More on “Sword and Flower”

Jeffro has an interesting post up on the Castalia blog where the pulp guys discuss my “Sword and Flower” review. It more or less stands for itself, but I want to respond to a few points.

Disclaimer: If this sounds harsh, it’s only because I’m being direct. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just trying to cut to the heart of it here. At any rate, I’m hardly more harsh than they are towards me (which I have no problem with).

Its story beats are only a surprise because they haven’t been seen in decades and/or the vast majority of culture creators are constitutionally unable to do them with a straight face.

So? When did I ever deny that? For that manner, when did I mention my surprise or lack of it one way or another?

This thing with “the story is crying out for a redemption arc” bit. I have no idea what that is about. I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Well, in my original review I said that my big problem with the story is that the characters don’t act like people. And they don’t.

The redemption arc is an attempt to solve that problem by giving the characters motivations beyond “survive”. And it’s a superversive motivation that is even suggested by the setting. You can have a more pedestrian motivation that can work perfectly well too, but it would at least be shooting for a lower mark.

Star Wars didn’t have a redemption thingy in the first movie.

“Sword and Flower” isn’t “Star Wars”.

Even if you grant that whatever Anthony is talking about is essential, I just don’t see why you’d absolutely have to have it in the first installment.

It’s not essential. Characters acting like humans? That’s essential.

Still, if the Daredevil television show is more supeversive than Rawle’s story… then I don’t know what superversive is anymore. I just have no idea what they’re talking about!

This is correct. He doesn’t.

“Sword and Flower” never tries to look beyond itself. Sure, it’s set in lesser Heaven. Sure, the protagonist fights demons. But everything is motivated by self-interest; either that, or none of it makes any sense. Dimity admits several times that she doesn’t try to escape because that would be even more dangerous than staying. She fights the demons because she has a stake in it just as much as the Puritans; she says herself that she’s doing it to “never have to worry about rejection from Weatherford again”; they’ve been trying to kill her the whole novel, after all. Jeffro even ADMITS outright that Rawle isn’t shooting for superversive:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Right. That wasn’t the point of Daredevil. It was far more than that. It’s about a deeply flawed and weak human being who overcomes all of that to be a hero. “Sword and Flower” may try for this (and I give Rawle credit for that!), but with cardboard cutout characters that don’t act like real humans and have thin motivations, it just doesn’t work.

Remember, my original review didn’t mention lack of superversive as the main flaw. It mentioned lack of realistic or interesting characters, with the exception of the (briefly appearing) Elizabeth. Plus the egregious oversight of mentioning the dead Elizabeth but not the team of dead warriors at the end of the story.

Later on:

P. Alexander: Usually when a Japanese show is about redemption, the [stuff] went down prior to the start of the story, and the whole show is about trying to make up for whatever the hero failed at, which may be shown in a series of flashbacks.

It’s too bad I didn’t mention a specific character who could literally have that exact arc.

Oh, wait, I did. Mash.

 And, there is a redemption bit. I’m not sure how fighting demons can be seen as anything other than an act seeking redemption for people condemned to a lesser heaven.

Survival? Dimity doesn’t seem particularly concerned with being a demon hunter until Mash convinces her, and Mash convinces her because the demons are threatening their town. There isn’t a hint of redemption there.

And, this continual comparison of short works to full novels or even whole seasons of a tv show just isn’t a fair comparison as to how much can be achieved in a given space.

All right. Then don’t bring that up to me when asking for a specific comparison.

As for “The Wish List”, it’s not very long. It’s also much better, and very pulpy itself. Seriously. Read it. Not to sound like too much of a jerk here, but it’s MUCH better than “Sword and Flower”.

P. Alexander: From now on, I’m gonna read “Not Superversive enough” as “Literal Santa Claus didn’t show up to hand out plot items.”

I’ll leave you all to judge whether or not this is a fair reading. For my part, since I never mentioned anything remotely like that, it just comes off to me as as ridiculous a strawman as anything I’ve seen so far. Come on, man. do better.

Nathan Housley: The funny thing is I can see Jagi Lamplighter recognizing Sword & Flower as a different type of superversive than Anthony is trying to make it. (Anthony is misreading genre and beats here. Sword & Flower is not the type of story he wants it to be.)

Yes, the type of story with characters that act like people.

“Sword and Flower” might try, but it tries in the same way “Suicide Squad” tried to be superversive: When your writing isn’t up to snuff, you’re inevitably not going to hit that mark as well as you should. Rawle tries, but there’s a noumenal level there he misses; perhaps he can hit it in his next book. Or maybe he doesn’t go superversive at all, and just improves generally.

I really want to emphasize here that the bigger issue is the characters. They just don’t work.

Like symbolism, it exists, but in recognition, it usually reveals more about the what the reviewer sees in the text than the text itself. And when fundamentally and intentionally subversive works are held up as superversive, it makes me wonder if superversive is not short for “I like it.”

I will note that this is the exact issue the superversives had had with the pulp rev all along, and now you’re going to pull that same thing on us? Seriously? Without batting an eye or seeing a hint of irony there?

Look, if you think we’re calling subversive work superversive, then yeah, you disagree with us that the work is superversive. It happens; we don’t always agree on everything.

With that said, Nathan is also just wrong. We DO, in fact, have guidelines for what makes a story at least noumenally superversive. Here it is. And here’s why Daredevil meets those guidlines, by the way. If you want to know what makes a story “simple” superversive, you can always read Tom Simon’s original essay.

Jeffro: It’s the first time in years that you see a female character (a) operating in a helper role and (b) not surrounded by a Greek chorus of cheerleaders. It’s astonishing. The fact that she did something “wrong” in order to do something right… the fact that she puts herself at odds with society to do the right thing… that makes her instantly likable in a way that no characters on Iron Fist or Jessica Jones ever achieve.

No argument there. Elizabeth was great.

Jon Mollison: The Superversives want to remind people to do the right thing by having literal angels show up in their stories. I want my stories to remind people to do the right thing.

Full stop. You don’t need angels.

Wait. Were you even taking part of the same conversation? My original example was Daredevil.

Hey, remember that scene from “Daredevil” where the literal angel shows up to help Daredevil?


Me either.

Look, I respect the pulp rev guys. We won’t agree on everything. That’s okay! But when they directly contradict themselves (how can you possibly say my idea of superversive has to do with “literal angels” showing up or “Santa Claus bringing presents” when earlier in the same conversation you’re complaining that you don’t see how Daredevil is more superversive than “Sword and Flower”?) to accuse us of things that nobody has even hinted at (where on earth did any of us hint that “Santa Claus had to being presents” for a work to be superversive? How do you even get that reading?), I don’t think it’s unfair for me to call them out on it.

Rawle has potential. He can improve. But “Sword and Flower” wasn’t good because his characters didn’t act like real people, or were two-dimensional cut-outs; the problem could have been solved by giving them stronger character arcs and goals, and a powerful one, hinted at by the setting, even, is a redemption arc.

That was my case.

You should read the work; a lot of people are disagreeing with me, after all. Let it speak for itself, and decide whether I’m totally off the mark or whether I have a point. Who knows? Maybe it really is JUST me.

And also, read “The Wish List”. I’ll have to do a write-up on that one day.