Separating the Heroes from the Trickster Heroes
The Wascally-est Wabbit of them All
Human Trickster Heroes
|The Television Adaptation|
Some people love to watch swans on the water. I can’t blame them, it’s a gorgeous sight. There, on the flat surface of a pond or lake, beautiful birds glide by, graceful and long-necked, pristine and white. They lift their wings more than flap. They don’t splash. There’s something perfect about the above-surface swan.
That mechanism is what Jack Viertel talks about in The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built. Like any other devotee of musical theatre, Mr. Viertel adores being swept away by a show and he’s been one of those lucky audience members for more than sixty years. He’s also been a theatrical critic, an artistic director, a producer, a dramaturg (Mr. Viertel explains a dramaturg is the “noodge” who asks questions about a developing theatrical piece that either improve the production or get him killed) a writer and teacher of the American Musical Form. And, as much as he loves the perfect production of a musical spectacle, he also loves taking a show apart to see what makes it work. Or, with some shows, why it doesn’t.
|Who sees her as the bad guy?|
They’re two of the first terms you learn in the study of literature: protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the hero, the schnook at the center of the story, the innocent in the middle of a hurricane. It’s easy to sympathize with heroes. Everything seems to happen to them and they’re created to be someone you like. So it should be easy to guess who the antagonist is. That’s the “udder guy”, the heavy, the louse who antagonizes the hero. Actually, an antagonist is simply whatever force that opposes the hero but some opponents go out of their way to make the good guy’s life miserable. At any rate, it’s easy to see the tale from the hero’s point of view but when I was struggling with a story years ago I got some good advice from my husband. “Never forget” he said, looking over the rims of his glasses, “No one sees themselves as the villain.”
|Bertha Mason before she went to England..
Doesn’t look crazy, does she?
|Snidely Whiplash: a cartoon baddie|
|Snape: Antagonist or
Because they are human, these dimensional villains are far more interesting than the cardboard cutouts of melodrama. Yes, there’s a certain grandeur to Snidely Whiplash twirling his whip-thin mustache but he’s more of a mechanism than a man. Compare Snidely to Severus Snape, the anti-hero and secondary antagonist for much of the Harry Potter series. Raised to be a racist, Snape loses the love of his life while he’s still very young and lives the rest of his life with the results of his mistakes. He’s a difficult, demanding teacher but a talented one as well and most of the advice he gives the hero comes from the lessons he didn’t learn in time. The remarks are delivered with sneers and insults but the basic suggestions are good. “Don’t become a show-off.” “Rules are there to keep you safe.” “Learn to defend yourself.” Snape’s real error here is that he gives the advice he should have heeded, not what the hero needs. Isolation and insecurity make him a deeply flawed man but ultimately a person the reader can recognize and pity, something Harry starts to do when he first sees Snape’s worst memory in The Order of the Phoenix. Snape is humiliated and bullied by the men Harry viewed as role models and the rest of Snape’s life begins to take on the inevitability of a tragedy. The best characters become not “all good” or “all bad” but believably real and headed for
Reading Meanwhile There are Letters can sometimes make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on very private correspondence but it’s the correspondence of people you can’t help but like. She’s self-reliant and thoughtful, he’s kind and gracious. They’re the kind of people I first assumed writers would be, Intelligent, supportive, generous people who faced the best and worst of life with aplomb.
Welty and Millar were both gifted writers but that’s the least important thing they had in common.
They were professionals…
They were devoted friends..
And they were first-class human beings.