East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

How Adventures Changed How We Think About Death


selection_555Now this is a topic, right?
Blame the Portent Content Idea Geneator, that spat this one out when I put in the topic “Adventure”.
And it works, in a certain way.
Let me see if I can get this going – and incidentally, by “adventures” I will mean “adventure fiction”, be it novels, movies, comics or games.

Now, death is a fact.
We all know that we are sitting in this grand theatre and watching this movie, and one day when we least expect it the lights will go out forever, and we will never see how the movie ends.
6186And to be completely honest, that’s what peeves me the most – not seeing how the stories that I see unfurling in front of me will go after I’m gone.
I subscribe to Roger Zelazny’s idea of immortality – eternal life is an eternal sequence of unique moments and experiences, so don’t come and whine about how an eternal life would, in the end, be boring.
Not for me, sorry.
I’m currently going through the roughest time in my life, and I’m having lots of fun.
I’m sorry there’ are other people involved, and I get some very bad moods and I’m often anxious because I could end up living under a bridge in a few weeks, but God forgive me, it’s also exciting.

Which leads us to adventure fiction.
3755c9eafb3799c012e0650ca0ee4308Adventure fiction is life affirming – John Carter’s famous, “Still, I live!” is the baseline: as long as there’s breath in you, you can make a difference. Indeed, a lot of good adventure fiction is about death-defying actions that give a sense to sitting in that movie theater we all know that the lights will go out in… and while they still are on, it gives sitting there a meaning.
Heroics are embarrassing if there’s nothing at stake, risking one’s life for the sake of it is stupid, but put something at stake,and everything changes. We can relate to that, because we are all, each one of us, on a death defying mission.
Maybe there’s not Stormtroopers or Colombian corrupt cops or Iranian killers shooting at us, maybe we are not being carried around by a giant gorilla or a pterodactyl, and not a single one of us is a lord of the jungle, a bold barbarian or an international man of mystery, we’re not flying to China in a biplane or trying to rule Kafiristan, but we all share that trait: we are all here while the lights are still on, we can at least try and make a good show and leave something behind.

treasure_island-scribners-1911Adventure fiction is an inspiration – I keep saying that you can’t go on reading about heroes, or playing heroes at a gaming table, of following heroes in movies and TV series, without a little of the heroic spirit rubbing off on you. Which might just be what pushes you to stand up against a bully in the schoolyard, or to side with a co-worker against Management, or just grit your teeth and keep going on when the going gets rough.

And yes, maybe it’s juvenile and fit only for kids – but what is youth if not a time when death is an illusion and we all act like we are going to live forever?

I’m a kid of the ’70s and ’80s – we were lucky back then: we had rock’n’roll for sentimental education, astronauts and explorers as role-models and action movies for life coaching.
For all our failings, we did not turn out too bad, I guess.
In a sense, adventure stories stopped us thinking about death, convinced us that death does not matter, but not in a superficial way. Adventures caused us to focus on what we can achieve – and as long as we can achieve something, there is no death, even when the lights turn out.

So yes, adventure changed the way we look at death, because adventure made us aware that “Still, we live!”.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “How Adventures Changed How We Think About Death

  1. I also subscribe to Zelazny’s concept of immortality as disparate — including desperate — moments that transcend our notions of a hide-bound reality imposed upon the naturally perplexed.
    An honor to be a member of the audience at Cinema Karavansara 🙂


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