The first time I saw Wicked, it was 2005, and my high school musical’s cast, crew, and a passel of chaperones had come to New York to see the sights—including the still relatively new show. We sat in the very last row of the very last balcony, and I cried like a baby at the end. (I still do, even just listening to the soundtrack.)
Time passed, and a million fairy tale retellings, Ozian and otherwise, came and went, inundating movies, books, television, and comics. But no matter how these stories ebbed and flowed in popularity, Wicked has stayed strong and stayed open, belting out its loving but revisionist history of L. Frank Baum’s fairytale world eight times a week at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. However, I haven’t seen the show in years, and the last time I saw it was with the national tour, rather than the Broadway version. So when a good friend came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go see the show, her treat, I was delighted to agree. I was surprised to find, however, that despite the show’s age, it seems more relevant now than ever.
I know he’s a Nazi ghoul bent on world domination, but maybe there’s another side to this story?
The great joy of geek culture—whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, or superheroes—is the ability to tell grand stories. Where else can we seriously consider the end of the world, or the responsibilities of ultimate power? These are the stories that always offer an escape from mundane reality, letting complexity fall away in favor of a clear mission.
In the past decade, these stories have dominated pop culture, from the way everything from Avengers to Game of Thrones has become inescapable—perhaps the public has grown weary of the multipolar diplomacy that has characterized the post-9/11 era. But these stories are letting us down. The relief offered by the simplicity of defeating comic book villains is no longer enough; we need to ask for more.
On December 20, 1940, Captain America #1 went on sale, and the world learned the name Steve Rogers. The United States was nearly a year away from declaring war on Nazi Germany, but famously, Steve Rogers debuted with a right hook to Hitler’s jaw.
Despite the star-spangled costume and the hyper-patriotic code name, Steve never falls into the traps of American jingoism. He resiliently stands for the better angels of our nature, and for the highest ideals of the American experiment.
Last Friday night, a terrible crime was committed in Paris. As frightened citizens and visitors sought shelter, Parisians responded with the social media hashtag #PorteOuverte—open door—offering their homes to anyone who needed to get off the streets during that dark night. But an ocean away, twenty-six American governors gave in to the opposite urge, closing their doors to refugees fleeing the same evil.
In this world, in this America, Steve Rogers will return to theaters with Captain America: Civil War—standing tall as a frightened world demands registration and monitoring of super heroes. And as cowardice and bigotry threaten fundamental American values, it’s time again to turn to the Star-Spangled Man.
Has there been a week in Westeros where this doesn’t apply?
You know what’s really terrifying about the expression “Winter is Coming?” It means that winter is not yet here. Westeros creaks under a civil war which has destroyed most of the countryside, dragons rise in the east, and the White Walkers are returning, but this is still late autumn. This is still November.
As you might have noticed, I liketalking aboutGame of Thrones. And, with its premiere last night, titled, “The Wars to Come”, I’ve finally got something new to talk about.
We’re roughly at the midpoint of this saga, now. While George R.R. Martin is still talking like he’ll write seven books, this is the man who once promised his editors a trilogy of Ice and Fire. With last-book splits in Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, I think we can safely expect Game of Thrones to last eight years.
When we last left for the real world, the social order of Westeros had frayed like never before. Tywin Lannister, Hand to three of the past four kings, lies dead, murdered by his son Tyrion, the latter fled into exile. Cersei, Queen Regent and now the sole backer of her son, King Tommen, descends into paranoia as she recoils from the loss of her father and son. Two powerful pretenders remain, Stannis Baratheon and Daenerys Targaryen, and both gather foreign forces to claim a land which does not crave their rule; Stannis mortgages the realm to the Iron Bank of Braavos, and Dany leads monsters and mercenaries across the sea.
Violence, chaos, and power dynamics herald the start of the fifth season.
Through the A Song of Ice and Fire series and the first season of the TV show, the closest thing we’re given to a traditional fantasy hero is Eddard Stark. Affectionately known to friends and family as “Ned,” it’s a nickname for the rare kind man in Westeros. Ned Stark believes in law, justice, and honor; dangerous attributes in such treacherous terrain. But more than making him moral, it makes Ned wise, even though things, um, go south for him.
Spoilers below for Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, and Storm of Swords, and the first four seasons of the show.