Yesterday* my son treated four of the women in his life — his girlfriend, his aunt (my sister), his cousin (my sister’s daughter), and me — to an afternoon showing of The Avengers, the new action-adventure blockbuster of the year. I had a blast.
The movie theatre was mostly filled with men, young men, and boys. Up near the front, though, two respectable middle-aged women — my sister and I — were having more fun than all the young lads combined. For us, the super hero characters were old friends, characters we knew from our childhood summers, characters who had taught us a lot about courage, devotion, gratitude, and trust even though we thought we were just reading comic books during those tranquil summer days of our youth.
My sister and I were very fortunate that our parents decided to buy a small piece of rocky terrain in Ontario’s cottage country and build a simple summer cottage where we could all spend our summers together. Our family cottage is the focus of some of my happiest childhood memories.
When I say the cottage is simple, I mean it’s simple. The first part was built in the early 1960’s, and a small addition was added a few years later. As with many cottages of the period, there’s no foundation. The cottage is set on a series of concrete supports that lift it off the uneven granite terrain, but the cottage was built to suit the natural setting, not the other way around. My mother designed it. My father built it. The family still spends restful days there every summer. There’s just something about it . . . .
When I was quite young, there was no indoor bathroom. My father hadn’t yet got round to installing bathroom plumbing. So we had an outhouse. I can still remember the distinctive smell of lye and bathroom wastes. Spiders — very large spiders, or so it seemed to me when I was five — loved to spin their webs in all the corners of the outdoor john. My sister and I were afraid to go in there after dark, so our dad would escort us out with a flashlight and wait outside the door while we tried to pee in record time.
Summers were for simple fun. There was no telephone. The tiny TV could only pick up one channel on its bunny ears — the CBC affiliate in Peterborough. And no computer, of course. But there was the lake at the foot of the hill, the lake that gave us endless hours of swimming, diving, canoeing, rowboating, waterskiing, exploring. On rainy days, we had a cupboard filled with games and art supplies to occupy our minds and talents. Monopoly and Sorry. Card games galore. Drawing. Inventing. Giggling. Complaining we had nothing to do, though obviously this wasn’t true.
Early morning was for reading. Books. Comic books. Old favourites. New favourites. Dad would get up and light a fire in the cast iron stove — the sounds and the smells of the stove meant safety and comfort to us — and my sister and I would snuggle under the blankets of our bunk beds and read until Mom called us for breakfast. I was in the top bunk. Sometimes I’d stare up at the knots in the cedar planks of the ceiling, and I’d make up stories about the “pictures” I saw in the patterns there.
The stories I made up were always modelled on the action-adventure-mystery-fantasy stories I loved to read while I was growing up. I wasn’t like most girls I knew. I wasn’t interested in stories about animals who talked, or horses, or quiet household dramas. From the earliest time I can remember, I wanted to read stories about heroes. So when other girls were reading National Velvet, I was reading Charles Kingsley’s The Heroes. It’s just who I am as a soul.
My parents allowed me to read subversive stories — stories about characters who bucked convention and did the right thing. So DC and Marvel and Archie comics were okay with Mom and Dad. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, comics didn’t contain sexual content that was inappropriate for younger readers. (I wouldn’t have understood such content even if it had been present.) But there was plenty of mystery and suspense and action and derring-do. More importantly, there were men and women who had to struggle against pain and loss and rejection in order to stay the course, in order to do the right thing.
These stories, as it turns out, were much better for my brain than anything I could have read in the Bible.
The Avengers is a film with terrific story-telling, story-telling that says something true about all of us. It’s not going to win any Oscars, because it’s not meant to appeal to viewers’ status addiction, but it’s going to make buckets of money because it appeals to our hearts.
Are there lots of fight scenes? Yes. So I don’t recommend the film for children under the age of about 10. Are the fight scenes the raison d’etre for the film? No. The film’s heart lies in its exploration of character — a bunch of quarrelling, “crazy” super heroes who can’t work together as a team until each finds his/her own courage within.
Yeah, it’s not a new idea. Some of the oldest myths we have tell this story about the dogged pursuit of one’s own courage, trust, gratitude, and devotion even while one is tracking down the evil psychopathic tyrant named _______ (insert desired name of your choice) who is trying to steal other people’s lives and free will and courage.
Yeah, it’s an old-fashioned kind of story. But these are the stories we need.
Of course, this is the very theme of the film, as expressed by the character Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson). It’s a theme which needs to be repeated loudly and often: old-fashioned heroism never goes out of style. Neither do old-fashioned stories.
Some things just can’t be improved upon. Some stories are so good they deserve to be told again and again and again. Like the story of God the Mother and God the Father, who long, long ago and far, far away began their own quest to know what Divine Love is and all that it can be.
Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mom! Love those action scenes with the high heels! ;)))
*Posted on Sunday, May 13, 2012 on The Blonde Mystic