It’s ok, Joss, you’re still my master.
(My internet is down; so I’m typing this via bluetooth keyboard to my phone — forgive me if it’s not up to my usual standards of formatting).
Pretty hard not to get spoiler-y on this one, but I’m going to try not to ruin the collected works of Joss Whedon for any of the uninitiated. (Although there may be a future entry for the Spoileriffic Spoiler Quarantine in store for this topic). And if you’re not a Whedonite, do yourself a favor and watch a few episodes of his shows. Firefly is a great place to start. There are not many (fewer than five) storytellers about whom I will say “______ is always to be trusted,” but Joss Whedon is one of them. So I’ll say it directly: Joss Whedon is always to be trusted.
But here’s the thing about my man Joss: he’s a ruthless murderer.
Ok, that’s overselling it a bit. Many of the writers out there will know that there comes a point when synergy takes over and the story stops being completely under the control of the author, and I’ve already covered that topic in a previous entry, with its own spolieriffic supplement (THIS LINK CONTAINS SPOILERS). I do not intend to revisit that subject here, or not exactly. This one is also about being at the mercy of synergy, but this time as a reader (or viewer, or player) instead of as a writer.
When I first began the Harry Potter series (no spoilers, although if you do not yet know what happens to Dumbledore, then really, what are you doing with your life?) I was but a young man — albeit older than most. I was not far out of high school, working at a bookstore, and I had, until that point, avoided the Potter-mania that was very much the thing around that time. So when I first met Harry, I didn’t know him from Adam (or Gandalf for that matter — well, ok, I knew him from Gandalf, but you get the idea). Harry and Ron and Hermione were unfamiliar characters in an unfamiliar story in an unfamiliar genre for me, and I really only even started reading the first book because it was a quick read, and I knew that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have wasted much time.
I read the second book a day later. Then the third two days after that. I was enthralled. And yeah, the story was very engaging, and the story world was interesting (although not really my thing), but what really kept me coming back was the characters.
The characters are why I powered through the entire series in a month and a half, why I pored over Order of the Phoenix despite spending my evenings in a poorly-lit orchestra pit during the show I was playing. And the characters are why I spent the entire month following my completion of the series in a terrible funk.
Now, before you click away to avoid spoilers, there are going to be none here. I’m not talking about the specific fates of any characters; the thing that got me was when the series ended, there was no more opportunity to “hang out with” Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the others. (My name is Josh Daum, and I am a giant nerd). Their story was over, so regardless of their fates within the story, from my point of view it was a little bit like they had died.
Now juxtapose that with someone like Joss Whedon, who not only creates amazing, engaging characters who you love (or love to hate), but actually kills them off in his stories. It’s rough. But it’s good, and I recognize that.
I got over my funk. And I realize that the thing which causes the funk (whether at the end of a series or the death of a particular character) is the fact that the characters are so well-conceived and well-written; so I’m thankful for it. (Hell, I wish I could do that…)
Thank you to storytelling greats Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling, and to my creative writing profesor Dan Hoyt for teaching me about what makes a character interesting.
And thank you to all of you for reading. More to follow.