So, everyone. November 2016. Turned out to be rather intense.
There was the presidential election. And the fallout of the election. I had a lot of family obligations and duties this month, and then more family duties, and work-wise, my life pretty much felt like a train wreck.
Cut off for so many days from my familiar and comforting writing routine, I fell into despair. I chugged a lot of eggnog. I wanted to fall apart good and proper, like Homer on a drunk —
But only managed to make my face break out in mountains of acne, due to all of the sugar-bomb eggnog, and then I obsessively read a bunch of really lame books, so I could have an excuse not to sleep, and then justify chugging more eggnog.
Today, however, I was home alone, a hermit again. I like being home, I like being alone all day, and even though November was pretty difficult for a vast number of reasons, I did something cool on Thanksgiving.
After all of my family duties, and social duties, were finished for the day, I came home to my husband, and we watched the news together, and then I decided to stay on the couch with him for a movie night.
Greg and I haven’t watched a movie together in a loooooooong time. Not at home or in a theater. The movie I chose to put on is one of my favorites, the 2006 Bryan Singer film, Superman Returns.
I watched Superman Returns at least four times in the theater, when I lived in Ouray, because this movie played at the old opera house in town, which was easy to walk to and charged a standard $7.00 for an adult ticket. So I harassed a lot of people to see this film with me on various nights that it played, because I fell in love with this movie, and wanted everyone else to love it as well.
Ten years later, I still love this movie. Having written five novels in those intervening ten years, I can analyze the film in ways I couldn’t at age 26, and there are a few scenes of earthquake-shaking near the end that I would’ve cut. Same with the beginning of the movie. But those are minor, minor things, mere seconds of time within the overall film.
This movie has so much texture and emotion layered into the scenes. Moments of humor and quiet feeling. Lines that still move my heart. If movies could be described as falling into two camps the way novels do — either as literary or genre fiction, highbrow or commercial books — then Superman Returns would be upmarket literary fiction — a movie with carefully subtle details woven into each scene, but with a big melodramatic plot to carry the story along. It’s the kind of movie I can never get enough of, and I remain enchanted and thrilled by this film.
If you haven’t seen Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), then Superman Returns might be kind of weird. Bryan Singer adores both those movies, and you can tell how much he loves them when the story picks up with his 2006 creation. I love all the small and large things Mr. Singer did to update the characters for a 21st century audience — most especially, that Lois Lane is tougher and smarter, but still very human and flawed.
I admit I’m someone who gets misty-eyed when I hear the Superman theme music John Williams composed. Whether as a dorky sixth-grader belting out this music in band class, an awkward teenager watching the Christopher Reeve movies, or a barely-functioning adult swept away in the auditory wonders of the 2006 film, I bought the soundtrack of Superman Returns right after I saw the film, having instantly fallen in love with the updated music as well.
On Thanksgiving Day, after staying up late to re-watch this film, I went online and read Gary D. Engle’s fantastic 1987 essay, “What Makes Superman So Darned American?“ — which you can read here. It’s a spectacular essay, and touches on all the major mythology points Superman fans love so hard — first and foremost, that Superman is an illegal alien, an immigrant raised in the United States. That he is an orphan adopted into a foreign culture by strangers. That he grows up in a small town in Kansas, on a farm, and then moves to the city of Metropolis as an adult. That he navigates the world with dual identities, and embodies in his person the tension between assimilation and history, reinvention and roots, mirroring the struggle of America and its many immigrant families.
But what I love MOST about this essay is its examination of the religious mythology in Superman. Starting with this paragraph —
When Joe Shuster inked the first Superman stories, in the early thirties when he was still a student at Cleveland’s Glenville High School, Superman was strictly beefcake in tights, looking more like a circus acrobat than the ultimate Man of Steel. By June of 1938 when Action Comics no. 1 was issued, the image had been altered to include a cape, ostensibly to make flight easier to render in the pictures. But it wasn’t the cape of Victorian melodrama and adventure fiction, the kind worn with a clasp around the neck. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find any precedent in popular culture for the kind of cape Superman wears. His emerges in a seamless line from either side of the front yoke of his tunic. It is a veritable growth from behind his pectorals and hangs, when he stands at ease, in a line that doesn’t so much drape his shoulders as stand apart from them and echo their curve, like an angel’s wings.
This is the kind of detail that makes me snap to attention, all systems go. I love religious mythology — and religious iconography — of any kind. But the fascination with angel iconography carries a special attraction. I couldn’t write a sci-fi novel about winged warriors if I didn’t feel such excitement over the angels of God, whether warring or falling or guarding that which God has created. Endlessly thrilling. I fangirl all over essays like this.
And this one just gets even better —
In light of this graphic detail, it seems hardly coincidental that Superman’s real, Kryptonic name is Kal-El, an apparent neologism by George Lowther, the author who novelized the comic strip in 1942. In Hebrew, el can be both root and affix. As a root, it is the masculine singular word for God. Angels in Hebrew mythology are called benei Elohim (literally, sons of the Gods), or Elyonim (higher beings). As an affix, el is most often translated as “of God,” as in the plenitude of Old Testament given names: Ishma-el, Dani-el, Ezeki-el, Samu-el, etc. It is also a common form for named angels in most Semitic mythologies: Israf-el, Aza-el, Uri-el, Yo-el, Rapha-el, Gabri-el and–the one perhaps most like Superman– Micha-el, the warrior angel and Satan’s principal adversary.
Any discussion of the Hebrew Bible takes me to my Happy Place, because I can hear my college advisor speaking these terms in Greek, and then Hebrew, in his deep professorial voice, quoting Biblical lines from memory, a result of assiduous academic study as well as personal love. He adored language so much, and when he would laugh, he would light up the whole room, as we turned a critical, historical eye to these words.
I wish everyone could study the Bible with my college advisor. Because while he was always hyper-critical of the text, and bore down on everything with intense scrutiny, he also possessed such a love for the words he examined so closely, so obsessively — and love like that blends into people in powerful ways. I cherish a great many things in this world because someone else taught me how to love them — and with the Bible, hearing my advisor’s love of ancient Hebrew and Greek kept me hooked.
Mr. Engle continues his examination of Superman’s Kryptonic name by saying this —
The morpheme Kal bears a linguistic relation to two Hebrew roots. The first, kal, means “with lightness” or “swiftness” (faster than a speeding bullet in Hebrew?). It also bears a connection to the root hal, where h is the guttural ch of chutzpah. Hal translates roughly as “everything” or “all.” Kal-el, then, can be read as “all that is God,” or perhaps more in the spirit of the myth of Superman, “all that God is.” And while we’re at it, Kent is a form of the Hebrew kala. In its k-n-t form, the word appears in the Bible, meaning “I have found a son.”
Mr. Engle’s insightful and excellent commentary, which leads to his closing analysis that Superman is “like nothing so much as an American boy’s fantasy of a messiah” — definitely informed the movie Superman Returns. In visual scenes and in dialogue, the religious mythology quietly expressed in the comic books is present throughout the film. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the movie so much.
The day after Thanksgiving, the 2013 film Man of Steel was on TV, so I asked Greg if he wanted to have another movie night. Greg gave me a pained look and then growled like a rabid bear, and I decided that we would watch Man of Steel.
For the next two-plus hours, Greg’s savage growling and severe displeasure grew more pronounced. He’d never seen Man of Steel before, and he hated it. I’d seen the movie once before, in the theater, and remembered telling myself, “Never watch that again.” But after reading Mr. Engle’s essay on Thanksgiving, I was curious about the religious symbolism employed in Man of Steel.
Amidst Greg’s constant pronouncements of, “This movie sucks!” and “Why are we watching this??” and loud groans of boredom, I suffered through a joyless, humorless Superman movie, a film that is, as Greg kept proclaiming, “Totally cheesy.” The cheese in the first half of the movie is thick and pungent; every scene set in Smallville feels especially painful to watch. The second half of the movie descends into nonstop action drained of all meaning. So many people die in this film, I go numb. If Superman is the messiah, he’s a goddamn awful one in Man of Steel.
While I do love Russell Crowe, who looks smokin’ hot in this film, his role as Jor-El cannot redeem this grim and ugly cheese-fest of a movie. Gone is the farm-to-city transition of boy to man. Gone is the weakling cipher reporter, Clark Kent. Gone is the sweetness and innocence of the comic books, as well as the comedic verve of the earlier films. Gone is the subtle religious iconography, replaced with Superman-as-Jesus imagery that is as blatant and heavy as a sledgehammer.
Greg was so frustrated with me for forcing him to watch this “cheerless and stupid movie,” that I went into the kitchen and chugged more eggnog. Then he said he should never have agreed to watching that horrible film, and I yelled, “No, Greg!” which is my standard comeback for everything, and he growled some more and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” and he told me all I do is make him suffer and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” again but much louder, then I ran out of eggnog and that sucked.
Moral of the story: I’ve been really bad with time-management in November and wasted a lot of time drinking eggnog. However, I regret nothing. Not even making my husband suffer so much. Also, I plan to start researching ninja history soon. I’m excited for this.
In book news: Mark of the Pterren is undergoing its conversion into a paperback book! I’ll keep you updated on that. And my graphic designer might start work on the cover for Bloodshade of the Goddess this week. And my mer novel, Kinned to the Sea, is undergoing a final round of revisions. I’ve finished around 22,000 words of my next project, a murder mystery ghost story. I never thought I’d write a ghost story but so goes my life with the weirdness. Thank you to everyone who left an Amazon review for Pterren!! They are such wonderful reviews and I love how thoughtful they are! I’m really looking forward to writing the sequels — the world of the pterren is never far from my mind.
And now, onward through the rest of December! Another busy, busy month; the eggnog beckons.