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December 19, 2009

In which it is all the fault of writers
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:10 PM * 83 comments

So I was reading Elizabeth Bear’s recent story on Tor.com, The Horrid Glory of Its Wings. The plot involves a girl who finds a harpy stuck in an urban alleyway and falls to talking to her and listening to her stories. It opens, appropriately, with a quote from The Last Unicorn.

I wondered as I read whether the harpy ever told the tale of the hedge-witch who caught her sleeping, and caged her to display in a traveling carnival. I’d bet she had plenty to say about it. She’d narrate it on a bitterly chilly day, moving from the anger at being caged to the bitter satisfaction of eating Mommy Fortuna’s liver. Because Beagle had inserted the event into her history, and now she remembered Rukh’s cut-off scream and the white back of the unicorn retreating into the darkness as clearly as the taste of Phineas’ food.

You see, if these minor gods and mythical beasts live on our belief in them (even within the confines of fiction), then the stories we tell about them add to their histories—or even recreate them in a new image. Perhaps Bear’s harpy was only stuck because Beagle wrote his book, transforming her from a creature outside of human agency into something that could be caught in what we build.

Now, the modern publishing industry is a substantial force multiplier for belief; a popular writer’s take on a mythical character can live in millions of brains at once. Even a popular fanfic writer can manage hundreds or thousands of brainpowers’ leverage on the history of a given figure.

So do these creations of ours know what we do to them? Did the harpy suspect that Beagle’s book laid the foundation for her imprisonment? Do they sit around, these gods and demigods, demons and creatures, and bitch and moan about how their backstories (and indeed, their very natures) change in response to what we read and write?

INTERIOR - a bar
A morose LOKI drinks a beer he’s bummed off of ABEL. CAIN sits nearby.
The noise of conversation rises and falls in the background, drowning out any conversation at the table. But whatever they’re talking about, they’re all in agreement.
Then, into one of those sudden silences that occur in such scenes, Loki can be heard saying, “fucking Neil fucking Gaiman…”

The darkness drops. Because I say it does.

Comments on In which it is all the fault of writers:
#1 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:30 PM:

There's always the risk of poetic justice: a sufficiently famous writer must be in some danger of becoming a mythical character himself. They may yet get a chance at Neil Gaiman...

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:34 PM:

The nose of conversation, Abi? Surely it's all by mouth?

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:35 PM:

And if the darkness drops, which god picks it up?

#4 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:36 PM:

This coversation does have an interesting nose, and quite
an amusing finish.

#6 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:47 PM:

@5:
All hail Poopy Panda, throughout the land!

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 08:53 PM:

Tangentially related phenomena I love:

A TV station sends a crew to film kids visiting a mall Santa.

And the kids ask him questions about his life as described in Rankin/Bass specials and other cartoons.

#8 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 09:08 PM:

Dracula must be really pissed off about Twilight.

#9 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 09:11 PM:

Thomas, #1: I've read an interview with Michael Kupperman in which he said he started doing his "Twain and Einstein" comics partly because he was amused at how their images had become divorced from the real people.

#10 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 09:43 PM:

I can almost hear that conversation taking place at Archetype Café

#11 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 10:27 PM:

Indeed, Wesley. Many folks would probably say that Nicola Tesla was like a mythic figure when he was alive, but I feel the way he's talked about in pulp fandoms and such and portrayed in media like Matt Fraction's Five Fists of Science or the film The Prestige is very like what you (and, of course, Thomas @1) were talking about.

#12 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 10:55 PM:

And what of the dinosaurs? Having their limbs disjointed and rejointed according to the latest theories about what kind of gait they walked with.

#13 ::: Quietdown ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2009, 11:52 PM:

Suspect you intended "force multiplier for belief", as in

http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/volume3/vol3ch15.pdf.

Suspect Loki has a bigger beef with Smith than with Gaiman, but yes, "these creations of ours" not only know, but experience and respond to what we do to them. Making Light, incidentally, I'm delighted as fuck to've just discovered. Blog on!

#14 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 12:19 AM:

LOL for the OP! But some figures get multiplied by such treatment -- just imagine the conversation among the various forms of, say, Dracula! (Or pick your favorite Olympian.... ;-))

But of course, writers (and actors) can be also be consumed by their creations... Just ask Piers "Xanth" Anthony, or Leonard "I Am Not Am Spock" Nimoy.

Gaiman has so far escaped that fate, but only by producing yet more masterworks -- at this point, the Sandman would have to get in line behind Coraline, Fat Charlie, Bod, etc. Alternatively, one could say that Dream's depiction already "claims" the Sandman as the author's (Jungian) shadow.

#15 ::: JaNell ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 12:28 AM:

...and remember, children, that's what happens when you give a trickster deity a pimp name. Now off to bed with you and don't forget to brush your teeth!

#16 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 02:03 AM:

I have a notion that fictional creations don't suffer the pain in their story. What hurts them is being forgotten.

#17 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 03:12 AM:

In another corner of the bar, "...that rat bastard Dante". "Yeah, I shoulda burned him at the stake when I had the chance". "You preach it, Bonny!" (a clink of wine glasses)....

#18 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 04:41 AM:

"if these minor gods and mythical beasts live on our belief in them"

That's a mighty big if.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 05:14 AM:

Fixed the typos; thanks, guys. This is what happens when you try to write at 2am. Take it as a cautionary tale.


Nancy @15:
I have a notion that fictional creations don't suffer the pain in their story. What hurts them is being forgotten.

I was working on the assumption that having humans manipulate their stories (past and future) would be fairly galling for beings like gods and harpies. They think that they control us.


bryan @17
That's a mighty big if.

Yes, but it's not an uncommon assumption to make in storytelling. Gaiman, for instance, uses it particularly well.

#20 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 05:41 AM:

Well, actually Gaiman has a two tier structure in Sandman, the top level is of things that do not derive their power/existence from human or other belief in them - the second level is of things that does.

This structure is however complicated further by stories that also claim that the nature of reality can be changed by dreams, in fact in Sandman there is something of a vagueness as to whether the power/existence of the supernature derives from dreams or belief or a combination of the two.

I haven't read that much Gaiman outside of Sandman so I don't know how many of his other books also use this idea.

Actually I dislike the belief powers supernatural idea, as it seems to have become common in the past generation.

#21 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 06:20 AM:

A while back a friend who works at Fortean Times -which has been around long enough to track these things - mentioned that ever since the movie came out UFO abductees have been taken by the aliens from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Prior to this, 'victims' apparently described a wider range of beings as doing the abducting.

#22 ::: dagny ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 06:35 AM:

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien is an interesting exploration of what happens to characters when we write about them (and when we don't).

#23 ::: Branko Collin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 07:11 AM:

"They think that they control us."

They probably do. Surely you do not believe that writers come up with these outrageous story lines themselves? How presumptuous!

#24 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 07:13 AM:

There was a Theodore Sturgeon short story (a little google-searching assures me it was A Way of Thinking) which involved a character cursed by a voodoo doll.

"You got imagination," Kelley said sleepily. "Now just imagine along with me a while. Milt tell you how some folks, if you point a gun at 'em and go bang, they drop dead, even if there was only blanks in the gun?"

"He didn't, but I read it somewhere. Same general idea."

"Now imagine all the shootings you ever heard of was like that, with blanks."

"Go ahead."

"You got a lot of evidence, a lot of experts, to prove about this believing business, ever' time anyone gets shot."

"Got it."

"Now imagine somebody shows up with live ammunition in his gun. Do you think those bullets going to give a damn who believes what?"

I didn't say anything.

"For a long time people been makin' dolls and sticking pins in 'em. Whatever somebody believes it can happen, they get it. Now suppose somebody shows up with the doll all those dolls was copied from. The real one."

I lay still.

"You don't have to know nothin' about it," said Kelley lazily. "You don't have to be anybody special. You don't have to be anybody special. You don't have to understand how it works. Nobody has to believe nothing. All you do, you just point it where you want it to work."
So is there a class of supernatural beings that continue to exist, even if no one believes in them? Maybe it's something like a former celebrity who can no longer attract the attention of the newspapers.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S.Lewis had it that the demons' major coup was to convince people that they didn't exist, so they could work their mischief unchecked.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 09:50 AM:

Abi... CAIN sits nearby

I am presently staying in Concord, a bit to the east of San Francisco. Yesterday, while running some errands, I saw a sign for "Cain & Cain Dental". A bit before that, I saw a dog on a scooter chasing after a car.

Really.

#26 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 09:54 AM:

This reminds me of Clifford Simak's minor late-1970s novel Out of Their Minds, in which we discover that, when we imagine something, it becomes real in some Other Place. Unfortunately, the Devil and others are getting tired of the Place's new inhabitants, especially the extremely depressed Charlie Brown.

#27 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 10:06 AM:

Rob Hansen, #20: I wonder whether ghost stories have gone through a process like that. The Penguin edition of M. R. James's tales includes James's translation of old medieval "true" ghost tales. Those ghosts vary wildly in appearance, sometimes morphing from one shape to another--one transforms from a horse standing on its hind legs to a rolling bale of hay to a human.

The ghost story books that were popular in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century are more sedate. Today, when people claim to encounter ghosts, they're usually human, and hazy if not invisible. "Shadow people" are popular, and most of the time when someone thinks they've photographed a ghost it's because they've noticed an "orb."

#28 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 10:18 AM:

"You are old, Father Yahweh," the fabulist said,
"And your wrath has grown harder to sell.
So I've written a sequel with you as the head
Where your son comes to earth for a spell."

"In my youth," Father Yahweh replied to young Luke,
"I was One and I shall always be.
But your tale has poor Mary knocked up by my spook!
By that count, you've split me in three."

"You are old," Luke continued, "Your foibles re food
Make you pointlessly picky on chow.
So act 10 will have Peter in visions conclude
That you're cool with non-kosher from now."

"In my youth," said the lord, "I had flavor and fire.
My restrictions were worn like a brand.
Now you let people eat anything they desire?
Makes my character spineless and bland."

"You are old, Father Yahweh," a tax man said,
"And your rules have left too many holes.
So I've called it a sin: the mere thought of a bed.
We'll make normal kids fear for their souls."

"In my youth," said the god, "I made sex. It was grand!
Men had slave girls and multiple wives.
Now you've made me the watcher of every lad's hand --
The repressor of natural drives."

"You are old, Father Yahweh," the tax man accused,
"And your justice took eye for an eye,
But we noticed that principle being abused
So we're giving forgiveness a try."

"Enough of your cheek!" Yahweh yelled from his throne,
"Your non-canon fanfic can't stand."
But a meme, once ignited, has life of its own
And the retcon continued as planned.

#29 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 10:47 AM:

Virge @ 28 -

Bravo!

#30 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 11:05 AM:

Virge @28 - fantastic.

#31 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 11:32 AM:

I'm reminded somewhat of Pamela Dean's "Secret Country" trilogy, in which five children from our world find themselves in a magical world similar to the one they'd been making up stories about for several years. The question of how their stories influenced that world, and/or vice versa, is fundamental.

#32 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 11:37 AM:

Anyone seen the play The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler? The playwright, Jeff Whitty, has fictional characters live on in a sort of afterlife because they are remembered by audiences. Medea's children aren't so happy about sharing a house with her, but otherwise, eternal life seems like a good thing. Hedda decides to quit being such an emo and committing suicide regularly, and change her destiny. She travels through the fictional afterlife, meeting other suffering fictional characters. She and Mammy manage to change, but, alas, we audiences are unpleasant types who like to see characters who are beset by problems, and bored by Happily Ever After. The play messes with all the tropes of drama, pulling down the wall between the audience and the stage. It's funny, and sad, and wildly inventive.

Whitty also wrote the book for Avenue Q. I saw Adventures at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a couple years ago, and loved it.

#33 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 12:14 PM:

Abi--

It's funny that my story got you musing on this, because this concept--that there are beings in the world controlled and enslaved by how we imagine them, and some of them don't like it too much--is a major driving plot force behind my Promethean Age stories. And I had not thought about the Harpy Story being one of those--I figured it was in a continuity with some other stories I had done--"Orm the Beautiful" and "Snow Dragons" and "Your Collar."

Interesting. You just made me see my own work in a new light.

Thank you.

#34 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 12:46 PM:

Six characters in search of an author?

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 12:47 PM:

Virge #28: Wonderful!

#36 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 01:37 PM:

Bryan @20:

This structure is however complicated further by stories that also claim that the nature of reality can be changed by dreams, in fact in Sandman there is something of a vagueness as to whether the power/existence of the supernature derives from dreams or belief or a combination of the two.

I haven't read that much Gaiman outside of Sandman so I don't know how many of his other books also use this idea.

This is the basic premise behind American Gods. The old gods are dying and transforming due to lack of belief and a whole host of new gods have come about because of belief. Then they fight! Sort fo.

#37 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Ah, yes, A Way of Thinking. One of those stories that starts out as a light little story and gradually turns into something quite different. (Unlike, say, Kuttner's A Gnome There Was where the change takes place in the last paragraph and is about a subtle and well mannered as a sledgehammer to the face. I've always assumed it was either a wordcount problem or Kuttner had come up with one hell of a toothache and wanted to make someone else suffer as well.) Only stories that it reminds me of are Sturgeon's The Girl Had Guts which is an intersteller locked room mystery almost as bent as the locked room mystery in The Quatermass Experiment, and Bloch's A Case of the Stubborns which stays a horror story all the way though, but sure doesn't act like one...

#38 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 03:03 PM:

Writers have always been fairly respectful to Dream, perhaps because they were afraid of the potential blowback: dreams, ideas, and inspirations get tangled up down in the undermind and it wouldn't take much construction on Dream's part to build up a truly terrible writer's block.

His sister Death, on the other hand, has been crammed into all sorts of strange personifications. Teenage goth chick is maybe not very respectful, but it at least isn't satiric. On the other hand, it could be really a PITA to ALWAYS HAVE TO TALK IN CAPS. Or to be defeated by those two bozos Bill and Ted.

And Virge @ 28 deserves a shiny new internet for that lovely pastiche.

#39 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 03:11 PM:

Virge @28: Bravo!

#40 ::: SummerStorms ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 03:31 PM:

In regards to the entire premise: I love it!

#41 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 04:22 PM:

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't care if I ALWAYS HAVE TO TALK IN CAPS as long as I got the chance to kick the plot of "The Little Match Girl" in the face in exchange. One of my favorite parts of Pratchett.

#42 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 05:25 PM:

@Bruce #41: Seconded; do we have a vote? One of the things I love about Pratchett is the sheer compassion of his stories. The man brings light to the world.

As for Loki, I think he's got a far bigger beef with Jack "King" Kirby than Neil Gaiman. At least Gaiman didn't make him wear green and yellow spandex.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #38: Death might have a grievance against Neil Gaiman. But it's nothing compared to the one against John Donne.

Writers respect Dream, I agree. But that's because they're afraid of triggering Dream's big sister Sleep. Some writers are really good at provoking Sleep, D** B****, for example.

#44 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 06:24 PM:

Re: #s 42 + 43

I'll third that.

#45 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 07:17 PM:

#1 ::: Thomas@1: ... a sufficiently famous writer must be in some danger of becoming a mythical character himself.

Virgil, Taliesin, Aneirin, Cyrano de Bergerac, ET Hoffman?

#46 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 07:27 PM:

Fascinating concepts.

I'm a bit reminded of the "look in the book" bit of Aristophanes's The Birds, where the characters play off the fact that the previous edition of the play they're in was so popular that they can use it as a reference for what's going to happen to them.

#47 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 08:26 PM:

And what about the authors of autobiographies? Did they write the book or did the book write them?

#48 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 08:34 PM:

Re: autobiographies, it depends. Consider Casanova's Story of My Life or Gypsy by Ms Lee (née Rose Louise Hovick) and the popular conception of both characters.

#49 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2009, 10:37 PM:

Serge @26 - shame! Nothing by Simak is minor! (I love everything he wrote, and when I read him much, I find myself thinking in shorter sentences. Very relaxing cadence, has Simak.)

#50 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 12:36 AM:

Ken Brown@45: In Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia, Virgil's Lavinia (from the Aeneid) meets a poet...who it gradually becomes clear is Dante's guide from the Divine Comedy. (And that's how they can meet, because they're both characters in poems.)

#51 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 01:37 AM:

Michael @ #49, I enjoy the sidetrack in "The Goblin Reservation" in which Shakespeare is booked to lecture on the topic "How It Was That I Did Not Write The Plays."

#52 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 03:32 AM:

This reminds me a lot of Pratchett's theory of narrative causality, featured in many of his books, especially Small Gods.

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 05:11 AM:

Amateurs! Just try writing fiction in the second person. Fourth wall? What fourth wall?!

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 08:46 AM:

Michael Roberts @ 49... I'd rather agree, but most people may not have heard of it, thus my calling it 'minor'. By the way, did you know that Simak is the narrator of Gardner Dozois's short story Counterfactual?

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 08:49 AM:

Linkmeister @ 51... I remember that. And Shakespeare's meeting with the Ghost. And one of the story's characters being a caveman called Alley Oop.

#57 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 09:27 AM:

53: technically, this may mean that I am a Charlie Stross character.
*looks nervously under desk*

#58 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 10:19 AM:

Terry Pratchett was asked about Small Gods and belief at this recent Guardian Book Club panel.

#59 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 10:47 AM:

In Dann & Dozois' new anthology THE DRAGON BOOK, Beagle has a story ("Oakland Dragon Blues") where a very pissed-off mythical creature is inadvertantly marooned in our world by a Bay Area writer's abandoning a story idea. I don't think it's giving too much away to note that the writer finds a way out of the mess.

#60 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 01:22 PM:

Dave @14: Neil has been smart/lucky/good enough to be able to move beyond what initially defined him. There is a common thread in a lot of his stories though and they all seem to have the same inherent creepiness to them. Even his children books are a bit off, like any good children's book should be for that matter.

The idea that man shapes the supernatural seems to tie into some ideas regarding Buddhism, divinity and the dualism there.

#61 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 03:37 PM:

No one mentions Stranger than Fiction?

:D

#62 ::: Elizabeth "Archangel Beth" McCoy ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 04:52 PM:

Whole roleplaying game supplement, even, on the concept of supernatural creatures being born from/shaped by humanity... http://www.sjgames.com/in-nomine/Ethereal/

#63 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 05:22 PM:

ajay@57 technically, this may mean that I am a Charlie Stross character.

The wise character chooses their author well. Simak would do nicely! As would CS Lewis (Eustace's problem was that he didn't realise what kind of story he was in) You don't want Lovecraft or Ballard though.

My only fictional appearance that I am aware of so far has been a spearcarrier in a Warhammer short story by Peter T Garratt. For the last few years the world I seem to be has been looking much more line a Ken MacLeod book...

#64 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 05:24 PM:

Elizabeth @62: Steve Jackson games always puts out interesting stuff. I loved illuminati. There was also this one game I vaguely remember a game that was based in a bar. It was a transdimensional bar and I played a private eye that always narrated his stuff and had a trench coat that pretty much had anything he needed in it. I'll have to check that game out.

#65 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 06:28 PM:

Rob Hansen writes in #21:

A while back a friend who works at Fortean Times -which has been around long enough to track these things - mentioned that ever since the movie came out UFO abductees have been taken by the aliens from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Prior to this, 'victims' apparently described a wider range of beings as doing the abducting.

I know of a book that investigates this: the evolution of iconography of the UFO alien.

Standing in The Strand, leafing through Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Culture by John Francis Moffitt, a single sentence convinced me that I should buy the book:

Nonetheless — although it has not previously been recognized — the "alien invasion" phenomenon especially calls for the attention of a properly trained art historian.
The fact that Moffit devotes an entire chapter to Betty Crocker, whose face is familiar to millions even though she does not exist, clinched the deal.

Alas, though I own it, I have not yet read it, or I would have more to say about this topic. (Amazon allows a "look inside," for those interested.)

A less lofty book that examines the same problem is Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth by Curtis Peebles, which tracks the emerging behavior and appearance of UFOs and their inhabitants by means of news clippings and other published accounts.

#66 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 06:58 PM:

Larry #64: There was also this one game I vaguely remember a game that was based in a bar. It was a transdimensional bar and I played a private eye that always narrated his stuff and had a trench coat that pretty much had anything he needed in it.

That sounds like GURPS: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, by Chris McCubbin.

#67 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 09:18 PM:

However writers feel about Dream or Death or Loki, I will note that it is in the Devil's contract that if he appears in a work of art, he gets the best lines.

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.

&c.

I'm also reminded of a Harlan Ellison story, the one about the guy who has been shuffled off to where dead gods go, because the last person in the world who believed in him gave it up as a bad job.

#68 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2009, 10:31 PM:

Larry @64, was that character's name Colt Cannon? Was the game Tales of the Floating Vagabond? And were you ever in the SCA going by the name of Chauncey? Because, if so, I STILL tell people the story of "If only we had the Totally Awesome Blimp!"

#69 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 05:49 PM:

Bill Higgins #65:

I'm a trained art historian, and I've got to get a copy!

(I'm sure I've mentioned the paper I sat through about fifteen years ago at the annual art historians' convention, about pictures of Jesus in living rooms across the US. Talk about your alien ...)

And hasn't the image of Betty Crocker also changed over the years?

#70 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 07:36 PM:

joann, so has Aunt Jemima.

#71 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 07:56 PM:

joann @69 said: I'm sure I've mentioned the paper I sat through about fifteen years ago at the annual art historians' convention, about pictures of Jesus in living rooms across the US.

Both my husband and his older brother, in their late-high-school/early-college years, looked like Jesus. They don't look much like each other, aside from the beard-plus-long-hair thing.

John, my husband, looked like the Jesus in American illustrated bibles (crossed with Zonker, but that was merely unkemptness). Jamie, his brother, looked exactly like Jesus does in mosaics and devotional paintings in GREECE, (complete with the piercing eyes). Where he'd just spent two years working.

They commiserated about being accosted for bible-study meetings at a family holiday gathering at their parents' house during this period.

#72 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 09:42 PM:

Joann, #65:

And hasn't the image of Betty Crocker also changed over the years?

Indeed it has. That's part of the fun.

#73 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 10:34 PM:

ebear @ 67

the frosty skin of a plum...
was she...
stuck there?
too proud to ask for help?

musical darkness

I felt like I was dancing

thanks

#74 ::: Dr. Psycho ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2009, 03:26 AM:

There was a remarkable story in the "Hellblazer" comic (#23, 1989) in which fictional characters were slipping out into our world, and in which a man who had served as the model for characters in several works of fiction was accused of breaking the rules by trying to live as a human -- the fact that he was actually human did not, in the end, save him....
http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?messageID=2005499916

#75 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2009, 02:01 AM:

I first encountered the idea of beings created (and sustained) by belief in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics. It is also used by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld books, notably in "Small Gods". But the one that brought home the creator/fictional character relationship was in the comic "Animal Man" written by Grant Morrison.

It's a sobering thought: we're reading about the tortuous trials and tribulations of these characters for our entertainment. Sure the writers did it to them, but we readers are complicit.

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2009, 11:07 AM:

ebear #67: I am constrained to point out that Mephistopheles is a devil but not The Devil (for which personage please see not your favourite Elizabethan playwright but a certain Puritan gentleman of a slightly later vintage):

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; th' unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?

#77 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2009, 07:38 PM:

Soon Lee, #75, also in Pterry's Hogfather, which I'm re-reading. It's a primary issue in the book. I'm going to re-watch the DVD, too, although it's not as good as it could be.

#78 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2009, 01:59 PM:

After Morrison became a character in Animal Man he was killed off in a subsequent issue of Suicide Squad. He comments of how he wrote himself into the universe and then became subject to other whims, and he literally died from writer's block.

Let's not get started on being mistaken for Jesus. The topic mistress has witnessed it happening to me a few times. hahahathud.

#79 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2009, 05:17 PM:

I can only hope that I'm in an Ursula K. LeGuin book. As a middle-aged woman of no particular accomplishment or ability, I'm unlikely to fare well, be taken seriously, or even have a role at all in the oeuvre of most other authors.

#80 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:52 AM:

Speaking of which, Ursula K. Le Guin has resigned from the Authors Guild over the Google settlement fiasco.

#81 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 10:56 AM:

"Speaking of whom". Ack.

#82 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2009, 11:37 AM:

A friend mentioned a book called Gods Behaving Badly this weekend, about Greek deities surviving in the modern world as dog walkers and nightclub owners. That made me want to read Tanglewood Tales and A Wonder Book again.

#83 ::: Earl sees spam test ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2010, 02:43 AM:

Got nothing particularly clever to say here, but I know it when I see it. Second one in the past hour or so.

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