The Ashbless Loop

In the novel The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, a literature professor, Brendan Doyle, is offered a trip back in time to see Samuel Coleridge Taylor give a lecture – only to become stranded in 1810.

However, this does put him in a position to begin investigating the mysterious poet William Ashbless. Little is known about Ashbless: all he left behind were his poems, which Doyle loves and has memorized, and a few recorded appearances in or after 1810.

Using his knowledge of history, Doyle begins turning up at places where Ashbless should be. But Ashbless doesn’t show. Indeed, the things that history records as happening to Ashbless start happening to Doyle instead. When he meets and falls for the woman Ashbless marries, Doyle realises – he is Ashbless. He will spend the rest of his life dutifully doing the things Ashbless is recorded as doing, “writing” the poems from memory and submitting them for publication, and in time, going knowingly to meet Ashbless’ violent death…

Which begs the question – who wrote the poems?

The poetry of William Ashbless is uncreated, existing forever in a closed loop in time, printed and re-printed that one day it can be memorized and taken back in time. An Ashbless loop.

And you know what? Some television episodes are like that. A closed loop in time.

I was watching one last night. A major character is accused of a crime (that, ironically, he did commit), and faces the death penalty unless he’s exonerated. At the end of the episode, sure enough, the evidence against him is proved to be fake, and his life is back to normal.

Okay, kudos for the irony that, despite the evidence being fabricated, he actually is guilty –  but apart from that? You could omit this episode from the series, and no one would notice.

Why? Because nothing is changed by what happens. Does the character change his ways? No. Do other people look at him differently, for good or ill, because of these events? No. Is the driving plot arc of the series affected? Not at all. Everything carries on exactly as before –

And the audience can tell. There’s a palpable sense of disappointment whenever they come to the end of an Ashbless loop episode, even if they’re not sure why. The episode feels a little empty, a little… pointless. And they’re slightly less likely to tune in next week.

Which is really just another way of saying – even in the most episodic, least serialized of shows, your story-of-the-week should change something. It should have consequences for someone. It should matter.

Advertisements

Frozen and the New Hollywood Paradigm

I’m not normally a huge fan of animated movies, but I’m delighted to report that Frozen, co-written and co-directed by the prodigiously talented Jennifer Lee, has become the first film (co-)directed by a woman to make a billion dollars in ticket sales.

Think about that. Every single billion-dollar ever made – and nowadays, your movie’s nothing if it doesn’t at least get near that milestone –  has been directed by a man. And I bet there aren’t many female screenwriters represented in that total either…

And then let’s think about Frozen for a moment. Because Frozen does not conform to the typical Hollywood movie paradigm.

It splits the protagonist role interestingly between the two sisters: it’s the story of Elsa’s redemption, but Anna has the active, questing ‘heroine’ role. It suggests that (mild spoiler) the prince-and-princess ‘love at first sight’ cliche may not actually be a stable foundation for a romance – indeed, that it springs more from the damage an isolated royal upbringing does than from healthy desires. It ends with one heroine in the early stages of a romance, but the other quite happy without a man. And by far the strongest relationship in the film, the relationship that drives the story, is not romantic, but sisterly.

In short, Frozen became only the second animated feature to pass the billion-dollar mark by breaking all the rules of the Disney Princess romance. Yet more proof that the Hollywood paradigm is changing, and you don’t have to keep churning out the same tired plots with the same white male heroes to make money…