Second in our series of reposts gearing up for year to of the Superversive Literary Movement:
Holy Godzilla of the Apocalypse:
How to Identify a Superversive Story
So, you want to be Superversive? Eager to join the new movement but not sure how to tell if you have? This post will, God willing, help sort out a bit of the confusion.
So, without further ado: The Benchmarks of the Superversive:
First and foremost, a Superversive story has to have good storytelling.
By which I do not mean that it has to be well-written. Obviously, it would be great if every story was well-written. It is impossible, however, to define a genre or literary movement as “well-written”, as that would instantly remove the possibility of a beginner striving to join.
What I mean by good storytelling is that the story follows the principles of a good story. That, by the end, the good prosper, the bad stumble, that there is action, motion to the plot, and a reasonable about of sense to the overall structure.
Second, the characters must be heroic.
By this, I do not mean that they cannot have weaknesses. Technically, a character without weaknesses could not be heroic, because nothing would require effort upon his part.
Nor do I mean that a character must avoid despair. A hero is not defined by his inability to wander into the Valley of Despair, but by what he does when he finds himself knee deep in its quagmire. Does he throw in the towel and moan about the unfairness of life? Or does he pull his feet out of the mud with both hands and soldier onward?
Nor do I mean that every character has to be heroic, obviously some might not be. But in general, there should be characters with a heroic, positive attitude toward life.
However, many, many stories have good storytelling and heroic characters. Most decent fantasies are like that.
Are all decent fantasies Superversive?
Because one element of Superversive literature is still missing.
Third, Superversive literature must have an element of wonder
But not ordinary wonder. (Take a moment to parse that out. Go ahead. I’ll still be here. )
Specifically, the kind of wonder that comes from suddenly realizing that there is something greater than yourself in the universe, that the world is a grander place than you had previously envisioned. The kind of wonder that comes from a sudden hint of a Higher Power, a more solid truth.
There might be another word for that kind of wonder: awe.
Specifically, the awe that comes when you are pulled out of your ordinary life by being made aware of the structure of the moral order of the universe.
That kind of awe.
To be Superversive, a story needs that moment when you are going along at a good clip and you suddenly draw back, because you have been lifted outside of yourself by the realization that there is something Bigger.
(And I don’t mean bigger like Godzilla. Just the God part. No zilla. Unless this Godzilla works for God. Godzilla, Holy Monster of the Apocalypse, or something.)
On this blog, I will often talk about Christian Superversive stories. Stories that have that moment, when the greater truths of the Creator of the Universe are suddenly glimpsed by the reader and/or the characters in the story.
If the Superversive Movement is about storming the moral high ground—bringing a moral order into our stories, adding the power of a greater truth. Then, the most effective stories are likely to be the ones that reflect the author’s highest sense of truth. For me, that means the truths of Christianity, as I understand it.
However, I want to make it clear, right from the beginning, that Superversive literature does not have to be Christian. You can write Jewish Superversive or Buddhist Superversive. It does, however, require a moral order and a glimpse of the awareness of this order in the story.
My favorite movie of all time is Winter’s Tale, the movie made from Mark Halprin’s novel. Winter’s Tale is Jewish Superversive.
What makes it so good is these moments I refer to above, moments that take you out of yourself and make you realize that something Bigger is going on. (Again, not Godzilla…except for Holy Godzilla, who most likely lives in a Pokaball on Batman's belt…so Robin can shout out: Holy Godzilla, Batman! And Batman can shout, "Holy Godzilla, I choose you!" and Holy Godzilla can appear and stomp on the Joker (and probably half of New York, too, but…ah well.)
My favorite TV show, Chinese Paladin Three, is Taoist Superversive. You are going along, minding your own business, enjoying this pure fantasy romp, and suddenly, toward the last third, there is this section where the villain tries to convince the Taoist priest of the futility of the human condition.
The story line suddenly becomes so deep and so touching, so insightful and so unexpected. The depth of the moral questions being presented to the priest character and the horror of what he suffers adds a whole vertical dimension to what had previously been a lighthearted adventure.
It brings a sense of awe.
Two questions come to mind:
1) Can you write Wicca or Pagan Superversive?
Possibly, but it would be difficult. Why? Because fantasy…gods, myths, etc…is the matter of Pagans. If the story starts out about such things, adding more of the same is not superversive.
However, if the story were about, say wizards or nymphs and fauns, or any other worldly matter, and the gods made brief unexpected appearances in which they put across moral ideas that lifted the story to a higher level, that might possibly be superversive. (Gene Wolfe’s Solder In The Mist comes to mind.)
2) Can Christian Fiction (or Jewish Fiction, or Taoist Fiction) be superversive?
Probably not. It certainly could be inspirational, if done well. But if something starts out already being about these matters, then it is not superversive to introduce them. It is just part of the tale. Such a story could be written in a way that would make it enjoyable to those who love superversive stories, but it would not be superversive in and of itself.
I don’t want to give too much away about Winter’s Tale, part of the wonder of the story is that everything is so unexpected. But I think I can describe this scene without ruining too much of the joy.
Crime boss Pearly Soames approaches another man in 1915 New York, reminding the second man that he owes Pearly a favor. He asks for help in his plan to kill Beverly Penn. The second man wants nothing to do with it, but Pearly calls the debt and insists.
Then, suddenly, in the midst of this intrigue scene, Pearly says:
I've been wondering.
With all these trying to go up…and you come down.
Was it worth it, becoming human? Or was it an impulse buy?
You must miss the wings, right?
Oh, come on. You must.
And in that instant, you suddenly realize that something very different is going on that you first thought, and it opens a glimpse into some greater working of the universe, a glimpse that makes you pause and think…about heaven and fallen angels and what it means to be human and whether it is a good thing or no.
And that, my friends, is Superversive.