Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chayatocha: Meet the Paradines II: Mary Sue?

Chayatocha, pp. 22-32

After a little more family small talk, the wagon train stops for the night, and Paradine notices the leader of the wagon train, a cavalry officer named Jeremiah Wills talking in hushed tones with several other men and decides to go find out what's going on.

"Could be real trouble...if his report's half reliable, we--

"As Paradine approached the group, the men went silent."Captain," the schoolteacher said in greeting, the tension around him palpable."Mr. Paradine."Is there a problem?"

"Nothing we can't handle," said a wiry, hatchet-faced man at Wills' side, a measure of derision in his voice. 

He scratched at his long, scraggly beard.  "You just go back to your books, and leave things to us."

There it was again.

"Hello, Mr. Garrett," Paradine said flatly, noting the man's filthy clothes and level of personal hygene--low even for such a journey.  "I want to thank you for doing your best to assure the rest of us an ample supply of water."

The remark, on razor's wings, sailed directly over the man's head.

"There'll be enough," the puzzled man gruffly replied.  "Gonna have to go easy though.  It's a long way to Fort Boise."

Paradine felt the eyes upon him, taking note of his brocade vest and glittering watch fob, the silver rims of his eyeglasses, and his manicured fingernails.  All those things, he knew, were seen by some as alien, even threatening or undeserving of respect.  Perhaps that disrespect also grew out of the way he moved and the vocabulary he used, reflecting his refined upbringing and learned mind.

...It was nothing new--all his life he had felt like something of an outsider, and in his younger days he had suffered as the continual target of bullies...

Paradine, with his gentleman's clothes and manicured fingernails, is contrasted with Asa Garrett, who almost sounds like the man in the Beatles song "Come Together."  Garrett becomes the stand-in for the jocks and bullies who pick on the geeky, preppy Paradine.  In addition to his poor hygene, Garrett isn't too bright (he fails to catch Paradine's subtle dig), and it is implied that he's not very good at his job--finding water for the party.  

This is one of the classic signs of a "Mary Sue" (authorial self-insert) character: the character(s) who don't like the Mary Sue are all unsympathetic, and the Mary Sue shines in comparison to them.  The characters who dislike the Mary Sue are representative of the people who don't like the author, so their portrayal becomes a "Take That!" against the author's real-life enemies.  Unlike Jenkins and LaHaye however, Johnson is not writing a revenge fantasy.  He makes an effort to humanize Garrett instead of just consigning him to the fires of Divine wrath without a backward glance:
"Asa don't mean no harm," the captain said.  "Barely thirteen when his father died...worked on the family farm most of his life, trying to support his mother and sisters.  He never got any formal schooling.  I reckon he's a bit envious of you, in his way."

"I don't mind him." [Paradine said]

"Good man, really...ornery as the day is long, but a good man."
We find more "Mary Sue" clues on the 'about the author' page:
SHANE JOHNSON, a writer, graphic artist and spaceflight historian...also served as producer/director for the video documentary Apollo 13: Flight for Survival, and was a design consultant for the award-winning HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.  Shane lives in Texas with his wife and son. (bold emphasis added)
Sound familiar?  Judging by his writing credits, Johnson is "a man of education and reason" like his character Daniel Paradine.  I think it would be fair to say that the Paradines do trigger the Mary Sue O' Meter a bit, but Johnson is a good enough writer not to make them the center of the Cosmos.
"We have butter, by the way," Lisabeth said.  "I put some milk in the churn, and the rough ride took care of it as we went along."

"Good thinking," her husband smiled.

"I got the idea from Martha Potter, so I can't take full credit."
Martha Potter is not a major character.  This is the first we ever hear of her.  Her appearance here shows that Johnson does not share Jenkins' urge to make his characters Teh Bestest And Smartest And Most Better Than Everyone Else Characters Evah, Evah, Evah.  Daniel Paradine is not the leader of the wagon train, nor is there any indication in the story that he "should" be.  He respects Captain Wills' judgment and accepts his leadership.  Compare that to these gems from Left Behind:
They cheered when they saw Buck. These people, the ones he had worked with, fought with, irritated and scooped, now seemed genuinely glad to see him. They could have no idea how he felt. ...
 We must be reminded, once again, that Camshaft has "scooped" and fought with irritated his co-workers, i.e., that he's just plain better than them, and he passes up no opportunity to plant his boot prints on their backs.  But they're glad to see him, oh yes!  Like frequently-kicked dogs, they still welcome their master home with wagging tails.  Then there's this scene, where Ray-gun is talking to a nameless Pan-Continental employee on the phone about his flight schedule, and when he will be returning to Chicago:
"Saturday night."


"Why? Got a date?"

"Not funny."

"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, Captain. I forgot who I was talking to."

"You know about my family?"

"Everybody here knows, sir."
This vignette takes place in the context of the Rapture, the sudden disappearance of every young child in the world, as well as every Real, True Christian.  Everyone would be missing loved ones.  If not their own children, then nieces or nephews or grandkids.  And not having read the back of the book, they'd have no way to know that it couldn't happen again at any time.  But Rayford's loss of his wife and son is the only loss that matters.  "Everybody here" is talking about the disappearance of Rayford's family, as if they've forgotten all about their own vanished loved ones.  That's just how important and superior Ray-gun is.

What is the ultimate defining line of the towering, self-important assgasket?  "Do you know who you're talking to?!"  Any character who delivers that line in a movie is sure to be a villain, or at best the recipient of a well-deserved lesson in humility as the plot proceeds.  Ray-gun is That Guy.  But in Ellenjay's world, That Guy isn't the villain or the authorial punching bag, he's the Mary Sue.  The Mary Sue O' Meter pegs so hard here that Ray-gun doesn't even have to deliver the line!  The faceless minion does it for him, with a subservience befitting some dopey 1950's private fawning before a general in a military-themed slapstick comedy, or a happy slave from Song of the South.  "Oh gosh!  I'm sorry, Captain, I forgot who I was talking to."  Gosh?!

So, if the Paradines are authorial avatars for Johnson (and his wife and son), they say good things about Shane Johnson as a man, especially when contrasted against the grand-scale sociopathy of Ellenjay's characters in the Left Behind Series.  The Paradines are probably intended to represent Johnson's ideal of what a family ought to be like. 
"How nice it will be to be back in a house again.  I'll never complain about mopping floors or washing windows as long as I live." [Lisabeth said]

"I'm going to hold you to that." [Daniel said]

"Just because I'm not complaining doesn't mean you won't be right there helping me."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."
If anything, Daniel Paradine is too enlightened and progressive for his times.  But then, as a schoolteacher, he won't be working himself to physical exhaustion at manual farm labor, so it's at least plausible that he would help Lisabeth out with the household chores.  Lisabeth shows a degree of self-assertiveness here, and Daniel welcomes it.  He shows no desire to dominate his wife, and he doesn't have the sort of ego that quails at the prospect of doing "women's work."  In a book written by an Evangelical Christian for Evangelical Christians, this portrayal of a progressive and equal partnership in marriage as an ideal is remarkable and praiseworthy.  It shines especially bright against the dark misogynistic shadows of the mega-selling standard-bearer of Evangelical fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo! More Chayatocha! You know, I may actually have to read this; it may become anvilicious later, but this is actually fairly well set up.