.

    A cat somehow got into my office while my mind was occupied by 1000 other troubles, the real big one that could have been avoided was the puddle of urine that soaked into an incredibly expensive jointer hand plane I’d left on my desk and rusted out the sole. I’d planned on that being part of an heirloom toolkit to pass on for generations and now I question the scope and wisdom of such an endeavor. I saved it and thus chastened thank the spirits it didn’t soak into my journal our tarot deck! Wealth management to me now isn’t financial but keeping things clean, orderly, dry, lubed, sharp, etc etc etc.

    Oh! To my fellow readers whose life practice does include YouTube viewing, KMO Also posted video of his conversation with Mr Greer on his channel Outta My Head, definitely worth the watch!

  204. Sgage:

    Thanks for the link to the NYT article by David Brooks. Interesting that the column itself put blame on fanatics regardless of their political inclination, but the commenters were clearly not pleased. Over and over they protested that the Right, violent and vitriolic, is so worse than the poor, misunderstood Resistance Left. Granted, that’s kind of expected from the readership of the Times.

  205. Indigo children….that one set off a series of thoughts. I have a relative who is deep into that side of the New Age scene. The Secret, Indigo children, Secret Space program, CIA time travel, Corey Goode. All of it. There is even a new gentlemen they told me about that is saying something about the “real” Star Wars. Unfortunately I can’t remember the gentlemen’s name. I looked out of morbid curiosity and bounced off the page with barely a glance. It probably has something to do with the Alliance blockading the solar system to trap the Draco fleet in this system. Naturally this is an older, salary class boomer with a mild case of TDS and who loved the Last Jedi. Apparently the messaging in that film does speak to a certain segment.

    Now I do owe a debt there as I might not have wandered down the path that led me here without them but…yeah.

    @Patricia Matthews

    If you are familiar the God -Emperor thing tends to be drawn from the Warhammer 40K universe. Which leads to even more fun humorous and disturbing images. Now I have been known to use the term and mostly as a a way to have fun with the Lightbringer crowd. That and the inquisition imagery has some fun parallels with the drain the swamp idea. That being said I sincerely hope most people are using it ironically as The Empire of Man is not exactly a pleasant place.

    @John Beasley

    Yup. 17 year Air Force vet. Pretty much where I have been going lately.

    Other Dave

  206. Now I know why the blue covers of the pb LOTR books featured a statement by Tolkein about respect for living authors!

    I was struck by the description of warehouses of unsold books, which reminded me of pictures on line of acres of unsold cars. That remark caught my attention for two reasons. The first is I have long suspected that businessmen and women in the USA are no longer interested in making a profit at all. The second is that I know of at least two popular fantasy series, by fairly well known authors, which have devoted followings, and which are not being continued because the authors’ publishers decline to publish more volumes. One of the writers is quite successful in the SF and fantasy genres. I wonder what kind of contracts do authors sign these days? Meanwhile, judging by what is on the shelves at B & N, there would seem to be a never sated audience for urban vampire porn.

    Hollywood, and Disney Studios in particular, have never been willing to keep their grubby hands off other people’s stories. Trivializing, stereotyping and sanitizing is what they do.

  207. JMG, if you’ll excuse the brown-nosing for a minute, the quality of your writing and your insight never ceases to impress me. Honestly, I think I doubled my IQ the day I started reading your material: I started at ten; must be the beer you suggested I learn to make, well, cider technically as I grow the apples.

    I also judge my grammar by yours every time a troll decides to go into one of “those”.

    Anyway, the point is, thanks!

  208. JMG

    Your response to DD “I haven’t read Pullman. What I’ve read is that the first book is pretty good but it sinks slowly into a swamp of rationalist-atheist preaching thereafter. Was your experience different? ”

    Granted, I am not sure I would know realist-atheist fiction if it came up and bit me, but I didn’t find “His Dark Materials” atheistic. I think some of the characters start out thinking that what they are doing is destroying “God”, but in the end they abandon that belief. At one point in the story, one of the “villain” characters, Mrs. Coulter, is fishing for intelligence about her captors forces and learns that an angel, named Sophia (a clue maybe?) had informed Mrs Coulter captors that the Authority isn’t “God”, just an angel (one of the first ones) that seemed to get the drop on all the other angels in the distant past and sets up his own power base to control creation. Religion was his means of trying to control the intelligent creatures that “God” or evolution created. As this angel became more senile as the ages passed, control was taken over by another angel who also wanted control and had been human at one time and was still subject to the passions of the flesh. Which is how he is brought down by the villains turned heroes.

    Maybe everyone thought the “Authority” was Pullman’s stand in for “God”, but I didn’t read it that way. Pullman seems to be anti “religious”, especially the very controlling ones, but I think he leaves the mystery of creation a wonderful mystery still. I see a very nature based spirituality in “His Dark Materials” trilogy. There also seems to be a lot of interesting character development with most of the principle characters, villains and heroes alike.

    Just my two cents worth.

  209. @JMG

    I stand corrected. I actually did watch Episode IV after reading your reply and you’re right.

    The new Star Wars movies make a lot more sense if you pretend they are propaganda films made decades after the fact by a successful revolutionary government who deposed the legitimate galactic government. The new revolutionary government is falling apart because the ideology that governs it didn’t deliver the promised strawberries and cream, and in fact leads to much worse outcomes for most people. The borderline-senile leaders commission a series of propaganda films that dehumanize the “First Order” (which wasn’t what it called itself, but that’s beside the point) in order to justify the glorious revolution and gaslight their citizenry into thinking that things actually were much worse before the revolution. The plot holes are there because of events the revolutionaries would rather pretend never happened, and the hagiographic portrayal of the ‘resistance’ leadership is just that.

  210. John–

    How would you distinguish between the cult of a Chosen One on the one hand and the aura around a charismatic and competent leader on the other? Aside from ex-post facto success 😉 I’m thinking, for example, of a Napoleon or an Attila or similar leaders who undoubtedly cultivated a sense of “chosenness” yet were not the kind of Chosen One we’ve all been discussing this week, the kind which presumes success a priori because…well, just because.

    Perhaps I’m stretching the theme of discussion a bit, but I’m thinking of the turbulent times ahead in this Long Descent and wondering about the characteristics which will enable the leaders of that coming age to succeed rather than fail. Luck, of course, plays a certain role, but there are attributes, qualities, and skills which can tip the balance. How does one discern a wannabe leader (Chosen One) from the real deal? Or, should one desire, cultivate the needed qualities within oneself or one’s children?

  211. To JMG: Thanks! What is Flaming Koolaid’s subject for parody, if you don’t mind my asking? Is it published or in the works?

    To Lacking Clever User Name: Thank you for what you said about film. I was naive to the technical differences of how movies/films used to be made versus now. The soullessness and emptiness of current film media in contrast to the “paintings” of old makes perfect sense. I hope you are able to succeed in reviving filmmaking somehow. Seems to me you understand it intimately.

  212. @JMG

    Criticism of materialistic thinking is an ongoing theme on this blog and naive realism relates to that. I was wrong, by the way, and you did indulge in some of that in talking about Sauron the Bad Strategist. However, I was rude, and I apologize. Let me start afresh.

    If Tolkien peppered his narratives with descriptions of perfect troop movements and ideal force deployments it would detract from the semi mythic, allegorical vibe he was going for. The good guys won because they reached deep into the cultural soul and made the right moral choices most of the time, not because they mastered Clausewitz.

    Read A Throne of Bones by Vox Day. It might be the perfect description of what the Roman Republic would be if it was Christianized earlier and magic and Goblins were real, right down to how a phalanx would function in a battle against warlocks, marches, countermarches, foraging the land for supplies, fortifications against fireballs, etc.

    And yet, even though it has a few scenes with demons it just doesnt achieve that mythic vibe. So I learned that purposefully putting something blatantly unrealistic is vital to achieving the mythic feeling. You can’t allow the reader to believe the story hangs together on internal consistency alone. You need to break out of the story’s internal consistency in key moments to force the reader into considering the story’s applications in the mythic dimension of real life. This is very much like the head fakes you describe in Dion Fortune’s work, where the purpose is not to inform the mind, but to train it.

    (This is the general you, not the personal.)

    To me one of the worst developments of recent fiction fandom is the desire for Perfect Internal Consistency and with that Explain the Powers and Leave No Plot Holes. For the reasons I described above it leads to a creative cul-de-sac. It sacrifices the one thing that fantasy can do better than other genres for something it will never do well at all.

    If you leave the mythic money on the table, someone else will take it. And capable people will fail to nudge the emerging new paradigm in a slightly less harmful direction.

    Of course, the real schwerpunkt may simply be figure how to thrive in a society whose prevailing mythology you dont identify with. In that case I still feel lost.

    As an older Millennial, much of the discourse I see are variations of old arguments amongst rival factions of
    Boomers. A few want to keep the old black-and-white mythos of the age they grew up in, more want to replace it with a white-and-black reversal, and others want full gray-and-gray all around. None of these options are viable. The Millennials just a few years younger than me crave a new black-and-white mythos, and they’re going to get it.

    I have a hard time speaking with Boombers about this. It seems to be a generational blind spot, but many Boomers can’t imagine a new black-and-white narrative without it being exactly like the old black-and-white narrative, or its not-so-clever reverse imprint, the white-and-black. Nor do many understand that the gray-and-gray worldview they offer isnt they gift they think it is. If the current war we are experiencing remains informational, it also means Boomers won’t live to see the new paradigm either. Their idealism will fuel the conflict until they die off, and sheer exhaustion will force a new consensus. The prevailing worldview will be the most persistent, nothing more. If the Chosen One narrative helps its larger memetic organism be more persistent than its competitors, than maybe it will be part of it.

    If I’m correct our turn will come too. The generations after us will never understand why we are so exhausted and tired of ideological combat, why we’re so boring to talk to, why we gave up on ideas. That will be our blind spot.

    Whether or not the Chosen One trope contributes to the new paradigm, I feel confident that by the time it emerges I’ll be completely tired of worrying about these things. So the salient question for me isn’t to much how to engage with this new front of the war, so much as how to protect my art and prevent myself from becoming a causality in old age. Thoughts?

  213. On The Eagles to the rescue at the end of the LOTR movie – I swear, I half expected to see their wings painted red, white, and blue. It was *SO* “United States Airforce bales out dear little England in is darkest hour….”

  214. @Dana and @CuteKitten – Thanks for the call out! This is a unique space. I simply stopped reading comments years ago because so many just torrents of flaming cesspool flow. Simply bottomless pits of hateful temper tantrums. That’s why I really love this space, measured conversation with good manners. About the only other comments sections I read are on Jalopnik: endless forums of mutually supportive car nerds dorking out on the topic of the moment. I’m finding my tribes!

    @Lacking Clever User Name – Though not current in this moment, I’m a Cessna 152/172/182 guy. Some of my favorite stories involve flying. I believe once we earn those wings, we never truly lose them. As an old instructor once said to me, “Remember, while take offs are optional, landings are obligatory.” And many happy landings to you.

  215. Duprau303, thank you for writing The City of Ember. I enjoyed it very much and The People of Sparks. I haven’t manage to read The Diamond of Darkhold yet. I even enjoyed the movie adaptation. Very everyday characters rising to extraordinary circumstances and a very realistic view of a deindustrial world.

  216. I know this is a bit off subject, but I want to urge lovers of classic films to get a copy of “Paper Moon”. Filmed on location in Kansas and Missouri in 1972? by now disgraced director Peter Bogdanovich, you will probably never see it on cable. Tatum O’Neal smoking and all that. It’s a movie so “real” you can feel almost feel the prairie wind, smell the dust, and feel the crunch of gravel roads under your feet. No computer graphics or a “chosen one” hero in sight, just very ordinary people behaving in sometimes less than ethical ways. I’ve been to the old hotel in Wilson KS, where some of the scenes were filmed, amazingly it is still there, and you can rent a room!

  217. Mordor is rather obviously inspired by trench warfare in WWI (very clearly in the swamp scenes and the slag hills, also in the marching columns). Sauron’s fecklessness as commander might therefore be similarly inspired by the performance of the field commanders on the Western front. The point is the brutal pointlessness of the enemy’s strategy. Of course, other stories might be better served by more capable adversaries.

  218. Something that comes out in conversations with younger well-to-do folks is the notion that if one person can’t single handedly change all the problems of the world, than nothing is worth doing at all.

    It is a bizarre nihilism of the Chosen One or the Gifted. Literally the prevailing subtext is that the Gifted are so Gifted and there has been so much Progress that the Gifted are literally able to Save the World and if they aren’t able to *it’s their fault for not trying hard enough*.

    I’ve heard Gifted folks younger than myself express these sentiments that I think I ducked out of something truly nasty and appalling; at school I was treated as the opposite of gifted; I was placed in the classes of developmentally disabled folks after some speaking my mind, emotional outbursts, and trying in earnest to drop out of elementary school.

    Point being, the whole head trip of expecting young folks to save the world is so obviously maddening, so clearly cruel, and so tragically futile that I can only compare it to the practice of human sacrifice.

    This is the context, too, that I’ve seen the worst SJW behavior is with folks who earnestly think that they have a personal responsibility to save the world. I struggle to imagine the set up for worse Hubris, and not just Hubris, but the dull, joyless ambiance that so accompanies Hubris.

    All Pentheus would have needed to do to avoid his fate was to cut loose a little, take seriously the reports of some shepherds, maybe go out and party, *and not interfere with the Divine*.

    Once the whole “Save-The-World” mentality got going the same sort of anti-fun, anti-pleasure, and anti-intoxication, humorless ethos took hold. Most of the Gifted I know do not touch a drop of alcohol, they do not go out dancing, they do not allow Divine Frenzy to take them. They do not bow to the divine in anything. They are forced to consider themselves the *Smartest Beings in the Cosmos*; if they haven’t already Saved The World using Social Media and The Internet *it’s their fault for not trying hard enough*.

    So they walk around tensed as if carrying the heavy chains of their upbringing, unable to connect, unable to enjoy, unable to participate in the world in any way. “Who the gods would destroy they first make mad.”

    For these reason, I think that Greek Tragedy provides an extremely useful mapping of the Chosen Ones, especially _The Bacchae_, perhaps, upon reflection, right down to the fine details. What have the Chosen Ones made a cause of but to declare war on Divine Frenzy, the Irrational, the Absurd, Laughter and Revelry? Seriously, the censorship of Jokes, the dramatic decline of Dance Parties at least in my corner of the world. The rise of human opponents to the Chosen Ones who revel in the Irrational, the Absurd, and Laughter? Indeed, These Chosen Ones were brought down low *by a Divine Cartoon Frog!* And indeed, what is Pepe’s catch-phrase but “Feels good man”???

    It’s rather clear, then, in this context who the Maenads are and who are of the House of Cadmus.

  219. Dear Violet – I love frogs! My favorite goddess ( who I shall not name – we’ve already had more than our fair share of rain around here) is represented by the frog. My birthday is in early March, and if we are lucky and have an early spring, the spring peepers awaken and serenade me for my birthday.

  220. If I’d been Sauron, I’d have thought, “How wonderful! They’re going to bring it right to me!” Then I’d have sent out a token army or two to keep them busy, maybe to Minas Terith (which auto correct wanted to call Minus Teriyaki 😄) and I’d have blocked all paths but one to the volcano. Anything (not obviously mine) flying over gets shot down and the area in which it falls searched thoroughly. I’d have killed Shelob myself, to make sure it got done, since I wouldn’t have wanted to chance her dropping the Ring in some inaccessible crevice as she ate. Then, I’d take 40 or 50 of my best men—men, not orcs, because orcs trigger the alarm on the other side’s magic swords —and camp near the last bend in the trail, and wait. The plan would of course have to be adjusted after the enemy weighed in on it, but I suspect it wouldn’t need too much adjusting. And of course since I’ve been scrupulously following the Evil Overlord Rules, all my minions want to give me the Ring and its attendant headaches rather than keep it for themselves.

    Somebody mentioned modern computerized animation. I can’t get used to it. I find it creepy, a good example being that “Secret Life of Pets” commercial with that poor hydrocephalic-looking kid hugging the dog. 😝. Yeesh.

  221. Violet, ‘gifted’ isn’t capitalised. Capital G-Gifted is the X-Men. If you can’t set things on fire with your mind, you’re just gifted. 🙂

  222. If I’m allowed to do so, I’d like to put in a “plug” for Chalmers Johnson and his “Blowback” series which eventually expanded from a trilogy to four (nonfiction) books. The third book of the series is called: “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” and the wikipedia article includes Johnson’s summary of what he was trying to say. I thought one of the books was called “Hubris” but now I can’t actually find that title. Johnson died in 2010, at 79, and is a very credible critic of American foreign policy.

  223. Jessi, I certainly agree — and indeed mentioned this in the post — that the formulaic fixation on specialness isn’t any kind of conspiracy, just what happens when you have too few people, all from the same social class with the same beliefs, deciding which manuscripts get published and which scripts get filmed. I wonder what would happen if the kids who get fed a steady diet of special-snowflake stories were to get their hands on a story in which someone who’s nothing special gets somewhere by their own unspecial efforts.

    Adrian, thanks for this.

    Wesley, that seems like a very productive approach! For what it’s worth, I do see Aspergers as a disability — I’ve been acutely aware for a very long time of the downsides of that syndrome, and it probably doesn’t help that in my case — as in many others — it comes with a series of other neurological problems. Still, just as people who are born blind tend to make better piano tuners than the rest of us, there are compensating factors.

    Info, thanks for this.

    Millicently, you’re welcome. I don’t spend a lot of time on other forums, precisely because I dislike the way so many people behave on them; thus my forums are subject to my rules.

    Doll, let yourself laugh! Remember that originality hasn’t been an option in the romance field for half a century, since the first wave of Seventies bodice-rippers finally made it possible to put explicit sex in a romance. All you can do is come up with an entertaining arrangement of the familiar tropes, and maybe come up with a new setting or something. Assemble a list of your favorite romance cliches, string six or seven of them together, figure out how to put a twist on each of them, and just keep writing.

    Yorkshire, that’s a very good point. Your comments about Parecon are all the more fascinating in that the guy who invented socialism, Charles Fourier, had exactly the opposite approach — he was convinced that Providence had seen to it that there were exactly as many people who wanted to do some particular job out of “passional attraction” as there were jobs of that type to be done. No, it didn’t work, but then socialist ideologies never do. 😉

    Your Kittenship, the new visitors will doubtless be joining you in Frisbee games any minute now. I noticed the uptick in the stats and was wondering where it came from…

    Karim, glad to hear it.

    Chris, the point about the Death Stars is a good one, and it actually mimics American military thought more precisely than anything else. Our military planners have this fixation on huge, expensive, vulnerable objects with a lot of capacity for projecting offensive power and real problems with defense against asymmetric attacks — yes, that’s spelled “aircraft carrier” here and now. That’s why I had President Gurney in Twilight’s Last Gleaming doubling down on new aircraft carriers when the East African war had just proved how vulnerable they were. Hmm…I think we should call this Death Star Syndrome…

    (Question for those who’ve sat through the whole range of Star Wars films, poor souls: how many Death Stars end up getting built?)

  224. To James M. Jensen II

    The only TV I consistently watched during my youth were the original Star Trek (syndication) and Miami Vice In the vein of this week’s post, Miami Vice worked in large part (IMO) because the protagonists were everymen doing their job hold the corruption of the world at bay for a little while longer. (Although, that amnesia arc – hoo boy.) I watched other stuff occasionally, but nothing else really caught my attention (to each his own). Although later in life I saw Good Times and was blown away – the audacity of showing a regular, working class black family just living their lives. An excellent show.

    I am also glad to see a fellow GM! I usually use GURPS or Fate as a system, and aim for a campaign where the PCs are heroic but far from chosen ones. I’m running a game using Fate this weekend where the PCs are high school juniors in Van Horn, TX and have five days to stop an antlered fey from running the wild hunt through their town, dragging hundreds off into the night. (maybe they succeed, maybe their dragged off with the rest.) One thing I’ve been doing over the past several years is limiting my campaigns to a single story arc and then starting a new campaign when the arc is complete.

  225. JMG:

    LOL at “how many Death Stars end up getting built.” I remember watching The Force Awakens. When the latest iteration of death star blows up the New Republic (which appears to have spanned exactly one star system) I thought “the Republic has the worst intelligence service in the history of intelligence.” Space may be vast, but the logistics required to build that thing would have been completely obvious. I liked the original trilogy, but now they are just milking a dead cow.

  226. Yes, Antoinette, I have to post the kudo in total : ) –
    “…PS: If you want to read a near term fictional book on the demise of the MIC and changes to the culture in America, the book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” by John Michael Greer is spellbinding and a great read. Interestingly enough, he has written over thirty books and writes about post industrial collapse and their outcomes…”

  227. I don’t even particularly like The Last Jedi, but you’re completely misrepresenting it. The entire point of that movie is that a. every character fails repeatedly at whatever they’re trying to do, and that b. Rey isn’t special. Rian Johnson deliberately set out to make a film that pulled the rug out from under the Star Wars universe. I don’t think the end result is particularly good, but there’s lots of interesting ideas in there that are subversive to the franchise (and that I’m confident Disney will pull back from completely with the next movie).

    Luke becoming disillusioned with the Jedi and being a grumpy old radical is by far the most interesting part of the movie (the idea that the Jedi are actually terrible and wrong is not only one of the more interesting things to come out of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but is hinted at within the prequels as well. Not that I much care about the prequels, but the point is that it’s not new to the franchise). That you apparently don’t like this because it vilifies hierarchies is…amusing. On that note, Poe Dameron’s entire plotline in TLJ boils down to if he had just shut up and followed orders things would have worked out fine.

    Also, Rey isn’t a Mary Sue. I don’t much like the character, but literally everything she does in these movies is at least as justified as anything Luke does, and in fact in some cases more so. Why can Luke fly a starfighter? He just can, apparently. Rey at least has a line of dialogue In The Force Awakens about how she’s flown ships in orbit before. Her ‘competent sword-fighting’ in that movie consists entirely of clumsily whaling on an emotionally distraught, wounded man who also clumsily swings his sword around. The Force Awakens is a fascinating case, because it’s like people who endlessly parrot certain claims about it watched a completely different film, because the text of the movie I watched doesn’t at all support their positions.

  228. Has anyone noticed how many narratives in circulation these days serve as excuses for doing nothing? The Chosen Ones, “They’ll think of something”, “Why bother? We’ll all be dead soon anyway”, and so on. Is it really so important that no one do anything? I think there’s something deep at work here, and I’m not sure what it is that drives the insistence no one should ever do anything….

  229. JMG,

    I agree with the statement that current fantasy is more of a content-free soup opera and that authors like Norton or Zelazny could put more action in 120 pages than, say, Brandon Sanderson in a trilogy of doorstoopers.

    This being said, I think you do yourself a disservice by skiping G.R.R Martin. He can write great characters, the intrigue is top notch, and the history research he did on War of Roses shows in the world.

    As for the fame of being especially drenched in gore, I think it’s more of the fault of the TV show. recently read history book about siege warfare during the Turks conquest of Constantinopole and nothing in first tomes of ASOIAF come close to the prologonged bloodbath below the walls or after capturing the city.

    Martin does have sense of taste (most of the times) in choosing the descriptions and also the good sense of making every scene (no mater how violent or transgressive) relevant to whole story.

    RE: Tolkien and eagles, it may look as lazy writing or plot hole, but there is explanation:

    The Eagles aren’t part of Middle Earth. They are the eyes of Valinor-hidden-from-the-world. They are how the Valar (the gods/angels) watch what happens in Middle Earth. The ring has no power over them because they are not of the earth, and none of the wizards (specifically Radagast and Gandalf) or even Elrond or Tom Bombadil can call them to do the airlift for the very same reason.

    When they appear in the narrative, that’s Tolkien saying -essentially- “God showed up and helped you”. God did something He rarely does, which is directly intervene in a miraculous way in mundane world.

    The Eagles, like miracles, are something you can’t count on. They may show up, they may not. You just have to get on with it anyway.

    in the Tolkien words: Catholicism “was on every page”. It probably isn’t true, but all things with eagles are strightforward Catholic metaphor for “work/act as if everything depended on you, pray and hope as everything depended on God.”


  230. Just a superficial observation, in contrast to the people saying that 80s 90s sci-fi/fantasy novels and comic books tended towards Chosen One narratives: a great deal of 80s cinema, including all those mega blockbusters we cherish today, have the striving everyman feel of Luke Skywalker, and Star Wars is at least as much Hollywood cinema as it is a sci-fi story. Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, Elliott in E.T. (even E.T. himself is initially bumbling and incapable), Atreyu in The Neverending Story, Westley in The Princess Bride, Sarah Connor in Terminator, Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street (the Final Girls in all those 80s slasher movies start as hapless as any of the people who were slaughtered, slowly acquiring the courage, strength, cunning, and luck over the course of the movies), Tom Cruise in just about every movie he did in the 80s including Risky Business, Top Gun, Cocktail: the list goes on and on. Even the Ghostbusters are just ordinary guys who happen to have some knowledge of the paranormal, and stumble at first, and even at the end of the movie appear more lucky than powerful. These characters are all presented as ordinary, nothing particularly special, but through struggle and determination, they come out on top, against people who had been much more capable. This meshes will with the 80s cultural mantra of hard work and beating the odds through sheer determination: you can see this attitude in people above 50, mostly baby boomers and older Gen Xers.

    I can’t speak as much to 80s television

  231. Re: standing tropes on their heads, I am reminded of a YA novel I quite enjoyed a couple of years back that did it well: “The Rest of Us Just Live Here,” by Patrick Ness. The “special” kids occasionally pass by in the background fighting monsters or whatever, but the book is entirely about the “normals” living their lives in and around the endless parade of apocalypses.

  232. JMG – There is literally thousands of such stories on a website called Literotica. It boggles my mind that it would be possible to sell any when there is already such a plethora of them. (Some of the fantasy ones are not that bad) Read fan fictions of things like LOTR at your own risk, I know you treasure Tolkien’s novels.

  233. “Jim, you’re welcome. Now get out there and read something good. 😉”

    Speaking of good books and very good writers, there’s a piece featured on today with Rob Hopkins interviewing John Crowley (Little Big) which touches on many themes being explored here of late. These words from Crowley really grabbed my attention: “Instead of growing clearer as we probe it, the future has grown dimmer. Less solid, almost hard to believe in. But the past has continued to expand rather than shrink with distance. The actual things we did have gained rather than lost complexity and interest and the past seems rich. Its lessons not simple or singular. A big landscape of human possibility, generative, inexhaustible”. I know you’re an admirer of Crowley’s work. The quote above is from a very worthy piece in Lapham’s Quarterly titled The Next Future ( and the Hopkins piece at Resilience is worth a look too. Crowley’s newest novel also looks very intriguing: KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr…I know I’ll be seeking that one out.

    And regarding Spengler, what’s your view on Abridged vs. Unabridged Decline of the West? Seems Abridged is the only version that’s easily acquired. Thanks.


  234. Assuming someone else hasnt gotten to this. Two Death Stars plus one absolutely not the Death Star just BIGGRRR called Starkiller base.

    @Nothing Special

    You know I quite enjoyed Throne of Bones specifically because how how well it presented the fantasy Roman society. I can’t say how many times I see some period piece in any medium and the people are basically modern Americans in fancy dress. But I do see your point regarding the mythic. Not everything has to be explained. Of course I am not sure Vox was going for the mythic fantasy there so much as doing GRR Martin better than GRR Martin. From that perspective I think he succeeded quite well. But I don’t think he will be replacing Tolkien and still read 500 years from now.

    Relating all of that back to Disney Star Wars it’s not that we want perfect internal consistency it is that in any fiction there must be a certain level of suspension of disbelief. Obviously where that line is drawn is going to vary greatly by individual, genre and a galaxy of other factors. But once that suspension is lost the story is toast. With Disney mangled the plot, mythology, characterization ad nauseum it created an nice cascade of everything is terrible. Even things that might have been forgiven had that threshold not been reached.

    But they nailed the spectacle of making it look good and sound good. The score and special effects team deserved their wage. Of course we all know that those ignorant peasants and knuckle dragging deplorables only care about the shiny.

    Other Dave

  235. To Doll: maybe go with the flow and just write a parody? There’s so much in the entertainment media that begs to be mercilessly lampooned nowadays. My favorite romance/erotica author is Remittance Girl. She mostly writes erotic short stories, often supernatural in theme. I usually hate erotica as a genre because it is so puerile and cliched but nobody could ever legitimately accuse Remittance Girl of those things. She is a great storyteller who just happens to write erotica.

  236. In thinking about what Lacking Clever User Name said about the difference between analog film and digital and how little interaction with the people who know how to film something is required, it occurred to me that the use of digital is somebodies idea of how not to make any mistakes. How to be perfect. Rather like how a Chosen One or a “Special” person progresses through their story/life. If they can just eliminate the human element, they and their life will be perfect. No further effort is required on their part. And, best of all, they will make not mistakes.

    I don’t think that perfection is what makes something beautiful or well made, because just “perfect” is something any machine can do over and over. My embroidery teacher says that our placement of our stitches should allow the wind to blow through them. That is not to say their are gaping spaces between stitches, but since we have to make a human decision with each stitch we take and we have to use our trained judgement as to where to place that stitch so that individual beauty and artistry will follow and let the wind pass through. It will appear to be a work by a human hand, finely done, but human none the less.

    A digitized embroidered piece has none of that. People admire the perfection of it, and it is more affordable, but to gain that you loose the wind.

    I think in some mistaken pursuit of “perfection” we have lost the wind and are fast loosing our humanness.

  237. For those who appreciate film music and/or silent films, check out Alloy Orchestra: They come to my city about once a year, and we provide the sound system and microphones. These three guys have composed quite a few soundtracks. If they come anywhere near where you live, go see them-it doesn’t matter what the movie is, they have the accompaniment down perfectly….

  238. I find this interesting for how it dovetails with a specifically feminine version of the Campbellian fairytale.

    Premise: a young woman has greatness thrust upon her, and soon has cause to regret it. Through neither merit nor fault of her own she possesses a unique ability or quality (straw into gold, freeing cursed princes with a kiss, Fairest In The Land). This attracts the attention of a monstrous suitor or wicked stepmother who wants to co-opt that ability (or possibly to subdue her as a rival in the latter case.) Her low point is captivity, anonymous servitude, or enchantment/mind-control. Her eventual triumph usually sees her cleverly evade or negotiate terms with her antagonist rather than destroy them, and thereby achieve a measure of freedom. Quite often this happily-ever-after sees her lose the troublesome special ability or forswear it with, one imagines, no small relief.

    This is all a pretty thin metaphor for female puberty, becoming sexually available and fertile will ye or nil ye, and having to navigate the not-always-pleasant reactions of others. Lots of stories with predominantly female fan-bases punch above their weight-class (in terms of actual writing ability or plot coherence) simply by evoking same. That said, if anyone can point to a story that follows the above pattern but stars a male protagonist, I’d be deeply interested in seeing it.


    Speaking of fairytales, I came across this nicely-turned phrase:

    “after an event like 2016, there will always be some for whom this particular iteration of clapping their hands and believing in faeries and watching Tinkerbell die anyway was the last straw, and some who decide the only way forward is to clap harder, believe harder”

  239. We are still very busy at the farm with setting up water moving systems with solar – it ain’t easy…

    But nice piece, because I noticed the same thing over this last decade or so. In thinking on it, the corporate gatekeepers do truly consider themselves Chosenites, and thus we get the gooey, gut wagon of goodness in most books and movies. And let’snot forget that they never get hurt…and car doors stop rifle bullets….etc.

    CGI made things worse. It was refreshing that my grandkids invited me over to watch the new Dark Crystal with them, and it was animatronic muppetry and pretty good. The best thing was they preferred muppetry to CGI flashiness right off the bat – interdasting, no?

    The other thing is that novels seem to have become written with the editors and authors angling for a movie or TV deal – because the length runs the same in most of the novels out there. I look for unabridged audiobooks over 20 hours of books over 800 pages – they seem to end in better ways for me. But then again, there is Patrick Rothfuss and GRR Martin….the never finishers who irritate.

    But good piece of observation JMG. I huess I am going to have to buy yone of our novels soon.

  240. Biomancer, that’s why we have this tradition of arranging for government to regulate industry, partly to preserve public health and safety (how many rat droppings would you like in your breakfast cereal?), but also to limit the power of monopolies and thus make sure any given act of idiocy can only cause so much damage. It’s been a while since that tradition’s been enforced, which is why Amazon and Google haven’t been broken up yet, but it’s a good tradition and I hope to see it put back to work in my lifetime.

    Other Dave, you have my sympathy. I haven’t had to deal with that end of the Newage scene since I left the Left Coast.

    Nastarana, one of the many downsides of the cult of managerial expertise is that these days, executives are used to being shielded from the consequences of their incompetence. No matter how much money your bad decisions cost your company, you don’t land on the sidewalk. Thus the unsold books, cars, etc. As for those fantasy series, this is one of the many reasons so many authors these days are going to small publishers or self-publishing: the big publishers make decisions that have no relevance to sales, audience size, or what have you. I hope the authors you mentioned go indy, get out from under the legacy publishers, and thrive.

    Darren, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Kay, fair enough. I know the library here has a copy; I’ll consider it sometime.

    Justin, you know, that makes a lot of sense! It would be something to do a parody of the Disney Star Wars movies that takes that tack, and contrasts the propaganda of the failing revolutionary government with the gritty reality of life on the mean streets of the galaxy…

    David BTL, what makes a successful leader in a dark age society can be summed up in three words: competence, bravery, and generosity. The Attilas and Alarics of history and the Hrothgars and Arthurs of legend are capable commanders and managers; they’re bold, efficient, and lethal warriors; and they’re unfailingly generous to their followers and those who are under their protection. That is to say, they do things. They don’t get to be special because of who they are; they earn their status, and keep on earning, it, because of what they do.

    Kimberly, it’s a Mercedes Lackey parody — thus B.M.W. Flunkey — mixing together the stickier aspects of her Valdemar stories with the “Wiccans good, ceremonial magicians baaaaad” of her Diana Tregard stories. The whole adventure takes place somewhere on Aisle 13 of the mystical kingdom of WaldeMart, just past the lingerie department, and one of the characters is an animated teddy bear with a pentagram on its belly, standing in for those telepathic horsies with big blue eyes that feature so heavily in the Valdemar stuff. (The teddy bear ends up turning into Aleister Crowley, but that’s just one of those things.) It’s never been published, and I doubt it ever will be; it was very much a product of a specific era, when I happened to have much more contact with the Neopagan scene than I really wanted — that was also the period when I penned Lady Pixie Moondrip’s Guide to Craft Names. But it was amusing to write.

    Nothing Special, I haven’t gotten to Vox Day’s fiction — the blustering tone of his blog posts rather put me off. As for Tolkien, though, I think here again you missed my point. The essay on military strategy in LOTR pointed out that Gandalf was a first-rate strategist who (in effect) knew his Clausewitz, and Sauron made one of the standard mistakes of the inept general. It’s the way that has been turned into a nervous tic by later fantasy authors, whose generic Dark Lords always do exactly what they need to do to make the other side win, that I was objecting to. Your comments about the Boomers, for what it’s worth, seem spot on to me; the notion that the only alternatives to one black vs. white mentality are either an opposite black vs. white mentality or gray vs. gray is very much in the style of my generation, and stunningly clueless to boot. Er, what about color?

    Patricia M, well, yes. I loved the scene in Bored of the Rings when Gwahno the shocking pink eagle comes fluttering down to rescue Frito and Spam at the last minute, with Deus Ex Machina Airlines painted in gold on his sides…

    Matthias, that’s a fascinating possibility. The armies of Mordor, “lions led by donkeys”…

    Violet, I can understand where they’re coming from, in a way. When I was a teenager I used failure as a way to get out from under expectations that were loaded on me by the adult world; it was easier to sit through the chiding lectures on the theme of “If you’d just try” than to try my best, fail to live up to expectations, and get the same lectures. I wonder whether that same defensive reaction, or something like it, is behind what you’re seeing.

    Your Kittenship, “Minus Teriyaki” is a keeper!

    Phutatorius, duly noted.

    Chris, seriously? Oh dear gods. Not just the worst intelligence service in the history of intelligence, a lack of strategic imagination that would have been embarrassing in a colony of owl lice. Ahem. Stand by for geekdom…

    Since it was obvious by the end of the first trilogy that Sith Lords have a fixation on weapon systems that blow up planets, and only a few star systems can have the sort of gargantuan spacecraft-oriented industrial plant needed to build something on that scale, it would be a matter of ordinary prudence to make sure you had agents in each of those systems, and any other that might possibly be ramped up to handle a similar project, to watch for the usual signs. Once it becomes clear that the other side’s rehashing the same failed strategy, you break out the Norgolian brandy and pass the bottle around, because your job as strategists for the Good Guys has just become insanely easy. As the construction project proceeds, you leak fake intelligence to the bad guys to convince them that you’re going to try another large-scale assault on the new Death Star, have some of your space fleet do probing attacks in the areas through which such an assault would have to pass, and generally get the Bad Guys fixated on that threat, using the the same sort of tricks that the Allies used to fake out the Germans prior to D-Day. Meanwhile you build up a first-rate space navy of conventional ships, knowing that the Bad Guys can’t match you ship for ship because they’re throwing so much of their available resources into Death Star 3.0.

    Crunch time comes, and you do everything possible to get the Bad Guys to prepare for a big space battle around the new Death Star. Then, surprise! Your fleet strikes in a completely different part of the galaxy, breaking through in a neglected sector to threaten strategic assets the Bad Guys have to keep if they’re going to survive at all. The Bad Guys are then confronted with a lose-lose choice. They can rush their space navy at top speed to try to take on your fleet, but if they do that the Death Star stays behind, because it’s too slow. Alternatively, they move their force at the Death Star’s top speed, in which case you don’t just threaten the strategic assets just mentioned, you seize them, and you have plenty of time to prepare for the arrival of the other side — and after all, since you’ve blown two Death Stars to smithereens and have the complete plans of one of them, figuring out a dozen nastily asymmetric ways to attack the third one is a piece of cake. Down they go, without need for any special snowflakes at all!

    Ahem. Yes, I’ll take off my propeller beanie now.

    Ben, er, I think you need to work on your reading comprehension. I’d invite you to show me anything in my post that justifies your odd argument that I dislike The Last Jedi because I think it vilifies hierarchies. As for Luke, I see you’ve forgotten a few things; he used to bullseye womp-rats in his T-6 back home, remember? That is to say, he had the opportunity to become a capable pilot and gunner, for the same reason that farm boys here and now are good at driving pickups and shooting deer rifles. He also fails, panics, fumbles, and makes a fool of himself; contrast that with ever-perfect Rey, and you might understand the point this post was trying to make.

    Will, well, it’s very convenient for those who don’t want anything to change, you know…

    Changeling, when he gets around to finishing the series, I’ll consider reading it. I read a fair amount of his earlier fiction, liked some of it, found some of it less than enthralling.

    Mantar, oh, granted. The Chosen One fetish didn’t arrive all at once, and it’s only in the last decade or so (as I think I pointed out) that it’s become pervasive, and only since the 2016 election that it’s gone to its present extremes.

    Erik, interesting. That sounds kind of fun.

    Doll, there’s a difference between romance and pornography. Plenty of people still buy romance novels; if you compare those to what’s on offer at Literotica, you can figure out fairly easily what differentiates the stuff people will buy from the stuff that has to be given away for free.

    Jim, I respect Crowley profoundly as a writer but I think he’s half wrong. The past is certainly expanding as we stop crowding it into a monomyth of linear progress, and get an idea of just how strange and interesting it was — something that’s been a major theme of historical research for a while now, and that Frances Yates, one of Crowley’s favorite nonfiction authors (and also one of mine), contributed to mightily. I’d argue, though, that the only future that’s become dimmer is what I’ve called the Monofuture, and it’s fading out because people are realizing it’s not going to happen. Once people start getting an idea of how strange and interesting the future can be, away we go…

    As for Spengler, the two-volume edition is essential if you want to get into the thinking that underlies the historical theory. It’s currently out of copyright; if there’s a publisher in the audience who’s willing to get it back in print in a new edition, I promise to contribute a lengthy foreword and to promote the living bejesus out of it!

    Other Dave, thanks for this. That’s two too many.

  241. Kay, that strikes me as a very important point. Thank you.

    Berserker, worth keeping in mind. I wonder, with an eye toward the retro, whether a return to silent films might be worth attempting. I read recently that Edward Gorey, who was a passionate cinephile as well as an artist, thought that putting sound in movies was a mistake and resulted in a sharp drop in quality…

    Aquari, is that description something you worked out? Either way, it strikes me as very sound — and a useful counterweight to the tendency to impose Campbell’s monomyth on humanity in general irrespective of gender. The odd thing is that, swapping the metaphors of fairy tale for those of fantasy fiction, that’s not all that bad a summary of the plot of my novel The Shoggoth Concerto, which has a young female protagonist.

    Oilman2, okay, “the gooey gut wagon of goodness” earns you today’s gold star for sheer hilarity of phrasing. Thank you!

    Reese, thank you for this! Can I burn it brutally into the backside of anyone who thinks that their favorite grandiose project will of course be completed on time and under budget?

  242. @ KevPilot

    Thanks! Must admit, I do more simulator and hangar flying, these days, than the real thing.

  243. Reading through the comments, I wonder if corporal needs to make a comeback. There’s nothing like getting whacked while your Father smells of sweat and cement dust to keep you from thinking your special or chosen for much of anything except to not step out of line. I must say this is the first time I’ve thought those experiences may have been positive for me.

  244. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for your insights into what I’m describing. On my end, I’m really not sure what’s going on. As noted, the whole gifted narrative was not something I was saddled with, and it isn’t something I understand very well, in terms of the internal dynamics and this may be the first time I’m even discussed the internal dynamics of this particular life-script.

    Perhaps it’s some mark from my formative experiences, or what have you, but I don’t tend to get close with these folks. I’ve shared community with them at several points, and listened to them talk about what they expect out of their lives and their interactions with the world, and that forms the basis of my observations.

    Point being, I really don’t have a grasp on the life-script as it is something I’m simply not very intimate with. It is a topic that’s rather relevant to the topic at hand of The Fall of the Chosen ones, and I’m curious other insights readers here may have, but besides comparing the situation to Euripedes I’m all out of insights on the matter!

  245. @Kimberly: Twilight was, to a pretty good approximation, Rumiko Takahashi’s horror-comedy manga Inuyasha with all of the latter’s wry feminist genre deconstruction cruelly and ruthlessly stripped out, so I’m curious how your parody of Twilight will compare to the story Twilight was effectively an anti-parody of.

  246. I’m back. I’ve been typing. I wonder what our people (and our shoggoths, vampires, etc) do when we aren’t typing. I envision them sitting in something akin to a break room, drinking coffee, surfing, smoking, bitching about the quality of the dialogue we give them… 😄

    Anyway, the reason I got back on was to submit this about new TV shows. To me they all look predictable, what do the rest of you think?

  247. Aquari, is that description something you worked out?

    That’s my own formulation of it, yes, which you’re welcome to put into broader circulation if you find it useful. However you’ll find versions of the basic idea discussed in older literature as ‘The Maiden’s Tragedy’ (describing the myths of Persephone and Psyche) and in more recent literature as ‘The Girl Underground’ (covering fictional variations from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to ‘The Phantom of the Opera’), on which see:

  248. This last essay-and some of JMG’s comments about Lord of the Rings-hit home way harder than I was expecting.

    Like JMG I enjoyed reading LOTR as a teen, but my favorite arc was Aragorn’s-reading about him reforging his ancestral sword, and proving himself worthy to rule over the Kingdoms of Men, was fun, and even awe-inspiring. After I finished the first half of Two Towers, I would always rush through the second, to get to Aragorn and co smashing Mordor’s armies at Pelanor Fields.

    Sometime later, as an undergrad history major trying to specialize in the Middle East, I had a class by a Tradionalist (as in, Guenon, Schuon, et al) Muslim professor who believed that all the Arab world’s problems would be solved if every Muslim monarchy overthrown in the 20th century was restored-and that monarchy in general was a Good Thing. Partly because of him, partly because of various other things in my life, I wound up converting to Eastern Orthodoxy-and eventually spending time at a conservative Russian Orthodox (ROCOR) parish that had pictures of Nicholas II and his family on the wall of the dining room, right next to the Icons of the Saints.

    It was there that I was introduced to the uniquely Christian variant of Monarchism-after all, as every true Christian unswervingly obeys Christ the King in all spiritual matters, should we not, in political matters, unswervingly obey a Christian King, chosen by Christ, anointed in His name, and bearing His authority? And furthermore, I got introduced to the uniquely Orthodox version of Monarchism, what I call the Myth of the Romanovs, in which Imperial Russia was a harmonious paradise of pious Orthodox peasants, under the benevolent autocratic rule of a pious Orthodox Tsar, anointed by the Church and ruling by its Godly principles. And of course, the most remembered Romanov was Nicholas II-Holy Tsar, pious, who ruled his Kingdom justly in accordance with the law of God and the Church, and whose subjects were all happily contented with his just and righteous reign-until those evil servants of Satan, the Bolsheviks, exploited Nicholas’ only flaw-his pious innocence to the true workings of sinful Earth-to gun him down in cold blood and plunge his once harmonious and just realm into tyranny and darkness.

    And then, after absorbing all this, I found Mencius Moldbug’s website when it was popular. By the time I found ADR in 2016, I was about 75% convinced that Christian Monarchy was the only just form of government and that all revolutions were evil Modernist plots against the Natural Order of Things.

    I don’t believe this anymore (partially thanks to JMG), and one of the most startling things I found researching occultism online was that Nicholas II had occult interests-considering traditional Orthodoxy’s teachings on the occult and any sort of occult interest, it would shatter the worldview of multiple people I personally know, were they to learn it and believe it. Likewise, I’ve read enough history to realize how oppressive and coup-ridden Imperial Russia was. A few weeks ago, I was in a Russian Orthodox church in my current city, and heard two parishoners talking about how all revolutions everywhere, including the American Revolution, were evil Freemasonic plots to destroy Christianity and its natural political system, Christian Monarchy-and found it profoundly disturbing to listen to, because it was so close to what I once believed.

    And yet, part of me-the same part of me that admired Aragorn so much as a kid-still wants to believe it, and wants the Myth of the Romanovs to be an accurate account of the history of Imperial Russia. A part of me that feels profoundly rootless and unmoored when contemplating less dogmatic belief systems like occultism. This part of me, I think, longs for some sort of Authority of Unvarnished Good, larger than myself, to identify with and follow unquestioningly. And its always dissapointed-one reason I wound up leaving the Orthodox church was finding out its bishops engaged in the sort of petty administrative fights that are supposed to be above the Holy Body of Christ on Earth.

    And I’m left to wonder-what do I do with this emotional need? Is it bad? And if I can’t cut it off (I know what JMG has said in the past about trying to cut off parts of oneself) what should I do with it?

  249. @JMG:
    Heh. I think you’d have to use a pretty small font to get it all in… 🙂
    (Glad you too enjoyed the story, though!)

  250. Hey hey JMG,

    RE: Nautilus Elementary School library, pretty much off topic.

    “a library, btw, into which pupils were not allowed except when the class went there for a project, and you couldn’t check anything out that wasn’t for the project. ”

    Dear gods and little fishes! Holy [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]! It boggles the mind and I am frankly having a hard time believing it. It hurts the head.

    It reminds me of a scene from The Simpsons where Lisa’s actions trigger the independent thought alarm twice in one day, gasp! Of course, they are making fun of it rather than advocating for it.

    The Simpsons – Independent thought alarm – 1 minute 43 seconds

    On a personal note, I’m living in the town that I grew up in and the schools have transformed into what look like high security prisons. Its disturbing.


    PS Thanks for the ‘ruthless moderation’ I appreciate the quality of the dialogue not being drowned out by the folks who shout the loudest. And, also on a personal note, I often read my comments after they have been posted and think that I should have put more thought into them and written them better. On the up side GI Joe tells me that knowing is half the battle. On the downside, well, I’m still working on that second half.

  251. The chosen ones are reminiscent of prophets who are chosen for their tasks by superior powers. I think this point was made earlier on. The fall of the chosen ones in Faustian civilisations seems to parallel the decline in monotheistic religions in these civilisations too. Could this fall in the chosen ones stories also mean an imminent rise in polytheist / natural religions in faustian civilisations?

  252. Hi John Michael,

    I never knew you had read Sun Tzu’s treatise ‘The Art of War’? Your Death Star strategy sounded about right to me, and I reckon it would work. You put me in mind of your discussions years back about the English and their historic obsessions with battleships, and of course how that played out in WWI and WWII. All good study material for your book Twilights Last Gleaming.

    Do you know, it surprises me that the fictional Star Wars Empire went for the third slightly smaller Death Star (I had not seen the film). I can understand the second construction, because the first was clearly destroyed by a ‘lucky shot’! But it is little wonder that third thing was apparently smaller – I heard that the Empire was running short of funds and had to resort to debasing of the currency and some dodgy intergalactic loans! 😉

    Albert Einstein was apparently quoted as suggesting that doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome was a sign of madness. I could never quite understand in the film franchise why the Empire were considered Evil and a focus for the rebellion? Dunno.



  253. Dear Mr. Greer – Also a Gorey fan, here. Recently found a copy of “The Curious Sofa” at a used book sale, for less than $1!. But I digress …

    Your mention of silent films, and a return to analog, reminds me of a couple of things. There’s a recent book out, titled “The Revenge of Analog.” Worth a look. Also, I watch a lot of films, on DVD, from the library. I also watch some of the “extras.” It’s interesting that a lot of the recent films (mostly indies) have the director banging on about how they recorded on film or tape, instead of digital. That it added “depth.” And, usually a story or two about unearthing ancient cameras and lenses.

    But, for all you Lovecraft fans, take a look at this …

    THE CALL OF CTHULHU [streaming, DVD] Written in 1926, just before the advent of “talking” pictures, The Call of Cthulhu is one of the most famous and influential tales of H.P. Lovecraft, the father of gothic horror. Now the story is brought richly to life in the style of a classic 1920s silent movie, with a haunting original symphonic score. Using the “Mythoscope” process – a mix of modern and vintage techniques, the HPLHS has worked to create the most authentic and faithful screen adaptation of a Lovecraft story yet attempted. From the cultists of the Louisana bayous to the man-eating non-euclidean geometry of R’lyeh, the HPLHS brings Cthulhu to the screen as it was meant to be seen. Eighteen months of production and a cast of more than 50 actors went into making this film a period spectacle that must seen to be believed. The DVD includes The Call of Cthulhu (47 minutes, black and white), the high-fidelity and “Mythophonic” soundtracks, a 25 minute “making-of” documentary featurette, two slide shows, deleted footage, a prop PDF of the Sydney Bulletin and more.

    Our library actually got a copy, and I got to see it. Oh, my. I was well into it, before I realized that it wasn’t an old silent film. It’s wonderful. Well worth a look. Lew

  254. Greetings all,
    I’ve been catching the comments when I could all week and now, a lazy Sat. morning, I’m finally able to join in.

    My first reaction while reading this essay was somehow a connection to Quentin Tarantino’s recent “Blast-the Past” rewriting of history in ‘Inglorious Bastards’, Django Unchained’ and most recently, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. He takes a well known historical injustice, obvious terrible, terrible villains and changes history in these stories for the good guys to blast them in gratuitously violent mayhem. I really dislike this kick he seems to be on, mostly because it seems to be pandering to and bolstering some baser and easy/lazy emotional gratification of blood-lust in the audience against villains we can all agree upon. It’s dumbing-down of the audience, an infantilising, pandering.

    Even more disturbing to me, as unlike ‘The Marvel Universe’ or Disney flicks, Tarantino is set up as one the heat Artistes of cinema.” His work is respected in a way the others don’t even try for.
    They aren’t ‘Chosen One’ narratives, so I may be off base, but I feel the success of these movies is somehow related to this decline. Maybe one of our writers here could articulate it better than I.

  255. @ what Llewellyn and Lacking Clever User Name have contributed;

    My eldest son is now a film major, especially interested in animation and has said the same thing, and I agree. Going digital was inevitable, but a terrible blow to the artistry of film. I think all audience members notice the ‘feel’ of cinematography, even if they are not trained, even if they don’t know they notice. My son is now fighting the good fight for stop-motion and claymation animation. Likewise, in it’s imperfection and clunkiness, there is texture and feeling. As a former Theater designer, I personally feel that the imperfections are most important in allowing the audience to suspend their disbelief and inhabit the story. I found that to be true in super-low budget play productions as opposed to Broadway level productions. When the audience begins watching ANY film or play, they unconsciously set their level of suspension of disbelief, and it is much higher, they put their own imaginations to work more diligently when production values cannot fill in all of the blanks for them.

    In film, well that’s why ‘Jaws’ was so scary. the audience barely ever sees the shark and the unknown is far scarier than the known. Spielberg has said he only filmed it that way because the big mechanical shark was so clumsy, hard to work and failed so often – but that weakness turned out to be the film’s greatest strength.

    I remember well when digital took over the music recording industry and there were similar outcries, (IMHO very justified) from the two opposite ends of the music loving spectrum. Classical music aficionados mourned the loss of feeling the textures of each gorgeous violin strain and punks and hard rockers missed the scratch and grittiness of our grungy garage bands. One critic described Bruce Springsteen’s early recordings as sounding like a bottle of coca-cola must have spilled all over it while playing. His voice, the instrumentation, everything was so rough. And that was why we liked it! It felt authentic and fresh, but mostly it echoed the dirty rough world he was singing about.

    So, yes, I agree, this seemingly innocuous technical shift has had HUGE ramifications. kind of neutered the audiences imaginations, our ability to suspend our disbelief and accept fantastical leaps in a story. When CGI fills in the blanks for us, our brains get lazy and atrophy and cannot do it anymore / it’s boring and we don’t care to try.

  256. Found a partial answer to my summer question: the US has had the greatest influx of zero cost labor over the Mexican border. what is outstanding mortgage debt for hospitals, medical centers, and clinics? it should be the lowest in decades: is it?

    No. There exists Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) just for medical office buildings. The REITs are traded on Wall Street; more financialization of the US economy. Potential savings passed on to patients, their families, and medical professionals? No.

  257. @All;

    I’d also like to offer a defence of ‘helicopter parents’ in my (late boomer) generation. My own kids are Gen-Z, 19 & 20 years old and were mercifully raised outside of the USA in one of the biggest, yet safest cities in the world, Hong Kong. We were just Forrest-Gump-dumb- lucky, they had a LOT of freedom and autonomy there. I remember coming home to the USA for visits, every time, we would barely get inside the airport when some stranger, attendant/passenger/janitor SOMEONE would freak out if the kids got literally two feet away from me. “Kids are abducted all the time, you can’t let them wander around like that!! What kind of mother are you!?” When my eldest was 5, on one such visit, we went to Walmart and he went inside one of the clothing carousels. I couldn’t find him, so I went to one of the store clerks and asked if they could call him on the loudspeaker. I knew he must be close by, I would eventually find him, but to save time, just call him – he’ll come back if he hears his name. The store clerk immediately went on the loud speaker and screamed “CODE RED, CODE RED, LOST CHILD, CODE RED!!!” Lights and sirens went off, and the metal gates covering the front doors started coming down. No one was allowed in or out of the store. He heard the sirens and came out of the carousel. The store clerk went back on the loudspeaker to announce “CHILD FOUND” and again reminded me what a terrible careless mother I was. The gates went back up and sirens and lights stopped. WHEW! But It really scared me how serious this threat must be. So I can see why my USA peers, American parents may be so overprotective during a time in life when kids should be expanding & exploring. Yes, we had tons more freedom back-in-the-day, but it was something of a different world then.

    Having said that – I grew up in So Cal in the 60’s and 70’s. No school shootings, but we did have abductions and serial killers, (The Manson family, the Freeway killer, Zodiac were just the big-name California ones) were all over the news and sometimes did hit our small town. A few kids did disappear and bodies of missing children or teenaged girls were sometimes found in the canyons. It was far from a perfect world then either. My dad and uncle grew up there in the 1950’s and it wasn’t AS bad, but it happened occasionally then too.

    Another facet of our ‘good-ol-days-free-range’ upbringing is that simply – I and many people I know would not exist if birth control were available to our parents when we were conceived. We were not hated or completely bereft, but we were not particularly wanted.
    I think some of us who grew up in that time have been overcompensating for perhaps too much freedom/lack of concern?

    You do the best you can and you probably mess it up no matter which way you go.

  258. As to the Chosen One theme and how it informs real life/politics, lulls the population into sleepy inaction:

    Remember immediately after 9/11? When the American people were all shocked, furious and rightly up in arms and asking “What to do?” “Who to help?” “What can I DO?” and then president George W Bush said “Go shopping”. Ostensibly he meant to keep the economy afloat/running, but the deeper psychological message was “You can do nothing” “You helpless sheep are worthy only as consumers” “Let us, your betters handle this”.

    Quite the opposite of the old finger-pointing Uncle Sam, “I WANT YOU!” posters of WW2. Or the Rosie the Riveter “Yes We CAN!” posters.

    And I don’t think I can add anything that hasn’t been said here about raising real life ‘Chosen Ones’ / Gifted children. I’ve witnessed it too. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Thank Goodness my own two were strugglers. One little boy we knew, a close friend of my youngest was pronounced “gifted”. His parents tried hard to implement the appropriate modern rearing techniques the school and experts forced on them (don’tgetmestarted). and it was horrific for him as well as his parents and siblings. At one point he was consistently medicated. They (Hey, like us, come to think of it! LOL) were only saved by the husband losing his high-falutin’ job in Hong Kong and their wealth and status. They were forced back to a struggling lower-middle-class lifestyle in the States where this boy had to go to a normal public school, could not afford medication, raised by his mother, not paid Help, and was not considered ‘special’ anymore because his new school did not have the resources to test or accommodate for gifted. Last I heard, he’s now doing pretty well, going to a local State College, no longer expected to change the world, but he will find a place in it.

  259. Chris,

    I’m happy we agree about Good Times!

    I’m currently playing in a FATE game, and having a good bit of fun with it. (If nothing else, I’m glad to be able to finally use my FUDGE dice.) It would probably be my go-to system for narrative games; I’m contemplating trying to run a Highlander-based game using FATE at some point. It seems like it would be able to handle the power differences between immortals and mortals a bit more gracefully than most other systems.

    I’ve long wanted to give GURPS a try, but I’ve never found anyone willing to either play or run it.

    That said, my tastes swing simulationist. The last D&D game I ran began with the PCs being falsely arrested and released together, and then they had few different adventure hooks they could follow up on. It ended with them killing a demon-corrupted young man who they could have saved had they not missed the hook.

  260. I just noticed my link (above) didn’t go through. Oops. If I find the article again I’ll try again.

  261. Hi HMG, thanks for the post!

    There are some variations you can detect with your taste, but for somebody from a different culture/country, like me, the majority of Hollywood films have the same “flavor”.

    The plot is, with some variants, almost always the same:
    There are some bad guys that are absolute evildoers, who have not any other intention or purpose in their lives but to make the Absolute Evil, then there are the Victims, and then the Hero that will save them.
    The Hero overcome all kind of unbelievable/impossible obstacles, as if there was a kind of “divine” hand helping the Hero to achieve his (right) goal, which is the total destruction of the evil people, in many case in a very sadistic way, well justified because the inherent depravity, and terrible crimes, of the bad guys. You can fill the blanks for the bad guys = far west indians, WWI germans, nazi germans, russians spetsnaz or KGB, klingons, galactic empire troops, orcs, Saddam Huseins troops, iraqui terrorists, street gangs, trolls, talibans, arabs terrorists, latin american terrorists, etc…that fall like flies under the high accuracy shots of the Hero.

    This makes a kind of Catharsis for the film viewers that liberates some part of the internal sadistic trends we have inside, in a way that legitimate the carnage (kill all these f***ing b***tards know!)

    I think the way how this plot is built is based in the predestinationist roots of the american culture; from the very beginning the hero was pre-destinate (Chosen) to overcome all the huge obstacles and achieve his glorious Manifest Destiny to destroy the Evil, of course helped by God (some god-like “chance”). And from the very beginning you “know” who is the hero (some handsome guy, normally accompanied by a very beautiful young woman), and, of course, you “know” that the hero will succeed.

    On the other hand, for example in the Mediterranean-catholic or Orthodox cultures, the plot revolves around the “losers” not around the “winners” (it these terms are any meaning at all).

    One of the main plot in our culture is “Don Quijote de la Mancha” which Cervantes built, in fact, as a “Predestinate Hero” but in a curious way, because all his actions goes wrong, but anyway he continue to “feel” his glorious destiny as “winner”, making a lot of jokes in the meantime. He was a “loser” and pay the hybris of his wild dreams.
    I think in fact Cervantes built a kind of metaphor of the spanish empire when the spanish monarchy, based mainly on Castile, try the impossible “quixotic” task to re-unite the Christendom, fighting at the same time: ducths, french, english, danish, swedes, turks, berebers, savoians, brandenburgers, scotchs, etc…

    The russian novel, the italian or spanish films, or even the ancient Greek Attic Tragedy always revolve around the “losers”, and it is a very different way to build the ethics of the Hero. And this “Tragedy” give another kind of “Catharsis” to the people who see them.

    The concept of “Limits” and “Hybris”, the base of the traditional “Tragedy”, is lost in the Über-Faustian american (mainstream) narratives, that I think it represents the higher peak of the Faustian Dreams.

    I think you will see the return of the “Tragedy” (as a fundamental popular representation) also in your soil, in not too distant future, when your empire sinks.


  262. We the audience don’t even know what a T-16 is. Literally all we ever see him controlling is a hover car. Being able to drive a truck would not remotely justify a character being able to fly a jet fighter plane, which is essentially what Star Wars does. For the record, the EU says the T-16 is an airspeeder, so that still doesn’t really justify his ability to pilot a starfighter.

    I retract the comment about hierarchies; I misread someone elses comment as one of yours.

    Rey does fail, repeatedly. It is genuinely like we didn’t watch the same movies. I think she’s a bland nothing of a character, but she isn’t perfect. Again, the entire theme of TLJ is that every character fails over and over.

  263. To Violet:

    You said, “It is a bizarre nihilism of the Chosen One or the Gifted. Literally the prevailing subtext is that the Gifted are so Gifted and there has been so much Progress that the Gifted are literally able to Save the World and if they aren’t able to *it’s their fault for not trying hard enough*”

    I think the Greta Thunberg phenomenon epitomizes the syndrome you are talking about here. Anyone who believes they can save the world or take responsibility for failing to save it is by default an egomaniac. When Greta makes her joyless, angry proclamations of doom (I notice she uses the word “you” excessively instead of “we” when she chastises everyone about saving the world from imminent Apocalypse) her God complex pops out of the corners. When Saint Greta falls from her pedestal due to factors like the public having a short attention span, she’ll blame herself for sure but she will blame the rest of us much harder. She will see her carbon usage — for instance the ship-drivers who had to be flown across the ocean so she could ride in an “eco-friendly” boat — as stuff she “had” to do while the rest of us were indulgent, greedy demons. Greta Thunberg and her ilk cannot hear the gods because they think they are God.

    To JMG: Loved that Lady Pixie Moondrip (LOL I think I see what you did there, as the moon still makes me drip until the blessed Pause ushers me into magnificent cronedom) name generator thing, especially the one who named themselves an idiot in Welsh, hilarious! If you ever publish your parody, I’ll buy it even though I don’t know much about the pagan scene. I eventually plan on reading your Hali series and am hoping to buy them as old fashioned print. The eBook thing is kind of meh. I’m grateful for eBooks of course, but all thing considered, I prefer print books.

  264. Hey, hey Tolkien Guy,

    That’s the church I grew up in and married in. My then husband actually insisted on naming our daughter, who was born in the same month that the Tsar’s family was canonized, after one of the royal daughters. He was a monarchist but I don’t think he wanted it for America. As for me, I could see where that system has its merits, but I just have such a problem buying into the seimystical idea that some particular family is ‘royal’ and has special blood. It’s all too silly for me. It just ain’t so.

    I do think Tsaw Nicholas was a pretty good and religious man. I’m interested in what sort of occult he was into? I find the Russians may be formally against the occult, but are pretty comfortable with things like various forms of extrasensory perception nor did they find it necessary to burn the witches.

    For me, I had some serious cognitive dissonance when I read a book which showed that in the 4th century the bishops were fighting pretty badly and that St. Paul was hated by some of the other apostles. It was not the happy and holy family I had been told.

    I do think you might consider that Imperial Russia, for all it had flaws, was in many ways a pretty decent place and a far ore decent place than the horror it became. So then you think, well if no revolution, what happens to the bad parts? I think that over time Russia would have modernized under pressure of world opinion and all that incredible misery was utterly unnecessary. In fact, I think that about a lot of violent changes. Why did we need the revolutionary war? Couldn’t we just wait a bit and then the writing would have been on the wall?

    I wish I had some advice for your main question. I see that most people are constituted in such a way that they want believable authorities; I am the opposite and try to understand how the other type functions. I think what you might do is keep this question as an open one to God/ the universe/ your guardian angel and try to let them inform your ponderings.

  265. All—

    Re the benefits of “ruthless moderation”

    Just as a quick aside, I’d like to again thank our host here for his efforts to keep this forum a civil and reasonable space for discussion. I was just going through some other feeds elsewhere (yes, PW) and I hit upon a section of comment thread that went on for a few screens and was, quite literally, nothing but exchanges of “You’re a [fracking] idiot” and “No, you’re a [fracking] idiot.” Hardly anything remotely resembling adult conversation and certainly not an intelligent discussion of the post in question (which was on Biden and his age as factor in the Dem nomination process).

    This is a much better place to converse and exchange ideas, even when we don’t agree.

  266. Re: giftedness. I was highly gifted as a child. My parents made me learn the piano with the explicit aim of having me struggle to achieve something. There was occasional praise for my academic skill, but also reminders that my grandparents had made good without completing high school through hard work and persistence. I think I turned out okay.

  267. Ryan, for what it’s worth, I didn’t get anything closer to corporal punishment than the very occasional spanking — my dad was physically abused as a child, vowed that he would not treat his own children that way, and kept that vow; it’s one of a good number of things I respect about the man. The important thing is that children should be disciplined, and you can’t discipline a child unless you can discipline yourself. Spoiled parents guarantee spoiled children!

    Violet, the comparison to Euripides is worth making. I suspect the maenads were considered deplorable by the respectable people of their time.

    Your Kittenship, funny. My characters seem to be busy living their lives when I’m not writing about them — for me, writing is very much a matter of catching up with a busy friend and finding out what they’ve been doing.

    Aquari, thank you for this. Definitely more grist for the mill.

    Tolkienguy, well, to start with, the traditional American Christian response to the monarchist deviation can be summed up very readily: if Christ truly is your King, why are you looking for someone else to fill that job? If, as Christianity teaches, we are all sinners — “For all have sinned, and have come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) — it’s frank idolatry to demand unconditional obedience to any fallen, sinful human being, just because one of his ancestors managed to slaughter the opposition and put a crown on his head. (And of course bishops are just as fallen as the rest of us, thus their tendency to come short of the glory of God in the course of petty squabbles.) I know quite a few devout Christians who defend constitutional representative democracy fiercely, not because it claims divine sanction, but precisely because it doesn’t — it’s the best arrangement human beings can have, given their limitations. The temptation to immanentize the eschaton, to demand that secular institutions (or for that matter, churches in their organizational and material expressions) embody the perfection of the divine, can be a strong one, but it usually leads to one kind of ghastly mess or another.

    Reese, well, yes! 😉

    Tim, oh, I know. When we moved and I started attending a different elementary school in another town, and I discovered that I could actually (gasp!) go to the school library myself after classes and (another gasp!) check out books, I thought I was in heaven. Reflecting on the fiasco of Nautilus Elementary many years after the fact was one of the things that made me start to question the dogmas of mainstream American liberalism.

    Karim, hmm! That’s a fascinating possibility. I’ll have to mull that one over.

    Chris, I read Sun Tzu quite a while ago; I’ve also read Clausewitz, and a good many other books on strategy. It’s a longtime subject of geekery for me, and I probably ought to find some way to put it to work in my writing. (I wish I enjoyed space opera more; I’ve been told that there’s a huge market for stories of famous space battles.) As for why the empire is evil, why, it’s evil because it’s evil, of course! How dare you ask such questions, you deplorable? 😉

    Lew, the HPLHS does some of the most entertaining stuff in Lovecraftdom. I have one of their “Cree-Pee Lovecraftian Portfolios” — those who went to school back in the day and know the meaning of the term “Pee-Chee” know the model, but here’s the eldritch reality:
    I use it for astrology readings, partly because of how Lovecraft would have reacted to that!

  268. Jenxyz, fascinating. In other words, all that extra space between income and outgo is being skimmed off the top to support the lifestyles of the already privileged. Got it.

    Caryn, fair enough. So a good deal of the helicopter parenting wasn’t voluntary but enforced, via various modes of policing the behavior of the middle classes? Interesting. With regard to Dubya’s “go shopping” comment, that’s a very good point.

    DFC, also an excellent point. American culture has no idea how to deal with defeat — that was one of the themes of my novel Twilight’s Last Gleaming — and so too many of us don’t understand tragedy at all. (One of the great gaps between people from the old southern states, the ones that rebelled in 1860, and the rest of the country is that they know what it means to lose and the rest of us don’t.) I’ve sometimes thought that when the US finally suffers a serious, unquestionable defeat, the impact on our national identity may be so severe that there won’t be a United States for much longer.

    Your Kittenship, that’s quite unnervingly accurate…

    Ben, there you go again. I gather you missed the fact that I didn’t watch the movie. I was responding to comments on the part of the readers of my Dreamwidth post. I’d sooner have a root canal than go watch a Disney film these days; they have the reverse Midas touch, everything they grope turns to crap. Whether or not other characters failed or didn’t fail was also irrelevant to my post, which contrasted Rey with Luke Skywalker — just those two characters, the first in The Last Jedi, the second in the original movie — as a way of talking about a specific habit more generally found in pop culture these days. I know it’s standard practice these days to yell at people online without paying attention to what’s actually been said, but the point of this blog’s comment page is to encourage people to do something rather different, you know.

    Oh, and it was a T-6, not a T-16. What’s more, this member of “we the audience” had no trouble at all figuring out from context what Luke meant and why it was relevant. Of course your mileage may vary.

    Kimberly, I actually wasn’t thinking of that, though it does make a good joke, given some of the ways that bit of biology got romanticized by some Neopagans. (I gather they never had bad cramps.) “Moondrip” was simply a matter of taking “Moon” and finding something that had both a silly sound and a silly meaning to tack onto the end of it. I also considered “Moondork,” for what it’s worth. (Hmm. On reflection, Moondork would make a fine name for a ninth-rate not-especially-superhero…)

    David BTL, you’re most welcome and thank you.

    Kfish, that seems sensible enough.

  269. Reading through all these comments about what normally happens to “gifted” children just drives home the point of how odd my own situation growing up was. Apparently, most parents who are constantly telling their kids how smart they are and how much potential they have don’t also move to a poorer town to get away from attitudes of the upper class, or intentionally put their children in the LESS competitive leagues and clubs.

    Truth is, I simply can’t imagine myself having had nearly as good of a childhood if I was taught to believe that having Asperger’s Syndrome was a disability – OR if I got put into elite schools where, because I was “gifted,” I was expected to meet a bunch of rigid expectations all the time. Instead I got told I was a genius, told that I was expected to work hard at whatever I chose to do, but then left pretty-much to myself as to how I chose to develop my talents, all in the context of a fairly relaxing, low-stress childhood in ordinary small-town America.

    It’s just taken me a while to realize how rare that experience really is.

  270. @ Lady Cutekitten

    Re unexplained abbreviations

    PW = PoliticalWire. I was an active commenter there back in the run-up to the 2016 election and shortly thereafter. Now, I just lurk and occasionally post something here about stuff I see there.

  271. The essay on military strategy in LOTR pointed out that Gandalf was a first-rate strategist who (in effect) knew his Clausewitz, and Sauron made one of the standard mistakes of the inept general.

    I feel Sauron has been getting too much bashing here.

    Sauron is not inept, or stupid – if he was, Denethor would not act the way he does. Sauron simply does not grasp the notion of rejecting power. He never in a million years considered the possibility that someone might try to destroy the Ring. Why would he? It’s a weapon of absolute power. His cautious response to the West reflects his uncertainty as to Aragorn – and indeed, the possibility that Aragorn was using the Ring caused him to hurry his attack on Minas Tirith (time was no longer on Mordor’s side).

    Meanwhile, we know – and had always known – that no individual could willingly destroy the Ring. Frodo can’t even cast it into his fire at Bag End, much less the Crack of Doom. Gandalf was literally passing up the only chance to defeat Sauron in favour of a mad plan destined to fail.

    The flaws of Gandalf’s plan are pointed out by the (highly rational) Denethor. Gandalf’s plan only makes sense if you trust in a higher power to tip the balance – and I’m not sure Clausewitz was particularly big on eucatastrophes as a war winning strategy.

  272. I don’t know, Strda221–seems to me that once it had become clear the Ring was going somewhere in the custody of a small (no pun intended) unit, Sauron would have suffered less damage by sitting and waiting as I suggested above. From his perspective it doesn’t really matter WHY the small unit has the Ring, so long as they do. And from his perspective the breaking of the fellowship would look like an effort to confuse him as to which sub-party has the Ring, but that still shouldn’t be a big problem as long as he has Nazgul, Palantirs, and informer s to sniff out which party it is. It seems to me that he could still have afforded to sit tight until well into “The Two Towers.”

    Sauron reminds me of modern America at war—bring in the air power for a brief period, install an occupational force for a long period while extracting any handy wealth that may be lying about, launder money with your other hand, then declare victory and go home. 😄. Except he didn’t get to do the last 2 steps!

    Would anyone with actual experience care to weigh in? I enjoy reworking great military disasters, but my actual logistic, strategic, and tactical experience is confined to playing Risk. 😳

  273. When it comes to the original Star Wars trilogy, it was not only the first movie that was rewatchable (and rewatched).

    While Luke went – or was retconned – to the Chosen One path, he became less and less the war hero at the same time… disappearing from view, being the one needing rescue – most of the public set-piece heroics were left to the less special, more vulnerable characters, while Luke was relegated to the “appreciated but not publicly venerated” category – quite similar to Frodo, in fact.

    Personally, I can still find this kind of plot quite acceptable and enjoyable, as cliched as it is – as long as the story is not *just* about secret, shadowy battles that the public does not know about, and as long as the plot structure for the special ones threatens some realistic way of losing while “winning”, creating tension about how it will all turn out.

    Meanwhile, I always thought it a great thing that it was Lando who got to blow up the second death star. I thought it even better that he was not just used up and killed off in a redemption storyline, but got to enjoy the victory party. An unexpectedly happy ending is a great kind of happy ending – maybe this kind of subversion of viewers’ trope expectations is a modern way to get them to experience Tolkien’s eucatastrophes?

    And on those rewatchings, you of course start to notice Wedge – a most anti-Chosen One character – always doing his bit for the rebels and continuing to fight another day, transcending his humble red shirt beginnings and forever defying the odds (and script writer tendencies).

    I can’t fairly comment on the latest superhero movies or Star Wars movies – I’d had my lifetime fill about three or four years ago, except as occasional long flight time-fillers that leave no lasting mark. It may be that the movies have not really changed, but that I have.

  274. Caryn Banker brought up an important side to modern parenting, I think. The leftward intelligentsia in particular has had ethical reasons to restrict the number of children they were having out of concern for the impact lifestyles in industrially advanced countries have on the environment. Having been brought up in Salt Lake City, where the dominant religion exhorted young women to marry early and have as many children as possible, in response, I chose to have zero and would have hated myself to suicide if I had exceeded that nice round figure. Many others among my friends chose to have one or at most two out of the same consideration, and I can list many childless couples among my friends and peers, even my relatives.
    In China, where the rule of one child per couple was legally enforced, the result was a generation of little emperors, all indulged and protected and subjected to the undivided attention of their parents. It is human nature for a mother to overprotect a child when she has reason to think she will never have another. Only children have always been notoriously dysfunctional in social settings as a result.
    The right tends to scoff at the notion that we’ve overpopulated the planet, so they wouldn’t be as subject to this trend.
    @Team10Tim, I feel the same way about my comments. I think what I ought to do is get away from the computer, write my thoughts down during a long walk, then come back and type them in. I just don’t have the time.
    I feel a bit spacey in front of the computer. Ecosophia doesn’t have flashing ads and moving thingamabobbies, which helps, but I am still not at my best here.

  275. Like Wesley, I started off in a privileged, elite grade school with all the heaped up expectations and disappointments that are inherent in such preparatory environments. As a latch-key kid living in the ghetto, it was very strange attending school with Senators’ and Congresscritters’ children and other wealthy spawn of DC. It was probably strange for them as well, since this kid from the wrong side of the tracks was in every “gifted” group the school had. I was supposed to be such a mythic “chosen one” that the school alerted Johns Hopkins, who then gave me awards for over-achieving in their youth talent search. Yes, I have disappointed some of higher education’s finest institutions with my subsequent under-achievement. The “gifted” groups were a blessing though, as they got me out of books and into weaving, shadow plays, model building. I think by “gifted” they really meant, if we had already learned the required material, we should do something creative with it, like make Punch and Judy puppets and put on a show. The school did not have a “gifted” group for math, so I just sat alone at the back of the class teaching myself algebra and geometry from high-school textbooks. Best grade-school class ever!

    Could my family have managed to afford any of DC’s prep high-schools, as all my friends’ could, I would probably have ended up bullied and isolated by wealthy cliques mimicking their parents’ obsession with gatekeeping and exclusivity – an obsession I hadn’t much noticed in my grade-school innocence. Like Wesley, falling out of the cushy classes turned out to be a blessing. Had I continued steeping in my friends’ upper-class prejudices, I imagine their rejection of me would have been truly devastating. Instead, we moved to a blighted Virginia suburb with no options except a 4,000-student public high school where learning at a different pace from the textbook was verboten. Taking a page from my grade-school “gifted” groups, I focused on doing something creative by putting more and more time and attention into art class, where everyone works at their own pace, without any textbook. Best high-school class ever!

    The only thing I looked forward to at school other than art was the dreaded “gifted” program. Had I been at an elite prep school, the “gifted” program would surely have become a straight jacket, targeting me for “special” treatment by all my unmet (and unmeetable) expectations as well as resentful peers. Fortunately, in a god-awful, oversized, suburban teenage daycare, the “gifted” program was nothing more than an opportunity to get out of terminally boring classes once every two weeks and to interact with some adults whose souls had not withered beyond recognition. For all I know, that may have been the only job requirement for teaching in that “gifted” program. Anyway, I could easily have become one of the many high schoolers who put an early end to themselves out of hopelessness had there not been a “gifted” program to remind me that real adults could ask real questions and listen to real, barely-formed, groping answers. Unlike being on a “gifted” track, this apparently unusual “gifted” program broke apart the expectations and monotony of high school, giving me hope for a less depressing future. Best excuse to get out of high-school class ever!

    Once I realized that by going to community college on early admission I could escape from my entire senior year at teenage daycare, the despair lifted and I no longer had need for a “gifted” program as antidote. But I am still very grateful those programs were available when I had desperately needed them. At college, with philosophy seminars on The Problem of Good and Evil and writing seminars on The Logical Fallacies, school became gifted all on its own. Best of all, I could meet my loathsome high-school PE requirement by taking a special seminar on Caving and Rock-Climbing. Best community-college class ever!

  276. Here’s a link to another very good piece by David Brooks, entitled The Morality of Selfism Though he’s widely criticized on the Left, I think we could you a lot more of his kind of conservative-leaning, honest, thoughtful centrism. This particular piece is sharply sarcastic but very spot on.

    Of course, anyone who wishes to read this essay will have to negotiate the NYTimes access maze. I absolutely refuse to pay one dime for anything they produce. If I’m cut off after I’ve read my “10th free article this month” so be it. I still scan the front page each day because it’s important to know what the Good People are up to. I have the essay in Word doc format too…anyone who might want a copy in that form can request it at

  277. KevPilot – One of the reasons that Casablanca, and especially the group singing scene, worked so well is that the movie studio hired a number of European refugee actors to act as European refugees. They were singing from the heart, not just from the script.

  278. @JMG: I don’ know if I would say “voluntary” vs. “enforced”, but very highly suggested. perhaps enforced by social pressures, but we still did have choices. My family was lucky to have the choice to choose our ‘village’ in which to raise our children.

    I just meant to say – there’s reason for the helicoptering. It didn’t come out of nowhere and our generation of parents is not exceptionally dumber or whackier, (or smarter) than any other. 🙂

  279. @ Nothing Special, JMG —
    Maybe once the Boomers have finally shot their bolt, we are going to go totally orthognal and produce Blue-on-Orange morality:

    On giftedness:
    Wow, that does sound positive. You were very lucky in your choice of parents!
    Imagine being pushed constantly by the idea that you are special, you are gifted, you are smart, you, yes, you personally are going to Save The World ™ — but not actually permitted (by parents or teachers) to do anything different from your peers. That’s what being “gifted” got me in our public school system. How the hell was I supposed to become this intellectual ubermensch, then?

    All I got out of it was a messiah complex and a seriously bad attitude. (Oh, and an anxiety disorder. And crippling depression. Maybe that counts as attitude, though.)

    On Rothfuss:
    “Kvetch” sounds about right. For me, a character that I didn’t feel like I was being instantly forced to like was a bit of a refresher. Maybe I’m wrong, but I got the impression Rothfuss doesn’t care if I like the kid. (At this point, I get the impression that Rothfuss doesn’t like the kid– and thus doesn’t want to write about him.) It also makes the subsequent dumpster fire of bad decision making far easier to read than it would be with a totally sympathetic character.

    No accounting for taste, of course.

    (Which, good gods, how did we forget that pearl of wisdom? Somehow these postmodernist no-objective-truth types insist on absolute value judgments on the arts. How did that happen? Maybe it’s just another way to single out the deplorables– the absolute value judgement is happening inside the ideological system of social justice. I tried to look for honest reviews of Vox Dei’s fantasy, and it took some doing. I had to wade through a lot of “this guy made racist comments so his book must be terrible and should be burned” to find the “hey, this is actually pretty good!”)

  280. It’s interesting reading the differing experiences and perspectives on “gifted” upbringings. In my own (and my older siblings’) case, it had nothing to do with any expectation to Save The World. Quite the contrary, in my family it was more about seeking out the safest and greenest corner of the Shire, so to speak. (And by greenest I don’t mean vegetation.)

    Any discussion of any career other than medicine, science, or engineering became a lecture in how difficult and uncertain that career was, how success therein was based entirely on luck or on “who you know,” and how sad it was that Cousin Lizzie’s neighbor’s friend’s son-in-law had studied hard to be a (journalist, teacher, architect, musician, or whatever) but ended up having to take a job as a poison taster for a motorcycle gang.

    Implicit in that campaign was the assumption that gifted as we might be, we weren’t good enough to succeed in any competitive field. Also implicit was the assumption that a poison taster for a motorcycle gang (or with less hyperbole, an average architect designing home additions rather than great civic monuments) could not possibly have a more fulfilling career and life than the average otolaryngologist.

    In society in general, though, there’s always been an obsession with extreme achievement. Why save that fetus from being aborted? Why let that child immigrate? Why give that disadvantaged student a scholarship? Not, says the usual political discourse, because they might contribute modestly to our collective well-being and enjoy a fulfilling life. It’s because they might cure cancer! (Or alternatively: make an important scientific discovery; invent an essential new technology; create some great artwork; write the era’s great novel; become a sports or performing arts superstar; start a billion-dollar business; command a mission to mars; or be elected to high office, mayor at minimum.)

    That’s based on what’s required to be a notable character in the narrative of Progress. It’s not so much about Saving The World, as Keeping The Good Times Rolling.

  281. Wesley, well, now you have another reason to send that card when Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days roll around next year…

    Strda221, no, I think you’re going too easy on Sauron. As the essay pointed out, he made a classic beginner’s mistake in launching a frontal assault on Minas Tirith, when he had many other options that would have won the war much more quickly. The essay’s suggestion — march on Rohan first and defeat it, then turn on Minas Tirith — is one of them; another would be to cross Anduin further south and attack the Gondorean hinterland, again to cut off a source of potential relief for Minas Tirith, and also to force Denethor to send his forces out of Minas Tirith so they could be crushed by superior numbers in the open. It would make an interesting alternative history to envision a situation where Sauron did one of those things, defeating the armies of the West — and then Frodo gets to Mount Doom and Sauron’s realm goes poof. The Fourth Age would be a very different place…

  282. Re the Star Wars discussion

    Just to contribute my twain farthings

    I did not see TLJ, having gotten my fill of the “new” Star Wars with TFA. In fact, TFA was the last film I saw in theaters. Admittedly, I was already not really going to theaters much, as the last film I’d seen before that was the final Hobbit movie.

    That said, I distinctly recall leaving the theater after TFA with an overwhelming sense of being underwhelmed. The entire film was a weak echo of ANH, as most have already pointed out. But most significantly, there was absolutely no character development. In fact, key characters, most notably Han, were simply regressed into old roles, as though the previous character arcs had never occurred. Moreover, the story made zero sense. Why is there a Resistance? What is it resisting if the Empire is dead and the Republic is the new government? Where did these new evil evil bad guys come from? Why do they have stormtroopers? And yes, Rey was a weak character with no arc, no depth, no motivation, and no personality who could do anything she tried exceptionally well and is somehow the center of attention for no reason whatsoever.

    But more importantly, the writers ignored the fact that they were supposed to be writing the first third of the final third of an epic story arc. Two-thirds of that arc had already been written, for good (the original series) or for ill (the prequels). You cannot ignore this and write whatever you want. You have to operate within the parameters of the story as it exists. You do not get to start in medias res all over again. You have to complete the original epic arc in an internally consistent manner. They failed utterly at this task. So I did not ever bother with TLJ and from what I’ve heard, I’m glad I didn’t waste my money. It is too bad the vast potential was squandered. The prequels, as bad as they were, at least fulfilled a basic role of providing the backstory of how the Empire came forth from the first Republic. (Even though Anakin was a whiny brat and his “virgin birth” was neither necessary nor useful to the story.)

    I’ll just pretend the original trilogy exists in a vacuum and leave it at that. Feels much better.

  283. JMG, I still say, why attack Minus Teriyaki at all? Sit tight and let the enemy bring the Ring right to you. Granted that wouldn’t make an exciting story…

    Day 211 (Aragorn): Still not king.
    (Sauron): How many of those “SEE Beautiful Mount Doom 🔜” signs do I have to put up? How stupid are these people?


  284. Hi JMG

    In your TLG you are correct about the “centrifugal” trends in the decadence of empires in their core regions.

    In the case of Spain there were some huge revolts in Portugal, Andalusia, Catalonia an Naples in the decade of 1640, and was a quasi miracle the spanish empire “only” lost Portugal in these revolts.
    The next big internal crisis was after the defeat against US in 1898 with the loss of the remains of the american and asian empire, and after that debacle is when the regional nationalism/separatism in Catalonia and Basque country really start to take off. For example in fact during the war against the cuban and filipino insurgency (before 1898), the spanish region that contributed more volunteers was Catalonia, fighting under the spanish flag, but after few decades of the defeat there were a huge separatism movement in this region, and it is stronger today.

    It is the same pattern now in UK, from the end of the empire onwards, scots and welsh (all the social class) start to think seriously to separate from England; I think this was not the case before WWI in the peak of the British empire. Now, after the Brexit, the prospect of a United Kingdom in the next decades seems, IMHO, low. When an empire sinks, it sinks deeply during centuries.

    So I suppose the same will happens in the case of the US: after the deluge of wealth from a global empire start to fall, all the differences between states/regions (real or imagined) suddenly are much more visible and became unberable for them, and separation will be much more easy (even desired). There will be also some external powers more than happy to help the process.

    In the growing phase of an empire (as in 1860 in US, in 1746 in England, or in 1521 in Spain) this was not an option


  285. Mister M, fair enough; de gustibus non disputandum est, and all that. I found the rest of the first trilogy a decided disappointment, but that may just be a matter of personal taste.

    Christophe, fascinating. Me, I had to get out of schooling entirely to find a space for myself.

    Jim, thanks for this.

    Caryn, so noted. I’m just noticing the number of ways in which the policing of the privlleged is carried out these days.

    Dusk Shine, in the immortal words of Wowbagger the Indefinitely Prolonged, a being can dream! As for Kvetch, so noted; once Rothfuss stops diddling around, does his job, and turns out the final volume, I’ll see if I can make it past the first chapter.

    Walt, fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Your Kittenship, oh, it’s purely a matter of distracting the other side and making sure they don’t figure out that you’re just waiting for them. When I portray the story from the other side, that’s going to be discussed. 😉

    JoeMac, the creative space was pleasant, but I think he forgot about all those Visigoths and Huns cutting throats and taking stuff…

    DFC, of course! History has its regular patterns, and that’s one of them.

  286. JMG: Minus Teriyaki or bust! 😄

    But it doesn’t matter if they figure out you’re waiting for them or not, because they HAVE to go to Mount Doom. Sitting tight might even smoke out Aragorn (“Day 1,327: Still not king.”). Now that I think about it, since Saruman’s invented something akin to the incendiary weapon, have a Nazgul fly over and drop one on Aragorn. And Gandalf, if possible, although he can probably disappear at the last moment or something.

    Another possibility: Mordor ain’t exactly prime real estate. March everybody out and take over all the good land. 😄. Leave barren, ugly Mordor for the good guys to deal with. What do you care if they destroy the Ring, if in exchange you have water and mineral rights to most of middle Earth?

    It would be interesting to see Sauron start two competing religions in middle Earth, and while the adherents of each are busy slaughtering each other, he quietly takes over any land that both sides have been left too weak to defend.

  287. JMG: “As for Spengler, the two-volume edition is essential if you want to get into the thinking that underlies the historical theory. It’s currently out of copyright; if there’s a publisher in the audience who’s willing to get it back in print in a new edition, I promise to contribute a lengthy foreword and to promote the living bejesus out of it!”

    Yeah, I knew you were going to say that. I once checked out a lovely copy from the Massachusetts library system…it was published by Knopf in the mid 1930s, pretty large, beautifully hardbound, typeset and printed. Short term I’ll probably just seek that out again.

    I think the major difficulty most people will have with Spengler is that we’re not sufficiently well educated in the classical tradition of the European intelligentsia of his era (a monumental understatement). Reading him is mighty slow going for this poorly educated college boy!

    Publishing a new, decent quality unabridged edition would be a very fine thing…seems like it would need to be a labor of love though. Even with a vigorous endorsement from a famous Archdruid, how could it possibly make a profit? I notice that the unabridged version is online so the text in its entirety is readily available. There’s an outfit in India which hawks hardbound print-on-demand copies but from what I can tell the actual pages are poor quality photocopies of a very early edition bound in leather to appear sturdy and worthy of a fine library (kinda looked like it was for suckers). I’m determined to own a pre-WWII set so I’ll just keep looking. Thanks for weighing in on it.


  288. David by the Lake. I wanted to piggy back on your Star Wars comment. We both left with the same impression from the film and I do think you were wise not to waste your money on the Last Jedi. I suppose I could go into an extensive dissection of the movie but I said I wouldn’t an honestly Mr. Wright described things in a far more entertaining manner than I can.

    What I did want to talk about is why I think talking about the new Star Wars movies is actually an important thing because on one level it’s just a movie and notionally a pulp one at that. The thing is I look at Disney Star Wars and see all the fun collapse games we talk about mirrored in these movies. Up to an including the political situation. It has become another battleground that is inciting far more passion than a mere film should generate. In fact I would argue that it’s generating even more heat because it’s “only” a film whereas people might be a little more circumspect or hide from more substantial things.

    Because I and others have been critical of the movie we have been described in exactly the same terms as Trump supporters. This was done by both the director and producer Oh clearly they only reason we disliked it was because we are sexist, racist misanthropes. It couldn’t be because of the bad writing, terrible pacing, disrespect for the characters, lore and in universe mythology. It couldn’t have been that.

    I remember one face plant conversation where an old high school friend of mine revealed his terrible frustration about the movie. You see as much as he disliked because It was a bad movie he had discovered that those evil alt-right folks also didn’t like it (for the same reasons plus politics). So he felt compelled to defend it in its entirety because he didn’t want to be on the same side as conservatives on anything. He is a card carrying member of the good people and he was appalled at the thought that he might agree with the deplorables about anything. The cognitive dissonance was amazing to behold.

    Other Dave

  289. WOW. Spot on.

    As a member of the same generation that smacked down out hard earned allowance and after-school job money to repeatedly view Star Wars in the theater and loving every minute of it. Luke Skywalker was ONE OF US, a regular schulb that toughed it out and rose to greatness. The Force seemed to be a universal truth that discipline, talent and hard work could access, and felt esoteric, yet approachable and true – like Zen. But The Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi were … “Meh. They’re okay.” And got exactly one theater viewing each. The Prequel set frakked the “Skywalker Saga” for a stack of Chosen One tropes, and now unless you’re blessed with an infection of midi-clorination – NO FORCE FOR YOU.

    Even poor Han Solo – a regular guy from a ghetto planet, a “scruffy nerfherder” with a talent for piloting and disreputable companions. He of course had to be killed off, apparently not “special” enough. Which may explain why Rouge One was more satisfying than The Force Awakens, as Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor were also pretty ordinary people rising to extraordinary situations and heroic sacrifice that made a difference. More interesting, and the film did well. Less successful, both critically and commercially was Solo – which seemed to try to tie into a bit too much “this guy is special and destined for great things” vibe. And the script was pedestrian, and relied on all the standard action adventure tropes. Disney will probably pass on a follow-up.

    Apropos, I just Netflixed Jupiter Ascending and despite an intriguing premise, an utter waste. It was visually gorgeous, but barely gets a, “Meh. It was okay.” It was utterly soaked in CHOSEN ONE and standard space opera tropes and clichés and there was not a surprise or even a “whoa” in the whole gorram thing. But given the Wachowski’s track record with the Matrix films, they are ALL IN in the Chosen One biz. It’s practically Neo’s TITLE in the films.

    On the flip side of the trope coin, I rather dislike the new Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica) Netflix Vehicle Another Life for the opposite reason. It’s the same reason that I utterly DESPISED Prometheus. The crews of these multi-billion credit space expeditions are absolutely, unforgivably, inexplicably, utterly INCOMPETENT and shouldn’t be stomping the floor at Wal-Mart much less in space in charge of expensive s**t and high-stakes missions. I had similar complaints in my youth about Lost in Space and Space: 1999. Also the incompetence and ineffectiveness of the Jedi Order in Ep.III: Revenge of the Sith was also a turn-off.

    Idiots. In. Spaceeeeee.

    Perhaps that informs why, despite all kinds of storytelling problems, the CW’s small screen version of Supergirl none the less feels more satisfying than ANY of the multimillion-dollar DCU films. The producers and writers made her quite a bit LESS “Super” – less invulnerable, less invincible, more “ordinary” than her goddess-like comic book incarnation…

    More Interesting.

  290. HI Jim W

    I have the same problem with old books—foreign languages (Greek, Latin, French) that were assumed to be known to any reader of a serious non-fiction book when the book was written are NOT known to me. Now we can look up translations of quotes on the Internet instead of carrying a page or two to be looked up when we go to the library!

  291. JMG – and don’t forget the Danes. “Oooh! Lookie all those lovely relics and gold-covered books in Lindisfarne! Gimme, gimme, gimme.” And with fire and sword, Lindisfarne was trashed. I also note, speaking of the role of the Roman Catholic Church, that King Alfred paid for translations of at least part of the scriptures into English, even if he had to import scholars from other countries to do so, and was widely praised for it.Several hundred years later, having the Bible in the vernacular was cause for being declared a heretic. The more things change…

    I scored the double volume of Spengler from a used & antique bookstore in my old neighborhood before rising rents and the proprietor’s old age drove the store out of business. I may have scored the 2-volume Toynbee at the same place. I gather the Bookapolypse is still going on elsewhere in the country. A lot of used bookstores – the only kind in most places – won’t deal in hardbacks any more. Too hard to sell, take up too much shelf space.

    Thanks for letting the thread on raising kids today go on here. I quote my younger daughter, the sensible one from the high desert, saying “But, Mom, things are a lot more dangerous today than they were back then.”

  292. Dear Jim,

    Regarding Spengler, I have a different perspective. I’m not particularly well-educated and I got a lot out of reading his _Decline of the West_. Sure, I didn’t get a lot of the references that he made and I sure didn’t know his Greek, but his basic idea is rather more passionate and artistic than detail based. He’s like an artist and history is his medium and you don’t have to know who Heraclitus is to get a lot out of reading Spengler writing about Heraclitus. Or, at least, I did!

    One could even make the Spengler curriculum: the five year plan of reading to get you understanding Spengler’s many references, and to better understand his work.

    I think that if you have read Homer, the great Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides you have all you need to understand his points about Hellenic civilization. Throw in some Gibbons and Marcus Aurelius and you can understand his Roman musings pretty well. Read the Bible and maybe the Arabian Nights fairy tales and you understand his thoughts on the Magian civilization adequately. Read the Tao-Te Ching and you more or less get his writing on Chinese Civilization.

    Seriously, I had much less than this going into his work the first time. Sometimes I had to look up things on wikipedia: who is Phidias? What was the battle of Cumae? What made Talleyrand so great? etc etc. Reading his work I got to learn a lot about a lot of things.

    Also, I’m someone who can even be touchy about works that seem pretentious, or go out of their way to make the reader feel stupid. Spengler wasn’t like that for me — instead I had the honor of surfing the great crests of his immense passion.

    I can imagine a nice reprint with an intro by JMG could make many thousands of dollars. If I had the skills I’d be all over it!

    Those are, my two cents, since the subject came up!

  293. @Jim W.: Re Spengler. I have the 1947 Knopf printing of The Decline of the West. My father had the wit to buy it new, and I knew enough to keep it. I can recommend that edition: it is the same as the 1927 printing at, (except for the dates, of course).

    I went to see Star Wars the week it opened in Boston, and faithfully watched the first trilogy. When Jarhead Bings showed up, I left the building.

  294. I think there may be a correlation between the increase of dog-whistle racism in politics, the Ctrl-left shouting-down or what do you call it when everyone jumps on and calls out and shames any socially unacceptable points of view, and this special snowflake trend in literature.

    Unfortunately, I’m at least two weeks of deep thought away from putting something together that actually makes sense in English. so I apologize for the incoherent rambling here.

    I had a very sad time with some friends a couple of days ago that began with the issue of actual neo-Nazi racists holding a rally in the main public square in Toronto, then touched on the shout-down/mob-shaming over a billboard by the People’s Party of Canada that said “No to Mass Immigration” a couple of weeks ago. The trouble is, in a liberal democracy, you must endure unpalatable opinions and ideas, even if badly expressed, not suppress them. I still believe Western Liberal Democracy, with all its flaws, is the best system we have yet devised.
    I found myself being lectured to and corrected by my three friends about, well, They Are Right and hold the Correct Attitudes and I was wrongety-wrong-wrong and was acting like a cowardly Good German in the face of incipient Nazism i.e. the neo-SS/Gestapo (AKA I.C.E.) concentration camps wherein children (babies!) are being tortured and stolen, ripped from their tearful mothers arms and then sold into the sex-trade and why was I not utterly outraged &c. &c. (just what *I*, a Canadian with no voting rights in the U.S., should do about any of that, if it’s all true, besides risk an aneurysm from high blood pressure, is beyond me). It felt like I was that prisoner a scene at the end of the movie “The Last Emperor” where the Red Guards surround the prisoner, shouting ‘confess your crimes’.
    It was the typical kind of ‘discussion’ that wandered all over the map of righteous indignation and was pretty much the typical dogs-breakfast of logical fallacies that comes out in most discussions I’ve had recently in the current culture of political intransigence from, well, everybody. Not just that those on the ‘right’ haven’t long since left reason for madness, but the ones on the ‘left’ at least used to sound like they made sense and apparently had factual data, i.e. Reality, to back up their point of view. Then they decided that had the one and only possible allowable conclusion and prescription on a host of issues and no further discussion would be allowed. As I’ve pointed out here, before, this behaviour by those on the socially-equality end of the political axis seem to have created the conditions for actual Nazis to arise by suppressing any dissent from the officially approved policies that Good People are supposed to have. That was a big part of the friction, because people who believe they are right can brook no dissent and absolutely rejected the possibility that their attitudes were helping create the pushback. Pushback from those who benefit from “white male privilege” is, of course, evil and wrong because we are just being selfish and oppressive and patriarchal and racist. (I’m having my tailor run up my SS uniform next week.)

    But it seems to me the rising tide of literature and TV shows and mass culture, one way or another, always presents the specially-gifted snowflake/saviour (who, of course, evinces all the proper concern for everyone’s well-being) always triumphing over obvious evil.
    When I see the masses of people both for and against Trump, or one of his copycats around the world, shouting past each other in the way that has become the definition of political debate these days, I think, maybe everyone wants to believe they are the specially gifted one or at least on the side of said specially-special-rightness the way supporters of Hillary or Bernie denigrate, mock, ridicule, and despise all those who even tend towards agreeing with Trump. The stories, I note, are all very manichean in their triumphalism, evil, even when that evil isn’t one-dimensional and simplistic, is still always definitely in the wrong and must be overcome. Heroically. With a heart-wrenching, chest-swelling musical score.
    Mass culture of simple triumph over evil by the Good seems to have become the template for political non-debate on a number of particular issues, some of which, I think, are acutely important and need to be discussed in a more rational way.
    Everyone seems to be trying to be or find the specially-gifted, anointed one, who is wholly good and pure in all things and therefore above reproach. So we see the opposition, like the Democrats or the New Democratic Party, tearing at themselves and tearing down every possible leader and alienating the bulk of the electorate because real people aren’t pure enough to be the anointed one.

  295. Been thinking much about this in light of my favorite story Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind. Which the movie is very much a chosen one story, the book much less so, but still to some degree. Most chosen one stories I have little use for, but this one I cherish beyond all accounting.

    In the book particularly I think the thing that makes it interesting is that the main character is, to the perspective of the various human factions, perceived as a chosen one, and with good cause, to humans her actions are very important and awesome, the best, oh my. But, to the perspective of more significant flow in life at the time, which factors massively in the story as humans are a marginal species struggling to survive a biosphere that is roughly indifferent to their continuation, Nausicca is… think the way you feel when you find a big earth worm in your garden, that’s great, and maybe you even put it in what seems to your limited perception a good place, but well, its just an earth worm, and if the trowl is its final fate, but a brief moment of shucks. The setting wins it for me, because the chosen one is a truly first rate human, but to the rest of nature, she is incidental, like her species.

  296. Re Doll

    As an avid consumer of the romance genre for many years – I found that there were definitely quality levels. The very, very best had complex characterisation, witty repartee and compelling dialogue, and perhaps offered interesting insights into cultures familiar to the author which were not familiar to me (whether a contemporary regional US town, working class Victorian England, the decaying English aristocracy post-WW1, Kuomintang China, medieval France etc). Some had plot arcs involving themes of redemption and transcendence of circumstances, other times, well written character driven plots were enough. Of course, it needed to weave this into the standard tropes of a romance story – I expected some kind of a happy ending involving a relationship between the characters and I wasn’t into gratuitous inclusion of Trainspotting levels of gritty real life details. Interestingly, I found that I skipped over explicit scenes in the best writing because the plot and character interactions were far more interesting.

  297. HI john

    Great post as always.

    I’ve noticed the decline of the film industry over the proceeding decades to the point that I rarely see any Hollywood films these days!

    On Brexit what are your latest thoughts? Can boris legally escape the attempt by parliament to force an extension on 31 October?

  298. Hi JMG (and Carlos!),

    Going on from Carlos’ post on the saints. I think Jesus is the ultimate chosen one story. If you take a different interpretation though, and see him as a real man who lived in such a way that his followers saw God actualized and embodied through his actions it becomes much more interesting and compelling. That is my personal take on him anyway. I think that is why he is referred to as both “Son of God” and “Son of Man”. He was the son of man because he was truly a man like anybody else, and he was the son of God because he was a standard of goodness in action that represented an ideal of God’s love.

    So far as The Last Jedi goes I must confess I have a soft spot for it. I think it is truly strange and upsetting – to my mind one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. I think, for example, that it’s most famous scene of Luke milking the alien was actually a commentary on Disney milking the franchise (the alien in question even looks a bit like a stereotypical SW fan). For what it’s worth I saw it twice in the theatre and both times there were groups of kids loudly cheering and applauding during different parts and at the end (amidst silent adults). Any other Star Wars film I’ve seen recently (prequels and on) has had adults clapping and cheering (no matter how bad it was).


  299. @ Lady Cutekitten

    You have included this link to discuss this “essay”

    About this bulk of s**t I have the following comments:

    a) All that rant about the situation of the temperature measurements is pure nonsense, there are, for example in Europe, accurate register for more than 100 years in areas that have not change anything in that period. Also in many wild region of forest in many countries. Does he have any statistics of the “wrong placed probes”?. No, for sure

    b) So I suppose the retreat of glaciers in mountains all around the world, the ice loss in arctic, the loss of ice platforms in antarctic, the loss of ice in Greenland, all of this are hoax and scams of the “dems” or other “crazy leftist”, OK, all very scientific…

    c) He says that “we are approaching to a solar minimum”, but despite this, the temperature are rising and the ice is melting quicker all around the globe, so, even if this is true, what will happens at the end of the “solar minimum” and the sun start to send the same energy as before again? will be all toast? could be this a problem?, and, what cause this ice melting and high temp in first place with the sun radiation decreasing?

    d) No, the CO2 emissions of the US has not fallen “like a stone”, it is around 8-9% below the peak of 2007, but the level of energy used by the average american citizen is all but sustainable, and in 2018 the CO2 emissions started to grow again 2,8% (thanks Mr. Trump!)

    e) He explained the Hess’ Law of enthalpy conservation in chemical reactions (enthalpy as a state function), I suspect he has not a good scientific background, but in this case he is right about the CO2 conversion to fuel (it is what green plants do with the sun energy), always requires energy, a lot of them, that is the reason Fisher-Tropsch is a very complex and energy costly process and increase a lot the carbon footprint of the fossil fuels produced. The production of liquid fuels, in the quantities we use today, is not “a solved problem” in this sense (contrary to what he says), and Fisher-Tropsch, of course, is not, and will not be the answer to the peak-oil.

    It is a bad digested summary of common places and misunderstanding from the right


  300. @Lady Cutekitten,

    Your kittenship, I humbly submit myself to analyze your second text. I have degrees in physics. Took some chem. I worked in a lab for a while.

    The gloss is, he’s not wrong in specifics, but none of this means that anthropocentric CO2 isn’t an issue. His claim of future cooling isn’t one I’d endorse.

    In more detail–

    The sunspot cycle does, indeed, control solar output to a decent degree. The “maunder minimum”, a period of very very few sunspots in the Early Modern era led to the so-called “Little Ice Age” that ended viticulture in England and killed off the Greenland Norse, for example. Nobody is 100% sure what is going on with it. The Sun is a chaotic system — but for the last few cycles, every solar max has been rather disappointing, with fewer sunspots than the one before. Are we headed for another minimum? It sure looks that way, but that’s honestly just a guess. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on with old Sol. We’ve already put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to cancel out a ‘little ice age’, if climate models are right.

    Orbital mechanics, the so-called Milankovich Cycles, do indeed control the Earth’s climate to a huge degree. They’re what give us Ice Ages and interglacials like the current one. We’ve known for decades that we’re on the cooling swing of that cycle– that’s why people were talking about Ice Ages in the 1970s. It’s also a pretty slow process.. IIRC, we were talking a few hundred to a couple thousand years before the next ice age hit. So that’s kinda wishful thinking on his part. If it’s coming tomorrow, no worries. There’s enough CO2 in the atmosphere to blunt it.

    So: no cooling. (He does not in this article cast any doubt on the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, you note.)

    He’s right that the USA has seen larger drops in emissions than just about anyone, and that cheap natural gas has much to do with it. Remember, though, how short-lived fracked wells are. We regularly talk about a fracking bubble, here.

    He’s right about the chemistry. Spot on, near as I can tell. I’d also list the Apartheid-era South Africans as another bunch that made good use of Fischer-Tropp, being a country with no oil, much coal, and international troubles. That all of that infrastructure was allowed to crumble as soon as the first oil tanker docked in Monrovia is a pretty good indicator of how well it works.

  301. Hi John Michael,

    🙂 One can only but do their best!

    Hey, your interest in strategy can be applied to other areas of life too. Don’t you think that it is rather strange that such useful tools aren’t generally taught?



  302. JMG: “I’m just noticing the number of ways in which the policing of the privlleged is carried out these days.”

    OH! OK yes, I get it and yes – contemporary “CORRECT” child-rearing is one of those ways and a very very effective one.

    It’s one area of life wherein people of all economic levels are tremendously emotionally invested & vulnerable to even the most hair-brained ideas from ‘Experts’. They can’t see the results or correct course for 18 years or so, so they have to go on trust.

    And there has developed a power-vacuum or gap-in-the-market from the old ways of extended family guiding young parents and older seasoned teachers passing on tips and knowledge to younger ones – to expert books, video lectures, TED talks, *SCIENCE!!, etc. It’s a massive market. This market extends to every single stage of the child’s life, even the child’s young adulthood. There are expert guide-books, lectures, workshops, after school activities, apps for parents, and teachers. The private, primary school I worked at paid enormous fees for these experts to train us faculty in the new appropriate pedagogy (and this is apart from the academic pedagogy – it was aimed at helping us guid children’s socialisation). SOME of it was actually good advice, but much of it was (how shall I put this?) Bone-headed.

    But the point is – it is truly a business, big money is being made. So the folks at the lower end of the economic scale are (mercifully) often left out. They have to muddle through with Grandma’s ways of doing things. That’s probably why you see your neighbour kids out playing.

    *As a side note and kind of tying in to our discussion on films/TV stories with or without the Chosen One trope: Any commenters here familiar with the TV series “Breaking Bad”? Not S/F but one of the best shows ever written and made for TV. Truly a masterpiece. Anyways, a side character, a simple-minded tweaker kid, Skinny Pete, imparts a lot of meth-induced, weird, childlike ‘wisdom’ and when challenged he always retorts “Duh! Because SCIENCE, dude, check it out!”

    That’s the level of assurance I’ve gotten, when questioning the pedagogy or methodology as an assistant teacher, forced to attend these training sessions.

  303. Hi Violet,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response regarding Decline of the West. In my first effort to read it (’04-’05, most likely spurred on by JMG) I did sense how it was deeply imbued with broad, sweeping themes ‘n memes and I appreciate how you’ve identified the ‘great crests of immense passion’ in Spengler’s brilliant intellect.

    The internet provides an amazing ‘desk reference’ complement to working through Spengler (and pretty much anything) but, for me, it makes for very slow going as I dive deep into the many prairie dog holes and get lost in the maze of tunnels. I love history and learning. Maybe I just need to embrace it as a lifelong project!

    And speaking of fine intellects and passionate writing, please allow me to compliment you on your contributions in this forum. I always appreciate your posts and am consistently impressed by the depth and breadth of your insights and musings. Like you, I’m pleased to be unapologetically intolerant of all things pretentious and self important. I really value your unflinchingly honesty and plain speaking.

    I just don’t see a new DotW as a money maker though. To me it seems that the number of folks with adequate language/literacy to even tackle it is vanishingly small. Maybe the internet’s capacity for serving niche markets could make it viable….I sure hope someone gives it a try.

    Somewhat off topic, I’d love to have a copy of your writings on herbal healing if that’s an open offer…I read most of it when you were actively posting and found it impressive. My daughter (25) is interested in studying herbal medicine and I’d like to share it with her. I often regret that we didn’t get to meet personally when you lived in western MA…if you still get out this way (5 college area) occasionally it would be a delight to meet up for a cup of tea. My email is

    Be well,


  304. @ Patricia, Caryn

    Re: helicoptering: Bingo on effective contraception and smaller families.

    People who have one kid, it’s like… “you’re all we’ve got, you better make it good.” With several, it’s more like “probably at least one of you will turn out OK…”

    Having just one kid is mean. Doing it so you can maintain your comfortable lifestyle is selfish beyond belief. Better to have no kids at all. Siblings are one of the GOOD things in life. Overscheduled, overprotected, cushy-toilet-paper middle-class lifestyles are not.

    I grew up with three siblings, so I’m biased. We bought the generic peanut butter that came in half-gallon buckets. We did NOT buy the plush toilet paper. And while our classmates were stuck in dance lessons, soccer practice, gymnastics, math tutoring, and violin lessons, we spent the afternoon at the library (because it was air conditioned and our house wasn’t), or we rode our bikes down to the bay (and annoyed hermit crabs and poked jellyfish with sticks), or walked to the park and played in the creek: as long as we were home by dusk, and *someone* knew what direction we’d gone, no problem. There is so much freedom and adventure we would have missed out on, if our house had been comfortable, and our days booked up with “enrichment” activities.

    I’m trying so hard to give my kids a similar freedom. It makes me happy that they come in every day reeking of fetid swamp water, having spent hours playing and sweating and building forts outside. But I doubt they’ll ever enjoy the neighborhood-wide games of tag or bicycle hockey that we did… there aren’t enough kids! I know that we have neighbors with kids on two sides, but the only time I ever see them is getting off the bus. They are NEVER outdoors. In some sense, despite the decline in actual crime, unsupervised neighborhood playing really IS more dangerous now, because there aren’t the big groups of kids running around together, or the neighbors keeping an eye on them (either for the kids’ safety, or just to make sure we stayed off the lawn). I can’t remember the last time I saw someone sitting on the porch, anywhere. If they do, they’re probably looking at their phones.

  305. Speaking of digital photography/videography, does anyone else have the same problem I do in viewing the stuff? It may just be my glasses (or my eyes), but I notice that when the picture is really high-def, where the background is every bit as clear as the foreground, I often have difficulty figuring out where the focus point is meant to be. Sometimes it will look flat, like the subject and the background are all in the same plane. Now I think of it, maybe that’s why there’s so much more movement and action in movies than there used to be–if you have to signal to the viewer where they’re supposed to be looking, instead of letting the camera focus guide them, you’d need it.

  306. Regarding the original Star Wars trilogy, it’s been a while since I saw it, but from what I recall, it doesn’t actually seem to me like Luke _was_ a Chosen One (though interpretations obviously vary on this).

    To begin with, he might be the best candidate for the job, but he’s explicitly not the only one available; there’s also at _least_ Leia.

    (Aside: Now I’m wondering what the plot would be like if circumstances had somehow resulted in _Leia_ being Plan A.)

    He’s also, as far as I recall, not explicitly singled out by Destiny or anything; he’s young, idealistic, ready (after initial reluctance) to fight for the rebellion with or without Force powers, and the son of Darth Vader, a potentially useful personal connection (which ends up being pivotal). Sure, that last point does perhaps make him less of a pure everyman (though it’s not like ordinary people don’t have family problems; most of them just don’t have estranged relatives _that_ powerful), but I don’t think it’s the same as the explicit Chosen by Destiny the prequels did give Anakin.

    …Actually, thinking on it, and remembering someone else’s comment here I just read, did Luke even _need_ to win in the throne room in Episode VI, as far as destroying the Death Star and killing the Emperor and Vader went? Like I said, it’s been a while, but from what I do recall, I think he may actually not have; if he fails there, don’t he, Vader, and the Emperor then just die when the other rebels blow up the Death Star? At most, maybe they escape on a shuttle or something, but the Death Star still gets blown up.

    So, yes, the prequels definitely dived into Chosen One territory (Anakin’s so special, not only does he have a great destiny, he had a miraculous conception too!), but I think it can be argued that the original trilogy didn’t.

    …Hm. And that the full six might actually, possibly accidentally, subvert the Chosen One thing. Here’s this little kid, who’s so incredibly special, to the point of, again, miraculous conception, then grows up to indeed do Great Heroics. But he doesn’t actually learn much wisdom or internal strength against temptation, gets convinced to _join_ the faction it’s his supposed destiny to fight, betrays and kills most of the people who believed in him as the Chosen One, and spends the next two decades or so killing a lot of other people while enforcing the tyrannical regime he helped found but doesn’t even rule, while quite likely not even being all that happy about his life. Then he’s finally convinced at the last minute to kill his destined foe, so the prophecy is fulfilled! Then he dies vilified with extensive justification by a large portion of the population of a galaxy.
    The above sequence of events is _not_ good PR for the Forces of Destiny, I think, whether they meant for all that to happen, didn’t care whether it happened or not, or were powerless to stop it.

  307. Lady Cutekitten: I don’t know if anyone with any education in chemistry & physics (or rhetoric) would bother to take such a polemic as the one you linked seriously enough to waste time on it. The weather stations reporting global warming are near the back of restaurants or near A/C units? C’mon! “If you can’t dazzle ’em with your brilliance then baffle them with your BS,” seems to apply to this writer.

  308. Regarding programs for gifted children, I attended schools in two conservative Christian small town or middle class districts in different states, but the situation was remarkably similar in each. There were no programs for gifted children. We’d hear that if a kid did really well, they might be allowed to skip a grade, but I never saw a case of that, and there were some notably bright kids. On the contrary, being held back a year was a threat over everyone’s head, and lots of kids attended remedial classes in summer to avoid that. Summer school was thus something to be ashamed of, even if you were doing it for fun. There was no encouragement of girls in the sciences. Three times I achieved the highest scores in math and science classes or tests, and each time a boy would receive the award for highest score, and mine would be overlooked. Once, a teacher miscalculated my science grade and announced it along with everyone else’s. All the kids laughed (they knew it was absurd). My mother and a few other parents got that straightened around, but that was never announced. I never protested. I didn’t know you could.
    Oh well, it didn’t stop me from getting an engineering degree.

  309. DFC. You know, your description of the roles in a Chosen One narrative can be neatly rephrased as Victim/Persecutor/Rescuer, aka the three roles of the Rescue Game! I very much doubt that’s a coincidence, especially since the current upsurge of Chosen One stories seems to have really kicked in sometime between the 1970s and 1990s – after the upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s, and during the period when a number of Boomers cashed in their ideals.

    Lolcat: My first thoughts at that Civil War article are that the author a) reads as coming from a pro-Confederate revisionist standpoint rather than a nuanced one, given his tone and presentation and b) is about two to three decades late. (As in “some of the other circles I wander in have been discussing this sort of thing lately, and apparently there was *literally* a joke on The Simpsons, probably during the 1990s, with the punchline that a character is supposed to answer ‘it was slavery’ for the test instead of the more nuanced real answer – which implies that the nuanced takes had filtered down from the ivory towers.)

    My own understanding is roughly as follows:
    – Slavery is the lone proximate cause of the War Between the States. There’s no real argument here, given the primary sources… but then, if and when the Second American Civil War starts I’d put coinflip chances that its proximate cause will be abortion.
    – Slavery is one of, but not the only or even the primary, the ultimate causes of said conflict. (Its effect mostly occurred during the 1850s, after the Fugitive Slave Act – the enforcement officials charged with catching escaped slaves in the North didn’t particularly care about either optics or due process, and this did not go over well in the North.) The three ultimate causes I’d consider primary were 1) the tariff issue your blogger mentioned, and the related issue of control of the mouth of the Mississippi River; 2) the completion of the Manifest Destiny project in the 1840s (which stripped the US of its common project/external outgroup and also meant that a bunch of issues that had previously been kicked down the road – like slave/free territories – could no longer be ignored),; and the most important, 3) the collapse of the traditional Northern ideal image of society under the pressures of industrialization.

    Yes, Northern. AIUI the Southern ideal was actually in decent shape at the time, at least partially due to the financialization of the slave trade (they wouldn’t really collapse until the advent of mechanized farming and new overseas cotton growers in the 1890s), though they’d developed a hardline reactionary political faction in prior decades that was running a strategy not dissimilar to the modern Islamists. The North, however, had a traditional image of society (with some regional variation) that centered around some combination of small yeoman farmers interspersed with towns (IIRC the idea was a grid pattern with a town every twenty miles or so) for craftsmen/traders and a university, plus the coastal harbor cities. The problem, of course, is utterly familiar: the small town and its small proprietors got outcompeted by the big industrialists et al (compare the shift from the rhetoric involving the Internet in the 1990s/early 2000s and the reality of the Internet megacorps today) and the yeomen/small businesses couldn’t compete. Which led to the development of a political millenniarian movement… on top of and opposed to the one that had been active in the South for a couple of decades.


    (Part of the reason for the collapse of Reconstruction, of course, was that the freeing of the slaves didn’t make the Northern ideal viable again.)

  310. I thought the whole appeal of the Greta Thurnberg narrative was that she was just an ordinary school kid who decided to take a principled stand using the limited powers at her availability. She’s doing nothing so miraculous and skipping school and calling out the moral failure of her elders. For what it’s worth, she is also strikingly normal in her appearance. She is as average looking as Jenni Parrish.

    Boyan Slat – the boy genius whose ocean plastic eating machine didn’t work – seems much more closely fit the Chosen One archetype.

  311. @JMG

    I’ll give the essay a shot. I may be such a grim pessimist in real life that I accept more disjunctions in literature. At a certain point “the good guys win” is such glaring, automatic evidence of plot holes that everything else seems trivial by comparison, yet I do my best to resist nihilism.

    “The notion that the only alternatives to one black vs. white mentality are either an opposite black vs. white mentality or gray vs. gray is very much in the style of my generation, and stunningly clueless to boot.”

    Well, at least your generation thinks. Mine only follows.

    As much as I pick on the Boomers I’m with Camilia Paglia and believe there was a moment where they seemed to be reaching towards some kind of new consciousness. I don’t know if their best minds ruined themselves with LSD – I wasn’t there – but underneath the buzzwordified residual conversations there was a spark. I’m grateful people examined foreign and forgotten traditions. I’m horrified at mindfulness apps on cell phones.

    @Other Dave

    True, I can’t take aim at the result without considering the aspiration. Still though there’s something manifestly hollow about the writing.

    @Dusk Shine

    My best hunch is what prevails will be the interlocking sets of mental patterns that help the winning thought-tribe silence the losing thought-tribes. It will have to be orthogonal because if it was obvious the conflict wouldn’t be ongoing.

  312. Maybe someone in the Empire finally dusted off their copy of the “Art of War”. Here are two screen captures from the latest movie’s trailer which are channeling your suggestion.

    (In case they don’t display please insert this: )

    (in case they don’t display, please insert this: )

    My guess is they aren’t active and don’t have crews which means the Rebellion can suddenly have the firepower to win. (Who would have thought!!!) Not as much as a guarding force too I expect.

  313. MY thanks to those who analyzed the global warming-or-not article. I couldn’t do it myself.

  314. It has come to mind that if you exclude all other Starwars movies but the first one, Luke’s story looks quite alike of Iñigo Montoya’s.

    Imagine the kiddo grown into a full man, after years of adventure with Vizzini Solo and Fezivacca. At the end of the alternate trilogy, you have this scene where he faces off Darth Vader and calls “My name is Luke Skywalker, you killed my father (and my mentor), prepare to die”, and charges wielding a lightsaber in each hand. Of course the fight cannot be that spectacular because they kill at first blood, but maybe something can be arranged. Give Lord Vader some electric powers so he can kick around the hero in a non-lethal fashion, maybe?

    But then of course, Luke was never the hero in the first place. Han and Lea end up together because it was true love all along, and dear old Luke will start a new career in piracy, inheriting the Millenium Falcon and adopting the identity of Dread Smugker Solo.

  315. Uhm, it seems that you forgot what the little boy did at the end of “The last Jedi”. Maybe you are right about Rey, but not about the movie 😀

    This movie was mostly rejected exactly because it returned the mytical Jedis as regular people!

  316. methylethyl – You noted:

    “Having just one kid is mean. Doing it so you can maintain your comfortable lifestyle is selfish beyond belief. Better to have no kids at all. Siblings are one of the GOOD things in life. Overscheduled, overprotected, cushy-toilet-paper middle-class lifestyles are not.”

    I am a regular reader and almost never commenter. I have enjoyed and learned from your comments over the years.

    As a parent who had one child by choice for a wide variety of reasons I don’t wish to get into on the internet, I hope if we ever meet in person, you would treat me and my one child civilly.

    Wishing you and your family health and happiness no matter how many of you there are,


  317. Renaissance Man, don’t worry about appearing incoherent…I find your comments to be quite clearly articulated and interesting. Is English not your native tongue? Your mention of the Chinese Red Guard reminded me that I’ve always thought they were a close analog to our seething, fundamentalist Left. Untethering from reality is rampant nowadays.

    All the clueless elite know they are so very, very right (about everything), of course. There’s plenty of passionate clueless ignorance among the non-elite as well. There’s a very decent book by fellow Canadian James Hoggan titled “I’m Right and You’re An Idiot!” exploring our deep divisions and inability to communicate. It makes me laugh out loud imagining the looks on some of your friends’ faces when you show up to the big Halloween costume party in your spiffy new SS uniform…hopefully your tailor can have it ready for you in time.

    Yes, the tragic, evil wrongness of all that is wrong must be overcome, heroically no less! All the self-appointed thought leaders, meme creators and social media influencers (regardless of political/ideological persuasion) want to be heroes. I’m so sick of heroes! Thanks for your comments…I look forward to your even more coherent ramblings in the future.


  318. @ Nothing Special: “As much as I pick on the Boomers I’m with Camilia Paglia and believe there was a moment where they seemed to be reaching towards some kind of new consciousness. I don’t know if their best minds ruined themselves with LSD – I wasn’t there – but underneath the buzzwordified residual conversations there was a spark. I’m grateful people examined foreign and forgotten traditions. I’m horrified at mindfulness apps on cell phones.”

    As a fellow grim pessimist I share your disdain for the broadbased dearth of thinking. People often accuse me of cynicism to which I always respond “It’s not cynicism, it’s Realism!”

    The Boomers are certainly deserving of plenty of bashing but I think you’re quite right that there truly was a ‘spark’ which burned brightly for a brief time. Joni Mitchell was a brilliant exemplar of that spark and her anthem Woodstock surely embodied some of it. Here’s a version performed by a group of fine millennial musicians that really captures it: Note the word ‘spark’ in the lyrics. I’m horrified at the mindlessness of cellphones…prosthetic brains!

    Thanks for your comments. Full disclosure: I was born in 1954.


  319. @AL

    Of course! Lots of people have just one kid, for lots of reasons– a lot of those reasons are beyond their control and cause them deep sadness. I would never assume. And I get that there are plenty of understandable reasons to view it differently (maybe you had a sibling who tortured you! Maybe a traumatic childbirth left you unwilling to go through that again, even though you technically *could*). I can even respect people who really really wanted to be parents, but also sincerely think they shouldn’t contribute to overpopulation (I’d respect them even more if they adopted). And I’d love you in spite of any wacky opinion if you were letting your kid play around in the mud with my kids 😉

    But it drives me batty to hear people who have three or more times our family’s income say: “We want to have another child, but we can’t afford it.” It is bizarrely common, and incredibly dishonest. I can’t figure out whether they know it, or they are deceiving themselves. I think the honest way to phrase that is: “Maintaining our current standard of living is more important to us than having another child.”

  320. To follow along with Jim W’s comments: I was born when the Berlin Wall went up. And while I’m on the cusp between Boomers and Xers, I fully identify X. It looks to me now that I/we missed out on that generational spark. Prior to this, I had always associated the generational difference (at least i the USA) as our proximity to the Viet Nam War. The war was something that happened to the older brothers and sisters of my friends but not to us. I also knew there was something else my cohort had missed out on, some kind of generational funny-handshake club that we’d been denied access to as a group, but the War struck me as the biggie. As I exited my teens and entered my 20s, it felt like we were more on our own, more like left-behinds rather than traveling in that generational herd that preceded us. Oddly enough, that seemed to be the schtick that marketers used to describe GenX as we entered our full adulthood in the ’90s.

    So to JMG, do you feel that magic travels in generations? Are certain cohorts simply more connected than others in their own time or did this difference I believe I felt more likely hail from changes in politics and economics or even observations confined to my own personal experiences?

  321. The ordinariness and mortality of the man vs the terrors of the universe is what makes this film short so compelling. The suspense and tension is the result of such a contrast:

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