Friday, October 21, 2011

Romance Tales with a Modern Twist


Another favorite fun read for me is the romance tale, oft told and re-told in the Middle Ages. Many featured King Arthur and the knights of his court, but a much more modern Jim Carey film, Bruce Almighty (2003), is a classic romance tale re-imagined with humor and heart.

Allow me to review the characteristics of romance tales from days of old, then apply them to the twenty-first century comedy.

Romance tales feature:
·      Unknowns, including the true identity of key characters or destinations
·      Supernatural interventions
·      Fantastical settings
·      Numbers that carry symbolic weight, e. g., three, seven, and their multiples signify completion (a complete Holy Trinity or Creation itself)
·      Love and temptation

Romance tales exist to illustrate and uphold high ideals. They also demonstrate how a hero’s choices and actions may benefit a nation or group.

Bruce Almighty uses all of these features to serve the purposes stated in bold font above.
First, Bruce invokes God often. Unfortunately, his wishes, prayers, and desires are self-serving; they come to little, especially when Bruce dares God to send a sign and rescue Bruce’s thwarted ambitions.

God delivers, placing literal signs in front of Bruce reading “Yield” or “Stop.” Bruce, of course, too caught up in himself, does not make the connection and drives into an unforgiving light post. God even pages Bruce, but Bruce refuses to return the call until the pager, crushed and broken, continues to beep, alerting Bruce to something odd, something we recognize as supernatural.

When Bruce arrives for his appointment with God, he finds an African-American dressed in a janitor’s work clothes, mopping a shiny floor in a huge, empty building. The man’s true identity doesn’t fool viewers, but it does fool Bruce who is too arrogant and too frustrated to take notice.

Even after God introduces himself as God, Bruce continues to doubt Him and clings to the ordinary in a fantastical place, arguing that the file drawer is just a file drawer that extends through a wall. Bruce defies any magic about the drawer until God proves that its amazing length and detail are not a sleight of hand, an illusion; the drawer is real and really continues every detail about Bruce.

God is, of course, the owner and manager of a pristine building, one where he labors, cultivating a calm, peaceful spirit. God, in this place, is the supernatural intervention that sends Bruce on a journeya quest, his destination unknown, and God gives Bruce all the powera metaphor for the divinity that resides within each of us. He can accept himself and his gifts; he can be joyful and grateful in every moment, or he can continue to want, complain, and wallow in what he does not have. Bruce takes for granted his power and what he has, especially the love of Grace, his devoted and patient girlfriend.

Grace, you may recall, is the one gift to which we are all entitled whether we are worthy or not, and the female embodiment of Grace is generous, forgiving, and selfless. She wishes for Bruce’s happiness above her own. She is a Christ-like figure representing the highest of high ideals in matters of love.

Bruce can’t even recognize what he has in Grace. He can only focus upon what he does not have: gravitas in the world of broadcast news and the promotion he thinks he deserves. With God’s powers vested in him temporarily, he grants himself what he lacks, butyou know you saw it coming—the anchorman position fails to fulfill him. His journey leads him into more pathless woods where temptations and thorns prick and sting. He even dies, but God grants him one more chance, his third, I believe, when he finally thinks of someone else’s happiness as more important than his own.

Bruce prays for Grace to find someone who will cherish her, someone equal to the gifts she brings to this world. And when Bruce does this, he receives what he truly needs: self-acceptance, humility, and love. Grace is, of course, by his side as he recovers. The station allows him to return to work, but this time, human interest stories bring him as much joy as they do viewers. He dedicates himself to good works on and off the job. He finds the peace that passes understanding, a peace within himself.

Bruce Almighty tells the tale of Christian ideals, and it celebrates the hero who makes the world a better place by caring more for others than for himself.

Next week: A classic romance tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Reading Challenge:

Read the film Bruce Almighty. Enjoy.

Writing Challenge:

Write a romance tale. Make it modern. Use cell phones instead of pagers, automobiles instead of horses as in the days of old, and a quest for a destination unknown. Uphold the highest of high ideals as your tale unfolds.

GUM (Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics):

A romance, in the literary sense (see definition 3 below), differs from romance between two people (see definition 1 below). Online, The Free Dictionary distinguishes between the uses of the noun romance:

1.
            a. A love affair.
            b. Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love: They kept the romance alive in their marriage for 35 years.
            c. A strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something: a childhood romance with the sea.

2. A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful: "These fine old guns often have a romance clinging to them" (Richard Jeffries).

3.
            a. A long medieval narrative in prose or verse that tells of the adventures and heroic exploits of chivalric heroes: an Arthurian romance.
            b. A long fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary or mysterious events, usually set in a distant time or place.
            c. The class of literature constituted by such tales.

4.
            a. An artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film, that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.
            b. The class or style of such works.

5. A fictitiously embellished account or explanation: We have been given speculation and romance instead of the facts.

6. Music A lyrical, tender, usually sentimental song or short instrumental piece.