Tag Archives: Characters

Saving Mr. Banks

When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”

I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.

They almost never do that.

I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.

I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.

As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.

Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.

I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!

But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.

Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.

Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.

*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.

The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.

What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.

The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”

We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?

You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.

There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.

Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”

“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”

People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”

And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”

Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.

But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.

As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.

Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”

Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.

Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!

I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow.   I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?

Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.

Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.

I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.

But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”

So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.

Catch you later, readers.

The Mithril Guardian

Incomplete Statements – Joss Whedon’s Take on Character Suffering


As all you Marvel fans know, Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron will be hitting American theaters May 1, 2015. From the beginning, Mr. Whedon has stated that “death will play a part” in the sequel to his and Marvel’s 2012 SMASH (pun intended) hit that was Marvel’s The Avengers. But, on a side note, for those of you who for some reason hate Hawkeye and want to see him dead, Renner has some disappointing news for you.  According to Renner, the World’s Greatest Marksman is not going to get the axe in Age of Ultron. So unless Whedon has snipers trailing the actors and actresses who performed in the film, I do not see exactly what Renner would gain by lying about Hawkeye’s escape from the chopping block.

Okay, that being said, why am I writing this post? To start to answer that question, allow me to put up a couple of quotes from Joss Whedon, the Writing Jedi Master himself:


You’re known for your strong female characters, but often they meet ugly ends. Is there a disconnect there? If I create a strong female character, I’m going to want her to go through things. I’ve killed off characters, male and female, willy-nilly. I have a reputation for it. But if I’m not giving them real pain and hardship and tragedy, I’m not a storyteller. – Joss Whedon to Time Magazine June 17, 2013


When asked if he will kill an Avenger: “I’m always joking about that. Um…maybe?… But I’d have to have a really good reason, a really great sequence for [Marvel executives] to go, ‘We’ll cut off a potential franchise, that’s fine!’ They know as any good studio does, that without some stakes, some real danger, how involved can we get? We don’t just rule it out across the board, but neither is the mission statement ‘Who can we kill?’ We try to build the story organically and go, ‘How hard can we make it on these people?’ You go to the movies to see people you love suffer – that’s why you go to the movies.” – Joss Whedon on Avengers: Age of Ultron


First and foremost, let me say that I think Joss Whedon is a great storyteller. If we ever met and began talking, we may not agree on much, but I still think he is a great storyteller. Does this mean that, in the case of the quotes I cited above, I believe he is wrong? No, I would not say that. What I would say is that Mr. Whedon did not seem to carry through on his statements.

I believe that the above accounts are only half the answer to the questions posed to him. He is correct when he says that the audience goes to a movie expecting to see the protagonists endure trials. And yes, sometimes the protagonists die at the end of their stories. This is totally acceptable, even if it is hard for some of us to swallow.

But the point I believe Mr. Whedon failed to make – perhaps because he was constrained by the amount of time the interviewer had, or the interviewer trimmed his response for some reason – is why the protagonists, the heroes and heroines of these films, suffer at all.

Why? That is the question we wrestle with, even in real life. Why does bad stuff happen? Why does it have to be so hard? Why do we – and therefore the characters we come to care about – have to get hurt?

I have a theory. Here are a couple of new angles on suffering that might make my theory clear:

Angle #1: Do you know how swords were made, readers? For centuries what one needed to make a sword was a forge, fire, metal, an anvil, and a large hammer, as well as a long set of tongs. I am not clear on all the particulars of sword forging, so I may be mistaken on certain points of the procedure. But from what I understand, once the smith had a rough, properly shaped piece of metal to work with, he had to strengthen the metal so that the sword would not break at the first thrust in battle.

This meant two things had to be done. One, the metal had to be plunged into the fire in the furnace and left there for some amount of time. Two, after the metal was hot enough, the smith pulled it out of the fire, laid it across an anvil, and began beating it into shape.   This process not only refined the shape of the sword, it strengthened the metal. Depending on when the smith – or the man who hired him to fashion a sword – wanted to finish a blade, the process I have just described could take hours, days, or even weeks and months. At the end of that time you had one durable, deadly weapon.

Angle #2: Everyone around the globe has been engaged in constructing something at one time or another in their lives. Whether it is a birdhouse, a human house, a car, a loaf of bread, or even something as simple and small as a homemade thank-you card, we have all shaped something at some point in our lives.

Think for a moment, readers, about the effort that goes into making the items I just listed. Birdhouses are often made of wood, which requires their builder to acquire the proper sized wooden boards, sand that wood down, and cut a hole in one of those wooden boards that is the right size to attract the bird species he wants to nest in the house. Then he has to nail the entire contraption together.

More effort must be expended in putting together a house for humans, or a car, and to make bread one needs to mix the ingredients together to make dough, which must then be kneaded. Even a child’s homemade thank-you card involves tools and effort. Fashioning such a card will most definitely require paper and scissors – and depending on how the child decides to embellish the card, their parents will need any number of items!

So what do these many separate things have in common? What does sword forging have in common with building a birdhouse, a human house, a car, bread, and a thank-you card? Answer: Each activity leads to inanimate objects being beaten, hammered, or cut into the form the shaper wants. And so it is that hardship shapes, or “forges,” characters – real or fictional.

Imagine that you are the sword I was speaking of a few paragraphs earlier. Think about what it would feel like to be thrust into a furnace for what seemed an agonizing eternity. Next envision being hauled out of the fire, feeling relieved that the hellish heat is gone. Then you realize that you are being put on an anvil, where the smith begins to pound you with a large, heavy hammer. And this goes on and on and on, until you are certain the torture will never end. But it does, and suddenly you are back in the fire in the furnace. Just like in Edge of Tomorrow, the process simply repeats and repeats, leaving you with the impression that it will never stop.

But at the end of all the “pain” in the forging process, what would it feel like to be a completed weapon? In some sense, I would think it would feel fulfilling. If you were a newly completed sword, and you looked back on the grinding process that made you what you were, you might think, “Well yeah, it hurt, but just look at me now! WOW!! This is so cool!”

So why do characters have to suffer during a story? Why do we, the people living and suffering in the real world, have to suffer?

In the first case, dealing with characters, on some intuitive level the audience understands that the pain the characters suffer depends in part on their choices and in part on factors outside of their control. The audience also knows that the trials a character experiences can make them stronger. For instance, the “fire” of Loki’s invasion “forged” the Avengers; it brought them together and made them an amazing, bad-guy “SMASHING” team. But we all know that the “forging” process was a painful one – especially for Avengers Bruce Banner, Thor, Tony Stark, and Hawkeye.

Banner had to learn that he had some control over the Hulk before he could truly join the team – but that was not an easy or fun lesson for him to ‘study.’ Tony and Thor each had to grow up and realize that they have limits; sometimes there are things one cannot prevent, people one cannot save. Tony learned he could not save everyone after Coulson’s ‘death.’ And getting stabbed in the gut by Loki finally taught Thor that maybe – just maybe – his “little brother” did not want to be brought home.

Hawkeye, arguably, endured the hardest and most grueling test. Loki took him apart from the inside out and left him to glue himself back together after Black Widow freed him. After being tortured like that, others might have taken the “easy way” out of learning that lesson by the simple expedient of putting a permanent halt on their breathing. Hawkeye did not; he faced it and he learned from it – and just what he took away from that experience will probably be revealed in Age of Ultron.

Now to the second case: why we suffer in the real world. Just like the characters we love, we suffer the consequences of our choices and we suffer because of things outside our control. There are two ways that we – and the characters we care for – can look at suffering. We can look on it with hate and disgust, becoming bitter and unbearable goblins in human skin – or we can look at in the way that a new sword might look back on its forging, “Yeah, that hurt. But I’m ready for the next challenge now! Come and get me – if you dare!”

That is why we watch the characters we love suffer in the stories we enjoy. To see whether they will get through the pain and how they will react to it. Some will become bitter and hateful, but it must be remembered that this is an initial reaction which can later be overcome. After all, Hawkeye was furious at Loki when he joined the Avengers in the first film. It was a natural reaction and completely understandable.

But did he stay that way? Doubtless, Loki had better hope he never meets the archer again anytime soon. But from what little we know of the sequel, Hawkeye has not allowed his anger and pain to poison the rest of his life. A hateful person, after all, would not have been quite so courteous in tone – if a little rude in words – when challenging Thor’s surety of the worthiness enchantment on his hammer. And it has been reported that the manner of his challenge to the Thunderer was as a friend, not as an antagonist.

This is why we watch the characters we love go through hardship. Because we feel solidarity with them on some level, and it helps us weather our own ordeals.

Now whether or not Mr. Whedon would agree with my assessment of his statements I do not know.   It may be that his declarations, as expressed in the quotes above, are his views in a nutshell. Whether they are or not, they set me to thinking, and this post is the result.

This post cannot contain all my views, of course – I am still being “forged.” My views will change as impurities are burned off or hammered out; but the opinions expressed in this post are, at least, a step toward becoming a completed “sword.” It is a long, arduous process that will take time – perhaps all my time. I have no more knowledge of what awaits me at the end of my life than a sword in the furnace or under the hammer does. I will have to wait and see.

Makes life exciting, doesn’t it?

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian