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Note 6. Archetypes

Shakespeare, Robinsonades, etc.

Literary and Film History is Built on Archetypes. "There is nothing new under the sun," according to Jewish Scripture*, a sentiment echoed by wise observers across the centuries. There are so-called great art works, but then there are archetypes. One may deliberate on fine points, but I'd say an archetype is a great story meant to be retold time and again. The history of art is a museum filled with such 'imitation is the highest form of flattery.'

William Shakespeare Stephenie Meyer, author of the popular Twilight series, states that she drew her early inspiration for her series from A Midsummer Night's Dream. E. L. James, an English author, says that she developed her enormously successful novel Fifty Shades of Grey initially as fan fiction, amid 'a midlife crisis,' in which she paid the highest tribute to the Meyers canon but wanted to add mature, adult sexuality. So there's an example of archetype serving generation after generation of stories, and we can be sure there will be more. Let's look at another of Shakespeare's classics (archetypes), in which the SF (techno) elements are minor (the potion served by the friar, on which the ironic and melancholy love story turns toward a twin grave).

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) understood the enormous richness of archetypes. He borrowed most of his creations, including his tragic love story Romeo & Juliet (Wikipedia). Understand: you're supposed to do this, reusing the shapes and forms of ancient tales; as long as you do it well for your generation; and he did it so well that an entire industry remains in place around his writing and stage craft. Romeo & Juliet (1595) dates from his earlier period (age c29), and was crafted upon earlier stories and verse from contemporary French and Italian sources, and English translations of those. Ancient sources predate these, most notably Ovid's (43 BCE-17/18CE) The Metamorphoses ("Transformations"), in which one of the 250 or so entries is Pyramus and Thisbe (c8 CE). Interestingly, while the story of Pyramus and Thisbe closely parallels Shakespeare's tale of nearly sixteen centuries later with a setting in Renaissance Verona, Italy, Ovid's story takes place in Babylon, thus likely at least one, maybe two millennia before Ovid's time. For modern examples of the tragic love story (though not the Romeo & Juliet formula precisely), look at Erich Segal's 1970 novel Love Story, or Joan Chen's 2000 film Autumn in New York.

Robinsonades Defoe's 1719 novel a shipwrecked sailor (read: sinner) is too often totally misunderstood by modern readers and movie goers as some sort of feel-good, fuzzy bunnies story in the Walt Disney vein. It is, in fact, literature's first real techno-thriller and therefore an SF story that leans as heavily on reason and science as it does on dark Calvinist themes. It contains murder, violence, cruelty, nightmares, guilt, and cannibalism among other gloomy themes. Again, the DarkSF stems not from any of those, but from an artful telling of a rich theme.

Same can be said of a 1923 Austrian novel by Felix Salten, Bambi: A Life of the Forest, which was made into a classic Disney movie enjoyed by generations of children. In reality, even in the Disney movie, there is terrible but natural cruelty as Bambi is with his mother when she is shot dead by a terrifying creature known as 'The Man.' Bambi is also later shot, but survives. The deer of the forest know 'The Man' is not invincible, because they find the corpse of a man who was murdered by another human. So again, there is often much greater art, poetry, and meaning in the real work, properly understood, than the shallow pablum filtered through to an unknowing public for profit.

Example: TBD More info soon.

Footnote* William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was the ultimate author, as both self-publisher and a business genius (successfully owned and operated the Old Globe Theater in London). He is renowned for his artistic, poetic flair with words. In fact, he is credited with coining many new words and helping steer the English Language from Middle to Modern English across the Great Vowel Shift (c1350-c1700, which by coincidence almost parallels the climatic Little Ice Age of c1350-c1850; no connection, I'm sure, unless a frozen glottis shortened many a vowel, or whatever).

*Jewish Scripture. Ecclesiastes 1:3.


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