Gandalf. Spiderman. Superman. Harry Potter.
Who’s the odd one out? No – don’t tell me. Not yet. Hold that thought…
OK. There. Wardrobes. Colours. And not an IKEA catalogue in sight. Phew!
Like I said in when I was wardobing. Fantasy. It’s different. Well, here’s the thing.
There. I said it. I. Lied. Fantasy really isn’t different. Or it shouldn’t be. Or rather, I didn’t lie at all. Fantasy really is different. But it should be the same as well.
Spiderman is one of Marvel’s all-time fan-favourite characters. He gets to climb walls, spin webs and has a weird spider sense that means he never ends up with burnt toast. OK. I made up the toast thing. But why is Spiderman so popular? Mostly, it’s because he isn’t. Peter Parker is.
Peter Parker is Spiderman’s alter-ego. When Spiderman started out, Peter was still in school. Now he’s a working stiff. But what he really is –always was - is ordinary. When he was at school, the girls he wanted didn’t want him. Or did, but only ‘til some hunk on the football team walked by. Now he’s got to make a buck, he’s got a boss who’s a jerk and even when he gets married he has to wash dishes.
Superman. Sure, he does the whole flying thing, so he could care less about lost car keys. X-Ray vision, super strength – he’s a wonder. He might even be called Wonder Man if Wonder Man wasn’t already somebody else. Who doesn’t connect to Superman?
Well, in my opinion at least, most people don’t. The last time they flew was when they tripped over a shoelace and made a close examination of the pavement. And they still lose their car keys. X-ray vision? I don’t know about you, but I can’t find the tuna in the fridge when it’s right in front of my nose, never mind when the door’s shut. And don’t tell the last jar I tried to open about super strength. It was at the beach, and the damn jar was the one kicking sand in my face.
No – we don’t connect with Superman. But Clark Kent? Him – him we get. He forgets things. The girl he likes is busy mooning over the guy in the sky with his shorts over his pants. Oh – and his boss is a jerk. Superman’s cool, he’s exciting, we can imagine stopping speeding express trains with one finger – but we get Clark Kent.
The first time we meet Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, the potentially most amazing wizard the world has ever known – he’s a kid locked under the stairs by his unreasonable, unfair and outright nasty family. We may not have been locked under the stairs. But we get Harry. We’ve been hard done by, or at least we think we have, and we’ve tried to fit in and get by the hell that is school. Any school.
We want to be The Boy Who Lived, but we remember being Harry. We’d love to fly, to be faster than a speeding bullet, but we know what it’s like to be the nerd in glasses. And climbing walls would be cool, but we’ve all had a boss who made us wish we could wrap his head in spider webbing.
The thing is, if I’m writing something I want you to read, at least if I’m writing something fantastical I want you to read, I have to make it, um, fantastic. The heroes have to be heroic, they have to be ‘extra’. But if I want you to really be into them, if I want you to connect and sympathise, empathise and… and… ‘come-back-for-more-ise’, I have to do something else
I have to put the ‘ordinary’ in ‘extra’.
Oh, that odd-one-out thing? For me, it’s Gandalf. He doesn’t do dishes. He doesn’t have a nagging wife. He doesn’t have to do anything much apart from be amazing. And there’s a good reason for that. Because I think Tolkien wanted you to ‘connect’ with Frodo. Or Sam. Or even poor old Gollum. Gandalf was the ‘extra’ without the ‘ordinary’.
So there you are. Or here we are. Who’s your favourite ‘extra’ from the realms of the fantastic, whether it’s dragons and demons or swinging from the rooftops? Who do you really ‘get’, who do you really connect with? And is it because of their ‘extra’ or their ‘ordinary’?