Sunday, 14 October 2012


When we are familiar with a heroic character or a mythical figure, we read with interest of his origin, how he came to be, how he acquired his name, powers, distinctive garb etc. Gospel accounts of Infancy, Temptations and the Word are Messianic origin stories. There are Buddhist accounts of why Gautama and his monks wore saffron robes and of how the word for "awakened" became a new religious title.

In the first Superman film, Lois Lane, having interviewed the title character, exclaimed, "What a super man!...Superman!" This is a version of the story in which the symbol on Superman's chest is Kryptonese, resembling the Roman "S" only by coincidence. He tells her that "Krypton" is "K. R. Y...", not "C. R. I...". Very funny. I would prefer a more serious treatment in which there cannot initially be any such thing as the correct way to spell an alien word in a terrestrial alphabet.

I have been told that the "Man With No Name" trilogy of Western films was made out of sequence, thus that the central character dons a familiar poncho for the first time at the end of the third film, at which point the audience realises that the events of this film precede the events of the first and second films?

The Simpsons TV cartoon series parodied origin stories. Bart and his friends saved to buy Radioactive Man, No 1. On the first page: " 'My body's glowing...It's radioactive...I'm radioactive...From this moment on, I am RADIOACTIVE MAN!' " Bart exclaims, " 'So that's how it happened!' "

I discuss origin stories because I have found an extremely understated example of such a story on pages 82 and 83 of Poul Anderson's The Golden Slave (New York, 1980). The escaping slave Eodan dons a disguise whose several items include a hat, a long cloak and a staff. This means nothing to the reader at the time. These items are listed among others and we do not yet know that Eodan will be remembered as a god.

He attributes his good luck while escaping to the fact that:

" 'A Power has been with me...' " (p. 110)

Maybe, but The Golden Slave is historical fiction, not historical fantasy. Thus, no Power is going to manifest except in the beliefs of some of its characters. Indeed, Eodan's Roman opponent asks:

" '...what educated man can take seriously those overgrown children on Olympus?' " (p. 110)

Instead, the Roman expounds a theory of blind matter obeying blind laws with events differentiated by "'...only the idiot hand of chance...' " (pp. 110-111).

(Ironically, I know a Pagan of Italian descent whose goddess is Fortuna and who sometimes makes decisions with dice.)

Back to Eodan. He frees some fellow slaves. They include a big man with a red beard who grabs and fights with a hammer, then names himself, " 'Tjorr...of the Rukh-Ansa...' " (p. 128).

I thought, "OK. Where's Odin?" Then I remembered that Eodan had been with us from the second sentence of the novel.

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