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Ceterum censeo… » Stories

Ceterum censeo…


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  • Michael's Blog
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    11/01/2014 (12:55 pm)

    Why Frankenstein’s Monster is a horrible person.

    Filed under: Stories ::

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    My RSS feeds came up with an review of Shelley’s Frankenstein, which mostly went on about how horrible Victor is. I agree that Victor is a horrible person, and that Shelley’s writing has many flaws stemming from the fact that she’s basically an amateur author. But I’ll take up this point:

    Seriously, the monster should be the protagonist of this piece. It survives without any guidance, teaches itself language, and pursues its goals successfully across multiple countries and several years.

    I challenge the idea that the monster is any better a protagonist than Victor. I present two arguments to support this claim.

    Argument the First: The monster is really boring.

    By which I mean: it’s not that his dialogue lacks spark, or that he doesn’t get enough action sequences, or lacks a name, or anything meta. It’s that in-universe, he has the primary characteristic of being boring. He rambles on and on with using flowery turns of phrase to describe the misery of his life. If you met him at a party, you’d make excuses and slip away. The monster would think it’s because he’s ugly, and add this to his list of grievances which he’d recite to the next one who crosses his path. But nope, he’s just tedious. Get a hobby, dude. Better yet, show an interest in other people.

    Interestingly, this sticks with him across tellings. It’s baked deep into the archetype. The author needs to show that the monster is only a monster on the outside, and to show it they have him speak like a Romantic hero. But they also have life kick him in the teeth, because he needs to be miserable. And then it all needs to be recounted to Victor, so a proper guilt trip can be laid. So you end up with this self-absorbed droning using horribly overblown language to relate how unfairly he’s been dealt with.

    A recent story (which I’ll not name for spoilers) had the monster appear in an excellently shocking reveal, and then had him ramble on to the point that I wanted to skip ahead till the story picked up on something else.

    Argument the Second: The monster has some horrible gender views.

    The monster’s primary motivation is to get himself a bride. His logic is: a) I’m alone because I’m ugly, b) if I had another partner then we could be alone and ugly together, c) that’s happiness, therefore d) I should force Victor into doing this by killing people. It doesn’t enter his mind that maybe he shouldn’t inflict his horrible, horrible life upon someone else. Neither does it enter his mind that this second monster might have agency of her own, and not want to be with him.

    Again, this is baked into the archetype. The bride is a trophy to be won that will grant happiness. Typically, this aspect of the monster is only implied, because the bride is never created. Now, it could be that this is a feature which is ripe for deconstruction. Say, it could become the basis for a redemption story line. But it’s going to be a pretty grim storyline. Under ‘show don’t tell’, you need to have the monster rage at the bride exercising choice in partners. And given his standard reactions to being abandoned, I don’t think he’s going to settle with a yelling match.


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    08/22/2012 (12:42 am)

    The Hare and the Tortoise

    Filed under: Stories ::

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    One spring, the animals of the forest gathered for a day of gossip and fun, as they do every year, in the places we don’t see.

    The Hare started bragging about his golf game, not so much from pride or insecurity, but simply because he liked talking about himself. “Clearly, I’m the best golfer in the forest”, he boasted. “None of you could hope to match my skills.” And the other animals shuffled their feet and looked away, partly because they knew this was true, but also because they didn’t care, and didn’t know why the Hare couldn’t keep it to himself.

    The Tortoise, however, grew tired of his bragging, and challenged the Hare to a round of golf. The Hare laughed at the idea, but accepted the obviously lop-sided challenge.

    Now, understand that this is a metaphorical Hare. Understand that the key fact about such a Hare is not that they are fast. Oh, no. The key point is that a Hare is naturally great at any contest. And as soon as they started playing, this was immediately apparent. The Hare stepped up to the tee, and bamn! 250 yards, straight down the fairway. Another shot, and the Hare was on the green. He sinks the putt, and it’s a birdie on the first hole.

    This continues for most of the front nine. Every shot, the Hare was on or under par, because Hares are just that good. But Hares are also feckless. After a few holes, the Hare stopped at a kiosk and had a beer. A couple of holes later, he had another. The Hare stopped scoring under par, and started going over. The day draged on. Eventually the round is completed, because golf doesn’t end until you’ve done all 18 holes. At the end of the day, the Hare is well over par. And this is pretty much the way the Hare always scores, because that’s how Hares work… great start, a distraction, and a fumbling attempt to complete.

    Of course, the Tortoise is also a metaphorical creature, and the key trait to a metaphorical Tortoise is that they are terrible at the contest. Laughably so. The Tortoise played badly. His swings didn’t connect, and rolled only a handful of yards. Balls went into the water, or out of bounds, or into the scrub. Chips go too far, and end up further away than the last shot. Putts fall short, and then go long.

    But metaphorical Tortoises are also determined. The Tortoise stuck to his game. He worked through the course, focused only on the current shot, with his mind on the game. The Tortoise didn’t get bothered by whether or not he was six shots over par on the last hole, or whether or not he was five over on the hole before that, or what his average was for the last three holes, or what that would mean for his projected score. All the way to the end, nothing but 18 holes of careful, methodical and poorly-aimed play.

    The Tortoise lost, of course. Big time. The final score was Hare: 93, Tortoise 164. When you’re not sinking the ball in fewer shots, being careful and methodical gets you a gold star in not winning.

    Moral: Understand how the winner wins.

    The game ended, but the story continues. The Tortoise is still a Tortoise, after all, and is therefore determined beyond other animals. He kept practicing, working to improve his game. Day after day, week after week, the Tortoise practices. Not because he enjoys it, particularly, but because he’s a Tortoise, and that’s what a Tortoise does. He spends a miserable winter, ignoring distractions, studying each shot, and perfecting his technique. All through the winter, the Tortoise practices and works, alone.

    Eventually, the winter ended, and spring came. The animals gathered once more, where we don’t see, and gossiped under the sun. And once again, just like every year, the Hare started bragging that there wasn’t an animal around who could beat him, and the animals were silently wishing the fellow would just push off. And once again, the Tortoise challenged the Hare to a match. The Hare laughed good-naturedly, and accepted.

    They started playing, and right away, the change was obvious. The Hare made par, and the Tortoise came in one under. The Hare made a birdie, and the Tortoise made an eagle. The Tortoise was hitting beautifully, each shot going further, straighter and closer. It was a heart-warming demonstration of the virtues of practice.

    Soon enough, the Hare conceded. “I admit it; you’re a better player than me.”

    But the Tortoise, having practiced so long, could only see the things he was doing wrong, and said “Naaah. Go on.”

    And the Hare says, “No, it’s true. Look at the score and see.”

    And the Tortoise looked, and saw, and he said “Woopee! It’s true! I am a Swan! And a very fine Swan indeed!” Because that’s what makes a metaphorical Swan: first they’re ugly, and hide during the winter, and then they come back in spectacular form. So the Swan kept playing, and pretty soon he was beating the pants off the Hare. Not only because the Swan was so good now, but also because the Hare was still a Hare, and started drinking halfway through the game.

    And the Swan, being a metaphorical Swan, is not only really good, but is also kind of a jerk. Pretty soon, the Swan started making snide comments about out how the Hare just wasn’t as good as the Swan. And the Hare (by this time a few sheets to the wind) didn’t take it well. They quarreled, and then they fought. The game was abandoned.

    The Swan and the Hare never played again, because Swans don’t hang around with losers, and Hares hate buzz-kills.

    Moral: The Swans were dicks. Fables have terrible morals.


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    02/11/2011 (1:06 am)

    Alignment Chart: Discworld

    Filed under: Stories ::

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    I’ve seen a lot of these recently. But one seemed to be missing…


    Discworld Alignment Chart


    Click on thumb to see full

    All art by Paul Kidby.


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    11/09/2009 (9:26 pm)

    Eorl of the Éothéod

    Filed under: Stories ::

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    I had made of him a ballard which I had, for want of better
    Knowledge, set in lands I knew but little, seeing the Isen in my head;
    I was singing about his glory, so I laid the virtues on him,
    With a song named as follows, “Eorl, of the Éothéod.”

    The tale as it happened contains nothing unexpected
    (Being of a story sung by bards a thousand times before)
    ‘Twas a simple song in plotting, so quickly I’ll relate it:
    “Eorl leads his band to Gondor, and wins Rohan from their war”. 

    As my martial tales unfurl, visions come to me of Eorl
    Come a-warring up the Anduin, the lands his elders knew;
    As Gondor sends a summons, Eorl grabs the chance for looting,
    For the warrior’s way has truths that the bards will rarely show.

    After Gondor’s need is answered, and the cheering people great him
    And the favor of a king means a deal is quickly done.
    So Eorl gains lands of plenty, and wins renown extensive
    For his people learn a peaceful life in their home in Calenardhon.

    I am singing in a crowded Bree-town tavern, where a busy city folk
    Come for drinking, friends and comfort after a day of city work.
    Filled with paper, and with cobbles, filled with tedium and with need,
    It makes for work so uninspiring, the sort that ballard writers shirk.

    In the midst of chatting folk, I can learn the heartfelt goals,
    Of the workers and the childern who make do week to week,
    Though boundary of these lives are constrained by other men,
    A narrow life of happy hearth are the spoils that they seek.

    And the working folk impress me, and the world they make can bless me
    As they stuggle for advantage, and build with wood and hammer
    With their mutual dependance, and the lives that make a city,
    But they do not stand alone, so these townsfolk have no glamour.

    And so in tales and songs we dream instead of Eorl,
    And pretend we’d win the struggle should our lives be filled with dread,
    While we give honour for the battle, and praise the strong and skillful,
    But I doubt we really want that life, Eorl of the Éothéod.

    (With respect to Banjo Paterson. More here.)


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    04/16/2006 (7:07 pm)

    About the Tower of Babel

    Filed under: Stories ::

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    Take this purely as a story. What does it tell you? Genesis 11:1-9

    And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
    And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

    Unlike the Flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah, there is no moral judgement here. Unlike the garden of Eden, there is no commandment from God to be violated. The sole motivation here is fear of what could be achieved by man.

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