The terror of the unmind: Muppets

September 27th, 2011

Yesterday my nephew finally conquered his fear of river folk on ring-crack.

It was a small victory and I used it to illustrate the point I’d made an hour or so earlier when I was desperate for what we here at Mindless HQ call a ‘proper loo’ and had to forcibly eject him from the bathroom explaining that one has to face one’s fears – heights, spiders, being shut out of the bathroom while an adult goes to the toilet – if one is to conquer them. In the end his clinging to my leg and screaming made proper loo impossible and so I resolved to grasp the next opportunity to expand upon my, at that point barely sketched out, argument as firmly round the throat as I currently wanted to grasp my nephew…. Little did I know said opportunity would present itself within the hour when it came Lord of the Rings time.

Towards the end of an eight and a half hour stint of babysitting one gets tired and I’m not ashamed to say that its normally around this time that the laptop goes on for an hour and a bit, and for the past few weeks the child pacifier of choice has been Lord of the Rings. The Nephew has much bigger balls than I did at his age and so far he’s braved cave trolls, balrogs and black riders without so much as a ‘fast forward it’, in fact he thinks all the aforementioned are cool – the cave troll being ‘SO COOL!’ – but even though his performance thus far had been impressive I knew until he’d managed to sit through the beginning of the Two Towers he couldn’t really have been said to be tested. Why? Because river folk on ring-crack.

Gollum is just a haunting in the first film, a half glimpsed series of disembodied eyes, hands and scuttling legs and low growled preciousses, and in the mind of a child this lends him incredible power. Long time readers of this blog probably know all about the characteristics of the haunting by now – high degree of absence generating presence, non locality translating into immanence, etc. – and so does the nephew. He’s learnt the hard way. This was obviously a big part of the The Fellowship of the Ring’s thrill for him, the pant shitting fear that Gollum might be lurking around every corner, that were he to get too complacent, too comfortable, then those scrabbling fingers might suddenly burst forth and drag him, wailing, back to a sunken lair beneath the Misty Mountains – Gollum, hiding behind the trees, the tv screen, the sofa, crouched, poised behind thin air, ready to pounce. So it was with great trepidation and, I could tell, not a little excitement that he agreed to sit through the beginning of the next film where, I knew, my point about facing one’s fears would be proved. Because as we all know Gollum’s not all that scary when you meet him in person. Suddenly the vast hyperdimensional spectre moving through the first film collapses in on itself, reducing to little more than a bug eyed, gangly drug addict – and, even less frightening and utterly inexplicably, one that appears to be afraid of the most ridiculous and annoying character in all the LOTR films, that ever whimpering sharer of loads, bloody Samwise Gamjee. So now, as the nephew himself says, he’s not scared of Gollum, not when he can see him, only when he’s hiding behind floating logs in the background.

Victory! Gaze into the fist of Dredd!!!

Still can’t go to proper loo when it’s just us on our own though.

So anyway this is all the obligatory autobiographical detour material you expect when you run a search for Mindless Ones, but the point is it got me thinking – thinking about rogues that lurk. There are different kinds of rogues, basically. There’s your Darth Vaders slap bang in the centre of the frame, big bads who command the action, and then there’s the guys in the background, the Bounty Hunters. Of course Boba Fett was a special edition, send off your tokens and get a free figure kind of deal, but I’ve never felt his status as the most popular Star Wars character ever could be quite so easily reduced to pre-Empire promotional toy guff. No, none of that stuff would’ve mattered one iota if the famous disintegrator had arrived fully fleshed out with all that crappy prequel backstory in tow. What makes Fett work so well, what makes all the bounty hunters work so well in fact, are the gaps in our knowledge. We all know this, it’s obvious. Films should not be made with fans in mind, continuity porn is bad. We are drawn to the lacunas in the atomic structure of the narrative around the Bosks and the Zuckusses. Providing my own explanation for why Dengar is wrapped in bandages or why there’s a 4 before the Lom is far more exciting and inticing than any a cruddy, or even not so cruddy, Star Wars fanficer can provide. And so it should be. These beings on the edges of our stories, just out of shot, are there to be chased but never caught, or in the end all we’re left with is a stupid gangle creature or Attack of the Clones. So there are some baddies we love to seek around the margins for, to whose pull we willingly acquiese.

And then there’s the other guys.