Whoosh! Issue 63 - December 2001

SERENDIPITY AND META- SUBTEXT:
CONTEMPLATION FROM UNDER THE LAKE

By Edward Mazzeri
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
14314 words

Page Four



Earflaps and The Rainbow Shaman

[92] Watching Xena is hazardous to one's skills. Not only does it seep into book cover artists' imaginations, but it also influences how non-fiction and, indeed, the world is read.

[93] On a mountaintop in Mexico, for example, there is what is thought to be a rain-king's face carved on a boulder. E. C. Krupp, in tourist mode, observes that

He wears an odd, pointed helmet and large dangling ear ornaments.... The face may symbolize the shaman-king who acted as intermediary with the forces of heaven[Note 47].

[94] To a Xenite, this is obviously an attempt at carving the face of Joxer, attractor of Callistan thunderbolts, and the "ear ornaments" are really the guard flaps of his turnip-holding pudding helmet, the carving itself being an early attempt at wallpaper creation favored by fans. And Joxer's theme song links into an image which shows how strongly mouse-like he is, especially if he held his ear-flaps up over his head and called his dog Hades (or Pluto, in the Roman way).

[95] Krupp elsewhere notes that the deer-antlered Siberian shaman costumes are "as infused with power as anything a superhero might don for action". Among the standard-issue ornaments and accoutrements are a half-disk (for the Moon), a full disk (for the Sun), and, significantly, a ring (for the rainbow, apparently)[Note 48]. The rainbow ring is interesting from a Xena perspective. The chakram as a weapon has a history, of course, going back a long way to classical Persia and India. The sitting-on-the-hip chakram as a conscious metaphor for Shane's (1953) six-shooter is fairly obvious, too, and is deliberately filmed that way more than a few times, coming across as a humorous and/or dramatic visual homage to westerns in general. The sparking, spinning chakram as a subconscious emblem of the peace-bringing rainbow is more intriguing, and suggests a topic for a further research essay in anthropology and folklore.

[96] The morning after the major part of this article was written (March 2001), I saw, while on the way to work at sunrise, a bonded pair of noisy miners brave enough to chase a cockatoo away from the trees in their nesting range. It reminded me so much of Xena and Gabrielle battling a band of warlords, especially in terms of their cooperation, skills, and determination. A noisy miner has a wingspan equivalent to the length of a single flight feather of a cockatoo, so the size ratio was the equivalent of two against an army. I was impressed. The cockatoo was annoyed, raising its crest. The sun rose like it normally does in the Xenaverse, and high overhead the daily non-stop morning flight to Auckland, New Zealand, was leaving a trail in the sky, like a ship yearning for its destination. On the train in to work, a sentence in a novel stirred familiar memories:

They were the best of friends, they saved each other's life countless times, they laughed and talked together over campfires long into the night. --Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife (Scholastic 1997), chapter 1

[97] In significant overtones, Pullman's story turned out to have a major plot thread that involved a character that literally took up another character's mantle.

[98] Later (in what turned out to be a day of this Xenite), at work a couple of people mentioned the previous night's episode of a new series, The Street (2001), where a one of characters was a Xena fan.

[99] At lunch, I got the latest copy of an overseas science fiction magazine purchased from the newsagent (I cannot remember which magazine - the leaked events of the final Xena episode made headline news here in Australia and there was a flood of speculation). Anyway, the magazine revealed that the final episode of the series would be about Gabrielle taking up Xena's mantle. Also revealed on the same page was Rob Tapert's observation that his wife Lucy's head 'was squarely on her shoulders', meaning that she is a practical woman. Considering that Lucy's character Xena lost her head (and Gabrielle lost Xena's head too, it seems), this was an ironic remark[Note 49].

[100] Later that evening, a European-made DVD revealed Xena in all her many-skilled linguistic glory (ORPHAN OF WAR and three others): Swedish, French, Spanish, German, and so on. Interestingly, in the Italian soundtrack, Gabrielle is called Olympia (which has connotations of athleticism, poetry, peasantry, high principles, Greekness, and rustic delight), presumably because Gabrielle as a name is too close to the name of an archangel.

[101] Calling the sidekick Gabrielle may been deliberate, given that the name of Gabrielle's childhood friend, Seraphin, is also the name of a species or rank of angel, and that angels are portrayed as luminous beings with stories to tell and messages to bring.

[102] The DVD also revealed that the creative process has not ended with the transmissions: THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES had been edited slightly to remove the spell-breaking split-second at the end of a take that showed the point of view from Autolycus' boots as they hit the roof during a swing through the air.

[103] Lastly, that mythical day, I caught the tail end of a late-night science-fiction movie, Space Men (Antony Daisies, Italy, 1960), where there was an astronaut character called Lucy. As an experiment in serendipity, I watched to see what the Xena connection would be. It turned the actor playing Lucy was called Gaby (Gaby Farinon).

[104] In history, the original mantle-uptaker was one student, Elisha, Grasshopper to Elijah's Master. The Master, after many great works up and down the land, some of which were flawed, disappeared Obi-Wan-like in an upward direction one day and left the student to carry on both the work and the story. "Guest" and "ghost" were originally the same word, meaning "stranger (to whom civility is due)", which is what "Xena" means in Greek, strangers being, in those days, ambassadors from royal courts in other cities. They were beings "from other realms". Beheading was the punishment for wrongdoing done by this class of people, as the English and French did with their monarchs. The Elijah story ends, interestingly, with a beheading if we take it to the time of John the Baptist, who, some say, was Elijah reborn.

[105] Mention of The Master activates memories of The Doctor (Doctor Who, 1963-1990), who had a travelling companion at one time who was a leather-clad skilled warrior from the backwoods: she was called Leela, played by Louise Jameson (e.g., see The Robots of Death, 1978). Leela was the unsophisticated primitive. In ALTARED STATES (19/119), sophisticated Mael (a very young Karl Urban) refers to Xena, at some length, as a "primitive" and related adjectives.

[106] A recurring theme of Doctor Who was that the time-traveler's interactions with the past was the actual cause of many events chronicled in school history books, events officially attributed to other, more mundane, causes. Since Doctor Who in it heyday was hugely popular in Australia and New Zealand, it should not be surprising that references and influences from it may have seeped into the subconscious of those working on Xena: the leather, the weapons-skills, oh, and by the way, it was Xena who strung Ulysses' bow, it was Xena who invented flying parchments, Xena who discovered cardiac massage, Xena who turned the Black Powder Army into the Terracotta Army, Xena who walked among Amazons, Xena who could answer the mythologist's question why worship in the ancient gods more or less faded away.

[107] Another piece of serendipity: the sound of flushing water in the episode IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL may not have been anachronistic. A few months after the episode aired locally, archaeologists reported the discovery of the remains of water closets in ancient China, dated to about 200 BCE.

[108] All that from a cockatoo at sunrise.

Who you callin' a cockatoo?



[109] So, what will happen when the series ends? Where will our inspiration come from when there are no more episodes to watch? As Seven of Nine is fond of saying, we will adapt. In addition, there is always the shared dreamscape for the fans to participate in, otherwise known as Unimatrix Zero, whose interlink frequency begins with www.

[110] For those who have seen the final season, note how the plot and emotional atmosphere of THE PRODIGAL pre-figures what happens: a Xena-trained and Xena-inspired Gabrielle goes out alone, yet never truly alone, into the world and does good. The last story is _so_ like the one about the classical scribe left story-less and vision-less by her prophet who departed for a higher realm, "when the dark night delivers the day" (Nocturne (1992), Secret Garden, Songs from the Secret Garden).

[111] Based on what the little boy said at the beginning of the very first episode, I was expecting the last episode to have Xena ascend in a fiery chariot and maybe almost meet herself riding into that burned village. Instead, we got an ending that sounds as if it has or should have intermingling sunbeams and dancing Naima lights like in BETWEEN THE LINES. I have not seen season six yet (maybe in a year or two, when it arrives on DVD or tape), and none of the synopses and commentaries help at all. They are immensely detailed and thorough but they still leave so much out, and I find my reactions are hardly ever the same as those of the commentators. Same with the screen captures and photos. Moments in time.

[112] There are still so many stories to tell. Like who Argo really was. More of Athena. The Power of Three: Artemis for the Amazons, Aphrodite for Gabrielle, Athena for Xena, in a boardgame for immortals. Other stories besides.

[113] It is only a television show, yet it is the first show that I have ever felt an obligation, a desire, to thank the creators for creating it, the makers for making it, and the watchers for sharing it, all with an obvious love and joy. It must be something in the water.

Sic sempre Xenannis







There Is A Lot Of New Zealand In Xena

[114] The crest of the Parliament of New Zealand shows how much: a poet and a warrior, both from another age, with technical skills between them, both being sustained by the richness of a land under the stars of a new sky, a land accessed by the ships of the sea. Very ancient Greek.

[115] If you grew up in a place like New Zealand, where everyone's help was needed to make a living, it would be no surprise that women would be allowed to ride horses, to vote, to work on the farm, to serve in the army, and to lead the country (head of the government, Prime Minister Helen Clark, http://www.primeminister.govt.nz; head of State, Governor-General Silvia Cartwright http://www.gov-gen.govt.nz; head of the judiciary, Chief Justice Sian Elias; and so on). By coincidence, a segment titled Girls on Top, examining "the power of women in New Zealand", was scheduled for a local current affairs program here in Australia called "Foreign Correspondent" tonight (Doug Anderson, "Women to the Left, women to the Right...", The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 2001, p19).

[116] If you grew up in a place like that, it would be surprising that other people would think it surprising. To you it would be normal. Why would your television character be called a "strong" because she can do things and does not need to wait for a man's permission. That is not "strong"; it is what women do.

[117] On a personal level, making visitors welcome, treating them fairly, making them feel as if they were a part of the family, having fun on the set, going out, doing things, keeping in touch, supporting each other: none of that is unusual either. That is what friends do.

Orchid of a rosy hue/Tell me if her love is true

Here's looking at you, sidekick. We'll always have the world.


[118] The ultimate serendipity of Xena is that it has created several families, on both sides of the television screen.

[119] On a final note, it is a paradox that the make-believe stories of Xena: Warrior Princess draw the depth of their authenticity and strength from their foundation on the real-world friendship and obvious devotion of those involved in telling them. Standing in the rain, lying in the sun, swinging through the air with the greatest of ease, adding spicy innuendo to the dialogue, little touches in gestures and expression, good-humored business with appropriate props, the dedication, the exhaustion, the passion: it is hard to tell with Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor where one ends and the other begins. Their actions when together intertwine so seamlessly, as if they were dancers and the dance was a living being, that it was a joy to watch them, and a sadness (because the dance will end), and an astonishment (how well they do it), and all those other emotions.

[120] Because of that seamlessness, sometimes it became obvious that there was a metaphorical hand off-camera, holding them back just a little, that tiniest step, interrupting their flow. Behind the curtain of light that is the television screen, that bright window that joins us together into a luminous city, there is the faintest edge of a censor's shadow, breaking the spell for an atom. Yet even so, the imaginary and fictional became believable because of the reality of that friendship, that meta-subtext. That is the paradox. However, paradoxes are a topic for another day.




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