how is it possible to love fictional characters this much and also have people always been this way?
like, did queen elizabeth lie in bed late sometimes thinking ‘VERILY I CANNOT EVEN FOR MERCUTIO HATH SLAIN ME WITH FEELS’
was caesar like ‘ET TU ODYSSEUS’
sometimes i wonder
oh my GOD
the answer is yes they did. there’s a lot of research about the highly emotional reactions to the first novels widely available in print.
here’s a thing; the printing press was invented in 1450 and whilst it was revolutionary it wasn’t very good. but then it got better over time and by the 16th century there were publications, novels, scientific journals, folios, pamphlets and newspapers all over Europe. at first most were educational or theological, or reprints of classical works.
however, novels gained in popularity, as basically what most people wanted was to read for pleasure. they became salacious, extremely dramatic, with tragic heroines and doomed love and flawed heroes (see classical literature, only more extreme.) books in the form of letters were common. sensationalism was par the course and apparently used to teach moral lessons. there was also a lot of erotica floating around.
but here’s the thing: due to the greater availability of literature and the rise of comfy furniture (i shit you not this is an actual historical fact, the 16th and 17th century was when beds and chairs got comfy) people started reading novels for pleasure, women especially. as these novels were highly emotional, they too became…highly emotional. there are loads of contemporary reports of young women especially fainting, having hysterics, or crying fits lasting for days due to the death of a character or their otp’s doomed love. they became insensible over books and characters, and were very vocal about it. men weren’t immune-there’s a long letter a middle-aged man wrote to the author of his favourite work basically saying that the novel is too sad, he can’t handle all his feels, if they don’t get together he won’t be able to go on, and his heart is already broken at the heroine’s tragic state (IIRC ehh).
conservatives at the time were seriously worried about the effects of literature on people’s mental health, and thought it damaging to both morals and society. so basically yes it is exactly like what happens on tumblr when we cry over attractive British men, only my historical theory (get me) is that their emotions were even more intense, as they hadn’t had a life of sensationalist media to numb the pain for them beforehand in the same way we do, nor did they have the giant group therapy session that is tumblr.
(don’t even get me started on the classical/early medieval dudes and their boners for the Iliad i will be here all week. suffice to say, the members of the Byzantine court used Homeric puns instead of talking normally to each other if someone who hand’t studied the classics was in the room. they had dickish fandom in-jokes. boom.)
I needed to know this.
See, we’re all just the current steps in a time-honored tradition! (And this post is good to read along with Affectingly’s post this week about old-school-fandom-and-history-and-stuff.
Ancient Iliad fandom is intense
Alexander the Great and and his boyfriend totally RPed Achilles and Patroclus. Alexander shipped that hard. (It’s possible that this story is apocryphal, but that would just mean that ancient historians were writing RPS about Alexander and Hephaestion RPing Iliad slash and honestly that’s just as good).
And then there’s this gem from Plato:
“Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus - his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far)” - Symposium
That’s right: 4th Century BCE arguments about who topped. Nihil novi sub sole my friends.
Note that the printing press in China is invented much earlier and it has basically the same effect. Social conservatives in the censor bureau censored huge amounts of literature and poetry because of the devastating effect it had on the literati class (who formed most of the government bureaucracy, let’s not forget: So your state governor can’t work this week because he’s having Baoyu / Daiyu feels.) This did not stop it from leaking out anyway, in secret editions and hand-copied versions. And OMG the feels that these people have. There’s basically a constant struggle between the censors and this underground fandom, most novels are copied chapter-by-chapter, with people inserting fanfic chapters when they don’t have all the material (so if you have chapters 2, 3, 4, 10, 12 of your favorite book you might write your own 5-9 and circulate them) or just writing straight-up fanfic (famously in Water Margin and Red Chamber it _becomes canon_ after the author’s death.)
This post is the best thing, every part of it. Nothing to add except wow.
I’ve reblogged this before, but it had less information on it then. Shakespeare is almost entirely stuff we’d call fanfiction nowadays and his histories are RPF. We have evidence medieval nobility did things a lot like weekend-long LARP as entertainment, with paid performers as game organizers and NPCs. For centuries, there have been rumors that Queen Victoria knighted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in order to pressure him into retconning Reichenbach and continuing to write Sherlock Holmes stories.
I was an enormous Tolkien geek in middle school, and went as far as reading a lot of his letters/a lot of Simarillion meta. The short version is, he deliberately left gaps in the Silmarillion because Tolkien, as a professor of language and mythology, believed that for nearly all of human history storytelling had been participatory and involved many tellers of the same tales. He thought early-to-mid 20th century pop-culture and mass media were destructive because people did far less telling of stories, claiming of stories, and reworking of stories. I am pretty sure that, despite being a stuffy old professorial Christian white dude who would probably not read any porny fic or watch shippy vids, Tolkien is beaming in his grave over such things’ existence - over participatory storytelling having finally made its glorious comeback, over the 20th century’s approach to narrative being firmly established as an abberant nightmare that is thankfully mostly over. Did we get mythos we all reference and participate in to come back in style? Oh, by Harry Potter’s scar and every Jedi’s lightsaber, have we ever pulled that one off.
this is fantastic!
Dr Lucy Johnstone, a consultant clinical psychologist who helped draw up the DCP’s statement, said it was unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes.
“On the contrary, there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances – bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse,” Johnstone said
I don’t even have words for how horrifying this is to me. If they were presenting this idea as an addition to biomedical approaches to treatment then I’d be all for it. But if they’re saying fuck mentally ill people it’s just all in their heads…well we’ve been down that road, it’s a fucking dead end and the mangled corpses of generations of ill people already line the curbs.
I re-blogged a picture of a little girl, dressed as Tiana, hugging the face actress who plays Tiana at one of the Disney Parks, and noted that everyone should have their princess. And a few people have now contacted me basically going “no, only straight white people can have princesses if you stick with the classics.”
I am a folklorist, and it’s time for some Fun With Folklore.
First off, very few Princesses/fairy tale heroines who are going to become Princesses because that’s what you do are actually defined by specific physical attributes. You have Snow White, who yes, requires the “skin as white as snow” etc, but that’s to make her an alien beauty and justify the actions of her stepmother. She belongs to the Aarne-Thompson tale type 709, which is commonly referred to as “Snow White,” but which contains a hell of a lot more, including “Bella Venezia”, “Myrsina”, “Nourie Hadig” and “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree.” All those links will take you to Wikipedia. Click them. Note that NOT ONE of those girls is defined by her appearance, beyond “incredibly beautiful.” “Nourie Hadig” is Armenian in origin; you can bet that girl was not white as snow. (Note that I do not actually care for the “Nourie Hadig” 709 variant, due to using a Roma girl as the main adversary, but that’s another story.) Any story you want to tell is going to have variants where the heroines are never described! You know why?
BECAUSE THE PEOPLE WHO WERE TELLING THESE STORIES UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THE MIRROR OF THE TALE.
There are fairy tales about people with disabilities, ranging from the physical (missing limbs, missing eyes, missing tongues) to the emotional (girls who cannot smile, boys who cannot feel fear). There are fairy tales that end in same-sex marriage. There’s even an excellent fairy tale about gender identity, “The Princess Who Became A Prince,” in which our hero has always felt he was a boy, but tried to be a dutiful daughter, until a dragon stole a neighbor princess and he had to ride to rescue the girl in order to save the kingdom. One misaimed curse later, and wham, our new-minted prince is finally outwardly as he had been all along on the inside.
THIS IS JUST AS OLD AND TRUE AND SCHOLASTIC AS CINDERELLA AND THE OTHERS.
The “big fairy tales” of today are the ones that someone seized on as marketable. We have the power, as drivers of media, to say that we want more diversity. We want Princesses of every race, creed, and religion, and we have the folklore and fairy tales to make them real. We want our transgender Princess (although wow would the marketing be problematic). Saying “the classics” are 100% about straight white people reduces the past to a place where only straight whiteness existed, and where no other children ever needed stories. And that’s not what the past was.
Once upon a time has never stopped being right now.
She was once the a beautiful virgin shadow maiden of Athean. After Poseidon rapes Medusa in Athena’s temple, Athena punishes Medusa….making her the embodiement of death and damning her to a life of solitude.
What does this say about society then, and now?
Well, the myth that tells Medusa’s metamorphosis into a monster as a punishment by Athena is the patriarchal Roman version. The ancient Greek myth, which has closer ties to its progenitor, the Egyptian tale of Wadjet, tells us that Athena gifted Medusa with ugliness and the power to turn men to stone as a way of protecting her from further violations of her person. Even so, her ugliness was emphasized in the Roman retelling as a way to further demonize and disenfranchise Medusa (i.e. she only lashed out on men because she was too ugly to be loved by them, her ugliness forced her into seclusion from men, ugly women are bad, etc. ((I am ironically using abbreviations for Latin words here yes)).). As the original myth tells it, she lived in solitude because she did not wish to be around men after what Poseidon had done. And Athena gave her the power to never be at the mercy of a male again. So originally, Athena was pissed at Poseidon, not Medusa. And then, of course, the Romans took it one step further and had Perseus behead her (yay the vindictive old hag is dead) and give it to Athena for her shield.
But yeah, renderings of Medusa’s head appeared in the doorways of many women’s shelters in ancient Greece because she was a symbol of female empowerment, not a monster feared by men and women alike.
This brings me to my awkward segue into a cool essay on the subject: The Laugh of the Medusa by Helene Cixous actually touches on the system of misogynistic fear behind the Romanized version, but most importantly why women need to write their stories because this is the shit that happens when dudebros get ahold of them. It’s also an awesome overture to queer theories of writing. If you can read French, I highly suggest getting your hands on the essay as it was originally written, because Cixous’ voice is just incredibly inspiring when you read it as she intended it to be read. Also, the essay itself is worthy of criticism as it is not as intersectional as it absolutely needs to be. I feel I should add that before someone thinks I advocate the problematic things she says.
But now that I’ve totally digressed from my original point: It’s important that we’re always mindful to question the credibility of those telling us not only history, but also legend.
(I became absolutely exhausted halfway through this so forgive me if the connection I’m making between the original post and this essay is more arbitrary than I think it is at the moment)
During the act of reading engaging fiction, we can lose all sense of time. By the final chapter of the right book, we feel changed in our own lives, even if what we’ve read is entirely made up.
Research says that’s because while you’re engaged in fiction—unlike nonfiction—you’re given a safe arena to experience emotions without the need for self-protection. Since the events you’re reading about do not follow you into your own life, you can feel strong emotions freely.
The key metric the researchers used is “emotionally transported,” or how deeply connected we are to the story. Previous research has shown that when we read stories about people experiencing specific emotions or events it triggers activity in our brains as if we were right there in the thick of the action.