The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force [Vault Edition]
“This ancient training manual, crafted by early Jedi Masters, has educated and enlightened generations of Jedi. It explains the history and hierarchy of the Jedi Order, and what Jedi must know to take their place as defenders of the peace in the galaxy—from mastery of the Force to the nuances of lightsaber combat…” (via Amazon.com.)
I was going to make fun of this, when it first appeared on the Amazon.com home page. Possibly because at the time I was listening to the film critic Mark Kermode defend Lucas’ decision to release Star Wars in 3D as justified since he hadn’t made all that much money from the films yet and obviously deserved to milk them for more, whatever fans and critics might think. Needless to say, Kermode was being more than a bit sarcastic. The comparison of “dimensionalizing” Star Wars to the earlier (now happily over) fad for colorizing classic b&w movies was a more seriously meant point, and I hope Lucas was listening.
But criticisms of Lucas aside, I have absolutely no right to make fun of The Jedi Path and I’m even surprised at that momentary impulse, whatever the cause. After all, am I not the once upon a time proud owner not only of the Star Trek Technical Manual but also the Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha Technical Notebook? I even owned a 3D chess set, as seen in a couple of Star Trek episodes – and tried to teach my friends to play. And I used to dress up as a Klingon. So, you know, throwing stones – glass houses – without sin, all of that.
It’s not just buying stuff of course, nor is this kind of fannishness limited to science fiction. A lot of the participants in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and Renaissance Faires come to it out of a love for fantasy literature, most obviously The Lord of the Rings. And the whole genre of role-playing games, beginning with Dungeons & Dragons, comes in part from the same sorts of engagements and interests.
I have done all of these things. I used to don homemade armor and get bashed around the head with a practice sword during SCA training sessions in the parking lot of a BART station. I worked a couple of Ren Faires, and went to many more – in costume – and spent far too much of my high school years playing D&D and other similar games – including one my friends and I designed ourselves.
I also used to hanker for hobbit food, a fact I was reminded of recently. I can recall convincing my mother to make a mushroom pie, after a meal from The Lord of the Rings, and wrapping shortbread in grape leaves to simulate the waybread of the elves, lembas. I still order mead when it appears, and when I do it is always with The Lord of the Rings in mind.
But it’s not only science fiction and fantasy that creates these kind of impulses in people. A friend to whom I confessed my hobbit food cravings recently owned up to her own similar fannish food moment – making herself, when she was young, a bowl of milk and a toasted cheese sandwich because that was what Heidi ate. And I know people who spend time preparing dishes and meals that appear in the “Commissario Guido Brunetti” mystery novels, set in Venice – and did so even before Brunetti’s Cookbook came out, earlier this year. Back in TV land, there is the phenomenon of spaghetti tacos from the hit Nickelodeon series “iCarly” becoming a fad with younger kids, as reported in The New York Times recently.
But while these sort of fannish efforts to live out or engage (or eat) with favorite texts – TV shows, films, books – in daily life are not limited to science fiction and fantasy, they are certainly most common with fans from those genres – clichéd in fact. Like Star Trek fans dressing up and speaking in Klingon.
Why? I’m not sure. It seems mostly to occur with genre texts – so not just sci fi and fantasy, even if mostly them, but also mysteries and so on, and with cult texts – think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the relationship so many people have to The Catcher in the Rye. There may be people out there who dress up like their favorite character from a Jonathan Franzen novel or seek out food or music they’ve read about in Ian McEwan. But not many. Certainly nowhere near as many as go around speaking Klingon or who devote a large portion of their lives to their love for The Lord of the Rings.
This kind of fan behavior around science fiction and fantasy has been a part of my life since I was a small child, since I first read The Lord of the Rings in fact, though my engagements expanded out from there obviously – even to being one of those who follow Commissario Brunetti’s eating preferences. (Since Brunetti’s a bit of gourmet, and in a city of wonderful food, this last is pretty painless, and an interest in fine Italian food is easier to get away with in normal society than pointy ears or an elven cloak.)
Connection or hero worship, perhaps. The pleasure of living a life that is more vivid and coherent – living the life of a hobbit or elf, a Star Fleet officer or Venetian detective, rather than that of an over-educated and under-employed nobody in a alienating and deracinated big city. Wishing the magic were real. It’s not hard to find reasons for these fannish attempts to bring the world of our books and shows into our “real” lives – so often dull and hard and confused in comparison.
The World Series is underway, and it occurs to me that the passionate engagement of the sports fan – the wearing of the jerseys, memorizing the stats, all of that – is not really all that different from the Star Trek fan greeting his friends with a Vulcan salute, saying “Live Long, and Prosper.”
We hanker after meaning, connection, a sense of purpose, magic. Modern life seems increasingly poor at producing happiness for many people, but fortunately we have our books and movies, our teams, our loves and passions – to transport us out of daily lives, full of unemployment, health care problems, war, and provide us with some of the values and sodalities that it lacks, meaning and magic. The surprise, really, isn’t that some people take the time to learn Klingon or dress up like elves. It’s that everyone doesn’t.
Filed under: Pop Culture, fandom, Film, science fiction, Star Trek, TV