Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anterrabae's Armor Class

I haven't seen Zack Snyder's new movie Sucker Punch -- though I'll probably try to catch it on DVD eventually. The reviews seem to be universally negative, but that's never stopped me before. My wife and I have soft spots in our hearts for some pretty terrible movies! :-) I generally didn't hate Snyder's take on Watchmen (bad music choices aside), so it will be interesting to see how he develops his own ideas.

When I first heard about the plot to Sucker Punch, it reminded me immediately of Joanne Greenberg's 1964 novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, which I'm not sure is read that much these days. The one-sentence version of the plot is very similar: An abused girl retreats into an action-packed fantasy world. (Heck, with a few tweaks, I guess that could also be the plot of the novel that RPG fans love to hate: Rona Jaffe's Mazes and Monsters!)

The reason I bring up Rose Garden is that, as a young teenager (who was assigned to read the book in school), I perceived the goings-on in the main character's fantasy world of Yr to be much more compelling than the surrounding story of psychological trauma and eventual recovery. Coming at the same time as my new love affair with D&D, I made lists of the Yr deities, creatures, and words in the Yr language. I don't know if I ever thought about adapting this as a fantasy RPG setting, but if I did, the only thing stopping me at the time would have been the ribbing I would have received from my friends for making so much of a book that had the double whammy of being: (1) school-assigned, and (2) the perception of being somewhat "girly." The fact that it would have been 180 degrees opposed to the author's intent wasn't an issue, though!

Now, I'm not truly advocating developing Yr as a campaign setting. There's probably not that much real content there to mine... and it's more of an eerie "outer plane" concept than anything like a physical location in a character's home world. I'd also be conflicted about adapting something connected with a real person's mental illness (the book was semi-autobiographical).

But... but... in my memory, that universe was packed with some fascinating images and symbols. In the end, if someone really wanted to dive into it, eyes open to all the above caveats, I think it could be quite interesting. In some ways, this situation reminds me of the development of playable Glass Bead Games. The foreword to most modern English translations of Hesse's book, by Theodore Ziolkowski, gives a rather stern warning that it would be stupid to pursue a playable GBG, and that Hesse intended this concept to be a metaphor and nothing more. The goal of dozens of talented GBG designers is to prove that warning wrong!

The lesson here, I suppose, is that if you've got a dream to evolve a concept in new ways, don't let the original intents of the authors -- or even the bounds of propriety -- stop you!  :-)


  1. Hmm, I guess I never explained the title of my post! Anterrabae was one of the gods of Yr.

  2. Wow. Yeah!

    Those last couple paragraphs were very inspiring! Wave your flag and we will follow. :D

    Thanks for pointing me to this post -- though it was for another reason, I got more out of it. A self-reinforcing commentary on intent!