Saturday, February 20, 2010

Subcreated Worlds: Platypus Nostalgia

One of the best things about a Squaresoft game when I was growing up was the maps. These were poster size, full colour, hang-it-up-on-your-bedroom-wall masterpieces. I loved them. I loved pouring over them. There, right in front of you, was another world. Together with the fold-out maps in the hardcover "Lord of the Rings" they inspired my friends and I to spend hours on subcreative acts of our own. If any of us ever become writers or artists, Final Fantasy and "The Lord of the Rings" will be at the back of it.

Penny Dreadfuls For A New Generation: Platypus Nostalgia

Square Soft's original "Final Fantasy" came out when I was just finishing up grade school. I learned about it in Nintendo Power and was intrigued by the idea. Part of the appeal must have been that I had just finished J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and was primed for anything dealing with the high-fantasy quest. Anyhow, I persuaded my parents to get me a copy a.s.a.p. Armed with detailed maps and the strategy guide, my friend Dennis and I set to work. We never actaully beat the game, but we got close, and our devotion to Square Soft was sealed.

I was at Blockbuster yesterday, and I noticed adds for yet another game in the now prolific Final Fantasy series. Judging from the screen shots, the series has come a long way from the land of split battle-screens and eight bit characters. I don't own any of the new systems and I rarely play video games any more. Still, it's good to know that the adventure continues, or as Tolkien put it "the road goes ever on and on."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Making One Music With the King: The Platypus Reads Part LIX

Tennyson composed the idylls over a long period of time and it seems that he did not have a clear idea of the overall structure when he started, though he does seem to have toyed with the idea of having twelve from the beginning. Still, it seems that their final arrangement has some sort of logic to it and I suggest what follows as one possible scheme.

Parallels are important in Tennyson's "Idylls of the King." As well as parallels between various characters, the overall structure of the work seems parallel with "The Coming of Arthur" and "The Passing of Arthur" as bookends and "The Holy grail" as the centerpoint (though with 12, not 13, idylls it does not fall at the exact center) around which the other idylls pivot. That leaves nine idylls left. However, following Tennyson's original ordering, we can condense "The Marriage of Geraint" and "Geraint and Enid" into one idyll. That leaves us with eight that fall into four sets of parallel Idylls. "Gareth and Lynette" matches "Pelleas and Ettarre," "Geraint and Enid" matches with "The Last Tournament," "Merlin and Vivian" with "Guinevere." That leaves us with "Balan and Balin" and "Lancelot and Elaine." Both idylls occur prior to "The Holy Grail," posing a problem for the idea of parallel structure. Both, however, share the common theme of innocents being hurt by the protagonist's inability to moderate their passions. We might accept "Lancelot and Elaine" as the pivot point to obviate this problem, but then there is the question of what to match with "The Holy Grail."

Parallels are so important to the individual poems that form "Idylls of the King" that it is tempting to try and find a parallel structure to the work. The nice bookends provided by "The Coming of Arthur" and "The Passing of Arthur" further support this expectation. Delving in to the other ten idylls, however, it is difficult to see a clear set of matches. This may due to the sporadic composition of the work. Though that may be the case, I'm not willing to give up yet. Above all else, Tennyson is a poet of style, and I don't believe that the poems of his masterwork were just "flung together."

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Between Vivian and Enid: The Platypus Reads Part LVIII

On this trip through Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," as with "Jane Eyre," the symbolic/allegorical level of the work is standing out. With Tolkien, I tend to dislike formal allegory but often find myself attracted to layers of carefully created symbolism. Indeed, I find this to be the main draw of authors like Hawthorne. In my own writing, I find that symbols and images tend to take over the work, if I'm not careful, and drown out plot and characterization. Perhaps Tennyson's heavy use of symbols in "The Idylls of the King" is one of the things that draws me so strongly to the book.

I can't claim any particular genius in decoding Tennyson's symbols. Dorothy L. Sayers' writings got me pointed in the right direction by mentioning that Arthur stands for human reason and Guinevere for human emotion. The theme of the cycle is "sense at war with soul," and so Arthur and Guinevere's inability to reconcile and rule forms the central motif of the the book. Keeping that in mind, other sets of symbolic pairs appear: Gareth/merit and Lynette/praise Geraint/inconstancy and Enid/constancy, Balin/animal self and Balan/rational self, Merlin/wisdom and Vivian/cunning, Lancelot/incontinence and Elaine/will, Galahad/spiritual man and Gawain/carnal man, Pelleas/innocence and Ettaire/worldliness, Tristram/cynicism and Dagonet/idealism. These pairings drive both the action and meaning of the book.

Other symbols worth looking at include music/divine order, the three queens/ Faith, Hope, and Love, the Lady of the Lake/the Christian tradition, water/death, Sir Bors/moderation, the seasons/change.

That's all for the moment, but it's a deep work and I'm sure there will be more to come.