Barbarella (1968)

Posted: September 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

There’s a problem in the Tau Ceti sector. Who do you send? Apparently, send Barbarella. Yep, send a blonde in skintight clothes, also described as Class Five Astro-Navigatrix, and her ship, Alpha 7. Doctor Durand Durand and his Positronic Ray – gasp, a weapon! – stand no chance.

So did the filmmakers capture very much of the coolness of Jean-Claude Forest’s original comics in this adaptation? It’s hard to say, the book is on my reading list for this very reason. Even so, the film script is kind of blowfully underwritten, yet…let’s just say Barbarella succeeds the way I once heard Lou Reed and Velvet Underground described. Something that succeeds in spite of obvious and prominent flaws.

Of course, Barbarella serves as a vehicle for a young Jane Fonda to change skintight costumes right after the monster of the minute tears up the previous costume. There’s also a lot of implied sex. She shags a huntsman who still can’t fix her crashed ship. And then there’s the blind angel who needs the endorphin hit to get his flying mojo back. Oh, and the “wretched girl” breaks the Machine Excessive, a sort of organ device that kills by dishing out monster orgasms.

In an earlier draft of this review, face with suddenly looking at one of my guilty pleasure movies with an actual critical eye, I trashed it. I repeated – “I got caught looking at Jane Fonda” – with an air of many today just looking for things to hate. I don’t hate the movie that much, not even now that my blog beast wants Barbarella on the Half-Shell for dinner.

Getting caught looking at Jane Fonda is, by definition, a plus for any movie. Repeating this fact as if I’d somehow rewritten Friends, Romans, Countrymen – “But, Brutus is an honorable man” – is overkill for a movie that deep down, I still like. I needed to vomit that out. Happens.

What should’ve driven this movie into the nether depths of Cinema Hell, the writing. On the surface, the script seems appropriately dramatic in the sense of “and then we’ll put her in this bubble with these birds that eat the spandex parts of her costume!” Yes, the platoon of screenwriters, including Mr. Forest brought in towards the end, understood the idea of big moments where X attacks Barbarella and eats her costume as the basic building blocks of drama.

Nothing about what happens in between these moments (story beats long before Snyder named them so) helps the story. And that’s even with the need to consider that it is still a fifty-year-old tongue in cheek French skin movie, where possibly like out and out pornos too much good writing could get in the way.

Still, the narrative here skims over the many threads you could get out of a plot that trades on – “Barbarella! Please help! A wayward scientist built a weapon and disappeared into a galactic backwater! We have no military and I can’t spare the presidential band (only that last part appears as dialogue)!” It is my assertion that since this movie exists in the spaces between pornos and movies with more pretension towards good, that you need some good writing. It is still a story.

Barbarella is nekked getting her orders from the President of Earth and Rotating President of the Solar System. Even over the vid-link, we see the lech get caught looking. He says something about meeting her in the flesh as he closes the call.

But, Earth society is later described as moving beyond sex with pills for the blast off part and other methods for everything else. Only the very poor don’t use them…or so Barbarella assumes. Yet, El Presidente is only a panty sniff and triple vodka martini away from actually going with – “Barbarella, I have an extensive collection of etchings I would like to show you.”

Ooh! Do you see the narrative possibilities in highlighting the arrogance of a politician that feels generally immune from the mores of the society he represents and leads? I do. Perhaps this thread winds up too dark for the rest of the movie. It is after all movie that over the years has picked up the metaphorical meaning that sex is good when the woman chooses it. But, letting this corrupt president have a little narrative air to be taught something by the previously naïve Barbarella is an exploitable story thread nonetheless.

The Plot – Crash. Attacked by vicious spandex eating dolls. Sex with huntsman. Ship crashes again in Sogo’s Labyrinth. Sex with Pygar, the angel. Infiltrate city. Learn how horrible the city is. Meet the tyrant in disguise. Get attacked by the aforementioned birds. Meet the rebels. Sex with the rebel leader paying off what Earth Pill Sex looks like (Ms. Fonda doesn’t need a hairdresser). Obtain a key to advance the plot. Meet the tyrant the second time. Dropped into the Machine Excessive. Jane Fonda gives the mother of all cinematic fake orgasms (paying attention, Ms. Ryan?). Barbarella convinces the man at the sex machine controls, revealed as Durand Durand, to change sides. Confrontation in the queen’s bedroom where All Could be Lost. Final defeat of Durand Durand and the evil city eats itself, but not Barbarella nor Pygar (both are too good).

On the surface, the above should result in a great script that acknowledges the sexy and fun intended campiness while still telling a story. What is actually on screen only covers the surface. I mentioned that you could do the thing about the Earth President possibly having real sex with specially initiated young ladies likely to keep their mouths shut as a good idea for a different movie named Barbarella. There are other dropped threads.

Barbarella meets the Black Queen several times, the first time she’s doing a Henry the Fifth Night Before Battle moment. We come to learn that Sogo the City of Night is fueled by the Matmos that induces evil thoughts and deeds among the citizens under its care in order to feed. But, nothing about how Barbarella interacts with either the Black Queen or the Matmos ever gives us pause that our plucky sex positive heroine could just say “screw it I’ll join the Dark Side (apologies for the mixed film metaphors)!”

Durand Durand, likely already nuts when he left Earth with his weapon, succumbed to the Matmos. As seen in the evil glee he has playing an organ sonata, while Barbarella blows up in all kinds of ways. But, shouldn’t we have a moment where the same forces tug at Barbarella’s admittedly micro skirts and spandex tights?

A moment likely to include the Black Queen making a pitch for Evil – “Join me, Luke. Together we can end this destructive conflict and rule the galaxy together as father and son (again I keep mixing my film metaphors)!” Especially, when there is no way this moment isn’t married to a lesbian seduction scene between the Black Queen and Barbarella. Oh, the hindsight of a man that once produced a stylistic copy of Barbarella, a story for another day.

Realistically, it’s an open question how tolerant Franco-Italian society of 1967 (the shooting year) was towards lesbian sex scenes that would shock, but also make the story less dependent on the obvious assets. However, the movie needed something to make Barbarella more vulnerable with greater obstacles. Story 101 that, even before the creation of the helpful screenwriting manuals, the best writers understood.

And Durand Durand just needed a better Villain Self-Justification Speech.

So what is so good about this movie that I still like it despite the above?

One, intention counts. Letting Barbarella be a voice for “sex is good when it’s the woman’s idea” is refreshing. It allows the rest of us to enjoy things that are goofy, silly and rooted in the bad old days. Of course, I’m possibly imputing things that didn’t even cross the filmmakers’s minds at the time. Still, it’s just fun to see people just making movies, music, paintings and books just because it’s the story they had to tell instead of submitting things to the grand censorship committee that only wants to say No.

Two, hiring Jane Fonda as the eye candy has all kinds of unexpected benefits. She has always been a phenomenal actress. Which means that when handed a script requiring lots of spandex ripped just so, she’s going to bust out quite a few facial expressions meant to trick the audience that there is in fact a well thought out story arc, when there isn’t.

She expressed fear, wonder, the naïveté and the enjoyment of sex as she discovers old ways are sometimes good. All in places that make narrative sense despite I don’t think they were in the script. The irony here is if we don’t get caught looking because the filmmakers chickened out and put Barbarella in a boring Earth Space Force flight suit, maybe we don’t see what Ms. Fonda brought. And I wish I could take some time to praise the rest of the cast, all having fun.

Three, even fifty years later, the Machine Excessive (aka the Orgasmatron) scene is just the kind of clever set piece that will recommend the movie forever. The villain sticks the heroine in the device and plays a sonata. She breaks the machine because a good woman getting her freak on can’t be killed with sex. And it packs the most plot service of any scene in this underwritten movie.

One quibble, the music starts with a few bars of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, the organ arrangement, before launching into music that fits the rest of the soundtrack, orchestra and modern instruments. I would’ve just used the Bach for this moment. Ironically, I listened to the orchestral version just before typing this draft; yep, I’m getting better at figuring out music (a post for another day). And, yes, let a public domain classic carry the weight for a scene that lets us see a great fake Big-O and is supposed to kill her.

Four, I can’t speak highly enough about the production design of this movie. Other movies of the era have wild sets, but this one should’ve won the Oscar. Even with most of the spaceship viewer screen shots being close ups of lava lamps and ink dropped into water, the interiors of the City of Sogo are the kind encourage getting caught looking (unless Barbarella needs to change costumes).

A city of glass walls. Glass medallions and pendulums. An interesting color palette for which I might not even have the full vocabulary. A candy apple red starship that looks like a hand-vac mated with a condom rack…never mind. Lots of semi-opaque plastic for certain silhouettes to tease and somehow still get a PG out of the MPAA (huh?). Plants placed just so. The way cooler evil liquid oil slick than the one that later killed Tasha Yar. An all around work of art.

Let’s do the Egyptian afterlife thing, weigh the feather (the good stuff) against the heavier bad stuff. Barbarella is still an out and out fun movie with lots to recommend it played out against a script that while it should never even aspire to be The Scottish Play, is still vastly underwritten for the genre. Well, I guess I’m the guy that just likes fun movies.

Barbarella

Posted: September 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Sometimes diving into original source material for the movie doesn’t work as planned. While I might think the Roger Vadim film somewhat underwritten (see post), turns out Jean-Claude Forest’s original Barbarella comics have many of the same problems and several more. Clearly, the character has somehow managed to be more valuable than the books in which she appears.

The volume reviewed here under the collected title Barbarella started life as French newspaper strips. Think Mary Worth just with fewer “later that day” caption boxes, which help make this story vastly more confusing.

Barbarella crashes on Lythion, a strange planet that seems the product of haphazard kitchen sink world building. First, she bonks her boat into a greenhouse causing winds/decompression that kills off the highly sought after flowers. The dramatic problem: the gardeners in the domed city have dispossessed their neighbors out of key water rights, so crucial for survival in hot-spring settlements described as surrounded by desert.

Barbarella makes out with the leader of a liberal faction seeking a negotiated settlement to the problem. After agreeing to take a message to the opposite number among the dispossessed, Barbarella then has sex with this man. Diplomacy with Benefits. She takes a side for a fair deal where everyone shares in the wealth of the city’s flowers and arms a key uprising from the gun locker on her crashed ship. All is now right and then she leaves town on the next cargo ship to arrive for flowers.

Soon after, Captain Dildano crashes this boat with Barbarella aboard on what appears to be a watery planet inhabited by giant Portuguese Man O’War jellyfish. Said creatures are large enough to be used by their mostly humanoid inhabitants as cities and pirate vessels. The queen of the jellyfish pirates is a Medusa, condemned to immortality fueled by adopting the face of the next woman to roll into town and then killing her, making a case that Earth mythology later landed on the “don’t look, you’ll turn to stone” rule of the Classical creature.

After a highly charged and completely unrequited lesbian moment, Barbarella is finally told to look at the queen and *gasp* she sees her own face. This Medusa is soul sick at the cost of her life and agrees to die. Maybe she feels real love.

Then we have a completely forgettable segment, except for Barbarella and Dildano walking and just barely surviving the ubiquitous deserts of Lythion. Dildano sacrifices his life becoming part of a rapidly acting petrified forest. There’s also a space prince with princess sisters with carnivorous dolls somewhere in here as well.

And then Barbarella uses a borrowed digger boat to visit the completely isolated evil city of Sogo. This section that inspired the movie plays out as a truncated version of the same where Barbarella has sex with the right men and robots setting in motion yet another rebellion against cities dominated by a monster that feeds on evil.

Four main segments. All of which seem too short as seen on the page. I really would like to have seen Mr. Forest take each block and expand them into four graphic novels of the same size as the book kept in print by Humanoids Press (a successor company to the original publisher).

Milk the greenhouse city and the destruction of the crystal structure that fends off the dispossessed and their telekinesis. Milk the Medusa Queen of the Jellyfish Pirates for something, anything. Same with the space prince and his crabby little sisters and their biting dolls. And even though we saw a better version of the Sogo/Black Queen story in the movie, even here there’s not really enough on the page.

To be clear, my major criticism of the movie that the Matmos exuding Pure Evil into the city should affect Barbarella in such a way that a scene of the heroine fighting her way back to being good counts as a Big Scene (an All is Lost Moment perhaps?), also applies on the original page. Why? The segment is too short as written.

In addition to thinking that this narrative structure of shoehorning four adventures into the space typically reserved for one good story just makes things go too fast, this book left me scratching my head about Lythion itself as a imagined world. The planet is described as desert, except when Plot intrudes. In the third section, Barbarella does the Lawerence of Arabia trek in the sand, but this is juxtaposed with the jellyfish sea, or the greenhouse city and, of course Sogo.

Once I figured out that Captain Dildano never left Lythion and that creatures from earlier sections reappeared at the needs of Plot, I started asking the kind of questions that pretty much indicate I’m totally not buying the story on the page. Mostly of the kind an exo-geographer armed with Wikipedia wisdom on the subject might ask.

So the planet is described as being mostly desert but there are seas for jellyfish pirates? Where does the greenhouse city lie with regards to Sogo? And how did all the other settlements of Lythion pull off the isolation of Sogo without the inevitable consequence of the Black Queen opting to invade everyone else on the planet? How does the climate from one section affect the rest of the planet? And many more of similar ilk.

By comparison, Earth has a greater variety of regional climates and cultures than Lythion, but there’s a logic to the distribution rooted in latitude, longitude and ocean and air currents. And since the airplane, we’ve lived on a tiny blue marble that only seems large in the context of going out for a walk. So more than sharing climates where heat in the tropics becomes hurricanes in Charleston, there’s a sense of crowded that affects our politics and cultures.

We worry about ozone holes. We worry about plastic straws in the Pacific Trash Gyre. How about that carbon dioxide, huh? And don’t get us started on those people three countries over who understand us about as well we understand them (not at all) and are suddenly acting out. Earth obviously ain’t Lythion, where the cheek by jowl settings seem highly contrived.

Reading this book wasn’t a complete nightmare of contrived nonsense. Buried somewhere in each truncated narrative segment was a potentially great story if allowed time to breathe. I really wanted to see sixty pages for each, including Sogo. And I’m okay with moving segments off Lythion (Pluton Omicron Six?, Vulcan? New Vatican City in orbit around Ophiuchius Four?), but expanding each story to its proper length also allows you to keep the stories set on Lythion while avoiding the contrived feel.

The best story in the book, Sogo, stands out. While this story still proved too short to do it real justice, I could see immediately why the movie picked this segment and dropped in elements from the earlier stories as nods and callbacks. A monster spewing negative energy until incorruptible Barbarella convinces the queen to immolate the city in a bubbling venomous apocalypse? Works in almost all forms even the truncated version (sort of) seen on the page.

The book is a comic book. A few words need to pass about the art, drawn by Jean-Claude Forest in addition to his writing duties. Frankly, I liked looking at the pictures even less than reading the odd narrative. The panels on the page were tiny with even tinier lettering that already had me annoyed because of buying a magnifying lens to help my fifty-COUGH! year-old eyes get through the book. And the lettering is frankly painfully small. Bears repeating.

As for the pictures going inside these tiny panels, I find the art style loose, slashy and too impressionistic for my taste. True, I’m still learning my art vocabulary to say more, but I found myself wishing for some sort of open-loop time machine that makes alternate realities so I could live in the universe where somebody from the classic Marvel House Style could get his teeth into the Class Five Astronavigatrix. I’d initially thought Jack Kirby, but on greater reflection and discussion at the comic book store, John Romita Sr.

So far, I’ve really ripped into this book. Very little makes sense to my narrative sensibilities. But, there are also the seeds of greatness. I will reiterate that each story segment given more elbow room to breathe might just live up to the hype of the franchise. Sogo would still be the favored child, but the dolls, jellyfish could all steal more limelight.

And I’m absolutely convinced that Mr. Forest’s lasting contribution happened early in the process when designing the character. Barbarella has been asserted as a reflection of his views that the world of comics in the early 1960s needed to lighten up about heterosexual intercourse. The blonde crashes on Lythion and changes the world by strategically having sex with the right well-placed men and getting what she wants.

Barbarella thus ends up being the heroine that everyone can adopt. Men can get onboard in the sense of getting caught looking at Jane Fonda merely changing sexy outfits every ten minutes, while enjoying the story as well. The fact that Barbarella’s primary job is to release the guns from her ship into the hands of deserving rebels counts as a strong woman. And at least a portion of those same women fans might see that she has total control of her sexuality using everything to get her desired results. And the rest…well, let’s not go there.

To recap, I can’t really get behind how Mr. Forest writes or draws faced with a tiny, crowded and claustrophobic mess with few signposts to keep my mind in the game. I asked too many extraneous questions about Lythion’s ecology and politics. But, the pieces could’ve been great expanded into their own stories with greater effect. Sogo shows great imagination that bears comment all by itself. And quite frankly, the character is simply far more valuable than this book in which she first appears. A middling read. Now onto Wrath of the Minute Eaters.

The Voracious Devil Bunny

Posted: September 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Psychologically speaking, what is it about Devil Bunnies, other killer rabbits and me? No, don’t answer that…

When discussing said rodents that typically benefit from being cute, we start with both Bug Bunny and his steroidal cousin from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Lead with the obvious…

Bugs is, strictly speaking, not a Devil Bunny. Elmer tries to hunt rabbits in a world where he hasn’t quite caught onto the joke that in order to create laughs he’s been designated the honorary Imperial Stormtrooper for the evening. When does Baldie quit and buy hotdogs at Ralph’s?

Perspective and toon bullets you can outrun give Bugs his place in this discussion. A rabbit minding his own business and humorously defending himself seems like a good guy. Certainly, history is written by the victor and I’m sure Elmer’s thoughts are unprintable.

Okay, a history written by the victor Looney Toons story fits a small but growing niche of writing. Eventually, I do have to read The Last Ringbearer (Sauron is the good guy), for instance. Bugs is almost already there as the bad guy with just a little shove into the warm embrace of the Dark Side.

Personally, since these blog posts are as much about me amusing myself as informing you, the turn the clichés and tropes on their heads method I’ll leave for a less whimsical time (next Tuesday?). For a few seconds I have something better, another way to cast Bugs as the Devil Bunny. *snare drum* Cross his best Elmer episode (What’s Opera, Doc?, perhaps?) with…The Exorcist.

“The powwuh of Cawwot compels you! Heh-heh-heh!”

Father Elmer Merrin Fudd SJ throws the holy carrot shavings pinched from the salad bar at Sizzler all over his restrained subject. The bound rabbit writhes and screams.

“Your mother eat carrots in…”

Father Fudd slaps the bound Devil Bunny. “With warm stew, foul wabbit! The powwuh of Cawwot compels you! Heh-heh-heh!”

At which point, Father Fudd tags in his younger associate, Father Daffius Duck SJ, to keep tossing the holy carrot shavings. And this is where I admit that I lost the joke two sentences ago and this is my almost graceful exit…even before Father Duck gets to bust out his catchphrase – “He’s dethpicable!” Besides, I’m not sure I wanted to cast the Daffster in the Father Karras part. A future project for an actual comedy writer with equal affection for Looney Toons and William Friedkin…a tall order.

It’s been a while, if ever, that I’ve sat through Harvey. The film’s Wikipedia page asserts Pooka, a Celtic spirit described as benign with a side order of benign. But, a nearly seven foot invisible rabbit able to hold a conversation with a man who admits drinking too much has quite a lot of power that must continuously be promised to only use them for good.

Look, yes, the above paragraph is a valid story concept, but I just functionally cast Jimmy Stewart in the Linda Blair part. I need to think on this before proceeding. And it isn’t that different from the results of the funnier (I think) Looney Toons mashup. Also another project for a writer funnier than me.

We can always go with the regular sized rabbit puppet guarding a cave that doesn’t actually contain the Holy Grail route. But does this beast require setting Michael Palin loose to act as the setup man for the deadly rodent? Regardless, the puppet goes for the throat – GRRR-GRRR-GNAW! – “Flee! Flee! Run away!” I suppose the Vorpal Bunny could work in a context that isn’t the second funniest Monty Python movie ever.

Think of it, an actual scary movie where the cute rabbit rips out throats. Maybe. Certainly, small and cute but married to blinding speed is designed to engender the smug overconfidence seen in several of Arthur’s knights. We do need to give thought to the 21st Century upgrade to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. What ritual makes a hand grenade holy? And what is the failsafe for ensuring that characters who can’t count to three throw the weapon safely?

Lastly (at least until other weigh in), we have the Devil Bunny as poisoner of Easter eggs (see photo). Now we’re cookin’ with gas. I like this one because the class appellation ‘Devil Bunny’ always struck me as having more brains that any version of Evil Bugs or the many other killer rabbits depicted heretofore in this post. And I guess we’re waiting for the next shoe to drop with some writer out there using the dreaded Mix and Match technique to go with something really good in this category.

The poisoned Easter egg version of the Devil Bunny could even become a fight between real hard boiled eggs that you paint and our equal reverence for the plastic and chocolate eggs used in the same egg hunts. A statement against the commercialism of our holidays that belongs on the same shelf as all versions of The Grinch, perhaps? Maybe someone with an f%#^ed up psyche just needs to lash out a bit twisting common mythology on its head? Nearly all versions of Poisoner Devil Bunny figure out how to put the blame on the socially inept reclusive Boo Radley type (union bylaw, trust me) who sells the chocolate eggs.

And now a little bit about why I had to write about the many ways to use the Devil Bunny now instead of simply assuming it existed, a story that goes in the You Can’t Make this Up Category…

My family used to congregate at Easter for the big old country club Easter brunch. My three nephews, teenagers at the time, go into the craft room intended to keep little kids busy and out from under the adults while conversing. I may have been the cool uncle, but even I’m spending more time with my brothers and sisters than the nieces and nephews.

These kids promptly make construction paper Devil Bunnies. The reporting gets fuzzy because no actual Devil Bunnies survived long enough for me to get a look at them. And years after the fact, the boys assert that they really didn’t do all that scary with their efforts.

No matter, I know these kids. They helped sell the Devil Bunnies to impressionable five-year-olds by pretty much being loud and in your face to the younger kids with their artistic efforts. This triggers a small child, possibly the two other nephews who at the time were age-appropriate for the room, squeaking for – “Mooooooommmmy!” It’s all over when someone pulls the Mommy Card.

The efforts of the one sister with kids intended to be in the room, another sister without kids but who also took offense and the hapless child care supervisor hired by the country club meant that the Devil Bunnies were quickly extirpated shredded into the trashcan. So I never saw the Devil Bunnies, despite mentioning that I wanted to. More than once.

My sister with the nephews for whom the craft room was intended spent the next half hour berating the brother with the nephews that should never have been in the room. This I saw being just across the table and it quickly became one of those stories that the family gets instantly and newcomers look stupid until someone tells it again.

Since then there was one attempt to capture in print the Venomous Devil Bunny where I’m using a drawing app to do a preliminary color cover sketch: six-foot pink rabbit, bloody axe and bad attitude. All driven by not actually seeing the Devil Bunnies (imagination is worse, Kids). I work all kinds of weird and put the manuscript down. And then another book blew up that said I need to massage the “these are obviously the writer’s siblings” out of The Devil Bunny (the Venomous is a recent addition) novel. Eventually. Eventually.

So that’s the You Had to Be There story of why Devil Bunnies are such a thing with me.

Which leaves one last piece of business: the game stats. It’s kind of a rule for my Monster of the Week posts to throw in stats as an afterthought…

Vorpal Puppet Bunny. Give this version about two to three hit dice, blinding speed and an insatiable desire to rip out Sir Robin’s throat. Normal armor class (leather armor?). And have at it, but Mr./Ms. DM, do rehearse this one so you don’t break out laughing.

Most of the other variations of the Devil Bunny are pretty much the same Devil Bunny with vastly different roleplaying opportunities. They all seem to stand about man-high which says about six to eight hit dice. And unless the Devil Bunny up armors with lots of steel, Kevlar or personal laser shields, again lets call it leather armor.

The Evil Harvey version with metaphorical venom in his tongue also has selective invisibility which will add quite a lot to its armor class. And the Egg and Candy Poisoner Devil Bunny likely has index fingers that inject something particularly horrible (I like ricin, you don’t have to) into its victims. Bugs as Possession Victim, well those stats will be more akin to the rules for possession in various game systems.

Truth is, I think the next Devil Bunny that gets really good and gory is likely to be a huge mix and match version taking equally from the various Chinese menu options. And I’m waiting to see what that is…

Some Monsters Don’t Translate

Posted: August 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Ordinarily, this would be a post about the Monster of the Week complete with game stats. Maybe for shits and giggles, I even resurrect the Stephor the Seeker character that I used for these posts for a while, until I got bored. But, some monsters just don’t translate well out of the original context for which they were created…the Alien Xenomorph comes to mind.

As originally envisioned by writers Dan O’Bannon, Ron Shusett with interpretational stops with H.R. Giger and finally director Ridley Scott, this acid blooded smart predator seems like it would be a worthy addition to any roleplaying game. Until you stop to take a look at the subtle details of in-game physics and/or magic of the various game settings.

The Alien Xenomorph basically works really well in any game setting that has guns, nearly nothing in the way of magical armor or energy shields and where mobility is prized over armor. So pretty much if you’re playing an Aliens campaign in GURPS Space, any other similar generic or modular game system or even the branded tie-in RPG, you’ll have a monster that does it’s job, kills everybody but Ellen Ripley, or in a game setting makes the player characters sweat it out.

Do you get as much as you thought pulling this beast out of its narrow context? I don’t think so, but you are allowed to not believe me and replicate the experiment. Mayhem varies by roll of the dreaded D20.

Low magic fantasy campaign. Perhaps using Westeros as the example. Would King’s Landing do better against Alien Xenomorphs or dragons? The dragon pretty much acts like a living Dresden or Tokyo fire-bombing raid. But, the relative low numbers of dragons and the anti-dragon artillery seen in the last season gives some small measure of hope of Script Immunity.

Meanwhile, the Xenomorph picks off citizens one by one and drags them off to feed the Queen and face-hugger eggs. She hides deep in the sewers near the warm heat seeping down from the heart of the city. The probable reaction force of King’s Landing militia and Kingsguard knights are all going to be wearing lots of steel to deal with a beast infamous for its acid blood, a last fuck you to anyone that might try to kill it.

Okay, maybe the writer or DM chooses the most generous assumptions to even the game/novel out for the one character designated as Final Survivor. Does the local version of Sam Tarley read a book in the Maester Citadel telling how acid is counteracted by base alkaline substances like lye and how glass contains most but not all acids? Does he then discover the local variant of the D&D spell Glassteel buried in that lore? Did Cersei use up the city’s store of Dragonfire on the Red Keep? If the answers are No, No and Yes then pack it up the author/DM got bored and just ended the series/campaign.

High magic fantasy. Continuing on from the above paragraph, if you have enough magic as in most D&D games you’re wasting the Xenomorph. Don’t believe me? This I’ve actually played.

The Great College Campaign. We’re deep in the local trademark safe version of the Underdark (an underground abode home to dark elves and other things that go bump in the dark specific to The Forgotten Realms setting). We think we’re going to pick fights with the dark elves and steal their stuff, a typical Saturday on a campaign. But, there aren’t any Drow…

Eventually, we find the nest. Everybody has seen the movie and we inevitably have our characters act on it. Somehow the DM doesn’t penalize us for this meta play. Step One, we retreat.

We find a village with a glassblower. We make glass shields for the muscle characters up front: a sword based fighter, a dwarf, the pure thief and myself as the gnome Thief/Illusionist (I had a magic dagger with enough moxie to survive acid and no ability to contribute with magic). We cast the Glassteel spell to harden the glass. We went back inside keeping the spell-casters and arrow specialist Fighter in the back rank of the phalanx. I don’t remember us having all that much trouble.

Assumptions. We were high enough level (about 5th) to have common access to the Glassteel spell. We’d all seen the movie and employed tactics to keep the beasts in front of us to negate some of the presumed benefits of playing the Xenomorphs as smart.

Lock three of the beasts in a metal cage? The weakest one will get gutted by the other two in a bid to escape. The other movies depicted them figuring out that machine guns run out of ammunition. Or the tactical value of those overhead air shafts.

Super high tech Sci-Fi campaign. I once contemplated putting the Xenomorphs into the old Star Trek game by FASA. I imagine I would get the same results playing with either the more recent rules or even using the GURPS sourcebook based on the diagonally related Starfleet Battles license. Or any other hi tech SF campaign setting, including Star Wars. I didn’t even put this fan fiction into the field with an adventure.

Why? The ubiquity of various high-energy beam weapons coupled with equally common nearly magic sensors. Gee, how much fun will the DM get out of using this exact creature against player characters armed with phasers (depicted as having a disintegrator setting and energy stores limited only by Plot) and the equally tough tricorder – “Captain, I detect ten creatures with a highly unusual physiology that includes acid blood…” – without upping his/her game into the stratosphere?

Even lasers with just a kill setting might end up being sort of ho-hum, next for the characters. Either power pack management becomes a real thing, the way it almost isn’t in games like this, or it becomes a one-sided affair. Possibly similar to how the Klingons ended the Tribbles only to be teased later – “do the Klingons sing glorious songs of the Great Tribble Hunt?”

As for Star Wars, the existence of Jedi and Sith kind of rob the Xenomorph of most of its impact. Okay, a lightsaber gets in too close for the unprepared Force user. But, said Jedi and Sith are all uniformly described as using the Force to conduct telekinesis. A quick wave of the hand and any flying acid is bottled up and avoided. And everybody else has a blaster, see above. Who knows, maybe even the Imperial Stormtroopers might be allowed to do something?

It is my contention that the author/DM will have to bust out their best ever mayhem game, beyond their regular A-game to make the Xenomorph work outside of the niche it landed in for the Alien Movies. Pretty much the single smartest predator ever, only DMs are only human and don’t always play that uber-smart.

You could up-gun the Xenomorph with toys last seen in the hands of The Predator (infrared, motion, thermals). Unless Ridley Scott pulls off a retconn, both beasts exist in the same universe. And there is other precedent, like a zombie adventure for GURPS with a variant for the Autoduel (trademark safe Deathrace 2000) setting. A quote – “in keeping with the ever spiraling domestic arms race, give the zombies an extra –2 for Kevlar body armor.”

So there you have it, I’ve used a classic movie monster to highlight that not all great movie monsters easily leap out of their movies into your games without careful thought. I have presented an opinion that I wouldn’t use the Xenomorph too far outside of the context in which the movies tell us so. Married to the opinion that few authors or DMs (myself included) are clever enough to give said beast the intellect to make things work.

But, it’s still only an opinion…prove me wrong!

Bruce Lee V. Dracula

Posted: August 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

I’m really serious about this one already killing Dracula…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Deceased martial arts legend Bruce Lee was recently rudely invited to two separate Geek Rumbles, one of many similar nerdy discussions undertaken online or in a favorite spot, my comic book store. The prototypical Geek Rumble follows this format – “X fights Y, who wins?” There are, of course, other questions and discussion topics that qualify as Geek Rumble, as fans of the form will discuss/argue about all kinds of things. And it seems to me this recent kerfuffle about Bruce Lee presents a good moment to talk about the Geek Rumble as a writing tool.

But first, the Geek Rumbles to which Bruce Lee got his rude invite. An ugly one (click here) and a one that is less ugly, if the reader/writer/fan waits to take their dive a few weeks later when the smoke clears. Luckily, very little about the ugly Bruce Lee Geek Rumble does anything for this blog that helps writers to the exclusion of most other considerations. The second one, ooh, this is too good…Bruce Lee V. Dracula.

Earlier drafts of this post spent a lot of time trying to present to you actual rules for the various Geek Rumbles some of which may serve to backhandedly comment on this recent Bruce Lee Affair without actually commenting. I love double-talk and Lawyer Speak when they serve my interests.

Anyway, the rules, well…conventions. Pretty much all of the “if you can’t be respectful in this matter, we’ll move to pull your metaphorical license to appear in public” techniques learned in Debate Class apply here. I’ll use up a lot of words to tell you to be nice. Uses up too much of the word budget for this post.

The rest of the rules and conventions in play here will vary from store to store. Pretty much the Font of Wisdom at the register will control the conversation (or not so much if they’re new). Said FOW will boot you out and that will be it until next week (or never if you’re a real problem). And they will move to cut off conversations that for a variety of reasons might blow up. Other than that each store will have an unique style and character to it as the venue lurches around in reaction to recent events.

For instance, the title Geek Rumble of Bruce Lee V. Dracula might be a tough sell in the near term. Comic book stores are especially sensitive to all things Bruce Lee, Geek Rumble and Comic Book. Quentin Tarantino has been a valued ambassador for all of that.

It could be a real trick getting this particular Geek Rumble onto the floor, because Bruce Lee V. Dracula came up in regards to that other Geek Rumble as presented in the movie. Think of it as some poor fella mistaking the salt shaker for the coffee sugar…

The store you wander into might decide to enforce a “both parties should be fictional” rule to avoid any lingering nastiness from moments like the Bruce Lee Affair. If the FOW digs in, the discussion’s over.

Comic book stores, the better managed online geek forums and the like are usually susceptible to logic and what the Great Online calls fact. And the race of who gets to Wikipedia and the rest of the Internet first also matters. If I thought there was an opening, I would argue for the inclusion of Bruce Lee V. Dracula because as a thing it predates the current mess, AKA it’s already on YouTube.

Doing my three seconds of research, I found four videos depicting someone’s interpretation of Bruce Lee fighting all kinds of things and people. I found a video (click here) from a UFC branded video game where the game owner told the game to put Bruce Lee in the octagon with Y, Count Dracula in this case, and have the computer create a randomized fight result. And the same YouTube source posted similar videos for literally everybody doing the UFC brand of mixed martial arts…plus a few movie monsters tossed in for giggles.

Skimming through the 25-minute video, Bruce Lee won with a monster kick to the Count’s head at the last moment. But, I had to ask questions like…

“So, is the game automatically biased towards Bruce Lee given the legendary rep throughout the intersecting gaming, martial arts and comic book industries?”

“Did the game writers understand proper narrative given their seeming preference for the last minute Rocky Victory that just screams a WRITER was here?”

“What is the F%#*ing point of selling the video as Bruce Lee V. Dracula, when the Count depicted on screen is just a tall Romanian gent wearing UFC fight gear and who doesn’t do vampire things?”

And the other videos (click here), (click here) and (click here) I found are much worse on the creativity or truth in advertising scales. There are undoubtedly other videos where Bruce Lee levels whole cities of movie monsters, I just didn’t have the time or oxygen to dive that deep.

The original point is that the existence of videos like this allows you to argue at the comic book store that Bruce Lee V. Dracula exists independently of and prior to that other more tragic Geek Rumble. Therefore, Bruce Lee, at least the legend also known as a minor Deity of Meme, is very nearly a fictional construct and is thus fair game. At least as far as the people who didn’t know him go.

Another way to put it is the Bruce Lee Affair is almost a perfect example of one of my favorite movie quotes concerning myth making – “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend (thank you, Mr. Peckinpah).” Bruce Lee the legend fights everything and because most of us just loved Enter the Dragon, we’ll find a way to lawyer the results in his favor. Though the Second Act of that epic struggle will put Legend Bruce in far more danger than the stupid game video, just sayin’. Hopefully, the real Bruce Lee is smiling from wherever he is amused that we think he’s that ripped to take down other mythological characters barehanded.

Anyway this a good moment to temporarily get off this particular Geek Rumble to talk about the art form in general. I use these discussions as a sounding board. If I need to figure out some pseudoscience or get a handle on a character that I haven’t read recently, but for whom I certainly have seen the movies (Batman comes to mind), I go to my store and ask the right questions.

I might be spoiled that my particular FOW really knows his shit. At various times, he’s let me know that my solution to a science fiction problem where you can’t take food through hyperspace neared plausibility. I highlighted the idea and…

“Greg, here’s your flaw, people are chemically identical to the food they eat, so people couldn’t go through hyperspace either…”

I take about a week to think it out. I come back.

“I’ve got it!” I say. “I’m sure it’s six different kinds of pseudoscience, but you have to spray freshly harvested mitochondrial juice on your food to keep it fresh. And for the rest I’m going to just play the Because Plot card.”

“Yeah, it is pseudoscience, but it’s plausible pseudoscience.”

Success.

The other FOW in the store also has her nuggets; telling me that the reason ninjas wear black is that there is a famous kabuki or noh play where a stagehand wearing black kills a character on stage. After a moment that might’ve been interpreted as a challenge, I agreed with her and went onto to add that based on the war documentaries I sometimes watch, black even under ideal circumstances can be ridiculous nighttime camouflage. Too black being the usual complaint. On its best days the Geek Rumble is a conversation.

I then looked up ninjas on Wikipedia. They didn’t have the exact story, but something close about Japanese puppet shows where they wear black as stagecraft to simulate certain kinds of invisibility. So close counting in hand grenades, horseshoes and bocce ball, I’ll go with her version because it’s a better story that I will save for my own writing.

With conversations like this I’ve kept up on my Batman knowledge, dropped in my usual Imperial Stormtrooper barbs and so on. Naturally, I think something similar should work for you. No matter what kind of writing you do, hook up with someone you trust and talk things out.

Crime writer? Once you’ve learned the boring book stuff about poisons, find a friend that does similar types of books and git talkin’. You’ll get into a one-upmanship thing that will squeeze a few more decades out of arsenic as a murder weapon.

Back to Bruce Lee V. Dracula; I told you its too good a thing (at least when the smoke clears) to let go. When we left the discussion, the topic was just getting cleared by the FOW after successfully arguing that Bruce Lee is just legendary enough to proceed. And then it’s on…

My opening salvo is almost always, “is Dracula even still alive in the Kung Fu-Verse? Meme Chuck Norris supposedly kills all kinds of bad things just looking at them funny. And the real Chuck Norris actually said he thought the memes were funny.”

The FOW and other participants might nod. It’s a good question. And perfectly acceptable to include a third semi-fictional character who might’ve already taken down Dracula. And then the FOW makes up a rule to get things arbitrarily back to how Bruce Lee wipes out Vlad Tepes. Tangents are only briefly tolerated.

I probably double down with, “okay, but since every version of Dracula seems like he’s a skirt chaser, shouldn’t we send a woman like The Bride? You know, acknowledge we should send the right decoy with teeth?”

Again everybody nods or adds a rebuttal. At which point, the FOW steers things back to Bruce Lee killing Dracula. After which the mostly Socratic method of asking the right questions and thinking on your feet drills it down to Bruce Lee pounding Dracula with nunchucks, say maybe over in 20 minutes with open gashes bloodying up Bruce Lee’s yellow track suit?

A hypothetical Geek Rumble. One of many…

As live entertainments go, the Geek Rumble isn’t for the rookie. Whether you get your similar nerd on through the book club, online forum, writing group or the high order professionalism at the comic book store, listen to a few before leaping in. My FOW might help a rookie keep up, others might not as stereotypes like the Comic Book Store Guy on The Simpsons just don’t appear out of thin air. And you read the part about looking things up, right?

And you also really should avoid some topics like say, the Crimson Tide fight. Two sailors throwing down over the best version of the Silver Surfer, Jack Kirby or Moebius.

The verdict, at least in my store – “It’s a real thing. I break it up at least twice a year and besides the sailor taking the Jack Kirby position has it right. At this point, it’s a boring repetitive thing. Ugh!”

There you have it, a few observations about the Geek Rumble or Nerd Fight. A little about basic etiquette. Why they happen. And why I think they’re a valuable tool for refining thought. And you’d think I’d end this post…

With each passing day, the Bruce Lee Affair becomes more annoying to me. Especially since Quentin Tarantino’s work sort of defines this post.

I mentioned The Bride as being a worthy stand in for Bruce Lee fighting Dracula. We saw her wearing the yellow track suit in Kill Bill. I also mentioned the Crimson Tide fight, a scene written by Mr. Tarantino during his script doctor days.

My opinions about the larger Bruce Lee Affair are still unformed and all over the map as I haven’t yet seen the movie. I have an automatic Support the Artist response tempered by the fact that I really don’t know what Bruce Lee was like beyond his Wikipedia page. But, you know what tiny thing pisses me off most in this story?

Quentin Tarantino used the pleasant, amusing and preposterous Geek Rumble Bruce Lee V. Dracula, that he didn’t invent, to deflect from the angry making (to others) Geek Rumble of Bruce Lee V. Stuntman Cliff. Even if I later see the movie and decide the scene works in context of a good or possibly great movie, I’m always going to equate the moment in part with a nasty rhetorical trick – Whataboutism. Not cool. Ever.

Intersections

Posted: August 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

“Any sufficiently advanced technology would to the less advanced be indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clark.

“At various times on your world your scholars have spoken of Magic and later on Technology as if they were two separate things, but on my world they’re one and the same.” – Movie Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

So how do GMs, Administrators and DMs handle the interface of Magic and Technology? Not well. The ones I played with almost universally banned anything more technological than a bag of lit oil.

During the Great Campaign in college, our wizard player was fairly well versed in things like the recipes for at least three different explosives typically cookable at home. I’d forgotten to ask if he’d read The Anarchist’s Cookbook, paid extra close attention to the pipe bombs in The Terminator, or like all of us closely watched the Star Trek episode ‘Arena,’ all possibilities in the 1980s.

Short version of the story, he proposed pipe bombs to solve the eternal problem of dungeons. Each door is a serious obstacle and no one has ever really figured out how to role play the probable truth that the noise from fighting the ogre in the previous encounter means that the dragon in the next room is awake, so don’t even make the First Edition sleep roll. Despite the tactical wisdom from the war games this player was more used to that speed in the dungeon is life, our DM ruled – “the black powder charge fizzles and you get a huge migraine headache out of nowhere as if the gods really hate anything remotely technological.”

In a related incident, this same player suggested lots of lye when the DM had us fight Alien Xenomorphs, acid blood and all. There was some kind of ruling here too. But, our solutions that fully exploited the rules rendered these babies almost like orcs, deadly in theory pushovers in practice…a post for another day.

We could’ve used lit oil by itself, as I remember the fizzle we used a flask of oil as the igniter. But, the player was also well versed in the difference between ignition and detonation. Oil, whether the pseudo-napalm we thought we tossed around or the equally dangerous whale oil or kerosene the rules envisioned, burns. To make something that burns (gunpowder, oil) mimic an explosive, you have to contain the hot gases with a bit of engineering. As I remember it, these contraptions failed too.

Yes, the DM determines the basic physics of the game. In every version of the rules, it’s black letter law that the DM has this authority. Think of it as the Holy Writ inscribed on the inside of the top half of the Monopoly box, though one or two common rules, like the Free Parking payout, aren’t actually on the box lid, just sayin’. And the basic social conventions of playing any game involved agreeing to rules – “right, no clipping, cross checking, rabbit punching or tripping…”

I suppose DMs have a point that we’ve agreed to play in a magic kingdom and not worry about how destabilizing a Sig P226 can be. Possibly because game systems have a way of overstating what guns do or understating their effect. Recent extra rules for D&D set most bullets at about the same damage as solid sword thrusts (D6 or D8), when the spy RPG player or war gamer is shouting that it’s more.

Even regular writers sometimes have this problem. I didn’t get more than a couple episodes into the most recent TV version of The Wizard of Oz. Long enough to remember seeing a character that was either the analogue to The Wicked Witch of the East or another completely original witch (my memory gets hazy for some shows) not in the original books examine Officer Dorothy Gale’s dropped Sig.

Yep, they tried Dorothy as a cop and her patrol unit takes the place of the farmhouse in the twister. The gun/magic problem comes to a head when this witch looks down the gaping barrel the way we hope five-year-olds in our reality are instructed not to do. Said witch took her own head off. Dorothy is later bawled out for the unintentional introduction of such completely destabilizing “magic.” Imagine if she’d brought a nuke or Sarin? Anyway, I don’t remember if this was why I stopped watching the show.

This is not to say that writers and fantasy DMs don’t or can’t make the leap to integrating Magic and Technology. It’s just that either the DM just doesn’t want to or all the ones I played with had a curious failure of imagination. I’ll bet on the former.

So you can pretty much expect that unless you’re playing a non-fantasy RPG, that cooking up charcoal, saltpeter and sulphur on the fly to blow open those stout wooden dungeon doors will always fizzle. A really cranky DM will also rule that the complicated bronze hutch to contain the hot gases from burning oil will also fizzle.

I suppose the supposed Law of Averages says eventually a DM will figure it out the way Tolkien kind of did that in true fashion of the quotes above that gunpowder is the magic. Gandalf just loved his fireworks sweetened by whatever else he did. And Saruman somehow talked a Uruk-Hai (orc) into doing the suicide bomber thing with a black powder cask in the drainage culvert at Helm’s Deep. Where there is a pen there’s a way.

Either way these are my observations about the curious intersections of various possibly oil and water game and story mechanics. You will in the fullness of time decree your own solutions…

Prophecy and Foreshadowing

Posted: August 4, 2019 in Uncategorized

From Rope, everything after is known…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

The King will return. Azor Ahai will appear to lead Westeros against the Others. A prediction uttered by a crazy professor of Augury leads to an ill-fated black bag job at the Ministry of Magic. Writers, especially fantasy writers just love using a prophecy as a narrative tool, but handled correctly I suppose any writer has this particular iron in their golf bag.

Prophecy comes to us from a similar Greek word that originally meant “the gift of interpreting the will of God.” Spell it with a C, it’s a noun. Spell it with an S and it’s the verb. Stories of gods, monsters and magic all trade on someone more divinely powerful than the protagonist imparting hints, riddles and sometimes outright directions to guide the results.

Sometimes this is to get through maybe three chapters ahead in the story. Other times, yep, the writer gave away cryptic hints about the ending because what happens is less important than how we get there. Prophecy as a tool should be thought of as a part of the larger field of providing foreshadowing to guide the reader/listener’s interest in the story.

Foreshadowing in its many forms services the toe dance all writers play with their audience. We want to know what’s coming next but not really. We try to predict the course of the story, but still want surprises.

The best theories on storytelling assume that we told the same stories around the same campfires. The same fella sitting under the cave bear painting heckled the story in the same way to gain more of an endorphin hit from hearing this new version of the tale. The writer/teller gets over his exasperation and feeds more excitement by giving them what they want.

One element so added to narrative was foreshadowing. Give clues to what happens next. Engage those ears for a few minutes longer. The practice takes many forms.

Anton Chekhov famously asserted – “a gun on the wall in the First Act will come down off the wall and be fired in the Third Act.” This kind of subtle foreshadowing trades on set dressing and a basic knowledge of human behavior. We’re douchebags; we shoot and stab each other at dinner.

One feature of drama is that editing happens to turn real life into digestible bits of narrative where something always happens. So gun on the wall must be fired means that because you’re seeing the play/movie or God forbid reading the actual book, the writer has edited out all the times Grandpa’s Winchester 70 just sat on the wall. It waits for the passions of the family to reach that fevered pitch dredging up every fight over Barbies or Matchbox cars. It waits for the truth about Uncle Steve or worse. It waits for this family to get robbed.

The writer assumes that the consumer fully understands the powerful symbol the gun on the wall represents and will insist on seeing it on the wall in the First Act as foreshadowing. Not seeing the weapon might leave the consumer confused – “What? They build up to this big old yelling match about Uncle Steve and, okay, the scumbag got shot, but where the hell did the gun that killed him come from?”

Of course, Gun on the Wall could mean anything established in the background. Grandpa’s ashes on the mantle and the almost union-mandated Use the Urn to Bash Somebody Over the Head scene (I’ll have to check, but I really hope Roger Ebert covered this in his list of clichés). You get the idea that for this type of foreshadowing everything relevant to the end of the story must be established in the space of the story at the beginning.

Alfred Hitchcock found another usage of foreshadowing in nearly all of his movies. Because he was after suspense instead of shock, he always wanted the audience to be well ahead of the characters. The two killers in Rope start out killing somebody and hiding the body in a box on the verge of a dinner party discussing what they did, why and that they’ll dispose of the body after the party. The audience knows from jump what’s what and each time Jimmy Stewart playing a detective clearly inspired by Crime and Punishment gets too close to the body or something the killers want hidden, we cringe.

Horror movies trade on both shock and suspense in the same fashion. We see Michael Myers in the house. We shout – “No, don’t go in there!” Is he in the kitchen? No. Is he in the master closet watching the dead teens walking have sex? Maybe. Is he waiting in the closet under the stairs for the teens to think it’s all over and put on their clothes? Eventually – BOO! The build up is suspense. The payoff is shock. Both are driven by the basic foreshadowing of letting us see Michael enter the house…or not.

Shakespeare driven largely by the needs of his medium typically just had the main character tell the audience in a soliloquy – “Now is the winter of our discontent…” – what would happen next. Iago told the back row about taking down Othello. A form of foreshadowing because everything pays off and we still went for the ride.

Another bit of foreshadowing that I really like…the equipping scene between James Bond and Q. In every movie, Major Boothroyd gives Bond exactly what he needs to survive the movie. A briefcase loaded with throwing knife, 50 gold sovereigns, 50 .25 caliber bullets (the chambering for the AR-7 survival rifle packed in the case) and a teargas canister, what happens? Everything needed to kill off a Bulgarian killer and, more importantly, Donald Grant.

How does Q know what Bond needs? Okay, the equipping scene usually takes place after the Bond Gets his Orders scene with M. We do have such things as intercoms and inter-office email where M has Moneypenny call down and tell Q where Bond might be going. So sending Bond to go meet an oil heiress in the Baku/Azerbaijan/Caspian Sea/Black Sea region, we can say that Q looked at the map and saw mountains with snow in them within driving distance. So the avalanche jacket could make a little sense.

Later in the series, they stopped using this scene to do anything with the watch. Bond just pulls out his timepiece and it has exactly what’s needed to get out. A wad of C-4 for the grating in the Moonraker launch base. A laser for the floor of the armored train in Goldeneye. A magnet and rope cutter in Live and Let Die. Presumably, the Q-Branch takes after action surveys as part of the job to refine what operatives need next.

Speaking from the writing/meta view of this scene, much of the trope of getting exactly what the story requires has much to do with that, again, writers edit out all gadgets that aren’t relevant. So he’s going to the mountains and needs the avalanche jacket, but what about the space in his luggage for the parachute jacket? Bond did get mugged on an airplane once. So even with the semi-plausible in-narrative reasons for Bond having exactly the gear he needs, it still feels like Q is a laser focused prophet.

A good segue back to the prophecy section of this treatise on the various forms of foreshadowing. The reader wants to know a few hints as to how it all going to come out, but not to have the full blueprints. Isildur’s heir has been promised to come back one day. Gondor will be alright…eventually.

I suspect that in addition to the usual reasons for prophecy as foreshadowing that in a literary sense the promise from the gods of this story (the writer in the meta sense) has a way of keeping the reader in the game. The black moments in some of these stories are really black and we might put the book down.

“Close the book, Da, I don’t want to read any more…” – so says Sam to Frodo during the single most suspenseful part of the story, two hobbits dressed as orcs marching around Mordor trying not to look like hobbits asking directions to Mt. Doom. It all looks lost. We don’t believe the Dress Like the Enemy to Infiltrate the Base trope whether delivered in the spy novel or The Lord of the Rings.

But, Tolkien is as tricksy-tricksy as Gollum. Throughout the preceding narrative he peppers in poetic references to the Sword Reforged coming from ancient sources that might have a phone line to the in-narrative higher powers of Middle Earth. The folks that sent the Wizards to do the dirty work of cleaning up Sauron, just the latest Great Evil to afflict the world of men. So if the reader puts down the book, he/she never gets to see how the foreshadowing pays off.

Because prophecy has the specific purpose of interpreting the will of God all prophecies, whether literary or theological, must payoff. We can think of Gun on the Wall as something that nearly always pays off because of a combination of writerly concision – “if we don’t need it, we don’t establish it” – and giving the reader the hooks to play our guessing games with the story. Prophecy is something that either comes true because gods/universe are never wrong or gets relegated to the realm of instructive metaphor.

Tolkien and his contemporary, C.S. Lewis, instinctively drew from many sources for prophecy. Most were stories once deemed theological in nature. The big one, the Christian Bible, still is. And the Greeks couldn’t tell a story without some form of divine prophecy.

Cassandra had the gift, no one believed her because the gods hated her. Instant tragedy. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter for fair winds to Troy, a different part of the same instant tragedy. Odysseus travels all the way to Hades to ask blind Tiresias for the checklist needed to make nice with Poseidon (you can’t live on an island and have the Sea God as an enemy) and make it home. And if I had a dollar for every time Athena borrowed various Olympians’ toys to help a hero get through the movie (maybe she should have a job in Q-Branch?)…well we always want more money.

And now inevitably…the Bible. Depending on how atheist or pagan you feel, either God or the many writers of the book had 1,300 years to work out the story. The whole point is Jesus and the crappiness of how we treat each other that is why God made Flesh has to come back. We need Hope…the one thing Pandora held onto.

The Bible uses short term prophecy in the form of a prophet walking into a throne room and promising dire consequences unless certain demands are met. After the first deal between Moses and Ramses about setting the Hebrews free, this was mostly about God getting pissed at how far the Hebrews and later Jews strayed from the covenant and sending in his latest version of Gandalf. Typically, God makes everything promised happen within two weeks. Gods are never wrong.

The Bible also uses a much deeper highly integrated form of prophecy. Everything leads to Jesus coming the first time to set our redemption in motion. And then he comes back at the end to reward the righteous. Hope on a half shell.

Various books in the Old Testament promise a messiah. Books the Jews of the historical Jesus’ time knew all of this predictive Scripture. Jesus as written in the book certainly acted and spoke in such a way to make it clear that – “here I am.” Then as now, either you accept that God knows how to tell a story and keeps his promises or you go looking for the wires that made things happen. It’s not the purpose of this post to pick a side; I’m neither your pastor nor your secular logic counselor.

This is the tradition of prophecy in our literature that Tolkien, Lewis and everyone coming after, including G.R.R. Martin, tap into. Middle Earth, Narnia and Westeros exist as seemingly whole reflections of our own world. These imaginary places have the kind of history that includes cranks, lunatics and dreamers spouting off about all the things God said. When they finally come true the story ends…