Genre Mash

“– that a girl of ancient name that shall become queen, that she shall choose a king, and that together they shall rule their world, and that their son shall rule the galaxy.”

I think my obsession with redheads began in my early teens.

I fell in love a number of times: Ann-Margaret (Rusty Martin), Diana Rigg (Mrs. Peel), Jane Fonda (Barbarella) etc. – but my lust/love/longing was cemented by Lysette Anthony as Lyssa in the crazy 1983 space opera/fantasy film, Krull. I think it was the volume as well as the color of her hair, something I could get lost in… and in my male mind, I’ve rolled all the redheads into my ideal fantasy woman, a pinch of that one, a smile form that one… and so on.

krullIf you don’t know the movie, its this stylish and crazy mash up of sci-fi and fantasy – it was no doubt made to capitalize on the zeitgeist of Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons – can you just imagine the pitch meeting? “It’s Darth Vader meets Gandalf!” Which is basically what two of the roles in the film are blatant ripoffs of – the aptly named “The Beast” and Ynyr “the old one”.

The story line is simple and unimaginative as far as the genre goes – two warring kingdoms put aside their differences to battle a greater evil – a princess is captured, a prince rushes to save her, many friends sacrifice their lives along the way and in the end, good triumphs, evil dies and the day dawns bright and new.

As far as a fantasy story, it satisfies on all the basic levels – there are heroes, a quest and a magic weapon. There is great evil and dark creatures and magic. It kind of misses the mark on the space opera, but not by much – it takes place on a fantasy world, so not a lot of “outer space” going on there, but the armor and weapons of the bad guys are all space-like, as are the armor and outfits of the fantasy kingdoms – molded and futuristic looking breast plates, helmets and weapons complete with blue lasers effects and red ones too.

So what’s my point?

Genre mashing had been going on in front of us for quite a while, even though I for one, really wasn’t paying it much attention until very recently. But, looking back over the last twenty years or so, all of the books I was reading, the films I was watching – comic books, cartoons, etc. – they were all crossing borders and stealing from one another, grasping at concepts and ideas in a desperate battle to win my attention – and the public’s too. The one that got the formula right would get a big fat payday.

Even one my most favorite authors and purveyor of wisdom, Neil Gaiman has using this to great effect for most of his career. Recently, in an article about his new book The Sleeper and the Spindle, Gaiman spells it out:

“I feel like some kind of alchemist,” Gaiman suggests. “I have to go to the cupboard and take one ounce of Snow White and two ounces of Sleeping Beauty, and heat the Sleeping Beauty and froth the Snow White and mix them together: it’s kind of like fusion cuisine. It tastes like both of them but it’s actually a new dish.”

And it seems that in recent years we have had a rash of reboots or re-imaginings of favorite movies and characters – those that are looked at as franchises, something that is a known commodity and so one that the writers or producers view as something the public will automatically go see/buy/raise a stink about.

And it makes me wonder if this ‘sampling’ thing has hurt us in some way. I mean, do we really need another Terminator movie? Another Bourne sequel? Another re-imagining of Batman?

To be fair, this has been happening from way way back. According to some, there are really only seven plots in the whole of storytelling:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags-to-Riches
  • The Quest
  • The Voyage and Return
  • The Comedy
  • The Tragedy
  • The Rebirth

All stories are derivatives of one of these types of tales… Which I guess is why I’m struggling with this right now. Telling a good story takes a lot of work, and trying not to make it sound or read or feel like any of the others is tough going. And in order to reach your audience, those that you hope who will read and enjoy your work, you tap references or phrases or  shape the description of a scene or a character in such a way that it sparks a recollection in their mind, something they can identify with, something that has an emotional or sense/memory connection for them – because in that way, you draw them in, keep them reading. Like Gaiman points out, we are alchemists taking a pinch of this, a dash of that.

I’m guilty of it as well, I mean the protagonist of my novelette is a kindred shade of Alan Moore’s John Constatine.

The early eighties saw the rise of a new genre of music that has since become a massive force in the recording industry. Rap grew out of street DJ’s taking songs everyone knew well and snipping them up into soundbites, and layering new lyrics over them to create a new song entirely – of course that’s an over-simplification of what Rap is or does, but at it’s core I think it’s an accurate description.

And isn’t that what happens in writing all the time? Ready Player One relies on the reader having a cultural point of reference in order to be effective. Books that quote song lyrics, or mention a TV show or Film, repeats a well known line from another story or character… this is a kind of literary sampling, Rap as Writing.

Or maybe I’m just late to the bandwagon and someone somewhere has already written about this somewhere and much better than I.

But re-watching Krull and falling for the redhead all over again got me pondering. And pondering is a good thing… because eventually I’ll stumble onto something I can set down on paper, a decent story which is really only a derivative of one of those seven basic plots… and we’ll keep the cycle going for those future writers to come.

Oh, and it will probably have a redhead in it. 🙂



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