Things Beloved: Monsoon Wedding

Monsoon Wedding is one of my all-time favorite movies. I have surely seen it more than a dozen times, and I’ll likely see it many more…and I’m going to tell you why, because this is some good storytelling.
For those who have never seen or even heard of this movie, it is, at first glance, exactly what it says on the tin. The only daughter of a wealthy-but-actually-having-money-troubles Punjabi family is getting married–an arranged marriage–and the whole extended family is coming into town for all the sundry wedding-related events. Sounds simple, but it’s so much more than that.
There are several main threads followed throughout the story (SPOILERS: all of them):
-The mother and father of the bride are stressed and tense and are feeling disconnected from one another.
-The bride, Aditi, has a former lover (a married man) she can’t let go of
-Two of the young relatives (from different sides) have a flirtation.
-Aditi’s little brother is not interested in school or things stereotypically masculine and this creates conflict with his parents.
-PK Dubey, wedding organizer, and Alice, who is a maid at the house, have a subtle romance between them.
-Most importantly, the story of Ria, Ayesha, and the Uncle (Tej) and what happened to Ria in the past. We’ll get back to this.
This last thread is the heart and soul of the story, in my opinion, and has wrung tears from me before. But I will explain why the whole story is beautiful to me.
The Story Threads
I’m going to focus mostly on Ria, but I want to give a few good nuggets about each thread.
  1. Aditi’s parents, Lalit and Pimmi: One of the most beautiful scenes in this movie is after a terrible, terrible revelation, Lalit (the father) is at a loss. He feels a failure and he is confused. He breaks down. Every time before when Pimmi reached out to him, he was too tired or too distracted. They’ve been at odds. But now he reaches out to her, seeks comfort from her. “I’m falling Pimmi,” he says. And she helps hold him up. And, in that action, she too is comforted because she is able to offer strength and comfort when it is most needed.
  2. Aditi might actually be my least favorite character for all that she is the bride of the titular wedding, but that’s okay, because the narrative acknowledges her immaturity. She is having an affair with a married man and she clearly doesn’t know what she wants out of life. There are subtle hints that she is a bit shallow and has a lot of growing up to do. The best part of her storyline is when she realizes that being “the other woman” and trusting a man who is willing to betray his own wife are two of the stupidest things imaginable. And then, she takes a daring step and is honest with her husband-to-be: “I don’t want to start something new based on deceit and lies.” She makes a first step towards real growth then, and gives her new marriage a much stronger foundation. I also appreciate how realistic it is that her fiance flies into a rage, at first, because he is deeply offended: but he is able to check himself and realize how much courage it took for Aditi to be honest with so much at risk.
  3. The two young loves, Ayesha and Rahul, are part of a very minor plot, but the final result is that Rahul has to learn, in very minor fashion, a lesson best summed up by the following quote “Oh darling, you have to be standing up in order to even fall…’only brave warriors fall from their horses in battle; how can kneeling cowards know what a fall is?”
  4. Aditi’s little brother gives up on doing the thing he loves (he wants to dance in the item number) and it is clear that he regrets it. This storyline is unresolved, but this makes sense as he is still young, and can still learn to both be responsible while still enjoying the things he loves.
  5. PK Dubey and Alice are sort of handled as the “downstairs” people of the story, if this were Downton Abbey, but their story is beautifully, sweetly told. Dubey is a little ridiculous, and Alice from Bihar is the calm, quiet, reasonable one. Perhaps the most poignant scene with them is when they get married soaking wet in the monsoon rains, under a little marigold umbrella with just a few fellow working friends in attendance–quickly contrasted by the huge, lavish wedding put on by the family for the daughter. I think it is so easy for everyone to assume that the stereotypical lavish wedding they’ve seen in all the Bollywood movies is all there is to see or know about. They forget that perhaps not everyone can or will have such a wedding. But then, of course, Dubey and Alice are invited into the tent to celebrate at the end, and it all ends with dancing.
  6. RIA!!!!!!! This movie is really about Ria. What happens to her and how she deals with it, and how the family deals with it–this is what this movie is really all about. Ria deserves her own heading.
So it is clear from early on that Ria has some discomfort with Tej Uncle. She freezes up when he enters the room. She is not happy, as one might expect, when he offers to pay for her education. She turns into a plank of wood when he touches her. But she says nothing, and the viewer does not know for some time what the problem is. Not until Ria finds Tej Uncle chatting with Aliya, who is about nine years old, do you begin to guess the problem. Tej Uncle is not to be trusted.
Ria’s heart stops when she sees Tej Uncle alone in a room with little Aliya. You can see it in her eyes: deep, deep dread for fear that something has happened and for fear that you have failed to stop it.
After a moment’s fearful pause, Ria bursts into the room, glaring at Tej Uncle and berating Aliya for being in that room. She breathes a desperate sigh of relief when Aliya explains she simply asked for Tej Uncle to reach something from a high shelf.
The crucial culmination of this is when Tej Uncle offers to take Aliya for a drive during one of the wedding events because she is tired and cranky, Ria rushes to stop him, stepping in front of the car. The courage it takes for her to do this is tremendous. Still more courage is required for her to admit to Lalit, her Uncle who raised her, that Tej Uncle molested her as a child, so that they will get him away from Aliya.
It is because everyone else loves and trusts this man that this is almost insurmountably difficult for Ria. No one wants to believe her because it means accusing someone they have thought of as family. Someone they have known for so, so long. Someone who has gotten them out of desperate financial straits before.
Lalit doesn’t know what to do. He is torn between his dear friend (Tej Uncle) and Ria. Ria leaves the wedding event, feeling abandoned by those she loves most, suspecting (reasonably) that they will want to just brush the whole thing under the rug.
And they almost do.
Ria comes back because Lalit begs her to, but you can see she is in turmoil. She is made to sit near to and take family photographs with the man who molested her. He is getting away with it, even though now (because of his attempts to target Aliya) they know Ria is telling the truth.
Finally they go to honor the deceased, Ria’s father. You see her terrible sorrow as she places a smudge of red paint on his old photograph.
Lalit cannot take it anymore. He sees her hurt. He loves her. He sees what he must do. He cannot allow a man who harmed Ria to carry on as if nothing has happened, nor pretend to honor Ria’s father in front of her very face.
He stops Tej Uncle and orders him to leave. And it is so, so hard for him to do this. He is very much beholden to this man. That is what makes it powerful. Now it is easy to say that that is what he should have done in the first place, but in the context, if you have empathy, you can see that what he is doing takes courage as well. “These are my children,” he says. “And I will protect them even from myself if I have to.”
It isn’t a fight. Lalit just quietly stands his ground and makes that man leave.
You see the love and gratitude in Ria’s eyes in that moment. She is worth the breaking of deep ties, she is worth losing face, losing security, losing comfort. She is worth all that to her family. The joyfulness she exhibits at the final wedding scene is that of someone finally freed from a great horror. She is safe. She is loved. She has hope for the future (The newly arrived and handsome Umang, perhaps?)
Other points of interest:
Obviously this movie is about family. Ria giving Aditi advice. Lalit and Pimmi’s love for their daughter and their niece. Their complicated love for their son who is not living up to their expectations, whom they do not fully understand. Mothers, Fathers, Daughters, Sons, friends, family, all coming together to celebrate.
Realism Bollywood 
The director, Mira Nair, said that she wanted to make her own version of a Bollywood film. If you watch Bollywood films, you will be familiar with the more typical aspects, mainly the impromptu dancing and singing, item numbers, and the occasional fantasy sequence. This film is not a musical, however, and nothing happens in it that would not happen in real life. But, oh so cleverly, there is a great deal of dancing and singing, and even a few moments that feel like a fantasy sequence.
-A hired singer sings during the henna painting ceremony
-The family, jokingly, sings half a song at the dinner table
-One of the family members is asked to sing as they sit on the ground during the Sangeet
-Ayesha practices a dance number with Varun (Aditi’s little brother) for the Sangeet
-Ayesha performs the “item number” with Rahul and, eventually, the whole crowd, joining her on the dance floor.
-When Dubey eats marigolds, marigold leaves are falling in a haze, and the music and cinematography gives the impression of something magical happening.
This film’s soundtrack is fantastic. Just a perfect mixture, somehow.
Little, Subtle Things
I do not profess to know very much about Indian culture broadly, or Punjabi culture specifically, and rest assured this movie is not “educational”: what I mean is that this is a beautiful story, rich in nuances, not designed to be “Indian culture 101” for those curious to learn. However, by the nature of being such a good story, and so well-grounded (and by virtue of my having watched this film SO MANY TIMES) there are little cultural things to be gleaned and appreciated.
Alice is from Bihar. Where is Bihar? What is unique about that region?
Lalit challenges Dubey’s cost assessment by saying, hey, look, “I’m not an NRI” (Non-resident Indian). What are the cultural perceptions about residents vs. NRIs?
The beautiful things Pimmi has been collecting for Aditi’s wedding since she was born.
The Verma (main family’s) very fine house which feels like an estate versus PK Dubey’s smaller, much less modern house…very different styles of living, and also interesting to observe, because Dubey is notedly not poor, yet might seem so to Western eyes.
All the traditions and ceremonies…some, admittedly, with the sheen rubbed off of them because of all the personal turmoil and real conflict.
Ria and her Bengali friend arguing about the stereotypes of their respective regions.
And so much more. But it’s just naturally there, and the story is so full and so very much alive with details.
There is certainly sorrow to be had in this movie, but the joy is present to, and I might as well tell you that it wins the day.

The Problem with Premise

*I apologize in advance for all the mixed metaphors
I always get a thrill when I hear of a slew of new books with genius premises…and then a sigh of discouragement swiftly follows. You see, I have been burned by premise before.
I hear of a book that has a simply BLAZING, brilliant premise. I admire the author for simply coming up with that idea all by itself. I can’t wait to read it. I think about how awesome it must be, how clever they were, what fun there is to be had, what drama, what joy!
And then I read the book and the brilliant premise is wasted on a generic plot, lackluster characters, half-hearted themes, and everything feels forced, forced, forced. The best part of the book turned out to be the pitch.
Now this could happen to a book touted for other reasons, aside from the dashing premise or the cool concept. Someone could say “the plot is brilliant,” and other facets would disappoint you. Someone could say, “I love the characters,” but you don’t connect to them at all. One might insist the writing is “gorgeous” but you find it too purple. Someone could tell you, “this book was profound!” and you find it pretentious. People have different tastes, obviously, and different ways of measuring quality. Some things are objectively good or bad, but many, many others are subjectively so.
But here’s why it galls me when a book is pushed on premise alone, more so than any other potential selling point: it’s the tactic of the used car salesman. It’s a gorgeous sleek car that has every chance of having a crap engine–not just the engine I don’t like, or an imperfect one, but one that doesn’t even have all the working parts. The thing looks fantastic on the lot, and is full of bells and whistles, but no one bothered to make sure it could drive.
It’s a dish that is presented as a rare and intriguing combination of flavors, and could have been good…but it tastes terrible. So gorgeous on the plate, such an enticing list of ingredients, but all thrown together in a thoughtless rush as if the constituent elements were good enough all on their own without being put together properly.
It’s the “could have been” that bothers me so much. I fully understand that there is a lot of room for subjectivity here, but peruse some goodreads reviews for books with those juicy premises and you will see that one of the commonest critiques is that “it had so much potential” that it “sounded just like something I would love” and had “all the elements I adore in a story.”
It’s steak cooked well-done. The raw material–the premise–was as good as could be found. It was perfect. Everyone is jealous they didn’t think of it first! And now it’s bone-dry, tough, and chewy in all the wrong ways. Hard to get down.
Now if the raw material wasn’t all that impressive to begin with–a simple premise, nothing new, or a cheap, normal car–then if the author fails to work wonders, we are not so disappointed. On the other hand, if the author takes what looks like “nothing” or even “something we’ve all seen before” and works magic out of that? If they whip up something delectable out of the commonest of ingredients, or get that old, boring car’s engine to rev and purr?
We love that. We try to get everyone to read it, even though it’s hard because it doesn’t pitch as clean or easy as the one with the super-shiny premise.
I’m not going to give an example of works that disappointed me in such a fashion, because I’m not here to rag on stuff to no purpose. But I will say that it has happened enough–either by direct experience or word of mouth–that I would be hard-pressed to ever buy a book based on a cool premise ever again.
Of course that is why we use reviews, personal recommendations, and time itself as sifters…but this premise thing frustrates me quite apart from any time or money I myself may have invested in a book that didn’t live up to its potential. What I mean to say is that it frustrates me because I feel that I must instantly cut myself off from any hope or excitement that a premise-promoted book will fulfill the desire it strikes up in me, and I will usually assume at the outset that it will fail on its enticing promises. So why even bother? And, on the whole, isn’t that a very sad outlook? To assume that, the shinier the cover (so to speak) the duller the content? Judging the book by its cover in reverse, as it were?
I mean, it hardly seems fair. I’m bound to be missing out on things, right?
And yet, I think this is where people are coming from when they swear off all new works. (Not a thing I have done or intend to do, but not a wholly irrational thing either). Something new and clever-sounding piques their interest, but it turns out to be all talk, no walk. Let this happen a few more times and they may give up on the whole endeavor, which is a pity.
The reason this is not as much of a problem with less high concept works is because, as I mentioned above, they do not promise the same thrills. We approach common premise books with common expectations. We do not soar so high before we thud to the ground, as Anne of Green Gables would have it. And the reason it is not as much of a problem with older or classical works is because, even if we read them and don’t like them (which often happens) we can usually still see why they have the longevity that they do, and take something from them.
I do not have a solution to this conundrum of mine. It came to mind only because I recently came across several different books with such exciting premises that are coming out this year or the next, but immediately slapped my own wrist and told myself “No, don’t bother! Remember what happened last time? You’ll only be disappointed. It’ll be all garnish and no meat.”
I don’t want that to be true. And, I know, I know..nothing ventured, nothing gained. But let’s just say, these days, I flinch a little at the awesome premise because, far from throwing a mean punch, I’m worried it will just walk away without ever saying anything at all.



Peevishness and Lack Thereof

I am always intrigued by people’s pet peeves. By nature, they are highly personal, but there’s something funny about them well aside from the fact that many of them make no sense:
We KNOW we cannot hold others to our pet peeves…but we kinda WANT to.
Example: I love food, and I love varieties of food, and I love that it should be rich and flavorful. One of my pet peeves is picky eaters. I get irrationally angry about it. Once I met someone who said they did not like garlic and we got into a full on argument about it. While I did (and still do) think highly of this person, I was nigh livid that they didn’t like garlic, and didn’t like to try new foods.
Other pet peeves? People who stand on the walking side of the metro escalator. Sugar-free foods that ought to have sugar (like candy, or anything that uses a “zero-calorie sweetener”) and fat-free foods that really ought to have fat in them (dairy products particularly). Why? Why? WHY? Better not have the food at all than to have it in such a state!
Also, when people have their phones out and in use at the dinner table–whether at a restaurant or at home–the exception being if someone is looking up something everyone at the table wishes to know right then. Otherwise, please oh please, put that phone away and look people in the eye!
Also-also, when kids on tv shows are rude to their parents. I cringe. Even if it’s the punchline, even if it’s supposed to be entertaining…nope, nope, nope.
And I’m sure I have a million other pet peeves, and much sillier ones to boot. These were just off the top of my head.
Why do I mention all this? Because I was looking at a bunch of “bookish pet peeves” the other day and it cracked me up because–for a person who loves books–I have none of them. I have my myriad sillinesses and particular preferences, many far more absurd than any I’m about to list, but none of these book qualms make a lick of sense to me, though I acknowledge them as qualms many wise book-lovers have:
-“Don’t dog-ear a book!” Whoops. I don’t do this often, but if it’s my book that I own, and I’m in a pinch to save a page for specific quote, yeah I’ll do that. And it doesn’t bother me if a book I acquire is dog-eared.
-“Don’t crack the spine!” How are you supposed to not do that?
-“Don’t allow the book to be in bad condition.” A book in “bad” condition has been loved, has it not? By me. By you. By whoever else has handled it. It bears happy wrinkles, and good scars.
-“The covers of a set must match.” I understand this one to a slight degree, but still do not personally care. Most of my sets are comically mismatched because they are made of gifts, hand-me-downs, used-book purchases, etc. I actually kind of like it. Variety is the spice of life!
And here’s a biggie:
-“Don’t write in the book. Don’t underline. Don’t highlight!” I do this ALL the time. Yes, more so for academic non-fiction or anything philosophical/theological. But if a book is really good, and I really love it, I will write in it. Lines. Notes in the margins. Brackets for long sections with triple exclamation points to show my amazement at its poignancy.
On that note, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote this incredible book called “The Mind of the Maker” in which she talks about the “trinity” of the creative endeavors in humans (art particularly, but all works of making): we have the “father” (the core, driving idea which dictates the purpose of the work), the “spirit” (the atmosphere, inspiration, resonance, that which give the core idea wings), and the “son” (the physical manifestation of the work, i.e. the actual book, stage-play, painting, bridge, or building)
One of the things she discussed in this book was the spirit part, the resonance. That once a piece of art or given creation is out there in the world, it has a sort of life that is independent of, yet somehow still intimately tied to, the original maker. People interact with the art. They watch the play, and react with thoughts and emotions. Maybe they write an essay about it. Maybe it brings them to tears. Maybe it inspires them to do their own work. The work reaches out, and they reach back. The work is what it is, permanently, but it is also in ongoing dialogue at the same time–a somewhat Chestertonian paradox, in that it is confusing but plainly true.
It is for this reason that I write in books. I am having a conversation with the author. I am reaching back, answering, thinking, compiling, marking that paragraph so that I might return to it later with better understanding. I am bringing that work along to interact with still others who have something to say on the same topic.
Do I require that others feel the same about this oft frowned-upon habit? Certainly not. But it still holds that I relish a book that shows marks of resonance, and I have no problem adding my own.

On Sleep: It could always be worse

A short warning: this has nothing to do with anything about writing : )
So I have this sweet little picture book called It Could Always Be Worse. In it, a poor man with a big family goes to his Rabbi to complain that his house is so small and his family is so loud and they argue all the time and it is so hard. What should he do?
The Rabbi tells him to bring his chickens into the house to live. The man is confused, but he does what the Rabbi says. Naturally, the house is even more chaotic. He goes back to the Rabbi a few more times and each time, he’s sure it couldn’t possibly be worse, and each time the Rabbi suggests he bring more and more of his farm animals into the home with him.
At the end, of course, the Rabbi tells him to let all the animals out and, lo, suddenly the house feels big, and the family is so happy for the peace and quiet. The contrast has made them very grateful.
I am slow to learn lessons, but I have just had my own “It could always be worse” experience–on a very small scale, admittedly.
My first kid slept through the night–9 hours!–by 3 months. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, sometimes he woke up at 2 am to play, but he did pretty well.
My new little one…not so much. We were almost there–7-9 hours a night!–but then he had to get his shots, and then he got a cold. That pretty much sent us back to square one. Sleeping through the night eludes us. He even wakes up when he doesn’t need to eat, and a week or so ago we had a night where he woke up on the hour every hour from 1 am to 6 am.
Before all this, I was so anxious to get that golden ‘sleeping from 8 pm to 5 am’ thing locked in. Now, after a month of waking up 2, 3, 4 times a night (even if he goes right back to sleep without even needing to be rocked, guess who doesn’t fall back asleep that easily…) a night where he only wakes up at 3 or 4 am–formerly a frustration–is suddenly magical.
I thought the house was small and the family loud and bickering. But now I would be content just to let all the animals out of the house! Let there be five or six hours of uninterrupted sleep a few nights and a row, and I may turn back into a coherent human being!
All that to say, I think I got almost five hours of uninterrupted sleep last night, I am very grateful, and I mean to put it to good use!

Things Beloved: Mulan

When I was very little (and to this day) I was not into Princesses at all. I mean, I loved to dress up, and I had a serious romantic streak but I just did NOT understand the princess thing, specifically. It was just outside my comprehension. This was actually extraordinarily advantageous to me when playing with most of my friends growing up.
I was a bit too savvy about this for a little 8-year-old, and I shall show you how it went. I would play with a group of friends and, naturally, we all wanted to dress up and play pretend. I had long since learned that most of my peers at that time (this went on to change in later years) DID want to be princesses, which is all well and good. Also, for me, it was all too convenient.
“Let’s play that you are the princess,” I’d say to friend number 1.
She would be thrilled. How kind of me to give up the coveted role!
“Yes! I am Princess Victoria!”
“And you are ALSO a princess,” I would say to friend number 2. “This Kingdom has a few princesses, you see.”
Friend 2 would rejoice, “Then I am Princess Belle!”
And perhaps they would tell of their background and of the prince whom they loved.
“Perfect,” I would say, with a sigh of satisfaction at my own brilliance. “You are the two beautiful princesses of the kingdom. The bad guy has you trapped in the palace. I am the clever, neglected servant girl who can fight, and who knows the back passage-way. I will help you escape. You guys follow me.”
And then I proceeded to play the main role in the entire story, dictating its every plot twist and turn to the heroic advantage of my character. It was a consciously manipulative move, and I distinctly remember concocting the plan, and isn’t that a little sinister for an eight-year-old? Feel free to shake your finger at me in admonishment. Eventually my friends figured out my game and realized that the servant girl was the character to be in the stories I made.
Now, certainly not all girls want to be princesses, AND for the many that do, that is certainly not a bad thing. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m sure there are lots of others like me out there, but I didn’t happen to know very many (or any?) growing up, so I felt like a bit of anomaly at the time. Not, mind you, because anybody told me I was wrong for wanting to fight and having not interest in princesses, but just because I didn’t seem to be on the same page as anyone else. That feeling persisted and expanded as I got older and there just wasn’t a lot out there that resonated with me (except Robin McKinley’s books).
Frankly, I spent the majority of my childhood desperately wishing I was Peter Pan and feeling a deep sense of dread that I would have to grow up and be boring. I never saw grown-ups climbing trees, which was proof positive of all my deepest fears. (As I have mentioned before, I still have a climbing compulsion which I rarely get to act upon).
Then, when I was twelve years old, Mulan came into theaters. It was a revelation. I gathered my paltry babysitting monies (the going rate was 3-4 dollars an hour) and went to see it in theaters FOUR times, hitching rides with siblings and cousins and whoever else would take me. I know others have experienced this the first time they have that fierce connection to a piece of literature or art: it was like it was made for me.
Mulan feels like she’s bizarre, an anomaly (whether or not that was true) and she’s trying to do the right thing for her family, which ends up being going to the army in disguise and, y’know, saving China. That is reason number one for my loving this movie.
So now, a smattering of the jillion other reasons:
-Mulan’s tough, smart-talking, hilarious Grandma
-Mulan has parents who are alive, and who love each other, and whom she loves and respects. A whole, healthy family is depicted without the parents dying tragically in the first 10 minutes!
-Character depiction: the innovativeness Mulan uses to save China is portrayed early on in how she does her chores and how she helps that man win the Go game. Later, it is how she achieves success during training, because she figures out how to use the weights (read: apparent weaknesses) to overcome the obstacle.
-It’s a war story, and while it manages to be subtle, it does not shy away from consequences: Mulan’s dad has an injury from a previous war, Shang’s dad dies, it is implied that villagers (including children) were slaughtered, and Mulan herself is wounded.
-That scene where the Huns pour down the snowy valley is very well done. I distinctly remember being awed by it from the very first.
-The villain is very intelligent and powerful, and I like that. It makes Mulan’s victory more meaningful.
-While the whole “you are a woman, how dare you be in the army!” thing was actually not part of the original Mulan story/poem, I think it is important that it was depicted here, even down to the part where Shang maybe-almost executes Mulan. It addresses a serious experience, a genuine conflict, and it does so in a way that is meaningful while still being entertaining and done in such a way that children can fully grasp it.
-The music is fantastic
-Mulan is not doing what she does simply to be rebellious. She is doing it to save her father and, in a roundabout way, honor her family in whatever way she can. She is not indifferent to or aloof from the culture around her. If she had done it for sheer “rebellious princess syndrome,” that would have been emptier and more boring.
-She isn’t naturally good at everything, especially not right off the bat. The training sequence does a good job of showing that she is actually falling far behind in the physical challenges of martial training. This meant a lot to me then (she had to WORK for it) and even more to me now. When I was in the Marine Corps I was in the rabbits (fast) group ability for PT (Physical Training) when compared only to other women, and generally continued to be so at any given duty station. (There were always a couple of other girls who smoked me, though). I had to work so hard for it, because I’m not naturally fast. And you know what? That still only put me somewhere in the middle/top-third of the pack of the guys. So Mulan’s struggles to rise from the back of the pack, despite it being shown in passing, is important.
-The movie is funny
-A beautiful, sweet, father-daughter moment at the end, where Fa Zhu ignores all the honors he “should” covet, simply to show love to his daughter and let her know that she is good enough, and that he loves who she is.
-Battle romance. I love me some battle romance, especially when it’s subtle.
-the subtle commentary during the “bride” song where they talk about how men like a tiny waist, but then not five minutes later, the matchmaker tells her she’s “too skinny, not good for bearing sons.” Hmmm….
There are more. Those are just off the top of my head. It is one of, perhaps, 4 whole Disney movies that I have let my two year old watch so far, and whenever I re-watch it, I discover new nuances to love.


Daily Doings: An Update

I did a teensy bit of housekeeping today: updating my about page to reflect the new addition to the family, and add my twitter handle which I had somehow failed to do prior. I also added my original book query to the “Books” page, so that there’s better info available.
In other news, I am a very tired creature. The new baby (okay, not so new any more) is less inclined to sleep through the night than his older brother was at this same age. He also had a cold two weeks ago which almost put us back at square one, sleeping wise. He is also a bit more of a one-on-one social guy, always wanting to look you right in the face all day, whereupon he becomes a very smiley little thing…but not so big on self-entertaining. They really do have different preferences and personalities from the get-go, and I realize I was expecting similar patters as with my eldest. Foolishness. I know that now.
In still other news, I am doing another readthrough of my book, as I compulsively do every few months. I guess I still like it. Huh. I’ve also been writing scenes and thoughts and ideas which may or may not be used, but which keep me engaged in the story, and may yet improve it!
And…that is all. I have 4-month-old cries beckoning me.

Everlasting Trope: Disguised Noble Hero

Or, according to TvTropes: Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass/Rich Idiot with no Day Job
I actually kind of adore this trope, even though it usually involves a lot of silliness and suspension of disbelief. There are three VERY popular examples of this trope: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, and Batman.
You have a rich, useless, ne’er-do-well on the surface who is actually an honorable hero when no one’s looking. Many people have pointed out the myriad absurdities involved in this trope, particularly as it pertains to the most modern iteration (Batman), but that doesn’t keep people from loving it.
The main elements are as follows:
-Hero pretends to be stupid/foppish/idiotic
-Hero is a member of the aristocracy/upper class/super-rich what-have-you
-Hero uses his public identity and wealth to obscure the fact that…
-He is secretly saving lives and…
There is a divergence, however, and an irony. In the case of Zorro, Don Diego De La Vega is a nobleman, but the people towards whom he directs his heroics are the oppressed underclass. In the case of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Percy’s objects of heroism are the endangered aristocrats of France during the point where the Revolution was about to completely lose its mind and start killing everybody off.
And Batman, that strange creature, is a standard crime-fighter BUT, depending on which version of him you follow, he also kind of lands in Scarlet Pimpernel territory. In the Dark Knight trilogy he is often found rescuing the wealthy and “the establishment” from an angry “underclass” mob, albeit an angry “underclass” that is being motivated and manipulated by sundry villains with aims entirely unrelated to economic inequalities. Or he is fighting a chaos-loving clown who tries to pit various groups of citizens against each other for fun. Either way, there’s a lot of  social division and social analysis going on and Batman’s role in it all is…peculiar. So. Make of that what you will. Gotham is super weird.
For these Everlasting Trope posts, I usually do a “what works/what doesn’t” division but since, as I mentioned, this trope inherently requires us to accept some nonsense at the outset, I’m just going to go with WHY this trope is beloved, using these three iconic characters.
The Scarlet Pimpernel:
First off, this is the movie version you want to watch. The main actor clearly takes cues from the 1934 version, but he improves on it, in my humble opinion.
For those unfamiliar with the story (for shame! Go forth and either read or watch!) Sir Percivel Blakeney is a wealthy English aristocrat married to a French actress, named Marguerite, who kinda accidentally got an French aristocrat sent to the guillotine whilst she was seeking her vengeance. Percival is a foolish fop and secretly disdains his wife for this somewhat unintended action. Also secretly, he is The Scarlet Pimpernel, who goes about rescuing French aristocrats from the guillotine by using myriad disguises.
What makes this story so fun is that Percy is such a comical idiot when he’s not being a dashing hero. He obsesses over his clothes to the point of absurdity, laughs at his own very stupid jokes, and is generally both dainty and dim-witted. This protects him from suspicion.
On one hand, this is just good comedy. On the other, there is certainly some genuine heroism in sacrificing your own reputation in order to afford yourself the opportunity to do something more important. People like Percy, but they think he is silly and worthless.
So you get this “Let them think me a fool! Let them mock and disdain! I’ll fulfill their every low expectation. And I’ll get away with everything. No one will ever even know of my heroics, and I’ll receive no public accolades. Indeed, I’ll actually make very bad company to anyone intelligent.”
Which leads me to:
At the end of the Dark Knight, Batman gives that voiceover speech where he talks about how he’ll be the villain the people need so that hope can stay alive. He’s already sacrificed his public reputation (like Percy) to be that of a aimless playboy, but now he has even sacrificed his secret identity’s reputation, just because he believes it will help the city improve.
But what is the broad appeal of Batman in a world of superheroes? I mean, isn’t he just a rich guy with a lot of toys and a strong vigilante streak born out of childhood trauma. Why is he such an enduring character?
I’m not 100% sure, actually, but I have a couple of ideas.
One: he’s not super-powered. Despite his wealth, and tools, and gadgets, he is a regular human being who decided to use his status and money to save his city. (Does he succeed? Gotham never seems to get any better. But he tries.)
Two: Gotham is messed up. It is desperately corrupt and crime-ridden, seemingly beyond repair. The system isn’t working. At all. Like Percy, Like Zorro, Batman isn’t fighting criminals–at least, not all the time, though he does that too. He’s fighting to get the right thing done in a city where entrenched corruption makes the right thing almost impossible to even attempt. That’s why sacrificing his reputation to Harvey Dent (yes I’m using the Dark Knight trilogy almost exclusively for this analysis) was so important to him. It was about restoring faith in the system so that people could have a little breathing room to so much as try and do the right thing, instead of giving up. If any city could endure a vigilante, it’s Gotham, ’cause nobody else is even trying. They’re all on the take.
Last, but not least,
This one’s easy.
The swashing of buckles!
Come on, this one’s just plain fun. And just like with Percy, the adversaries are the officials in charge. They’re just no good, and Zorro must thwart the Alcalde’s (or the Captain’s or the Don’s or the Governor’s) vicious will.
The big excitement here, and the reason I love Zorro so much, are those moments when his secret identity is most threatened. If Batman’s identity were known, he’d be able to make it work, I bet. Either way, a lot of people know about it already. If Percy were discovered, well, he’s not French anyway. They have no authority over him.
But if Zorro is discovered, he goes to jail, and being a Don doesn’t get him out of it. The Alcalde or evil Captain or whoever really does have absolute authority over him in a way that the super-corrupt Gotham legal system and the hyper-bloody French revolutionary government DON’T have authority over our other heroes.
Zorro is usually set in a specific community and he seems to be an intimate part of that community in most iterations of the character. He’s not just saving “people” broadly, as the others are, he’s taking care of his people, his personal community. Whereas Gotham is millions, and French aristocrats are simply ‘peers’ by station, Zorro always seemed to be more deeply connected to either Mexican California or Spanish California (depending on the version) and to the land and to the regular people. It makes the stakes feel higher, should he be revealed.
Zorro is easily my favorite of the three and I think that is because he embodies the best elements of the trope.
-He plays the foolish fop and sacrifices his public reputation.
-He never gets praised for what he does, and can’t even win over his lady love because she loves his alter-ego, not him.
-The setting and premise lend plenty of room for both gravity and comedy
-He’s an otherwise regular guy who uses his wealth, status, and skills to help those who are being oppressed
-He defies corrupt officials, though he usually settles for mocking them rather than harming them
-Swash-buckling good fun!
-Connected to the community
That last one is purely my analysis, but it’s something I love in any story. It’s all very well to be saving humankind and what-not, but can you help your next-door neighbor? Or the people in your immediate vicinity that you do and don’t like? The fools and geniuses that annoy and charm you on a daily basis? Now we’re talking.