Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: The Seance

As I stated in my The Crimson Petal and the White review, I will be reviewing neo-Victorian novels that were written within the past 10 to 15 years.  I am interested in learning: (1) what aspects of the Victorian Era they incorporate; (2) what "modern" elements they bring; (3) what works and does not work; (4) how well they conform to expectations of "what will sell"; and (5) whether it's a good story.

John Harwood's The Seance (2008) was never a big best seller like The Crimson Petal and the White, but it was well received.  It is quiet in all of the ways that Crimson is flashy, never trying to be about a big idea or a shocking premise.  Yet it still manages to be bittersweet and effective.

The Seance is characterized as a "horror" novel, but I never read it as such.  Instead, I saw it as a novel interested in the supernatural, and in certain fads of that time period.  It uses that angle to explore the hopes and fears of the main characters.

Plot Synopsis

Spoilers to follow.

Set mainly in the 1880s, The Seance focuses on a young English woman named Constance Langton.  When she was a child, her little sister died, and her mother transformed almost overnight into a depressed recluse.  Constance tries to bring her mother out of her depression after learning how to perform seances.  "Perform" being the key word, because Constance does not actually speak to the dead.  Yet she does a convincing enough job of "calling" to her sister to fool her mother, who then commits suicide in order to be with her.

Sometime later, Constance learns that she has inherited Wraxford Hall, a house with a malevolent past.  Wraxford Hall was once owned by Magnus Wraxford, an egomaniacal mesmerist long presumed dead.  As Constance learns more about him and his miserable wife, Eleanor, she wonders if their story could help her understand who she really is.

Victorian Elements

In terms of tone, The Seance feels more like a Victorian novel than The Crimson Petal and the White.  There are some very identifiable Victorian elements, specifically the obsession with mourning.  Losing one or more children to illness was not uncommon back then and the Victorians allegedly responded with more pomp and ritual than any social group before or since.  This mourning fetish can definitely be seen here with Constance's mother: she clings to her dead child and refuses to change her room, much the way Queen Victoria mourned Prince Albert by having his water basin filled every day decades after his death.

The cadence of the writing, with its lightly stilted formality, also feels very Victorian.  But what marks this as a truly "Victorian" novel, in a way that Crimson is not, is the complete lack of sex.  Constance and Eleanor are both proper ladies who might have suitors or fiances, but never sexual thoughts or actions.  This accurately reflects an era where many writers thought it improper to even mention that a married couple slept in the same bed.

As for modern elements, those are difficult to delineate.  The most modern element might be the story structure: it is essentially a story inside a story inside a story, all told in first person, largely through journal accounts.

The Good

Plot and Pacing. The Seance is a suspense novel that turns left when you expect it to turn right, managing to surprise even when you think you know exactly where it is headed.  Harwood does a skillful job deepening the mystery throughout the course of the novel, before springing a series of reveals at the very end.

Characterization. Harwood also excels at creating strong, interesting female characters.  Constance never stops yearning for a real family, yet still manages to be resilient and resourceful.  Eleanor has a unique gift that makes her an outcast in her own family, yet draws the unwavering attention of her future husband.  Her plans to escape him form the bulk of the novel.

Atmosphere. Finally, The Seance maintains a moody, tense atmosphere appropriate to the storyline.  Upon learning that Constance inherited Wraxford Hall, another character advises her to burn it down and salt the earth.  The Hall, built on the ruins of a monastery torn down by Henry VIII, is surrounded by a "monks wood" filled with their ghosts.  At one point, two of the characters are stranded at Wraxford Hall alone in the dark, and though you've seen this sort of thing before, you still hold your breath.  There are all sorts of fascinating objects at the Hall, from a suit of armor to a tomb to a hidden staircase.

The Less Good

Story Structure. The story-within-a-story aspect confused me when I first encountered it, when Constance starts reading accounts by Magnus Wraxford's lawyer, John Montague.  Because his account is first person as well, and his manner of speaking is similar to Constance's, for a while I was confused as to who was the narrator.  It also doesn't help that Montague's section is the slowest of the novel.  Fortunately, things pick back up again once Eleanor's first-person narrative begins, and keep going when the narrative switches back to Constance.

Visuals.  I'm not one to harp on someone's failure to provide enough description (it would be too hypocritical), but in this case, some more concrete details of Wraxford Hall's interior would have helped.  Or maybe it was just that I could not quite visualize the details that Harwood laid out.  During certain pivotal scenes, I had a really hard time understanding some of the action because I just could not see it.    

The Ending.  The final reveals come in a burst, and some are disappointingly pat.  But the resolution to Constance's story line feels like a punch in the gut.  All the poor girl ever wanted was to have a family that loved her, and she is cruelly denied.  While it's true that she seems about to find happiness in a different way, for heaven's sake, the girl needs a mother!  I felt so bad for her in the end, and the reason she is denied her closure, while understandable, seems petty.  It is an ending meant to be bittersweet, but the "bitter" is much stronger, and somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.


Nonetheless, The Seance is well worth your time, being a good, moody, suspenseful ride that has you guessing until the end.  It is also satisfying as a neo-Victorian novel, with Harwood's writing very much in the style of the period without ever feeling like an imitation.  Since moody, well-paced books have always sold well, how The Seance became well received is the one thing that is not a mystery. 

The above image was used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Game of Thrones: Book vs. Show

Needless to say, this post contains a few spoilers.

By now, Game of Thrones the HBO series has completed its portrayal of the third -- and arguably the best -- book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords.  It even dipped into A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons story lines.

As both a reader and a viewer, I can now sit back and make a measured assessment of each medium's strength and weakness.  Whereas before, I did a post comparing the book characters to their show versions, here I will look at which medium does a better job portraying important story moments.

1.  Ned Stark's Death

Setting the Scene: Eddard "Ned" Stark, Hand of King Robert and primary POV of A Game of Thrones, has accused Queen Cersei of conceiving her children (including heir-to-the-throne Joffrey) through incest.  He is then locked up and informed that if he repents his claim, his only punishment will be banishment to the Wall.  Fearing for his daughters' safety at King's Landing, Ned lies and says that he made up his claim.  Unfortunately, the new King Joffrey decides to punish Ned by cutting off his head.

Assessment: Whoa!  The main character never dies!  Both unspoiled readers and viewers were blown away by this break with formula.  It was pulled off incredibly well in both cases, but I give the show the edge for allowing us to see it from multiple points of view all at once.  With the book, the reader must deal with the awkwardness of seeing things from just Arya's perspective.

Winner: Show

2.  The House of the Undying

Setting the Scene: For reasons that are unclear (in the book), or to reclaim her stolen dragons (in the show) Daenerys Targaryen visits the House of the Undying in Qarth.  She then must navigate the mysterious fortress in order to find... something.

Assessment: Daenerys's storyline in A Clash of Kings is rather dull compared to A Game of Thrones, but her visit to the House of the Undying largely makes up for it.  It's like navigating a haunted house with visions that tell the future.  Dany is instructed to go through only the door on the right and always take the stairs up, which leads to a heart-pounding scenario where she sees only doors on the left and realizes at the last second that the last door on the left is the one on the right.  The visions she sees are still being discussed by fans.  Some include literal events in the future (the man with the wolf's head), while others are visions of the past with unknown implications (Raegar and baby Aegon).  It was bold and exciting and... entirely missing in the show version.

In the show, Dany walks into maybe two or three rooms, only one of which suggests something that could occur in the future (the charred remains of the Great Hall at King's Landing).  Then she's chained up and her dragons melt a guy's face and... it's over.  Just doesn't have quite the same impact.

Winner: Book

3.  Battle of the Blackwater

Setting the Scene: Stannis Baratheon has killed his brother Renly and is closing in on the ultimate prize: the Iron Throne.  He just has to conquer King's Landing to do it.  On the other side, Tyrion Lannister prepares for the onslaught with a few tricks up his sleeve.

Assessment: I was never as enamored of the Battle of the Blackwater as many, maybe because I didn't care for Stannis in A Clash of Kings, yet I did not want the Lannisters to win.  However, both book and show do an excellent job laying on the tension.  I recall the book spending more time on Tyrion's battle strategy, including the infamous scene where he prepares the wildfire, as well as a much edgier scene between Sansa and Sandor Clegane.  At the same time, the show had visual delights like the green flames of wildfire on the Blackwater.  Being unrestrained by specific POVs also allowed us to see Stannis's perspective, as well as Cersei's.     

Winner: Draw

4.  The Red Wedding

Setting the Scene: Robb Stark, King in the North, has been winning battles but losing the war.  His greatest misfires were to leave Winterfell relatively unguarded (so Theon Greyjoy could sack it) and to break a pledge to his allies, the Freys.  Robb was supposed to marry a Frey daughter, but instead (in the book) married Jeyne Westerling because he took her virginity or (in the show) married Talisa Maegyr out of love.  The Freys claim that Robb's party can make it right if his uncle, Edmure Tully, marries a Frey daughter instead.  And so Robb, Catelyn, and the Stark bannermen head to their wedding...

Assessment:  The show's depiction of the Red Wedding was pretty horrific, but there was just something about A Storm of Swords's depiction.  The Storm version began with a room filled with too many people, terrible food, and deafening noise.  Catelyn feels ill, but is trying to enjoy the post-wedding festivities.  Yet there are signs that something is off: Edmure's wife keeps sobbing, and is this the first time those musicians ever picked up instruments?!  Then, with a sickening twist, everything unravels.  The musicians are replacing their instruments with weapons.  Stark bannermen are getting shot and stabbed.  Suddenly Robb is shot by quarrels.  The scene is told from Catelyn's point of view, and you can feel her growing desperation and madness, right down to her final plea for Ned to rescue her.

While I'm just as glad the show never depicted Catelyn clawing the skin off of her face, I feel that it erred in going for sudden shock over growing tension.  Especially since the shock of Talisa getting stabbed, like, a thousand times in her pregnant belly had disturbing misogynistic overtones.        

Winner: Book

5.  The Purple Wedding

Setting the Scene: King Joffrey, the world's greatest monster, has just wed Margaery Tyrell and everyone is gathered for the wedding feast.  What could possibly go wrong?

Assessment:  I'm a little sorry that the show could not portray the 70-odd courses that were present at the book feast, but otherwise, the show did a nice job recreating the tension in A Storm of Swords.  (Not surprising: George RR Martin wrote this episode.)  Joffrey was appropriately vile and insulting.  His death scene was fast, and Jack Gleeson did an effective job portraying the scared little boy Joffrey truly was.  Oh, and pigeon pie!

Winner: Draw

6.  Lysa Arryn's Death

Setting the Scene: Sansa has finally fled King's Landing under the protection of Peter Baelish ("Littlefinger").  Baelish marries Sansa's aunt, Lysa Arryn, and they move to the Eyrie.  Lysa is so in love with Baelish that it drives her insane when she sees him kiss Sansa one morning.  So Lysa decides to solve the problem by tossing Sansa out the Moon Door, where 600 feet of nothing lies between her and the ground.  Baelish manages to talk Lysa out of it, before surprising her with the revelation that he has always loved Catelyn instead... and shoving her out the Moon Door.   

Assessment: Everything about this scene, and the lead up, works better in the book.  The scene lasts longer and is more intense.  Baelish must work harder to rescue Sansa from Lysa's clutches.  Lysa's madness means more because we understand the history behind it -- how she lost her virginity to Baelish and supported him at King's Landing all those years.  (It also gives more meaning to other scenes where Lysa's father is dying and he keeps apologizing for "Tansy.")  This is also where the reader first learns that Lysa poisoned Jon Arryn at Baelish's behest, then lied about it to the Starks, paving the way for the events in A Game of Thrones.

By contrast, the show's portrayal of this scene feels rushed.  And why on earth would Baelish talk her down from way across the hall like that?  That said, the show has done everything beyond Lysa's death better.  I thought it was clever the way Martin had Baelish set up Lysa's singer as the murderer, but in the show, it was even better that the lack of a clear alibi led to Sansa revealing her true identity to the Vale lords.  Sansa post-Lysa seems empowered and possibly dangerous to Baelish, whereas book Sansa is learning, but still seems timid and afraid to act.    

Winner: Book

Winner of the Aftermath: Show (for now)

7.  Oberyn Martell's Fight With the Mountain

Setting the Scene: Tyrion's trial for the murder of Joffrey isn't going so well, until an unlikely person steps in to serve as his champion in a trial by combat: Oberyn Martell.  Oberyn wants revenge against the man (Gregor Clegane) who raped and killed his sister, as well as the man (Tywin Lannister) who urged him on.  And so the fight between man and Mountain begins...

Assessment: There are some aspects of the book version that I wish the show had included, such as Tyrion's horror at Oberyn using just a spear to fight the Mountain.  The book version of the fight scene also seems to last longer, with Oberyn dancing along, jabbing at the Mountain repeatedly.  And there's something about a stable boy getting killed...

The show scene is shorter, but more acrobatic (love those mid-air spins, Oberyn).  It also has the benefit of two things: a deeper characterization of Oberyn, so that we care about what happens to him in addition to what happens to Tyrion, and a subversion of tropes.  The scene begins in a broadly comical manner that so many of these David and Goliath scenes begin with: "Oh my God, are you crazy?  You are so dead!"  Then, usually, the David bests the Goliath, everyone cheers, and David and his love interest share a kiss.  In this case, Oberyn's gruesome death is sadly true to the book.  

Winner: Draw

8.  The Battle of Castle Black

Setting the Scene: The wildlings have banded together in a massive army led by Mance Rayder.  Their goal is to get beyond the Wall and infiltrate the Seven Kingdoms.  Only the badly undermanned Night's Watch can stop them, led by Jon Snow.  And so the fight begins.

Assessment: Until this point, the Night's Watch chapters in the book were among my least favorite.  Once Castle Black prepared for battle, everything seemed to kick into a higher gear and I found myself turning the pages eagerly.  The same cannot be said for the show version.  Whereas the book battle seems to build steadily throughout A Storm of Swords, the show loses the thread by having Jon and the Night's Watch make a side trip to Craster's Keep for... reasons.  So instead of spending more time preparing for what is to come, Jon and the Night's Watch seem to remember the big, overwhelming forces approaching them at the last minute.  The show also made the mistake of isolating the Battle of Castle Black in a single episode the way it did the Battle of the Blackwater.  Even though Castle Black is arguably more important in the grand scheme, it does not make for nearly as compelling a viewing experience.     

Winner: Book

9.  Tyrion's Escape

Setting the Scene: Jamie frees Tyrion from his cell before he is to be killed.  Before they part (in the book) Jaime confesses that Tysha, Tyrion's wife from long ago, was not really a whore after his money, but someone who truly loved him.  This devastates Tyrion because he believed Tywin's claims that Tysha was a whore and let her be gang raped by Lannister soldiers.  Tyrion parts ways with Jaime bitterly, telling him that Cersei was fucking around while Jaime was gone and "yes, I killed your vile son."  Tyrion then makes his way through the underground King's Landing passageways until he finds the one leading to the Tower of the Hand.  There, he discovers Shae in Tywin's bed and, after strangling her to death, goes to find Tywin...

Assessment: There is nothing wrong with the show's portrayal of events, except that they are surprisingly rushed.  So many Tyrion scenes were allowed to linger in Season Four (including a speech about beetles), yet this was the sequence that really needed breathing room.  Instead, Tyrion quickly finds and kills Shae, with minimal struggle, before going after Tywin in the privy.  (That never made sense to me in the book or show: it's not like Tyrion is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.  Would Shae really be so powerless to overcome him?)  The final dialogue between show Tyrion and Tywin lacks the power that it had in the book.  Not to mention Tyrion's dry observation that Tywin Lannister did not really shit gold.

While I don't mind the Tysha scene's removal, I was really bothered by the Shae scene because of the show's earlier characterization of her.  In the book, she is always just a dumb, greedy whore.  During the trial, she reveals herself to be a dumb, greedy whore who was always playing Tyrion.  In the last scene, we learn that she is a dumb, greedy whore who was, and may have always been, Tywin's paramour.

Whereas in the show, Shae is painted as being more complex.  She sincerely cares about Tyrion and Sansa.  On more than one occasion, she urges Tyrion to run away with her to Essos.  So what are we supposed to make of her betrayal at the trial and subsequent move to Tywin's bed?  Was it really because she thought Tyrion stopped loving her when he called her a "whore" (trying to make her leave so she would be safe)?  Was it because the Lannisters captured her before she could escape, and Tywin thereafter made her his bed companion?  An explanation would have been helpful.  No actually, what would have helped was a story change to suit the new Shae: such as Tyrion finding her already dead because she tried to kill Tywin.                   

Winner: Book

10.  Brienne's Search for Sansa (and Arya)

Setting the Scene: Brienne swears an oath to Catelyn Stark to bring her daughters back to her.  To that end, Brienne is tasked with bringing Jaime Lannister to King's Landing as an exchange.  Unfortunately, by the time Brienne arrives at King's Landing (in the book) the Purple Wedding has happened and Sansa already fled, and/or (in the show) Brienne learns that Catelyn and Robb were killed.  And everyone thinks that Arya has been dead, like, forever.  So Jaime gives Brienne Oathkeeper and has her go out in search of Sansa (and only Sansa, in the book).

Assessment: I like that the show denizens of King's Landing still remember Arya, unlike their book counterparts.  That leads to many more interesting possibilities than what the book has in place.  In A Feast for Crows, Brienne wanders through the Crownlands, constantly asking random people if they have seen "a young maid of three-and-ten" with Sansa's description.  The rest of the time is spent feeling angsty about her boyish upbringing.  By contrast, show Brienne's trajectory feels much sharper: she actually heads in a direction where the Stark girls might be, meets someone who knew Arya, and finally meets up with Arya herself, with awesome results.  Next season might find her continuing on to the Vale and meeting with Sansa (as Alayne).  That said, show Brienne's search could receive a downgrade if she doesn't meet a very important character that appears in the books (you book people know who I'm talking about).     

Winner: Show (for now)

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Through an Introvert's Lens: Wicked

For my first look at introverts in the media, I decided to go with the popular stage musical, Wicked.

Wicked is, of course, the retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, with the intent of making her sympathetic.  It began as a novel called Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, published in 1995.  Eight years later, Wicked premiered as a musical in San Francisco, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.  While the musical made several changes, the basic elements remained the same: the story was about Elphaba, a misunderstood misfit born with green skin.

The Plot

There be spoilers ahead!

Elphaba's mother was the wife of the Munchkins' governor.  After the governor went away, her mother had an affair with a mysterious man, and out of that affair came Elphaba.  Scarred by her daughter's appearance, Elphaba's mother ate milk-flowers so that her second child would be normal.  Instead, the flowers weakened her mother, so that she died during childbirth and Elphaba's sister, Nessarose, was born crippled.  Elphaba's "father," the governor, blamed Elphaba for the tragedy, and steadfastly ignored her all her life, while doting on Nessarose.  Elphaba takes on the burden of caring for her sister, right up until they both leave for Shiz University.

There, Elphaba learns that she will be roommates with the blonde, perky, spoiled Galinda (later Glinda).  They hate each other on sight, and Galinda and her many friends constantly mock Elphaba to her face and behind her back.  Galinda even gives Elphaba her famous black pointed hat as a way of punishing her; Galinda's grandmother gave her the hat and she hates it.  However, both girls have a change of heart after each does something unexpectedly nice for the other.  Before long, Galinda has declared Elphaba her new friend and "project": she's going to make her popular!  At the very least, Elphaba gets the attention of the hot new guy in town, Fiyero.  He quickly shares her concern about the animals in Oz, which are mysteriously losing their ability to speak.

Elphaba finally gets to share her concerns with the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, only to learn that he is the one behind the animal abuse.  When Elphaba refuses to do his bidding, the Wizard blames the animal abuse and disfigurement on her, and Elphaba decides to embrace her new identity as the Wicked Witch of the West.  Galinda, meanwhile, remains loyal to the Wizard, despite knowing the terrible things that he has done.      

There is more, but that is the set-up.  The rest will be discussed in the analysis.

Is Elphaba an Introvert?

Elphaba is an outcast from beginning to end, no question.  But as I said in my Introduction, outcasts and introverts are not necessarily one and the same.  So before she embraces her supremely confident alter-ego, the Wicked Witch, what is she like?

She is shy, awkward, and reclusive.  She is not fond of small talk and is uncomfortable at large social gatherings (see, for example, her dance scene).  She relates to Fiyero by discussing causes dear to her heart, helping animals who have lost their powers.  She is studious and deeply talented.  

It is difficult to say how much of Elphaba's personality is innate, and how much was shaped by her being ostracized.  But all in all, Elphaba has several character traits that are associated with introverts.

Is Wicked Overall Pro-Introvert or Anti-Introvert?

You could argue that the very fact that Wicked exists makes it a pro-introvert narrative.  Otherwise, all we would know about Elphaba was that she was evil and perished when Dorothy threw water on her.  Wicked "sets the record straight" by explaining Elphaba's true good intentions, and lets us see that she had a happily ever after of sorts after all.  

On the other hand, the fact that this revised history is necessary suggests that Elphaba got, well, screwed over.  And even within the revised narrative, the message appears to be: society doesn't appreciate you and treats you like shit, but at least you get the guy at the end.  Yay?

Let's look at the story from the beginning.  From the moment Elphaba arrives at Shiz University, she is mocked for her green skin color.  While the other students might have mocked Elphaba regardless of her personality, in all likelihood, they did so because they saw that she was different in other ways -- she wore glasses, unflattering clothing, and preferred to avoid gossip and other small talk.

The mockery continues right up until the popular and extroverted Galinda decides that it is no longer okay.  Until then, Galinda was too happy to partake, gossiping with friends about how horrible it was to room with Elphaba, reveling in their murmurs of sympathy.  Galinda stopped her behavior after Elphaba did something genuinely nice for her in return for something fake-nice that Galinda did for Nessarose.

Though the mockery stops, Galinda decides that her new "friend" cannot remain in her current uncool state.  So she decides to give her a makeover.

I don't think the viewer is meant to side with Galinda, or find her antics anything more than amusing.  But it is a bit presumptuous of her to give Elphaba a makeover after she's already declined her offer.

After a makeover that consists of little more than "not-so-ugly girl takes off her glasses and wears her hair down," Elphaba attracts Fiyero's attention.  In a refreshing change of pace, he merely notes that Elphaba has been "Galinda'd."  Still, would he have talked to her in the first place if she dressed the same as before?

He becomes better friends with Elphaba after their shared experience freeing a lion cub from a cage.  However, he remains an anomaly; Elphaba's peers by and large remain cool to her, until the Wizard turns against her -- then they're only too happy to buy his claims that she is evil and the cause of every known harm.  Elphaba remains so reviled for the rest of the story.  Never do the public learn the truth about who she really is.  If not for her eventual reunion with Fiyero, she would have had to spend her exile alone.

Elphaba begins the story hopeful, singing: "Unlimited!  My future is unlimited!"  She ends it with: "I'm limited.  Just look at me."  It's a sad note that would have been sadder if not for Galinda's vow to carry on Elphaba's work to free abused animals.  An enormous amount of Elphaba's happiness hinges upon whether Galinda ever "gets" it.

Meanwhile, Galinda's storyline in Wicked is fairly charmed.  She is adored by her peers, gets an important social position after sucking up to the Wizard, and in the end, gets to be even more powerful after Elphaba gives her a book of spells, the Grimmerie.

Of course, you could also view Galinda's story in a different light: she learns that her values are shallow compared to Elphaba's.  She learns that she can't have everything she wants when Fiyero shows a clear preference for Elphaba despite being "perfect together" with Galinda.  This leads her to mature, take control of Oz from the corrupt Wizard, and carry out Elphaba's vision.

Yes, you could view the story as Galinda's redemption.  Except that she is not really challenged, apart from not getting the guy.  And not getting the guy is arguably a small price to pay for getting to wield power and never really losing your agency.  Would Elphaba give up Fiyero if it meant being able to fulfill her vision out in the open, without being shunned and mocked?  Possibly.

Some of Elphaba's troubles could be associated with any insurgent character, introvert or no.  A person trying to stop high-level corruption will almost inevitably face a powerful backlash.  But it's questionable whether Elphaba would be waging such a lonely war (with only Galinda and Fiyero as allies) if she were not introverted.  Her introversion gave people an initial reason to scorn her, and they saw no reason to change their minds after she became the Wicked Witch.  Conversely, Galinda's extroverted nature attracted people, and she built upon that attraction, becoming a person of power and influence.

Basically Wicked's bottom line seems to be: we know you deserve much better, Elphaba.  Unfortunately, we're going to wait until it's too late to clear your name.  Damn society.  Sorry.

Then again, there is only so much you can do to revise a narrative that ends with the main character melting after being doused with water.


So to sum up, here is how Wicked fares with its treatment of introverts:

Number of Introverts: One

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert?: Like a pariah, except for a handful of people.

What Is the Introvert's Reward/Punishment Compared to Others?: She gets shunned and her reputation destroyed, while the main extroverted character gets to assume a position of power.  

Silver lining: she gets the guy.

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Introducing a New Segment: Through an Introvert's Lens

Coming soon to this blog: a feature where I examine certain media for how they treat introverts.

Much like my Movie Musicals and Unpopular Opinions, I hope that this will be recurring.  Each time, I intend to look at a character (or an individual if the media involves real people), what that person does, how prominent that person is, and how other people view that person.  I think it offers a great opportunity to truly see how introverted people fare in the media, rather than fall back on assumptions or stereotypes.

And though I don't exactly have a degree in behavioral science, I am going to try and do this in a structured manner.  First thing's first:

Define "Introvert"

Merriam-Webster defines an introvert as "one whose personality is characterized by introversion; a reserved or shy person."  Introversion is "the state or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life."

By contrast, this article rejects the idea that introverts are shy, because "[s]hyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety," while introversion does not.  Rather, an introvert is "a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people."  An introvert may like to interact with people, but the conversations are more likely to involve "ideas and concepts" than "trivial" small talk.

Quiet by Susan Cain notes that a quarter to half of the general population is introverted.  A majority of gifted people are introverted.

In general, introverts prefer deep reflection, thinking before speaking, observing to being the center of attention.  They celebrate victories with a few friends, or prefer one-on-one conversations to being with large groups.  Pressure can leave introverts flustered, and many prefer to have long stretches of uninterrupted time to work on projects.  

What Introverts Are Not

While most gifted people are introverts, not all of them are.  So you can be an introvert and not be academically brilliant, an artist, a computer prodigy, or a writer.

Also, while many introverts are outcasts, they are not one and the same.  It is possible to be a social misfit and not be introverted.

Finally, introverts are not, by nature, depressed.  An individual who suddenly becomes withdrawn may be depressed, but not necessarily an introvert.  Introversion is a personality trait, not a problem with mental health.

Intentions For This Feature

As I mentioned above, with each feature, I intend to do the following:

1.  See whether the specific media has any introverts.

2.  Examine the introvert's prominence in the media.

3.  Examine the introvert's actions.

4.  Examine how people respond to the introvert.

5.  Examine the introvert's reward/punishment compared to the more extroverted characters.

6.  In certain cases, examine the absence of introversion.  

What Do I Hope to Learn?      

First, I hope to get a better idea of how introverts are treated in the media.  I also want to see what patterns are exhibited by the media at large, and what message media consumers might take from them.  Finally, to the extent that introverts are mistreated by the media, I hope to shine a light on that mistreatment and provide insights as to how introverts can be treated as equals.  

That said, since I'm no scientist, I'm sure I'll get a ton of shit wrong.  Let's get started!

Next Time: Introversion in Wicked.

The above photo was taken by Marcus Quigmire from Wikimedia Commons.  Use of the photo does not mean the author endorses this post.