Monday, June 20, 2022

Transitions: The Secrets of Dumbledore and Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen

Jude Law and Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

The third chapter of the Fantastic Beasts series, The Secrets of Dumbledore, begins with an exquisite piece of fairy-tale storytelling.  In the forests of China, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) – the English magizooogist (i.e., scholar of and caretaker for magical creatures) at the center of the narrative, set in the 1920s – oversees the birthing of a calf by a rare equine animal known as a Qilin, pronounced Chillin. The mother has a woven golden mane and a face like a mask; her tender calf is skeletal, a golden glow pulsating through his fragile skin. When the minions of the series’ villain, Gellert Grindelwald, attack, felling the mother, Newt struggles to save the baby Qilin, but he fails. He has to watch, helpless, as the calf is kidnaped and the mother expires, a single tear rolling down her cheek. It’s only then that Newt sees what everyone has missed in the chaos:  that she actually gave birth to twins.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

White Knight: The Batman

Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman and Robert Pattinson as Batman in The Batman. (Photo: Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros.)

In his 1957 architectonic study Anatomy of Criticism, structuralist Northrop Frye sketches a taxonomy of literary heroes. Those of the Mythic mode, he argues, are gods: they’re superior in kind to other characters and to their environment. They defy the laws of nature and possess divine gifts. Examples include Zeus, Bacchus, and Shiva. In a tragic narrative, they die. In a comic one, they rejoin the heavenly realm. (The Christian narrative is neither tragic, nor comic, but ironic: Christ is crucified, yet raised to the Father on the third day.)

The heroes of the Romantic mode are superior to others and their environment only by degree. Their actions are marvelous, but they themselves are human beings. In tragedy, their deaths are elegiac and tied to the decay of the created order (think Beowulf). In comedy, they ride off into a pastoral setting (e.g., the cowboy in a Western).

Following this schema, contemporary superheroes dwell in a gray area between the Mythic and Romantic modes. Some, like Superman, are gods – different from us in kind. Others, like the X-Men, are mortals but possess mutations that give them supernatural powers. And still more, like Iron Man, don’t have genetic enhancements so much as advanced technology, making them more Romantic than Mythic.