Calling all fans

I submitted a proposal for a panel discussion on fandom as part of my university’s English Department Colloquium Series for next year, and last week the selection committee gave me the go-ahead to begin planning the event.  I started by emailing a number of colleagues (including my thesis student who just graduated, and whom I’m proud to call a colleague now) I thought might be interested in participating, and within a few hours of sending the email, I had more than enough people to make up a panel.  And these weren’t just “sure, I’ll help an academic sister out” responses; these were “OMG I’VE BEEN WAITING MY WHOLE LIFE FOR SOMEONE TO ASK ME ABOUT THIS” responses.  That’s only a slight exaggeration–I had co-workers coming to my door within minutes to share their thoughts; I got email replies filled with multiple exclamation points, and I even had one student (now alum, as of Saturday’s commencement) who is so keen on participating that he plans to fly back here from Texas to be on the panel, even though I told him we could easily Skype him in.

So if I wasn’t already excited about the panel discussion, I am now, and I’m even wondering if this could turn into a conference eventually.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The reason I’m telling you about all this, dear readers, is that I need your help.  I posed a number of questions in my proposal, but they’re very broad, so I’m looking for more specific questions that I can actually ask the panel–as well as other questions on fandom that I may not even have considered.  If you have questions you’d like to hear the panel address, comment on my blog or tweet them in my direction (@Tessarama).  I’ll see if we can get the discussion live streamed or recorded, and if for some reason those options don’t work out, I’ll definitely write a summary post.

Here are the questions I posed in my proposal, along with some off-the-cuff and by no means exhaustive answers from me:

  • Why do people become fans (of texts, fictional worlds, celebrities, teams, etc.)?  Another version of this question: Why do some people/things seem to inspire fandom more than others?  One possible answer to the second question, in the context of stories: The stories that have major fan followings often, but not always, have a large cast of characters, meaning that even if you don’t connect with the supposed protagonist, there’s almost guaranteed to be a “minor” character that you can identify with, fall in love with, or otherwise latch onto.
  • How does people’s fandom contribute to their identity construction? A very intricate psychological question, of which I’ve merely scratched the surface in previous blog posts, but here’s a personal answer: I am proud to identify myself as a fan of Harry Potter, especially.  It’s one of the first things I tell people about me when I meet them.  And at some level, I consider it integral to the person I’ve become over the past eight years.  (Harry and I are going to celebrate our eight anniversary this summer.)
  • Can a person be both a fan and a critical scholar of the same text or cultural phenomenon? Yes, as I’ve striven to show in my own academic work and on my blog.  See also Henry Jenkins’s much better blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan.
  • Are fans passive consumers or active contributors? Often, and contrary to early, negative assessments of fandom, the latter.  See Henry Jenkins’s book, Textual Poachers.
  • What is the relationship between fans and authors, especially as traditional notions of authorship become blurred? Oh, jeez.  This is a big one.  See my dissertation. 🙂
  • As Christian scholars, what can we learn from fandom about belonging, passion, and critical engagement, and how can we best minister to people (including each other) who strongly identify as fans? I posed this two-part question not only because Christian worldview engagement is expected in my English department, but also because I think it’s important to think about this.  Without viewing fans through some sort of distant, haughty, anthropological lens (“let’s study these weirdos who are totally Other than us”), I think it is important to think about fan communities as “people groups” (“unreached people groups,” in some cases) who need Jesus’ love just like everyone else, and who can be ministered to in unique ways.

Send me your thoughts!

Mafia zombies at Downton Abbey

Every once in a while I like to write a post about the Godfather saga, even though I know that many of my readers have never seen the films, because I hope that, eventually, you’ll recognize that your life is sadly lacking and you’ll actually watch them.  (And you have a great opportunity coming up to watch the first movie!  Fathom Events is showing it in select theaters on June 4 and 7!)  In the past, I’ve told you what The Godfather has to do with Thor and with An American Tail, and today I’m going to tell you what it has to do with The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey.

I started thinking about writing another Godfather post this past weekend, even before I found out about the June screenings.  It was on my mind because I found a $5 used, good condition record album of Nino Rota’s iconic score to the first film, but also because I was thinking about a screenplay I want to write for a buddy road-trip tragicomedy set during the early days of the zombie apocalypse.  One of the themes of this screenplay (which currently exists only in my head) is that human beings are inherently valuable, regardless of what they can contribute.  This concept is sorely lacking in zombie lore, in which characters are so often rated based on the apparent usefulness of their skills.  Because of this value system, we end up with characters like Eugene in The Walking Dead, who is so afraid of being rejected by the braver and more skillful people whose group he wants to join that he concocts an elaborate lie to establish his usefulness to the world.  If you can’t prove your worth, the logic says, you’re the first to be thrown off the proverbial ship.

I started thinking about The Godfather because the world portrayed in those films has a similar value system.  Despite all the lip service paid to family and loyalty, you’re not valuable simply because you’re human; you’re rated based on the kind of man you are.  (And I use the word man very deliberately.)  If you want to survive, you have to be in charge, and if you want to be in charge, there are a couple of characteristics you need to have.  You have to be cold, which is why the hot-headed Santino would not have made a good Godfather.  (We see this clearly and tragically in the first movie.)  You have to be hard, which is why nobody ever even considered asking the soft-headed and -hearted Fredo to be the Godfather.  (Even in that patriarchal culture, I suspect they would have given that title to Connie before they gave it to Fredo!)  If you don’t have these qualities, you’re expendable.

I was also thinking about Robert Duvall’s character, the one who was sort of unofficially adopted by Don Vito and who grew up to be the family’s lawyer.  (I always forget his name.)  There’s a lot of talk about him being just like one of Vito’s sons, but the truth remains that he’s on the family’s payroll and therefore in that awkward (and ultimately dangerous) employee zone.  His position is roughly analogous to that of Tom Branson in the later seasons of Downton Abbey, who’s both the embarrassing Irish Catholic son-in-law (whose wife isn’t even alive to give him a blood connection to the family) and the family’s estate agent, and therefore still uncomfortably close to being a servant, even if he eats upstairs now.  Although I want to think well of the Crawleys, I suspect that if Downtown Abbey were set in a vendetta culture like that of The Godfather and things started going south, Tom would be the first to get…well, tommy-gunned.  That was a bit of a rabbit trail, but my point is that valuing people based on who they’re related to is just as flawed as valuing people based on a narrow set of culturally valued skills.

My point in this entire post (besides to suggest the most epic multi-world fanfic ever) is that when we stop believing that people are valuable just because they’re people–not for what they can contribute–that’s when we start beating people to death with barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bats and having our hitmen shoot our brother in the back while he’s defenselessly fishing (and those are just the things that happened on Downton Abbey! j/k).  Every one of us will encounter situations in which we feel like there’s absolutely nothing we can contribute.  And in those moments, we need to be able to know we’re safe just because we’re people.

Have you thought about your Hogwarts house recently?

Maybe it’s time you revisited that topic.  If you’re even moderately involved in online or in-person Harry Potter fan discussions, today’s post isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but I hope my personal examples will make reading it worth your while.

You’ve probably heard it said that your Hogwarts house (whichever house you identify with most–whether selected by you or by Pottermore) is more indicative of what you value than of the person you currently are.  That statement now seems incredibly obvious to me in light of not only the books (e.g., Harry’s choice not to be placed in Slytherin) but also my own house and those of my friends and family, but I had never heard the idea articulated until recently.

Let me illustrate it with my own story.  If you’ve been reading this blog long enough–or if you go back through the archives to around 2012-13–you may know that I used to consider myself a Ravenclaw (and still have a Ravenclaw blog title and tagline, which probably won’t change) and had a bit of an identity crisis when Pottermore placed me in Hufflepuff.  But over the years since then, I have become a very proud Hufflepuff.  There’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here–did I realize that I was really a Hufflepuff all along, or did I accept the Pottermore pronouncement as fate and write myself a personal narrative to fit?  Or–a third option–did my house identity lead me to aspire and strive to become a person who belongs in Hufflepuff?  I think this last theory best explains what happened.  Before being sorted, I already valued loyalty, hard work, and kindness (a quality not specifically mentioned by the Sorting Hat but popularly associated with Hufflepuff) to some degree–otherwise I wouldn’t have answered the sorting questions the way I did–but being sorted into Hufflepuff pushed me to articulate these values more clearly than I ever had before and to begin consciously striving to emulate them.

Now, here’s the key–I don’t always exemplify these traits, but I strongly admire them when I see them in others, more than I admire traits associated with other houses.  I think that’s a big reason why I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than a lot of people did–because, as I argued in this post, it’s a movie about one actual Hufflepuff and (as I see them) his very Hufflepuff-like friends.  People don’t necessarily think of Hufflepuff when they think of me, but when someone does place me in the correct house (this happened a couple of weeks ago), I’m very happy, and I take this as a sign that I am becoming the kind of person I want to be.  We see this with Harry Potter.  He probably could have fit into any of the houses, but his choice placed him in Gryffindor.  And throughout the series (especially in Chamber of Secrets, but later too) we see him worrying about whether he’s really brave enough to be in Gryffindor or whether, instead, he’s simply foolhardy.  I think we see it with Neville too–he doesn’t immediately appear to be a brave person, but being brave is important to him (because of his parents, we later learn), and he eventually becomes brave.  We could think of it this way: If you’re constantly thinking, “I don’t deserve to be in this house,” you’re probably in the right house.

This theory explains why I know some very sweet people who strongly identify with Slytherin–maybe they’re tired of being pigeonholed as sweet people.  It probably explains a lot of other things that I haven’t thought about yet.  How about you?  Do you think you belong in the house where Pottermore placed you, and why or why not?  I know this topic gets discussed a lot, but I never get tired of it, because I think it can be a fascinating and useful tool for understanding who we are and who we aspire to become.

my favorite fictional couples that never happened

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and some of you may be feeling like your true Valentine is out there somewhere (maybe in a very specific location whose exact address or coordinates you know) and just hasn’t found his or her way to you yet.  This is kind of the way I feel about Tom Hiddleston, and I now know, since I read that article about him in GQ that came out last week, which part of London he lives in.  (Like Charles Dickens, he comes straight outta Camden.)  In honor of all of you who are feeling frustrated in love, here are a few fictional couples who never get together despite my best shipping efforts.

  1. the unnamed narrator and Frank Crawley in Rebecca.  *spoilers ahead* My book club just read this 1938 Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier.  I described it as “creepy Downton Abbey,” so if you like stories about rich people with no jobs, and their household staff who know way too much about the family, you will probably enjoy this book.  (I also thought the writing style was beautiful, the setting haunting, and the human psychology spot-on.)  I had several theories about what was going to happen in this book, some of which were based on superficial resemblances to Jane Eyre, and all of which turned out to be wrong.  The theory that I clung to the hardest was that the narrator’s husband, Maxim, was going to either go to jail or get the death penalty for having killed his first wife, the narrator was going to realize that he never really loved her but was just using her to try to have a normal life, and she was going to end up with the longsuffering and loyal estate agent Frank Crawley, whom I pictured as the subdued and diplomatic Tom Branson of the later seasons of Downton Abbey.  It just seemed so clear to me that the narrator was much more comfortable around Frank than around her preoccupied and moody husband.  I went so far as to go back and make sure the first chapter, which occurs chronologically at the end of the story, didn’t have any proper nouns in it–“We thought she was talking about Maxim, but she could have been talking about Frank!”  I was wrong; she stuck with the wife-killer.  Poor Frank.
  2. Liesel and Max in The Book Thief.  I’ve read Markus Zusak’s remarkable Holocaust-era novel in two different book clubs, and both times some people, including myself, have stated that we wished Liesel, the book thief, and Max, the young Jewish man who hid in Liesel’s family’s basement, had gotten together at the end.  I get all the reasons why that relationship wouldn’t work: he’s older (not that much older, though); she sees him as a brother; it’s not really a book about romantic relationships, but at the same time Liesel will always carry a torch for Rudy.  I do get all that, but I can’t stand to think of Max being all alone for the rest of his life.  Liesel, we learn, marries some random guy and ends up having a bunch of grandchildren, so I’m not worried about her.  But Max is such a lonely figure throughout the book–he arrives alone; he leaves alone; he has to stay in the basement when everyone else is going to the air-raid shelter.  It breaks my heart to think he’ll have to stay that way forever.  He made you a book, Liesel.  Did your random guy do that?
  3. Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood. Speaking of the trope of marrying a random-guy-ex-machina, I’m sure I’m not the only Harry Potter fan who used to think it was a total copout when J.K. Rowling declared that Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, ended up marrying some guy named Rolf Scamander.  Now that I know and love Newt Scamander, I guess I’m okay with Luna marrying his grandson.  But still, like everyone else, I wanted her to get together with Neville.  And yet, there’s a part of me that also thinks Harry and Luna would have been a great couple.  I think she would have helped him not to take himself so seriously, and he would have helped her get some street cred at Hogwarts (not that Luna cares what people think of her).  They have some sweet exchanges in the books (like when Luna tells Harry about her faith that she’ll see her mother again) and the movies (like when Luna says that hanging out with Harry is “kind of like being with a friend,” and Harry says, “I am your friend, Luna”), and I think this mutual kindness and confidence could have gone somewhere romantic.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in shipping.  Meanwhile, don’t forget that chocolate goes on clearance February 15!

The no-maj question

This is the second and last post I am writing in response to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–at least until I watch it again. 🙂  Spoilers ahead.

A few weeks ago I wrote on my blog that one of the aspects of the film I was most excited about was the presence of a non-magical person as a major character.  I predicted that this would be significant for fandom because it would give us all hope that we, too, could become part of that world (since we’ve all pretty much given up on receiving that lost-in-the-mail Hogwarts letter).

What I didn’t realize was that there would be so many non-magical characters in the movie and that they would represent such a wide array of roles.  (And yes, let’s get this out of the way: “No-maj” is kind of an annoying term, but it makes sense.  Americans don’t like saying long words if we don’t have to.)  In Harry Potter, we basically just had the bland yet horrible Dursleys, but in Fantastic Beasts we have…

  1. The Second Salem group, an anti-witch society, composed of a cold, abusive woman and her adoptive children of varying ages, that’s scarier in its way than any of the dark magic in this film.  I haven’t read any movie reviews yet, but I have a feeling that people are probably tagging this joyless family as a caricature of religious fundamentalists.  I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, and I also noticed that the Second Salemers receive a moment of sympathy when they are dismissed and mocked by one of the people in this next group.
  2. The newspaper baron and his competing sons.  If I hadn’t known that this movie was the first in a series, I would have said that these characters were completely superfluous to the story (though the murder of the political son makes a lot more sense when you remember who seemed most sensitive to his mockery in the scene I just mentioned), but I have a feeling we’ll see at least one of them later.  The “I’m trying really hard to get Dad to notice me” son could go in a lot of different plot directions, whether or not he’s retained any memories of the magic he’s witnessed.  And speaking of retaining memories…
  3. The aforementioned major character, Jacob Kowalski.  By making Jacob a lower-middle-class, frustrated in his job, affable but not terribly brilliant schlub, J. K. Rowling has gone out of her way to make us believe that if this guy can make friends with wizards and witches (and get kissed by one too), surely anyone can.  (I’m focusing on surface appearances here; I actually do think Jacob is pretty special–see my previous post–but you see my point.)  But then the ending of the movie cruelly wrenches that hope away from us as Jacob is subjected to the same massive memory-wiping charm as the rest of New York City.  If there hadn’t been a little scene at the end to let us know that Jacob has subconscious recollections of his adventure, I really think I would have walked out of the theater devastated.

Whether or not you think that the ending negated–I should say “obliviated”–any strides toward no-maj acceptance that the movie seemed to make, you have to admit that there’s a much wider range of non-magical characters than we’ve ever seen before.  And I have a feeling we’re going to see even more.

 

the Harry Potter list

Sometimes there’s so much Harry Potter stuff going on, I have to make a list to keep it all straight.

  1. The illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets was released very recently, but I just finally got around to reading the illustrated Sorcerer’s Stone.  Jim Kay’s illustrations are gorgeous, highly detailed (you can stare at the Hogwarts interiors for hours), sometimes surprising (Hagrid dresses like a biker–which makes sense since we first see him on a motorcycle, but I never thought of it!), and occasionally even startling (Snape’s creepy eyes!).  I’m looking forward to seeing how he approaches memorable book 2 characters like Gilderoy Lockhart and the basilisk, and I’m really curious as to whether the ratio of pictures to text will continue to be similar as the books get massive.
  2. Tomorrow is the first day of November, which is release month for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!  I realize that Harry Potter is not going to be in this movie, nor any of our beloved characters (I hear Dumbledore is namedropped, but I think that’s about the extent of it), but I’m really excited about getting back into the Wizarding world.  This is the first movie for which J. K. Rowling has actually written the screenplay, which means, if nothing else, that it’s going to be lush with detail.  It also helps that Eddie Redmayne is beautiful.  But the element of this film I may be looking forward to the most is the fact that there’s a major character who’s non-magical.  What will it mean for HP fandom that people like us are now part of the story?  I will be blogging about this, no doubt.
  3. With all the publishing action happening this year, Harry Potter festivals seem to be back on the rise.  I attended one this past Saturday in Scottsville, a very small town in central Virginia that for three years running has transformed its (also very small) downtown business district into Hogsmeade.  Lines were long at places like Honeydukes (normally a bookstore and coffee shop) and Ollivander’s (normally a tattoo and massage parlor), but in other establishments, it was easy to duck inside, take in the fabulously creative displays (I loved the hand-lettered envelopes at the owl post location) and perhaps contribute to the local economy by making a purchase (I bought two beeswax taper candles at the owl post place, which in its Muggle life is a beekeeping supply shop).  Perhaps the most fun part of the festival (other than getting a signed photo of Gilderoy Lockhart at Flourish and Blotts–that guy was fabulous) was the people-watching.  I saw some fantastic costumes (Moaning Myrtle, the painting of Sirius Black’s mother, a trio of house-elves) and a lot of fairly obscure fan t-shirts–the kind you can’t just impulsively buy at Target.  I hope to return to this festival next year, and I also hope the weather will be more seasonally appropriate.  It was about 80 degrees on Saturday, and I was dressed as Professor Trelawney.  There was a lot of fabric draped over and around me.
  4. Today is Halloween.  That means that it’s the anniversary of Lily and James Potter’s tragic death (I saw their gravestone in Scottsville, too–there was a lovely old church with the Godric’s Hollow graveyard recreated outside), as well as of the baby Harry Potter’s amazing, unlikely defeat of Voldemort.  Halloween is also a good day to have a huge feast with live bats swooping overhead (that always seems unsanitary to me)…and a good day for…wait for it…a TROLL IN THE DUNGEON!  Thought you ought to know.

two good guys and a real woman

There’s apparently something about April that makes me want to write short stories.  (Check out last April’s creations, another brother story and a cousin story.)  This one is a best friend story, but it also has male protagonists.  For some reason I find it easier to write about men, but sometimes I need actual men to let me know if my characters are acting like men.  So feel free to critique.  I’m also aware that the non-male of my three main characters, Ramona, isn’t as compelling as the other two.  Since they clearly think she’s something special, I need to do a better job of showing why.  And I do know that the legal stuff the characters discuss about copyright and fan fiction is a bit murky.  I need to do more research on that, although this ultimately isn’t a very important part of the story. 

Please enjoy this as-yet untitled piece.  Warning: It is fairly long.

Back in college, they used to get pizza wasted.  This doesn’t mean that they ordered pizza while wasted.  This means that they ate so much pizza, they got stupid.  There was one three-week period when they watched Psycho every night, at least that’s how they remembered it later.  Every night they quoted the same lines.  “You’re going to put me in the fruit cellar.  Think I’m fruity, do you?”  After destroying three large stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizzas, they could barely breathe, far less think.  Adrian was skinny in college, even more than now.  Sam was, as now, bless-his-heart fat.  This made little difference.  They both demolished about a pizza and a half each.

Adrian was not exactly wishing, just now, that he was pizza wasted.  But he was thinking, with a twinge of nostalgia, about what a different setting he and Sam were in on this particular evening.  Instead of a B.O.-funky dorm room, they were in a vast hall with crystal chandeliers, which hurt Adrian’s eyes, and thick, somnolent carpets.  Sam was sitting at the front table, wearing a suit and looking flushed and sweaty but radiantly happy.  Adrian was sitting at one of the indistinguishable round tables with Ramona, who was falling asleep.  He saw that she had her phone in her lap and knew it was set to vibrate, so he texted her, “Wake up!”  Her eyes flew open, and she looked at Adrian sheepishly.  He texted again, “My little flower.  You wilt when there’s no natural light. :)”  She texted back, “Shut up and pay attention!,” but she was smiling.

Adrian looked up at the podium and tried to pay attention.  A middle-aged woman, who clearly didn’t read Sigyn: Intra-Yggdrasil Negotiator, was talking about Sam.  Sam wrote and illustrated comic books for a living.  He routinely referred to this as “the ultimate loser job,” but Adrian called it what it really was: living the dream.  Sam had pulled Sigyn out of a footnote in Norse mythology and turned her into the heroine of his hugely cult-popular series.  A national feminist organization had noticed that Sigyn was a “real” woman and now was honoring Sam for his work to advance realistic and positive portrayals of women in the comic book genre.  As far as Adrian, Sam, and Ramona had been able to tell, “real” meant that Sigyn didn’t take crap from people, and it also had something to do with the size of her hips.

Sam had been floored by this honor.  “I wasn’t trying to say anything,” he’d said last night while freaking out over his acceptance speech.  “I mean, she’s just a great character, and I think she’s hot.”  “I don’t think you should mention that last part,” Adrian had warned him.  “No, I don’t think the feminists would like that,” Ramona had agreed.  “Even if it is true.”  The laugh in her voice when she said this had made Adrian stare at her for a few moments, trying to see if he could find some hidden message.  Adrian had long suspected that Sam was modeling Sigyn’s appearance, and some of her mannerisms, after Ramona’s.  It was just little things, like her hair color and her fondness for wearing green.  Since Sam was clearly infatuated with his fictional creation, the possible connection between Sigyn and Ramona was one that Adrian was afraid to pursue.  He hoped he was just being paranoid.

Adrian snapped out of his reverie and realized that he was staring at Ramona, who was looking at Sam, who was now at the podium speaking.  Sam pushed a damp clump of hair off his forehead and took a sip of water.  “I’m so grateful for the love you’ve all shown Sigyn.  I was just trying to create a character who was smart and strong and happy and . . . you know . . . healthy, mentally and emotionally and . . . physically.”

Adrian and Ramona exchanged a glance.  So far Sam hadn’t said anything to get the feminists indignant.  Sam continued, “I think Sigyn’s greatest quality is that she brings peace with her wherever she goes.  She’s able to get these crazy, selfish, combative kings and demigods to stop fighting, and she can do that because she’s . . . like I said, smart, and emp–empathetic.”  He took a bigger swallow of water.  “So, I’m glad you love her too, and thanks for this . . . honor.”  Sam gave a tentative little wave and started to go back to his chair but stopped at a signal from the middle-aged woman who didn’t read Sigyn.  “Oh!” he exclaimed, sounding out of breath.  “Um, questions?”

A younger woman sitting in the press section raised her hand.  “There’s a lot of speculation on the message boards that Sigyn is having an affair with Balder.  What would you say in response?”

“STUPID QUESTION,” Ramona texted Adrian.

“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” Sam said, the hesitation gone from his voice.  “Balder’s not that kind of guy; he’s just a good guy, you know?”

Adrian texted back, “Seriously, what does she think this is, Inside Edition?”

“And besides,” Sam continued, “as weird as it sounds, the whole series is based on the premise that Sigyn actually loves Loki.  And in his limited, narcissistic way, he loves her too.”

The fact that Sigyn, true to the original mythology, was married to Loki was one of the reasons Adrian suspected that she was modeled from Ramona.  Unlike most normal women, Ramona wasn’t particularly attracted to Thor; it was the pale, dark troublemaker who caught her fancy, and for some reason this made Adrian extra jealous.  “Do you have to have a picture of Tom Hiddleston on your desktop?” he’d asked the other day, knowing he sounded petulant and ridiculous.  “Do you have to drool every time a preview with Jessica Chastain comes on TV?” she had rejoined, with a smile that said she didn’t take this nearly as seriously as he did.

Adrian wondered if he was becoming unreasonable, or worse, pathetic.  It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ramona.  It was just that he sometimes, increasingly often, had the self-esteem of a 14-year-old girl.  There was no other reason for him to feel threatened by mythical gods and unattainable British actors, and by–well, by Sam, who now, it seemed, was finished answering questions.  The middle-aged woman was now making closing-type remarks while Sam stood at a deferential distance from the podium, his cheeks bright pink and his blonde hair turning dark at the ends from perspiration.

“Sam looks miserable,” Ramona texted.

“He’s fine,” Adrian typed at first, but backspaced this and wrote instead, “Those lights up there look really bright.”  What he wanted to write was, “Hey, I’m feeling kind of miserable myself over here, you notice?”  But that would really be pathetic.


Later, in the cab, Sam was happy again now that he’d taken off his jacket and tie and unbuttoned his collar.  “Man, I haven’t worn a suit since you two got married.”

“Yeah, but that time it was a tuxedo.  So this isn’t that bad,” Adrian pointed out.  Sam had been a groomsman in their wedding–not the best man, a distinction that had belonged to Adrian’s brother.  Sam didn’t have any siblings, nor did he have any other close friends, and his parents didn’t like to travel, which was why Adrian and Ramona had been his guests for the banquet.  (Of course, there was also the distinct possibility that Ramona was the inspiration for the character whom all the fuss was about, but nobody talked about that.)  After a brief, awkward spat, Adrian and Ramona had agreed to let Sam pay for their plane tickets and hotel room.  “I’m still shocked that I’ve made any money from writing comics,” Sam had said.  “And what better way to spend my money than to spend it on my best friends?”  Sam had a way of saying embarrassingly sincere things like that.

Now, in the cab back to the hotel, Sam punched Adrian in the arm.  Adrian cringed, which he knew was stupid, because it didn’t hurt and he normally didn’t mind being punched in the arm.  “Hey,” said Sam.  “Have you thought about it?  Are you gonna be Percy?”  Sam wanted to start a new series called Percy Weasley and the Ministry Aides, and he’d asked for Adrian’s permission to let him model the title character’s appearance after his own, which corresponded superficially to J. K. Rowling’s description of Percy.  Adrian found this annoying.  There was nothing particularly special about having red hair and horn-rimmed glasses.  Besides, all this was clearly just a formality, since Sam hadn’t asked for permission to model his other title character after Ramona.  Unless he had, and nobody had ever told Adrian.  But this was too enormous to be considered.

“Can’t you rest on your laurels for a while before starting your next project?” Adrian asked.

“But this one is going to be awesome!” Sam said.  “I’ve got it all planned out.  I think Percy is going to be kind of a hipster.”

“Why?” Adrian asked with an edge to his voice.  He certainly wasn’t hip enough to be a hipster.

“I don’t know; that’s just how I picture him.  I think it’s the glasses.  I’m thinking Cornelius Fudge can send Percy down to the local pub to get him a beer, and Percy comes back with this obscure craft brew called, like, Goblin Hoard.”

Ramona laughed.  She was the biggest Harry Potter fan of them all.  “Is Percy going to get reconnected with Penelope Clearwater?”

“Of course!” Sam exclaimed.  “I haven’t quite figured out how, though.  I think she’s working for the Daily Prophet.  Oh!  And I’ve already got the Christmas issue planned out.  Percy is going to get a card from his mom that just says, ‘Come home.’  And he isn’t going to come home, because this is before all the Battle of Hogwarts stuff, but he’s going to have this whole Christmas meltdown thing.  Great stuff.  I can’t wait.”

“Percy has always broken my heart,” Ramona said.

“J. K. Rowling is probably going to sue you,” Adrian said, even though Ramona had sounded like she was going to say more.  He was looking straight out the windshield; Sam and Ramona were leaning across him to talk to each other.  He felt a little sick.

“No, she isn’t,” Sam said.  “Has Marvel ever tried to sue me for using Loki and Thor and Odin?  I’m not famous enough to be a threat.”

“Yeah, but you might have to be more careful now that you’re a noted feminist artist,” Ramona said in a wink-wink voice.

Sam chuckled, always a fan of Ramona’s humor.  “Naah, this is the 21st century.  The whole concept of copyright is changing.  And I’m basically just writing fan fiction.  I’ve done my research; I won’t get in trouble for the stuff I do.”

“Please don’t go to jail, Sam!” said Ramona in an exaggeratedly worried tone and a proper British accent.  Ramona enjoyed doing British accents, especially when the context didn’t call for it.

“We’re at the hotel,” Adrian said, before the cab had even reached the breezeway.  He was angry at everyone in the backseat, especially himself, and he wanted to go to bed.

After Sam paid the driver, he hustled to catch up with Adrian and Ramona, who were already in the lobby.  “Hey,” he said.  “It’s probably just me, but–are you guys still hungry?”

“Actually, yeah,” said Ramona.  “I thought it was just me.”

“Kind of,” Adrian conceded.  “The food at that banquet was . . .”

“Not great,” Sam said apologetically, as if he felt bad for taking his friends to a lousy banquet.  “And there wasn’t much of it.  And I was so nervous, I couldn’t eat.”  He paused for a beat.  “Just kidding!”

Adrian never knew how to respond when Sam made fat jokes about himself, which this seemed to be.  “Earlier I saw a pizza place at the end of this block,” Adrian said.  “I’ll go get some pizzas.”

“We could just get delivery,” Ramona suggested.

“No, I want to walk,” said Adrian.

“I’ll go with you.  You’ll have a lot to carry.  And I want to pay,” said Sam.

“But you have your jacket and tie . . .”

“I’ll take them upstairs,” said Ramona.  “I have some grading to do, so I’ll wait up there for you guys.”

Adrian sighed.  He wanted to be alone, but at least this way Sam and Ramona wouldn’t be alone in adjoining hotel rooms.  “Okay, come on, Sam.”

It was a balmy night.  In spite of himself, Adrian was starting to feel calmer.  Sam seemed a little high from the evening’s events.  “Adrian,” he said.  “I want to tell you something.  I think you already know, but I want to say it out loud.”

“Don’t say anything you’ll regret,” Adrian said dryly, looking down at a pebble he was kicking along the sidewalk.

“Well, like I said, I think you know, but . . . I really . . . I mean I’ve always . . . I love your wife.”

Adrian nearly tripped mid-kick.  “What?”  He stopped and turned to look at Sam, whose face was redder than it had been all evening.  “Why would you tell me that?”

Most people would’ve had the decency to look away, Adrian thought, but Sam just looked at him with those big blue eyes that made him seem desperate even at the best of times.  “Come on, Adrian, I’ve loved Ramona pretty much ever since you two started dating–”

“Stop saying love!” Adrian shouted.  He was shouting, on a street that wasn’t entirely deserted, but he didn’t care.  “You don’t even know what that is!”

Now Sam turned away.  Adrian immediately realized what he’d said.  “I’m sorry, that was . . .” It was cruel, but that word sounded overly dramatic.  “Does she know?  Have you said anything to Ramona?”

Sam shook his head emphatically, still not looking at Adrian.  “Of course not.  You know me.  I would never act on this.”

“Because you’re a good guy,” said Adrian, in a dull voice now.  “And you know that as weird as it sounds, Ramona loves me, and I love her, in my limited, narcissistic way.”

Sam looked at Adrian now.  “What?  Did you think I was saying that about you?  That was just some literary crap that sounded good when I was on the spot.  It was about Loki, and you’re definitely not him.”

“Believe me, I know that!” Adrian turned and started walking briskly toward the pizza parlor.  Sam was shorter and practically had to jog to keep up with Adrian’s stride.  Adrian turned to speak again, as if Sam had kept the conversation going.  “Listen, I know this makes me sound like a douche bag, but it’s true.  You don’t know what it’s like to be married to a woman who’s whole leagues better than you, and to always be baffled about what she sees in you, and to constantly be paranoid about pretty much all the other men in the world, even if they’re fictional characters or . . . or really good guys.”

Sam stopped walking, forcing Adrian to stop too, and indicated his whole person in a sweeping gesture.  “Have you seen me, Adrian?  I’m a fat nerd.”

Adrian flung his arms out too, which he normally only did when he was teaching and making a very important point.  “Sam, did you sleepwalk through that banquet tonight?  Did you hear what those people were saying about you?  You’re like the Stan Lee of our generation.”  Sam snorted.  “Okay, maybe not yet, but you will be!  You spend all day, every day writing incredible stories that people all over the world love.  So don’t tell me–”

“I’m lonely, Adrian,” Sam cut in, not loudly.  It took Adrian a moment to realize what he’d said.  “I’m so lonely.  It’s worse than ever.  If I’d had to go to this thing by myself, I don’t think I could’ve gone.”  He paused to take a breath.  “Do you forget what that’s like?”

Adrian ran his fingers through his hair and straightened his jacket and his glasses, as if he’d been physically hit.  “Geez, Sam.”

They were at the pizza place.  Sam held the door open.  “How much pizza do you think we should get?”

Adrian shook his head.  “I don’t know.  Whatever.  All of it.”  He felt sick again.  “You decide.  I need to sit down.”  He went over to a far corner booth, sat down, took off his Percy glasses, and sat there with his face in his hands, while Sam placed what sounded like a very long pizza order.

Sam came over and slid into the opposite seat.  He let out a long sigh.  “It’s supposed to be ready in 15 minutes.”

Adrian put his glasses back on.  “You know what I was thinking about tonight?  Remember in college, how we used to get pizza wasted?”

Sam briefly chuckled.  “Oh, man.  Remember when we watched Psycho like 21 nights in a row?”

Adrian nodded.  “That’s exactly what I was thinking about.”  He paused, a moment of silence for their former selves.  “How did we pay for all that pizza?”

Sam shrugged.  “Student loans, I guess.”

“But . . . why did we do it?”

“I don’t know.” Sam shook his head.  “Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I know why did it.  I was especially miserable that year, and I was trying to numb it, I guess.  Kind of the story of my life.”

Adrian cringed again.  “Geez, Sam.”

“Sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry.”  There was a long, comfortable silence, the kind men can generally pull of much better than women.

Finally, Adrian said, “Look.  I know I suck as a friend.”

“No, you don’t,” Sam insisted, with an are-you-crazy face.

“Yes, I do.  I’ve said some awful things to you tonight.  And just so you know, I was totally zoned out during at least half of the speaking part of the banquet.”

“So was I,” Sam laughed.

“Dude, the whole banquet was for you.”  Now Adrian had the are-you-crazy face.

Sam shrugged.  “I know.”

“Well, then we both suck as human beings.  But listen.  I’ll be Percy if you answer me one question.”

“What’s that?” Sam asked slowly, probably thinking that he’d spilled enough guts for one evening.

Adrian took a deep breath.  He thought he already knew the answer, but he was scared to hear it aloud.  “Is Ramona–when you draw Sigyn, are you really drawing Ramona?”

“Yes.”

Adrian let out the breath.  “I knew it.”

“But not on purpose, at least not from the beginning.” Sam closed his eyes for a second, the way people do when they’re trying to look into the past.  “I was just drawing a woman who was all those things I said in the speech earlier, strong, and–you know . . .”

“Smart, and happy, and healthy, and all that.”

“Yeah.  And then one day I was like, ‘Sigyn looks really familiar,’ and it wasn’t just because I’d gotten to know my character, although that was true; it was because I was drawing Ramona.”

Adrian look at Sam and realized he didn’t feel angry.  He then looked down at the table and realized he’d been tearing a straw wrapper to bits.  He brushed the pieces into a little pile.  “Well.  I think you should tell Ramona that she’s Sigyn.”

“What, really?”  Sam had been looking out the window, but he snapped back to look at Adrian when he heard this.  “But if I tell her, won’t she know–”

“Ramona is smarter than the two of us put together,” Adrian interrupted.  “She’s probably known about all this stuff–I mean all of it–for, like, ever.  And besides,” he added, “people like to hear nice things about themselves.”  For once in his life, Adrian wasn’t fishing for a compliment when he said this.  Which was good, because Sam didn’t give him one.

Instead, Sam just said, “Wow, okay.”  And then, after a pause, “Oh, hey.  Do you still like pizza without any tomato sauce?  Because I got you a whole one like that.”

“Sam,” said Adrian.  “I should start calling you Samwise, because you are, without a doubt, the world’s greatest friend.”  After a second of introspection, Adrian was pleased to find that he was perfectly sincere.