Live Long and Prosper

A Eulogy for Leonard Nimoy by John C. Wright ( first appearing at Scifiwright.com )

Leonard Nimoy has passed away. By portraying Mr Spock on Star Trek with such even tempered humor, so convincingly, he had an effect on me greater than any other imaginary character has had. He was the model I followed and still do, the example of how a rational man should act.

We have now seen other actors and actresses play Vulcans, a race that represents the paragons of logic, and Leonard Nimoy was the sole actor who carried it off convincingly and delightfully.

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Contemplate for a moment how much acting craft it takes to portray a cold, reserved, remote and dignified person, not even a human, while wearing make-up that gives one an appearance either elfish or diabolical, and make the character one of the best beloved in the television.

Because I loved Spock. The concept of a man utterly devoted to reason, to truth, to matters of the intellect, battling forever his human side that tempted him into emotion, passion, confusion became the core concept of my childhood, and, I say without a blush, of my life.

A philosopher is nothing more or less than a Vulcan, that is, a man who puts human emotion aside to cleave to divine reason as if to a cold but beloved bride, forsaking all others. He lives by the icy light shed by his intellect alone, where all things are seen clearly and in proper proportion. A philosopher is someone who uses reason to ponder the nature of duty versus self indulgence, or of virtue versus vice, and, rejecting the false allure of vice, cleaves to virtue.

Every soldier and every saint has a bit of philosopher in him, because he also must put aside cowardice and doubt. The soldier puts aside the cowardice his discipline tells him is irrational and deadly, even as the saint puts aside the doubts his discipleship tells him is irrational and damnable. Both of them, in part, in this little way, are Vulcans.

Consider the shape of the world when Star Trek came on the scene. Self discipline was for squares. Philosophy was word games and rubbish. Logic was a swear word, because gushy and infantile emotions were the order of the day, and arms were for hugging and all you need is love (usually with a tilted heart for the letter o).

Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock was the only portrayal in popular media of what a man of virtue, a man of logic, a man of reason, was supposed to be. And, unlike some robot, his was portrayed as a constant struggle.

Now, the cold and utterly heartless scientific genius was a stock character ever since the days when Jules Verne penned Robur the Conqueror, or E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith introduced Blackie DuQuesne to the universe, but such dispassionate logicians were always a stock villain character, a bad guy. To make a cardboard blackhat into a living and three-dimensional hero takes not only good writing, but great acting, even genius.

The show intended Spock to be the foil and counterpart to Dr. McCoy, who was meant to represent the conscience and passion of the human race, all the parts that Mr Spock lacked. Be that as it may, I mean no disrespect to DeForest Kelley, but he had the easier task of it as an actor, because his role was to portray a doctor with compassion. That is a side of life most of us understand, and we have seen in many other shows and tales, science fictional and otherwise.

But Nimoy’s genius was to put across the human warmth, the loyalty to ship and friends, and especially to his commanding officer, James T Kirk, and make this alien monstrosity of logic humorous and human and lovable.

Spock was the only figure representing logic in a world filled with illogic, and the difficulty of the portrayal, and the brilliance of the success, cannot be explained only admired.

When we see a light too bright to see, we call it blinding, and there little else aside from that word we can use to depict it.

Likewise, when we see an actor take what could and should have been a trite and cardboard concept for an alien character, and turn him into a beloved icon and exemplar which will live in the hearts of fans and admirers for generations, that we can call genius, and there is little else to say beyond that: the light is too bright, and a tear must be in the eye of anyone who sees how dark this world is, now that that light is gone from us.