Thursday, July 2, 2009
The Mirror Universe
There's a classic episode of Star Trek (original series, natch--the episode is called "Mirror, Mirror") in which Kirk, Spock, and the Federation are, well, villains ... brutal, sadistic, murdering thugs. (Well, maybe not the Mirror-Spock--his was a logic-based villainy, of course).
So what does this have to do with the CM Question of the Week?
Putting aside the fact that Star Trek is central to most life lessons, "Mirror, Mirror" was one of my earlier indoctrinations in the idea that certain "heroic" behaviors--or at least, characteristics that are associated with leadership--are just as likely to be used in nasty ways. Sometimes more so, in fact.
Take, for example, Becky's Tuesday mention of Ernst Rohm. A courageous and brave soldier and successful leader of men ... and a Nazi.
Strong man or bully? Patriot or traitor? Savior or terrorist? Just a few of the questions that can surround the actions of real people and fictional characters, questions whose answers depend on the POV and ethical and moral fulcrum of the narrator. The fact that successful criminals of all stripes can possess traits that are usually considered admirable--strength, loyalty, determination, tenacity, honor--makes the process even murkier.
Fortunately, I'm a double Gemini, which--if you believe astrology--makes it easier for me to get in the heads of different personalities, even those who commit actions that are personally, morally and ethically abhorrent. Writing to me is like acting--and sometimes I play people I wouldn't ride a bus with.
My goal is always to treat characters as people, as human beings. Not as labels, not as plot mechanisms.
I believe most human beings nurse a pushing place. A point of no return, when behavior and personality guidelines snap and moral boundaries fall away and definitions of good and bad don't matter. Under those circumstances, "heroes" can become "villains", and vice versa.
Consider the femme fatale. Noir in general has been and still is a boy's game, a chest-thumping exercise of broken machismo, where a man's weakness is inevitably great sex with a beautiful woman. Think Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in The Killers ... think Samson and Delilah. The beautiful woman who recognizes her allure and uses it to get what she wants ... eternal temptress, eternal genre villain.
Uh ... no. I don't think I've ever met a woman--of any generation--who hasn't had the experience of feeling like prey. Who hasn't been hit on, messed with, harrassed. Who hasn't had the consciousness of her own sexuality forced on her from at least the time she hit puberty.
So I decided to write a different kind of noir. A noir that deals with a beautiful woman who recognizes her allure and uses it to get what she wants ... and instead of the femme fatale villain, she is the protagonist--the author--of her own story, her own life. Her own mythology.
That woman is Miranda Corbie. She's the protagonist of CITY OF DRAGONS. And that's one element of what shaped the novel.
Is she a hero? Is she a villain? She's Miranda. She's something in between ... a human being.
The only category I think like.