“Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?” said Gandalf. “Do you ask for help?” He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. “Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those who despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you not hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Chapter Six: The King of the Golden Hall by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The Silmarillion….
These are the titles most of us think of when we hear the name J. R. R. Tolkien. And rightly so. Tolkien wrote these stories and more set within Middle-earth. He also wrote Mr. Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham. And he wrote a great many essays, as well as at least two translations of the epic of Beowulf. (They were very good translations.)
But Mr. Tolkien also wrote another story which was not published until 1998. This is the story of Roverandom.
Roverandom started life as a tale for Michael Tolkien, the second son of the Tolkien family. Michael had a little lead toy dog he never went without. When the Tolkiens were on vacation near the beach, Michael brought the toy with him. But when he and his brother went out to play in the sand, he lost the little toy. J.R.R. Tolkien, John Tolkien, and Michael Tolkien went looking for it, of course, but they could not find it.
Anyone who has had a favorite toy and misplaced it permanently knows how damaging a loss this is. Michael was apparently inconsolable. To take his mind off of the loss, J. R. R. Tolkien told the story of how Michael’s toy was actually a real dog enchanted to be a toy. The little dog, he explained, had been enchanted by a wizard he had upset and was now off on an adventure to return to normal size.
Roverandom went through several revisions over the following years. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien gave his publishers the manuscript for Roverandom. But they did not want this story. Because The Hobbit had been such a big hit, they wanted a sequel. The rest, as they say, is history; The Lord of the Rings was the sequel that the publishers knew they wanted, and Roverandom was left in the family archives.
That is where it remained until 1998, when the Tolkien Trust published the manuscript for the first time. Michael Tolkien apparently lost interest in the story after the first few retellings. His older brother John, however, did not lose interest. He was the driving force behind the story being written down and revised at least three times.
The story of Roverandom begins when Rover, playing with his mistress’ yellow ball, sees an old man pick it up. Now the old man is Artaxerxes, and he is a wizard. Thinking he will make the ball a more interesting trinket for the dog, he picks it up without asking if he can have it.
Rover is not happy about this at all. He barks at the wizard, telling him (without the proper polite niceties), to put down the ball. The offended Artaxerxes replies that he will not, instead putting the ball in his pocket.
This is too much for Rover, who reacts very foolishly. He bites the wizard’s trousers and tears a piece off – possibly taking some of Artaxerxes with it!
Well, now the wizard is in high dudgeon. Whirling around, he tells Rover to “go and be a toy!” And, before you can say Jack Robinson, Rover is stuck in a begging position in a box of toys. He is also far smaller than he should be, unable to move much (especially while people are watching), and his barks are too quiet for anyone but the other toys to hear.
Then Rover is taken out of the box and bought by a lady for six pence. She takes him home and gives him to Little Boy Two (Michael Tolkien), and the boy loves him to pieces. Rover, however, is more interested in being returned to his proper size and going home. He ignores Little Boy Two until he falls out of the child’s pocket while the lad is running about on the beach with his older brother.
The rest of the story you will have to read for yourselves. I have spoiled too much as things stand now, and I have no desire to be turned into a toy for telling more! 😉 If you can buy Roverandom, readers, it will be a good investment. If your local library has it, well, then you really have no excuse to avoid borrowing it to experience the adventure yourselves!
Until next time –
The Mithril Guardian
At your service!
Captain America: Civil War smashed its way onto theater screens May 6, 2016, readers. A resounding first punch for Marvel’s “Phase Three” films, Civil War is a great movie, one of their best.
But people – even those who worked on the movie – seem to have a hard time understanding the character arc of the lead protagonist in this film: Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.
This is due to the inordinate attention paid to the comic book event which was the basis, at least in part, for the film. People cannot help confusing that story with the one found in the movie. In the comic book event, all superheroes (excluding the continually persecuted X-Men) were required to reveal their secret identities to the world and register with the government – the way that gun owners in Australia were forced to register their names and their firearms in the 1990s, prior to the Australian government confiscating the guns. (How is that working out for them these days, huh?)
At the beginning of the civil war in the comics, Cap refused to register. Iron Man was initially against registration as well. But after an incident where teen heroes starring in a reality TV show engaged a villain who subsequently obliterated half a town and killed sixty school children, Iron Man did a one-eighty degree turn and chose to support registration. (One would think the incident would say more for the stupidity of most reality TV shows than it did for superhero registration, but…. *Author shrugs.*)
Subsequent to these events, a number of superheroes – mostly Avengers and other, solo heroes – refused to register, rallying under Cap’s leadership. Meanwhile, the heroes who supported Registration chose Iron Man as their leader.
This led to a brutal superhero war wherein Captain America and Iron Man’s forces clashed several times. When caught, unregistered heroes were sent to prison with the criminals they had once incarcerated, while Tony Stark actually began recruiting villains to help him bring in Cap and his forces. (This was the start of Tony’s slide into becoming a loathsome villain, completing the Marvel writers’ intent to murder his valiant character.)
The final battle which ended the comic book civil war saw Steve and Tony beat each other bloody, nigh senseless, and almost to death. Concerned EMTs – civilians – finally leapt forward and pulled an irate Captain America off of Tony, since he was about to kill him…
And this is where the movie soars in comparison to the dismal comics. I cannot see Cap becoming so bent and twisted that he would be willing to kill Tony. Cap is too good, too pure of heart, too great a guy to fall into that trap. The ending in the movie, where he instead damages Tony’s suit so the billionaire genius cannot continue to fight, is much more like him than his actions in the comic book civil war.
It was this “fighting for the sake of fighting” that made me abhor the entire Civil War event in the comics. The Marvel writers, in their desire to “update” their heroes to please the academy’s Hegelian/Nietzschean complex, mauled the characters to the point where they were unworthy to be called heroes anymore. If Marvel had wanted to end the “mainstream” universe at any point, that was probably the time to have done it and gotten away with it.
The Captain America: Civil War film does greater credit to Marvel’s characters than the comic book conflict ever did. This is most true in regard to Steve Rogers. Though the directors and the president of Marvel Studios want us to think of Steve now as an “insurgent” who is no longer a “rah-rah company man,” the thing is that, after all these years, they still do not understand how to describe him. Cap was never a “company man.” But he was, is, and always will be “rah-rah America” for as long as he and the nation exist.
You cannot get anymore “rah-rah U.S.A.” than by calling yourself Captain America while dressing in a suit that bears the colors and symbols of the United States’ flag. So, Disbelievers, remember this: Steve Rogers is still “rah-rah America” – and long may he remain so!
Steve is not responsible for the civil war between the heroes in this movie. That inglorious liability can be laid right at Tony Stark’s iron shod feet – again. What happens in Civil War is that the politicians of the world have decided they can no longer tolerate having zero control over the Avengers. Thanks to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, they think they finally have the ammunition they need to slap leashes and handcuffs on the heroes.
Make no mistake, readers; most politicians want only one thing – power/control, and lots of it. The way to get the most power is to control one’s fellow men. There are two kinds of “absolute” power which humans can exert over each other when they are in the government: the immediate power of life and death, and the power of slavery. The immediate power of life and death I am speaking of here refers to the actions and attitudes of characters such as Thanos, the Red Skull, and Ultron. Their power is the fact that they can kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way as soon as they arrive in these monsters’ paths.
This type of “will to power” is obvious, and so people can recognize it fairly quickly and easily. This makes these villains’ attempts at world domination/destruction hard to fulfill. If it is a choice between rolling over to die and fighting ‘til one’s last breath, most people will fight until they defeat the enemy or die in their tracks. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” as Patrick Henry so rightly said.
The power of slavery, no matter the quality of the velvet glove concealing it, is also the power of life and death. But this power is implemented more subtly than the first; it “looks fair and feels foul.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) By using this power – Saruman’s power – the political slave masters get to decide who lives and who dies; as well as when, where, and how these people die. So long as you are useful to those who run the State, you may live, to most appearances happily and freely. But once you are no longer useful due to age or health, no matter how bright or talented, the laws and the agencies that have enacted those laws will inexorably push you to their chosen exit.
Just ask the babies aborted every year around the world, or the elderly who are starved to death when their doctors (like Mengele) deny them the basic nutrition they need, thus dying horribly. They know what slavery is. Or ask those who are said to be “brain dead,” in a coma, or a so called persistent vegetative state, “unable” to recover. In spite of the many verified accounts we have of those who have recovered from these conditions, there are still those who will “pull their plugs,” for no other reason than despots of one stripe or another do not want to be inconvenienced with their care!
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Orwell’s 1984, the film Soldier, and thousands of other stories repeat this warning to their audiences. You will even find this admonition in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood if you are paying enough attention, readers!
And you cannot miss it in Captain America: Civil War.
Both these “absolute” powers I just described are faces of totalitarianism. At the head of every tyranny, you will find a small, cowardly bully. And as Cap said in The First Avenger: “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”
So, in Civil War, when Ross and the U.N. try to hold the proverbial gun to Steve’s head and that of the rest of his team, telling them to get on their knees, Cap responds as he has always responded: “Not today.”
Tony, blinded by his remorse over the events in Sokovia during Age of Ultron, does not see the steel fist hidden under the velvet glove. Instead, he sees a way to assuage his guilt. He thinks it is a preventative measure when it is a dog collar synced to an electric fence. I hate to break his soap bubble, but here’s a newsflash, Tony: you are not a dog. Neither are the rest of the Avengers, nor are any other humans on the planet. A dog is a dog. A human is a human. There is no likeness whatsoever between the two species and anyone who says otherwise is selling something – typically poison.
Cap tries to explain this to him, but Tony will not listen. Why? Pain, fear, and guilt. Tony does not like carrying these around in his “man purse” (glare at Sam Wilson, not me!) on a daily basis. Remember what he told Pepper in The Avengers when Coulson showed up in their elevator? “Security breach. That’s on you [Pepper].”
Tony is used to shifting the blame. He is not accustomed to having a conscience, to having a moral sense which pricks him and reminds him of what is right and what is wrong. Up until the first Iron Man film, Tony was a playboy. That is, he was a grown man acting like an irresponsible college kid. He was playing around, living in his own little bubble, and as long as he was happy, the world was a beautiful place filled with rainbows and sunshine.
Cap does not have that problem because he grew up and “put away childish things” a long time ago. Even before his parents died, he was taking care of himself on the streets of Brooklyn. Despite being a short, scrawny, asthmatic, ninety-seven pound weakling, he essentially adhered to this motto: Sic semper tyrannis. That is the State of Virginia’s maxim, and in English it reads: “Thus always (or ever) to tyrants.”
Bullies in the schoolyard, the workplace, or in the home are all minor tyrants. Once they get into the government, they become Major Tyrants. But when these mini dictators tried to oppress Steve in order to bend him to their will, he told them to go shove it up their nose – even if they threw him in a trashcan, or beat him senseless and left him in a doorway afterward. He took care of himself the whole time he was growing up. And once he was on his own, he continued to take care of himself.
Now when I say Cap “took care of himself,” I mean that he behaved like the adult he was. He took responsibility for his actions; he lived with what he did right and with his mistakes. He made his choices and accepted their consequences, whether they were good or bad.
Tony is not used to doing that, and somewhere after The Avengers, he became even more afraid of growing up. That made him ripe pickings for Ross and the tyrants in the U.N. (Discounting King T’Chaka, who believed in the Sokovian Accords wholeheartedly. Poor guy must never have heard that, “When seconds count; the police are only minutes away.” The Avengers always beat the police to the problem – even in Nigeria.)
This is where Cap and Tony are so remarkably different. Steve still has no tolerance for bullies, wherever they come from, whatever suit they wear. Tony, on the other hand, had never been bullied because his father, his company, or he had always been the wealthiest and smartest – either with his tech or with his caustic, running mouth – man in the room. He did not know what a bully looked like until that cave in Afghanistan because he has never met one to which he was not a superior.
He never saw Loki as a bully, just as someone who was intellectually too big for his britches. He did not see Ultron as a bully; he saw him as a mistake he created and did not fix in an efficient and timely manner. And he does not see Ross, initially, as the loudmouthed bully the current Secretary of State is.
This explanation of the separate understandings of the two men who make the heart and brain of the Avengers’ team clears up everything prior to their last battle in the HYDRA base. In the case of that battle, it is started after Tony is shown footage of the Winter Soldier – a brainwashed and controlled Bucky Barnes – killing his parents.
We know from previous films that, to his masters, the Winter Soldier – whose modus operandi was “no witnesses” – was a lone wolf “fire and forget” tool that would accomplish any mission given him by the most direct and expeditious means, with the evidence of his work to be found on the world’s various obituary pages. The crash alone should have killed the Starks and allowed Bucky to retrieve HYRDA’s prize. Why, then, would HYDRA have placed cameras at the precise site on the exact deserted road to film this particular event – thus negating all the logistics reliable assassins and snipers are usually left to figure out themselves?
To do this would have meant that HYDRA knew precisely which road the Starks would choose, exactly when the Winter Soldier would strike, all the while employing a team of photographers to film this one operation.
Even for a whacked-out organization like HYDRA, that is too much disbelief to suspend. While I suppose it is plausible that HYDRA filmed all of Bucky’s missions for their records, thus initially explaining the footage, is it not more reasonable to think that Zemo manufactured the film (ala CGI) to achieve his desired effect of Tony’s rage?
This would explain the many different angles and particularly the close-ups we have of the Starks’ deaths. Those would have been added for “dramatic effect” by Zemo. It would not have been possible to get a good look at these “details” from any film if it were real – unless HYDRA dispatched an entire team of people to film the event. (While we are on this subject just where, EXACTLY, did Howard Stark get FIVE packs of a working Super Soldier Serum?!?! I thought they got rid of all the samples of Steve’s blood, the only possible source of a functioning serum!!!)
Seeing their deaths – especially the murder of his mother – presented to him in such a way sends Tony over the top. Watching them die understandably sends him into “rage mode,” closing off his reasoning and logic “circuits.” Because of this, he does not stop to calculate if HYDRA would go to such an extent to film their “ghost warrior” doing his job, and come up with the more plausible notion that Zemo manufactured the film to make him angry. Instead, he goes wild, attacking and trying to kill Bucky for a crime the other was forced to commit.
Cap prevents him from following through. In doing so, he is not just saving Bucky’s life. He is saving Tony’s soul. Whether he would ever admit it or not (and we can be fairly sure he would not), Tony went into full-on revenge mode. He was going to kill Bucky, for no other reason than to vent his feelings. Afterward, he could explain to Steve how he “had” to do it; how he “had” to get “payback” for the loss of his parents, and everything would be all hunky-dory.
That would have gone over like a lead balloon because it would have been a lie. Killing Bucky would not bring back Tony’s parents. It would not erase the evil HYDRA did to Tony through Bucky, or the wrong HYDRA did to Barnes. To be one hundred percent plain:
Killing Bucky Barnes would be murder. It would make Tony a murderer and no better than Zemo – and thus an easier pawn for Ross to manipulate as he pleased.
And Cap knew it. He also knew that Tony, carried off by his blind rage and pain, would not quit. He had to stop Tony to protect both his friends.
This is the reason why he disabled Tony’s arc reactor. Tony thought Steve was actually going to kill him, when the idea never even crossed his friend’s mind. Steve did not want to kill either of his friends, he wanted to save them both from the evil HYDRA and Zemo had done to them.
The only way to save them was to cut off the power to Tony’s suit and end the fight. So Cap did it. The suit still had enough power to allow Tony to move and walk around, but not the power to carry on a battle.
Then Tony acted truly immature, saying Steve was not worthy to carry and use the shield the senior Stark had made for him. That is a child’s behavior, which is unworthy of any adult. And some part of Tony recognized that.
If he recognized it, then Steve knew it ahead of him. That is why he left the shield behind, essentially saying with the gesture, “You want it? Here, take it. When you grow up, you can give it back. I can get along just fine without it. Because the shield doesn’t make me who I am; I make the shield what it is. When you figure that out, let me know.”
Steve is NOT renouncing the Avengers, his nation, his patriotism, his nature, his honor, or his friendship with Tony. He IS Captain America, with or without that shield. Tony – and a lot of other people, including the Russos and some of the actors in the film – have not figured that out yet. Or if they have, they have not said it for fear of losing future work in Hollywood. This is very sensible of them, considering the fact that they live and work within the confines of Looneyville, Left Coast, U.S.A.
This ending is why Captain America: Civil War is so superior to the comic book conflict of the same name, in my opinion. Cap remains Cap in this film; he never loses his moral center or compromises with the bad guys. He fights for his freedom and the freedom of his friends. Not just their physical, or bodily, freedom. He fought to save Tony’s soul, and he fought to save Bucky’s mind. And he won. Cap is the quintessential best friend. He will never abandon a buddy, even when that pal thinks he has been forsaken.
Only time and the films will show us if Tony will ever grow up to understand what Cap did for him. By the end of Civil War, it seems he is headed in that direction. After all, he did not tear up Cap’s letter. He did not break the phone. He did put Ross on hold. If Tony could see through Loki’s murderous control of Hawkeye’s arrows, as well as overlook the hundreds of people Black Widow killed while she was a Soviet agent, then he should be able to realize that Bucky was in the same boat. Barnes was just used for a longer time and to kill more people – including Tony’s parents. All three were victims that night, and the sooner Tony figures that out, the better.
Until then, Cap is going to keep doing what he has always done. Whether T’Challa gives him a new shield to use until Tony returns the original or not, Steve Rogers is going to remain Cap. And every time the forces of evil move forward to claim territory, they will find Steve standing in the way, saying, “Now just where do you think you’re going?”
And when Tony finally calls, he will barely get past the words, “Cap, I need you…” before Steve is at the door asking, “What’s the situation?”
Captain America: Civil War is NOT the end of their friendship. Their friendship is NOT broken. It is strained, but the strain is on Tony’s end, not Steve’s. The minute Tony needs him, Steve will be there, and it will be business as usual again. Because Steve has already started the process of healing the rift Tony opened in their team by sending him the letter and the phone. When it is time for the Avengers to “reassemble” for Infinity War, the team will have fewer bugs to work out with each other – all thanks to Steve Rogers.
Can the comic book Civil War claim THAT, readers?
Frankly, I do not think it can. And neither can the writers at Marvel Comics. So, Marvel writers, you had better get up off your fannies and pay attention to the guys writing the film scripts. They actually know what they are doing!
Sic semper tyrannis!
The Mithril Guardian
“Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable to thee?” said Denethor. “Or may I not command my own servants?”
“You may,” said Gandalf. “But others may contest your will, when it is turned to madness and evil.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter Seven: The Pyre of Denethor by J. R. R. Tolkien
Pippin remained behind. “Was there ever anyone like him?” he said. “Except Gandalf, of course. I think they must be related. My dear ass, your pack is lying by your bed, and you had it on your back when I met you. He saw it all the time, of course. And anyway I have some stuff of my own. Come on now! Longbottom Leaf it is. Fill up while I run and see about some food. Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.”
“No,” said Merry. “I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honor them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Where is that leaf? And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn’t broken.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter Eight: The Houses of Healing by J. R. R. Tolkien
‘I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?’ (From J. R. R. Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories, 1939, courtesy of www.interestingliterature.com)
I do not know how or why, but I have always been enchanted by stories. They are, to me, perhaps more than most other physical things in life. Stories are my biggest passion. There are days I could forego lunch, a trip out of doors, or sleep if it meant a chance to read or see or hear a good story, which sometimes makes me wonder if I am not flaming crazy.
The above quote from J. R. R. Tolkien, taken from a post on Interesting Literature, is something I like to read to remind myself that I am not, in fact, crazy. I just happen to really like stories. Why? Well, why are some people passionate about surfing? Why are some people happiest while they are wood-working? Why are other people almost transported to another world while they are doing math?
We each have our talents, our passions. Stories and their characters are mine.
Escape was a word abused in Tolkien’s day as much as in ours. Then as now stories – whether they were fairy tales or great epics – were sniffed at by those who thought they had no worth. “Oh, stories are good for little children,” they would – and will – snicker, “but once you are an adult, you don’t need them anymore.”
Uh-huh…. And when I reach adulthood, I can stop eating my veggies, right? I think several dozen fitness experts and dietitians would have an apoplectic fit if I pulled that stunt.
The thing I am trying to say, readers, and I may not be saying it well, is that stories matter. The characters in them matter. They always have and they always will, at least until time ends. Stories are avenues of escape.
But escape from what? Reality? Hardly. I may be addicted to stories, but I can tell you that they have not numbed me to reality in the least.
Stories are ways to escape the prisons forged out of despair, hatred, loneliness, and other evils. There are unfriendly things we have to deal with in this world if we are to survive it and discover our destiny. No one sniffs at the working mother whose husband buys her a ticket to the spa so she can get some down time, or the family that heads out to the park for an afternoon to kick a soccer ball around and enjoy each other’s company.
Yet begin talking about a story you enjoy, and you are suddenly accused of trying to escape reality.
I am no psychiatrist, no scientist, no sort of professional or “expert” whatsoever. But I know stories. I know they matter. I know because they are what make me happy, the same way a surfer is happy when he or she is out there shooting the curl. The same way a carpenter is glad when he planes a piece of wood or finishes a chair. The same way a mathematician receives untold pleasure in figuring out or making new numerical and formulaic puzzles. This is why I post about stories so much.
And this is why I have a problem with the direction the Marvel franchise is headed.
Marvel Comics is currently in the middle of some insane storyline called “Secret Wars.” The many alternate Marvel universes have collided with the “mainstream” – 616 – Marvel Universe which Stan Lee and his fellows created back in the 1960s. 616 Iron Man/Tony Stark and Nick Fury have been transformed into villains and have helped to bring this calamity about. Several characters from all the alternate universes are now struggling to survive alongside the 616 characters. The entire universe is in shambles. To top it off, Marvel is hyping an “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Comics line up for the next year (or more) with the roster for the Avengers completely rearranged – Miles Morales will be Spider-Man, Sam Wilson will still be filling in for Cap, Jane Foster will still be swinging Mjolnir and using the name Thor, and by now I cannot recall the other changes Marvel said were coming out.
I do not know who is alive in the Marvel Universe anymore, who is dead, which characters are wearing which superhero identities. My information is fragmented and despair-filled. The Marvel Comics currently in progress are not the Marvel Comics I enjoyed or, I think, that I could ever enjoy given who and what I am. In an alternate reality, I might. But not in this one, and this reality and the one that follows are the only ones that count.
Marvel knows that they can have all sorts of characters wear, say, Spider-Man’s costume, but the only character fans really want to see in the suit is Peter Parker. They know they can put anyone in the Captain America suit, but the only one who anyone truly wants to see holding the shield and standing up against evil is Steve Rogers. They know what works and they know what does not work. Why they have done what they are doing I cannot say. I only know that it has to stop, before irreparable damage is done to the characters they supposedly love as much as we fans do and, more to the point, which they are charged with protecting and strengthening.
They cannot be allowed to continue down this road, readers. If they do, there will be very little of what is good and right left in Marvel Comics for those who follow us in the near future. The films and cartoons based on their characters will suffer similar fates. For the comics are the roots of these newer forms of the tales and once the roots are poisoned the whole tree will die.
But why do I care about this, when there are so many more important things to think about, so many other calamities hitting the world and society? Well, why did Stan Lee care about this?
Why? Why did Stan Lee care? After the Second World War, all the comic book characters that were churned out for the U.S. soldiers and the kids back home in America were shelved. The comic book companies stopped producing stories for them; they started telling new tales with new characters instead. Though he may have lasted longer than some war-era comic book characters like Prince Namor and the original Human Torch, Cap was eventually put away as well.
Stan Lee saw it all happen. He watched Cap get shelved, along with all the other great characters made during World War II, after he had established his footing in the comic book world. He saw Cap, Bucky, Prince Namor, and others get set up on a high shelf by his bosses, because Cap and the others were “not needed anymore.”
Hah. For someone who is “not needed anymore,” Steve Rogers is awfully popular today, is he not, readers? Where would we (or Marvel, for that matter) be if Stan Lee had left Cap to collect dust on the shelves of Timely Comics, before he owned it and renamed it Marvel Comics?
Stan Lee liked Steve Rogers as much as any of us ever have. He brought Cap back because he knew we were always going to need him. He knew the suit did not make Captain America. Steve Rogers made Captain America. So Stan Lee made sure Steve could go on fighting for the nation he loved, inspiring generations of Marvel fans – outside and inside of the U.S. – to keep on fighting for what is right and true and good in this flawed, chaotic world.
He knew we would always need a rallying point, a character so thoroughly American that he could never consider giving up, not even for a moment. In the Avengers’ fourth issue, Stan Lee reinstated Steve Rogers in the fiction of the world. And we have reaped the benefits not only of Cap’s determination and strength but also of Stan Lee’s foresight and understanding of why we need great stories and great heroes.
And yet we are letting Marvel’s current hierarchy and their writers toss Steve around like a yo-yo.
Marvel knows I am displeased with the way they have taken their stories. I have made no secret of it, sending them various notes showing my displeasure and suggesting how they might do things better since November/December of 2014. But I am only one voice. I have no power with them, beyond what I have done. They can, if they choose, ignore me easily. Odds are good that they will ignore me.
But they cannot ignore more than one voice raised against them in protest of their treatment of their characters. They cannot ignore fans who tell them, “This stops here, and it stops NOW.”
You want to know something really funny about all this, readers? Thinking about this post, about how to try and get my point across, I suddenly remembered Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I recalled Steve Rogers speaking into a SHIELD microphone in the Triskelion, revealing to the World Security Council and the clean SHIELD agents that HYDRA had grown up right under their noses, and was planning to conquer the world through the agency that was supposed to protect humanity.
The part I specifically remembered was Steve saying, “The price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one then so be it.
“But I’m willing to bet I’m not.”
So maybe I am the only one who cares about what Marvel messes with in their comic book universe. Maybe I am the only one in the world who cares about the characters as they were written and who wants to see that foundation built up, not torn down. And if I am the only one who cares… then so be it. I do CARE!!!
But, then again…maybe I’m not the only one. I do not know. I cannot know.
The U.S. Marines have a saying, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Not particularly. But if it is the hill I am forced to fight on, do not expect me to fight by halves. A fight is all or nothing. And if I have to die on this hill, standing beside the river of truth, well, you know – there are much worse hills out there on which to die.
So bring it on, Marvel. I am willing to fight.
The Mithril Guardian
Here again I speak of a favorite author just lately mentioned, readers. G. K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse was recommended to me a long time ago, but only recently did I download a copy of the Ballad to read it.
I enjoyed it immensely but found that my Gutenberg.org edition lacked footnotes to clarify some of Chesterton’s poetry. So I hunted up a hard copy of the book (I usually prefer hardcopies of books or papers anyway) and bought it, determined to better understand what I found to be such joyful reading.
The Ballad of the White Horse, by G. K. Chesterton, tells the story of King Alfred’s battle against the Danes who had invaded England. Alfred was a king dispossessed and in hiding; should the Danes find him, England’s only hope of driving the enemy from her soil would vanish.
It is unimportant how historically accurate The Ballad is to both the author and to me; suffice it to say that Alfred was a king of England and he did drive the Danes from his kingdom – quite heroically, too. Chesterton shows us Alfred hiding from the Danes on the island of Athelney, feeling despair creep over him. His people are scattered or under the yoke of the Danes, his armies destroyed, and his remaining chieftains hold their own territory free of the Danes – but that is all they can do. His situation is looking grimmer by the day.
Then he sees a vision of the Virgin Mary who tells him, “I tell you naught for your comfort/Yea, naught for your desire/Save that the sky grows darker yet/ And the sea rises higher.” Mary adds to her warning: “Do you have faith without a cause/ Yea, faith without a hope?” In other words, Alfred is not told whether he will fail or win, only that he must try to defeat the Danes.
Thus inspired, Alfred heads out to find and rally his chieftains: Mark the Roman, Eldred the Franklin, and Colan the Gael.
On a personal note, of the three chieftains I like Colan best – primarily for the reason Chesterton states here:
“For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.”
I myself have Irish lineage, though I will say no more of that. But I will take this verse – and others in The Ballad – as compliments high and fair to that race of which I claim a small part.
The final battle against the Danes goes hard; all three chieftains are lost but Alfred does gain the day, and becomes king of England once again. I would recommend to anyone who desires to read the poem to buy a book with footnotes – reliable footnotes – so that they can better understand the Ballad. Apart from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Ballad is one of the few works of fiction I will not part with.
A last word, readers. The white horse geoglyph, which does exist and lies carved into a mound in England, is mentioned throughout the Ballad as a recurring theme for the story. During the course of the Ballad, the white horse is used to suggest the transcendent.
As Alfred points out to the king of the invading Danes, Guthrum, destruction is not as wonderful as the Danes make it out to be. Things naturally rot away or crumble back into the earth. Even the White Horse geoglyph disappears under weeds and thorns every year. And it would stay there, lost to history, if it were not scoured annually. Therefore, which is the greater power? he asks. Destruction or preservation?
The answer is pretty obvious; with decay a part of nature, the fact that anything can be preserved through millennia is astounding.
But preservation is no easy task. As Alfred says near the end of the poem:
“Will ye part with the weeds for ever?
Or show daisies to the door?
Or will you bid the bold grass
Go, and return no more?
“And though the skies alter and empires melt,
This word shall still be true:
If we would have the horse of old,
Scour ye the horse anew.”
So, readers, if we would have the good of old, the good we know and love today, in order to keep it tomorrow and into ever after – “If we would have the horse of old” – then we must “scour the White Horse anew.” Time after weary time, battle after exhausting battle, we must fight the “Long Defeat” as Tolkien named it, if we wish to see the victory.
I have a scouring brush. Feel free to join me and the others fighting the “Long Defeat” whenever you wish. 😉
The Mithril Guardian