From: Jane Bigelow jbigelow@...
Date: Sat, 10 May 2003 13:26:17 -0600
Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Re: Re: Serial killer conventions, Gaiman
Why, I wonder, does current literary criticism allow any amount of
description of violence and pain, but condemn more than the briefest
description of happiness or beauty? Society as a whole does seem to want a
break now and then. A few years ago, Jane Austen was the inspiration for
several films. I don't know if there was any overlap in audience, though.
An extremely searching question. I've seen some beautiful scenes
onscreen---sometimes even a certain sunset or pan-shot of a field of
flowers can make me gasp. Some commercials feature these scenes, which
*almost* makes me feel grateful for the commercial! Almost. Onscreen,
such shots take the place of a lengthy description of beauty. (Of course,
commercials want that beauty identified with the car or the wine!)
In novels, long descriptions of beauty are challenging, partly because each
person is going to imagine what is described in a slightly different way.
(Consider two drawings of a Rivendell scene from Tolkien: say Alan Lee's
concept vs. Ted Nasmith's. Nasmith's conception is closer to my own.)
Several factors come into play: evil is thought to be more "interesting"
than good. I think some of this comes about because we live in a world
where evil must be explained: it's a mystery we can't fathom. Good is the
Norm. We expect it from others. (Imagine a world where the *reverse* was
true? Yikes!) Hence, beauty and pleasure are gifts that we experience
briefly in story. Pain and dark events are not normal. They hold our
interest, not necessarily because we're voyeurs, but because we're asking
"How is the character going to get out of this one?" (I may be totally
missing the point of your question. I hope not.)
Maybe it doesn't feel like Story, when good things happen, but it feels
like Normal Life. (Tolkien makes reference to this in LOTR, in that he
says that good and pleasurable things are soon told, but bothersome and
painful events make for a good story. David B. could give us the quote,
I'm sure.) It's amazing how Tolkien is able to balance beauty and pain so
well in his books.
Jane Austen's books feel like "a break," in a way, partly because the
issues she deals with (marriage and finding one's place in society) are so
different for us. In her terms, social slights and broken engagements
could feel as crushing as graphic violence: for her readers, these events
have economic consequences that they don't have for us. ---djb
The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
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