Star Wars

My friend Penny Williamson and I spent Friday afternoon at a matinée of the new Star Trek movie. We both loved it. It manages to simultaneously be fresh and innovative and yet true to the original. The actors do a fabulous job of capturing the characters we know so well, in mannerism and vocal patterns (and the way the writers wrote their dialogue). You can really believe these characters will grow into the characters from the original tv series. And yet the new actors never seem to be mimicking, they make the characters their own. Since I love to move back and forth in time in my own writing and examine my characters at different points in their history, I particularly enjoyed the prequel aspect.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, Penny and I both love to talk about favorite series. When we first became friends, we spent endless lunches analyzing and speculating over Dorothy Dunnett’s books (this was in the years when the House of Niccolò series was still being written and published). More recently, we could be found picking apart Alias over lattes in our favorite café. Waiting for the movie to start Friday, we were discussing the season finale of Lost. Penny and I’ve been discussing Lost a lot lately. In fact, we talked about it for the entire five hour plus drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon, on our recent trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lost fascinates and baffles both of us. Usually we can come up with a theory about where we think a story arc is headed (wrong perhaps to varying degrees but at least a theory that works with the information at hand). With Lost, every time we think we have something figured out, the next episode pulls the rug out from under us.

I blogged a while back about the delights of speculating over a series. Part of it of course is trying to unravel the plot. When I was a teenager, my mom and I had numerous discussions about Star Wars in the years between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I still remember the moment when, thinking about Arthurian mythology, I said “oh, I know, Luke and Leia are brother and sister.” Of course, I was thrilled to be proved right when we saw Return of the Jedi (the day it opened). But mostly, I was relieved to see the characters I cared about get the happy ending I so wanted them to have. Thinking about Star Trek and Lost, I realized how much of the allure of an ongoing series is the characters. Characters you care about and root for. Characters who seem to have a rich inner life off the screen/page. Characters you want to learn more about. Characters whose fates seem very real and a matter of great concern (I confess to having tears in my eyes at one point in the new Star Trek movie, and the recent Lost season finale definitely left me choked up).

I returned to the world of another favorite series recently when I read Laurie King’s The Language of Bees. It was a delight to step back into Russell & Holmes’s world. When I finished the book, I didn’t want to leave that world (partly because of the questions left to be answered in the next installment, but mostly because I wanted to spend more time with these characters). I’ve been rereading earlier books in the series since, unable to move on to something new.

What makes you bond with the characters in a particular series? Have you seen the new Star Trek movie? Do you watch Lost? If so, do you have the faintest idea of where the show is headed? :-).

Returning to my own series, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Cecily Summers’s reply to Mélanie’s letter from last week about their children and the Edinburgh premiere of Simon’s play.

Saturday night I saw Rhinegold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera. This is a sort of sneak preview a new production of the Ring, co-commissioned by Washington Opera and San Francisco Opera, an “American Ring” with imagery taken from America’s history and culture. Rhinegold used imagery from the Gold Rush and the twenties. As I understand it, the rest of the operas will go forward in time. We’ll get the full Ring cycle in the summer of 2011.

At the first notes of music Saturday night, I remembered Angel’s comment when he came back in a late episode of Buffy and watched Buffy fight: “oh, I’ve missed this.” :-). I’ve loved the Ring operas ever since I first saw Die Walküre at fifteen. The emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games. Before the opera, my friend jim and I were talking about Battlestar Galactica, which he loves, and I’ve recently started watching. It turned out four different people around us also are big fans of the show, and we ended up in an enthusiastic discussion until the lights dimmed. It was actually quite apropos to the opera–“emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games” could describe Battlestar Galactica as much as the Ring.

Imagery from the Ring (sometimes based on the Ring itself, sometimes based on common cultural sources) is all over literature and popular culture. As we we’re leaving, jim said when we saw the operas before, he’d never thought about the parallels to the Fellowship of the Ring. The Star Wars movies abound in parallels, with the twins separated at birth, the naive young man who learns to become a hero, the mysterious, unknown father who sells his soul for power. Watching Rhinegold on Saturday, I kept thinking of Cigarette Smoking man as Wotan, with Mulder and Scully as Siegmunde and Sieglinde. Of course, The X-Files abound in mythic references, Orpheus and Eurydice and the Oresteia among others.

I first saw the complete Ring cycle on stage at San Francisco Opera with my mom when we were writing A Touch of Scandal, one of our Anthea Malcolm Regencies. Over dinner before one of the operas, I said, “actually this has a lot in common with our book. The Melchett family are like the gods, their estate Sundon is Valhalla, and Fiona is like Siegfried, a child raised in secrecy who comes back to reclaim her birthright and bring down the family. The Marchioness of Parminter is Wotan. Gideon is like Brunhilde, once connected to the Melchetts (the way Brunhilde was to the gods), but now Fiona’s lover and ally.” I was being half tongue in cheek, but as I talked I realized how very many parallels there were.

And there are the Charles & Mélanie books. It’s not entirely coincidence that Secrets of a Lady also involves the search for with supposedly mythical powers. Charles and Mélanie aren’t brother and sister, but their past history is more tangled than either of them realizes. I can definitely see Raoul O’Roarke as a Wotan type–a puppet master who makes morally ambiguous choices and plays dice with those close to him, though he genuinely does care about them. I could also see Mélanie as a Brunhilde–a warrior who struggles over losing her powers when she falls in love and marries and yet who maintains her ability to think and act for herself.

Have you ever seen the Ring? Do you like looking for mythological parallels in literature and popular culture? Writers, do you consciously use mythological reference in your books or sometimes realize they’re there later on?

With this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve continued with letters written from Dunmykel during the events of Beneath a Silent Moon, this time David writing to his sister Isobel, trying to puzzle out the relationship between Honoria and Kenneth Fraser.