I wanted to fix a problem. No, that’s not true. I wanted to help fix a problem. No, that’s still not true. I wanted give myself an option. Yeah, that’s more like it. I wrote about Sabien and his world for purely selfish reasons.
If I ever find a lamp in the desert and a genie comes out, one of my wishes will be for a TARDIS. For those of you not in the know, a TARDIS is a time machine. I’ve got an ever growing list of people and places I would visit with my TARDIS.
One of those people is teenaged me.
I’d step out of my blue box and hand him a copy of Sabien’s Quest while he was waiting for the next Goosebumps or Animorphs or Jerry Spinelli title to be released. I’d pass it to him while he was leaving the library empty-handed or perusing the school book fair. I’d hand it to him, say enjoy, and then fade out.
He’d flip over Sabien and have a crush on Magnificent and anticipate Ei Lata’n.
He’d appreciate best for it introducing him to a world without limits. If you want to fly, there’re characters who can show you how. Want to be a swashbuckler? Do you like giant pets?
He loved The Hulk, and Hulk was green. When he met Pixel from the Diadem series, he was blown away. I mean the kid was blue.What would that be like? Being green? Being blue? And if a blue person married a green person, what would their kid look like? Would he have both their powers?
So yeah, in the Creator’s Realm there are the Slagg who are shades of purple, and there are the Woodfein and Hedge who are shades of green. There are the Zoë and the Persons of Light who are pale. There are Keepers of the Nite who are dark. The [SPOILERS] are covered in green or yellow or red scales. [SPOILERS] and Kaynai are shades of yellow and brown underneath their fur. The [SPOILERS] are definitely going to be shades of blue. And what happens when you mix them up? Ei Lata’n is just a taste. Wait till you meet [SPOILER], she ‘s like a rainbow-colored arsenal.
I’ve never been comfortable with the IRL color assignments. I think it ignores the spectrum. I think having four arms is way more distinctive than being purple. Purple is everywhere. It’s in the flowers, it’s in the evening. I think since heroes and bad guys can look any-kinda-way here, they can definitely look any-kinda-way there.
The other day I posted about Sabien’s appearance and how it kept him in constant danger. During that spiel I mocked the trials of Harry Potter, and Eragon, and the Fellowship. Well mocked is a strong word. The reason I laugh at HP and Eragon and the Fellowship most groups of characters you can think of are because they don’t look real to me.
Wait, wait, let me explain.
The world, my world at least, is mixed up. When I was kid my friends didn’t look like me, because there were plenty of kids around who didn’t look like me. When I was an adult my friends didn’t look like me, because there were plenty of adults around who didn’t look like me. Occasionally, I’m still an adult, but don’t tell anyone.
Because of all the name dropping I did last time, you know I’m a big comic book fan. I’d even go as far as to call myself a comic book nerd. My library as a 7-year-old consisted more of Spider-man than Seuss. I had X-Men trading cards and watched their ‘90s cartoon growing up. Nightcrawler was my favorite, and I still say “..nor iron bars a cage” because of Hank McCoy. As my reading tastes developed I stumbled upon a series by K.A. Applegate called Animorphs at a school book fair. There were kids on the cover changing into animals. I made my parents buy three of them on the spot.
Now, I had just come out of my Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers phase and the Animorphs series was a smooth transition. Why? Well because the MMPR looked like me and my friends. Go ahead and look up the original line-up. I’ll wait.
Got it? Sweet.
Now, costume arrangements aside, MMPR was big deal for me. Like I said, I was reading and watching X-Men and Spider-Man at the time, with some Batman thrown in for good measure. When I decided to stop plagiarizing and just use my imagination, all of my stories revolved around versions of me that got super powers of some sort. And my friends were right there with me. Unfortunately, if I wanted to visually identify with one of my heroes I’d have to be blue and furry, or not there at all. Until Zach the Black Ranger showed up.
And thanks to Mrs. Rather (3rd grade, Haude Elementary) I was exposed to the fantasy genre. She read The Dark Green Tunnel to our class and I never looked back. Again, this was a story about two kids who were in a new world, and had to hide, but looked just like everyone else. I didn’t immediately see the danger other than they couldn’t defend themselves. I don’t remember reading about any characters in an alternate world that didn’t already fit into the Europa based setting. Now this was of course years before I was introduced to Octavia Butler’s catalogue.
But then came the Animorphs. Rachel, Jake, Tobias, Marco, Cassie, and Aximilli Esgarouth Isthil. They were the best. Saving the world on the weekends from the alien invasion happening right under our noses. And their descriptions (as well as the cover art) reminded me of my friends and the stories I wrote. Girls were friends with boys, and not everyone was from the same family tree. There was even a part where their resident alien, Ax, took each of the other Animorphs’ DNA and created a human form.
To me that was groundbreaking. In X-Men, if Beast or Nightcrawler gets shot with a human ray, they look just like Peter Parker. In an episode of Gargoyles, another childhood-era favorite, when the Gargoyles, that are purple and red and green and brown, get humanized, they get pale skin.
To me, Applegate with her Animorphs series acknowledged that humans don’t all look the same and aren’t derived from the same palette. It’s a simple truth, but I hadn’t seen much of it at the time. But of course, Star Trek acknowledged it immediately.
My father is a Trekkie. I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation playing in the living room as I went about my evening. Now I’m a Sisko man myself, but I’ve got plenty of love for Picard. And between the two of them, and even with Kirk, they were working with a diverse crew.
Even the Planeteers acknowledged that different faces from different places can save a world.
So there I was, at respective times in my life, seeing the Power Rangers, and the Planeteers, and space station Deep Space 9, and the bridge(s) of the Enterprise, and five kids plus one alien saving worlds.
And then PBS brought it home:
That’s a clip from PBS’s Puzzle Place. The episode is titled Rip Van Wrinkle, and I won’t fault you for checking out the rest of the series. It’s pretty cool. In that bit the Puzzlers have just read a picture book version of Cinderella and want to act it out in a play. But there aren’t roles for everyone.
I liked my fantasy stories with their magical gateways and mythical creatures (lookin at you werewolves) but there didn’t seem to be any room for me in them. I could get superpowers and save this world, but what about the others? Could I rule over Narnia? Was it allowed? And why can’t dwarves and elves and humans work together? Was their struggle supposed to be commentary on arbitrary differences?
I felt there were actual differences with actual consequences that could be commented on as well. I laugh when I’m told Arwyn and Aragorn can’t be together because they’re different. And I chuckle when Harry Potter has to live in the woods to hide when his only distinguishing feature can be covered up with cover-up. I get that they are fantasy stories, but to me that’s unreal.
What if Harry and Ron and Hermione had to find a horcrux in India without detection? What if the Fellowship had to make a detour through Harad?
What if five kids and an alien were being hunted on an alien planet? [See Animorphs: The Attack (#26) for the answer.]
Now, why should science fiction with its lasers and spaceships have all the fun?
I wanted to make my characters’ lives as challenging as they could be. At home, Sabien’s weird looking because he has a hunchback. It gives him a complex. Ska can’t get a date because he looks like a skunk, not a wolf. And then they have to go out into the realm! Not only are they freaks at home, they stand out something fierce just walking through a random city in the kingdom. Maybe a needle can hide in a haystack, but a tree can’t hide in a meadow. So what’s a tree to do when it’s being hunted by lumberjacks and there’s no forest nearby?
Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org