The Legends of Luke Skywalker and The Myths We Cling To

36295579.jpgI finished reading The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu. Firstly, I loved it as a Luke story. It did a great job of presenting Luke from different angles and perspectives, while still keeping him a coherent character. Secondly, I loved it as a collection. The stories ranged from survival tales to tall tales to hero’s journey tales, and all of them were entertaining. Thirdly, that last category, “Hero’s Journey,” made me pause and think about the collection again. It turns out this book, consciously or not (but I’m assuming consciously), systematically goes through some major ways that we approach or study myths. It provides six different stories that each represent one kind of myth structure or category, but inside of the fictional world of Star Wars rather than dealing with our own myths. In so doing, it says a lot about how we tell stories to make sense of our lives and experiences.

Mild spoilers for the book below – I’m going to describe the overall premise of each story, but no details on what happens or how it ends.

Urban Legends

I know I’m not the first to raise questions about this implausible vulnerability, and I’ve heard the theory that maybe it was the result of deliberate sabotage. But if you believe the ragtag Rebel Alliance was capable of infiltrating the highest echelons of the disciplined Imperial military research labs, I’ve got a few choice plots of beachfront property I’d like to sell you on Tatooine.
The first story, called “The Myth Buster,” is set in a bar where the point-of-view character is listening to a bar-fly explain the “true” story of Luke Skywalker. Redy (the bar-fly) explains that what we thought we knew about Luke is nothing but one conspiracy after another, and nothing but propaganda to make the Rebellion look good.
This story reminds me a lot of urban legends, of which conspiracy theories are a sub-genre. Urban legends are those stories that everyone has heard but sometimes don’t know aren’t true. Some are scary, like Bloody Mary or the Killer in The Backseat. Others are Advice Stories like, if you leave a tooth over night in Coca-Cola it will dissolve (it won’t) so don’t drink Coca-Cola. Others are “this happened to a friend of a friend” like the Microwaved Pet story.

In this Luke story, we hear all kinds of twisted versions of Luke’s adventures in the movies, based around the idea that he was actually a guy named Clodplodder and was part of an intergalactic gang. They’re the kind of sensationalist facts and stories that you just know will be repeated by everyone who hears it, because it makes them feel like they know “the truth of the matter.” They won’t be fooled by nonsense legends of a Jedi Knight saving the galaxy.

Personal Mythology

He leapt from rebel star cruiser to rebel star cruiser, his flaming sword at the ready. A Star Destroyer focused all its cannons on him, and carelessly, he deflected the shots with graceful swings. He launched himself from a cruiser, tucked his legs under him, and tumbled through space, shooting bolts of energy from his sword in every direction. Star Destroyer after Star Destroyer disintegrated under this unnatural assault.

The second story is called “The Starship Graveyard” and (is one of my favorites and also) features an unnamed male Imperial officer whose ship goes down during the Battle of Jakku (a battle which occurs in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens). However, the person telling the story, Tyra, accidentally gives enough hints that we realize she is probably giving a cover story for her grandmother, the real protagonist of the story.  The Imperial officer is rescued by a guy who may or may not be Luke but who definitely claims to be Luke by the end but IS HE LYING AND JUST TAKING ADVANTAGE OF LUKE’S FAME, we don’t know????

What I’m calling “Personal Mythology” are those stories that we tell about ourselves, stories of our experiences that were very formative at the time, and that we’ve told so many times that they’ve grown in the telling, and so as we keep telling them their significance to our lives grows.

This story about the point-of-view character’s experience with Luke has grown in his or her mind so much that Luke almost seems like a hallucination or a god. This person that won the Battle of Jakku (according to the narrator), saved them from dying in the desert, and helped the scavengers escape a lake of boiling glass. Luke’s significance to this one character is enormous, and in their mind he’s become a sort of all-powerful legendary figure.

Hero’s Journey

“We take turns to uplift each other.”

The third story is called “Fishing in the Deluge.” It’s set on an oceanic planet and inhabited by people who allow “The Tide” to decide their lives and life around them. It’s told from the perspective of a local girl, Ava, but Luke visits the planet on a quest to find out more about the Jedi and Force-users. In order for him to be taught by them, however, Luke has to pass their coming-of-age test that allows young locals to learn how to feel the Tide (aka the Force).

The characters’s attitude toward the coming-of-age trial is evocative of “The Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey was codified by Joseph Campbell, and made even more famous by George Lucas who used it as a template for the original Star Wars movie. The Hero’s Journey is a basic structure full of common elements shared among most myths; for example, each hero experiences a “call to adventure” early on. If the hero makes it through their whole journey they become “master of two worlds”: both the one they came from and the one they have mastered during their journey, often divided into a physical and a spiritual world.

If Luke makes it through the quest (or hero’s journey, or coming of age ritual) that the local elder sets him, he will be able to master both the Force and the Tide. However, through the trial, Luke learns it’s not so much about mastering something as yielding to a bigger plan. And Ava, the other protagonist, learns a few things from Luke as well. It’s all about balance between two schools of thought and between two individuals, rather than a character successfully navigating a challenge.

Cultural Myths

There was no fear or terror in his face, only determination. How was that possible? Was he droid or man?

The fourth story in the collection is called “I, Droid,” and features a droid protagonist and many many droid slaves working in a deadly mine. Their experience with Luke Skywalker changes them in their hardware and in their software if you know what I’m saying.

Any myth is cultural, obviously, but what I mean specifically is a myth that defines or influences a culture once it is introduced and learned. It’s implied that Luke has become a legendary figure to any of the droids who met him at this point, and they will tell each other their story about him, and retell it as many times as they have to, until all droids have heard about how great Luke is and what a good droid friend he is. True or not, that’s the story that they’re spreading through their culture.

I’d like to see a follow-up that explores the problematic consequences of this story, where Luke has become a ludicrous figure of myth and any droid who comes across his path treats him like a demigod.

Rationalizing Myths

At least he can follow directions, I thought. Then I realized that this wouldn’t be so bad. I could still make it work. Instead of fighting against his instincts, I had to work with them. If I could manage the vapid Salacious Crumb, surely I could do the same with the overeager Luke.

The fifth story is titled “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote.” Lugubrious Mote is…well, a mote. A tiny space-flea from Kowak, which is the same planet as Jabba’s alien monkey jester in Return of the Jedi, for those following along at home. This story goes in a similar vein as the first story, except instead of Luke being a conman, Mote’s version of him is a little stupid and a lot gullible. Lugubrious Mote explains that the only reason Luke survived Jabba’s palace and barge is because of the tiny flea in his hair. Hm.

Rationalizing myths is a popular trend. We like to investigate myths and explore their origins, and what possible explanations could be behind them, whether the myth is a metaphor for why the sun and moon have the courses they do, whether the myth is a conflated retelling of a much more grounded-in-reality event, etc. Explaining away myths with reason kind of misses the point of myths, which is to put into words something we didn’t have words for before.
This narrator comes across as the most unreliable. Sure, everything Lugubrious says sounds plausible, but Luke’s dialogue, and to a certain extent his actions, don’t make much sense with what we’ve seen of Luke elsewhere. So we have to agree to dismantle Luke’s entire character,  or distrust Lugubrious. If Lugubrious is lying, his intention is most likely to replace Luke’s myth with his own personal myth, the legend of Lugubrious Mote.

History Turning Into Myth

Real magic is always knowledge. The galaxy is knowable, and that’s what makes it wondrous.

The sixth story is called “Big Inside” and features an archaeologist narrator who is hitchhiking her way to her scientific studies. Luke responds to her beacon, and the two of them find something interesting in space and wind up on an asteroid. Bad Things Ensue (it’s hard to talk about this one very much without spoilers).  The scientist is very keen to disregard anything about the Force, whereas Luke believes that science and the Force must go hand-in-hand considering the Force surrounds all living things, etc etc. The contrast was fun to read.

This story illustrates how, if enough time passes after an event, the event and the people living it become a legend. Or, if enough time passes without anyone experiencing a place, the place itself becomes legendary and unreal.

Luke and the archaeologist’s experiences in this story are, to anyone who hasn’t experienced them, completely insane. It’s the kind of thing that myths and hallucinations are made of. At the end of the story, they both admit that no one will ever believe them, but she’s going to have to try if she wants to publish any of her research.  In spite of the clash between her scientific pragmatism and Luke’s idealistic mysticism, the protagonist concludes, “I understood enough.”

A Long Time Ago

There’s a running theme in this collection that everyone wants to be the Luke of their own story, or their own personal myth. As they tell stories, they’re mythologizing him and in a way mythologizing themselves.  The point-of-view characters are making sense of Luke as a legendary figure, in whatever way they need to. They’re also making sense of their own lives, whether they’re an imperial-turned-scavenger, an archaeologist learning new things about how nature works, or a  child learning about how big the galaxy really is. Just like with myths in the real world, the characters in a galaxy far far away need myths to reason their way to the truth.

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August Reading Wrap-up

Sooooooooooooo many good reads last month! I tried something new this time to give you a better idea of what each one’s about and which ones I really loved.

Fiction

I Want This To Last Forever

More Than This by Patrick Ness (5/5 stars)

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5 stars)

Hippos In America?!

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (4/5 stars)

Feminist Superhero Fiction

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente (5/5 stars)

McMaster of the Novella

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (5/5 stars)

Rereads Are Good Reads

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (5/5 stars)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (4/5 stars)

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater (5/5 stars)

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (4/5 stars)

And The Rest

A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander (2/5 stars)

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews (3/5 stars)

Graphic Novels

Personal Faves

March: Book One by John Lewis (5/5 stars)

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV (5/5 stars)

Marvel

A-Force: Rage Against the Dying of the Light by Kelly Thompson (4/5 stars)

Mockingbird: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain (4/5 stars)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North (4/5 stars)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: I Kissed A Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North (5/5 stars)

Star Wars

Doctor Aphra by Kieron Gillen (no rating)

Poetry

The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton (4/5 stars)

Nonfiction

Beowulf, a Translation and Commentary by JRR Tolkien (4/5 stars)

 

 

 

Top 10 Tuesday: A Star War

This week’s prompt is a FREEBIE, so I am going to bless you all with my top 10 Star Wars books (canon, Legends, comics, whatever).

  1. Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (Legends): As you may know, I adore Timothy Zahn’s stories (Star Wars and other), so I’m not sure how to pick a favorite but it is probably this one. Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade go on a treasure hunt/quest/fact-finding mission to find a crashed Old Republic ship, in case it has Jedi artifacts on board. It turns into a very suspenseful mystery and of course they run into a shadowy military organization with sketchy motives and there’s fencing and fighting and torture and revenge and true love. Or whatever. Filed under: The OTP, New Stormtrooper Friends, Abandon Ship
  2. Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka (Canon): This is a miniseries comic about Poe’s parents and takes place during and after the Battle of Endor. Greg Rucka is another fave, the art is great, and the characters are wonderful. Filed under: Luke Cameos, Marry Me Shara Bey?
  3. Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement by John Jackson Miller (Legends): This is the first volume of the Knights of the Old Republic comic run. It went a little downhill after the first couple of volumes but this opening story is one of my favorite Star Wars stories. Filed under: Dream Team, Framed, Save The Dream
  4. X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole (Legends): Okay, I need to accept that this entire post is just me gushing about how much I love Star Wars. I LOVE THIS SERIES OF BOOKS but especially Stackpole’s volumes, starting with this one. He introduces a bunch of excellent characters like Corran Horn and Mirax Terrik, along with turning minor but awesome characters from the movies into great protagonists. Filed under: SPACE PILOTS, Wedge Antilles Is The Real MVP
  5. Star Wars: Year By Year A Visual History by Ryder Windham (nonfiction): This is a “coffee table” history/trivia book about the people behind the Star Wars movies and franchise. It’s really nerdy and interesting, and starts with George Lucas’s career and continues into the present. Star Wars events are laid out chronologically alongside “real world” events. Filed under: Did You Know, Fascinating!
  6. Republic Commando: Hard Contact by Karen Traviss (Legends): This is set during the Clone Wars and is a fast-paced military story about a squad of clone commandos and their baby Jedi general. Filed under: I Love Everyone In This Bar, Found Family
  7. Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover (Legends): I don’t understand why we don’t have more Luke books or movies like this.  This is the perfect Luke book, the rest of you can go home. Filed under: Star Wars Journalism, Space Adventures
  8. Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpshyn (Legends): I don’t like dark books very much, and I don’t like books about bad guys very much, but I really love this book about a decent guy who goes bad and it’s all pretty dark, so, I don’t know what to tell you. Filed under: Sith Lords Are Our Specialty, The Rule of Two
  9. Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (Canon): I love Ahsoka and I love E.K. Johnston and this is a wonderful, small-scale story about one of the best Jedi ever. Filed under: Found Family, Rebels, I Love Everyone In This Bar But Mostly Ahsoka
  10. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher: I expected the Shakespeare Star Wars books to be gimmicky and shallow but the author put a lot of work into them and it shows. These books made me approach Star Wars in a whole new way, even though I’ve grown up on them and know them inside out. Filed under: Clever Words, Amazing Illustrations

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Top 10 Tuesday: Best Books That Were Recommended to Me

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic: Book recs! I love recommending books to (i.e. throwing books at) pretty much anyone and everyone, but I also love hearing what books other people have read and enjoyed. These are (some of) my favorite books that have been recommended to me by other people – in no particular order.

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1. And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander: I read a review for this on someone’s blog but I DO NOT REMEMBER WHO. I am so sorry because if I did I would link you and love you forever. A few years ago I came across the review and it sounded like exactly what I wanted in a cozy book: mystery, romance, feminism, set in Victorian England, protagonist has a Homer obsession….And Only to Deceive is the first (and best so far) of Tasha Alexander’s “Lady Emily” series. I highly recommend it for mystery-lovers.
2. The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner: I am 90% sure snazel recommended this one to me so don’t tell me if I’m wrong. The first book appears to be a straightforward quest/heist story but it’s filled with twists and turns, along with having A+ worldbuilding, iconic characters, and layers of backstory, history, and mythology. The sequel, Queen of Attolia, is even better and the third is even better etc etc etc. Book #5 comes out next year.
3. The Chosen by Chaim Potok: I had heard of this book before but bughuff pretty much forced me (and our book club) to read it and I am so glad she did. I’m scared to summarize the plot because it will sound boring but it’s REALLY WONDERFUL and pretty much anyone who reads should pick it up.
4. Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni: I don’t even like nonfiction, especially how-to or self-help but this is a really straightforward book about how to be Strong and Brave at work, or how to know when it’s time to  make a diversion and flee. There was a lot of practical advice and information that anyone can apply to any job. It was recommended to me by gamedevftw.
5. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series by Ian Doescher: The idea of retelling Star Wars in the form of Shakespeare plays sounded REALLY gimmicky to me, but gingernifty persuaded me to give it a try. I LOVE THESE BOOKS. They make the Star Wars films seem fresh again (which is impressive because I’ve been watching them since I was a tiny Bahnree), and made me look at them in new and interesting ways. I’m really impressed with how Doescher turns the visuals of the movie into monologues and iambic pentameter. HOW DO U WORD??
6. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett: When I lived with kemendraugh for a year in college, I picked up Feet of Clay one day when she wasn’t – no, wait, when she was definitely looking right at me. It was my first experience with the Discworld series and I laughed my way through it. Besides the humor, though, it’s a really fun, engaging fantasy book with lots of mysteries, twists, and EXCELLENT characters.
7. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: This is another snazel recommendation, and one of my favorite YA novels. It’s the first of a trilogy about a girl who is cursed or blessed with a “Godstone” that she must use to complete the one task she was born to do. There’s arranged marriage, rebellions, fencing, fighting, torture…revenge…TRUE LOVE! MIRACLES! I love it.
8. The Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn: Once upon a time I was at my cousin’s house with nothing to do so my older cousin handed me Heir To The Empire and suggested I try it. If it was too hard for me to read, I could give it back. I was still reading it when it was time for me to leave and he very kindly let me borrow it (and then the other two in the trilogy when I needed them). I adore these books: they’re cozy and fun and so very, very Star Wars, and the characters in them have stuck with me since I first read them.
9. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope: This is either a kemendraugh rec or a rec by another friend of ours, Emily. I’ve talked about this book at least once before on this blog but imma do it again. This is a combination of historical drama, Tam Lin retelling, Faerie tale, mystery madness, and fun time, and I love it.
10. Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green: This was on ilvalentinos ‘ recommended reading list for Alexander the Great, and it’s by far my favorite Alex book (I’ve read…a few). It’s comprehensive but interesting to read, and does a really good job on evaluating the sources we have on Alexander and basing its information on the most solid ones. I also appreciate that Peter Green respects Alex in a way but doesn’t idealize or demonize him.

Top 10 Tuesday: Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week’s topic is Fall TBR. Some of these books are at the top of my TBR in general and some have recently come out or are coming out real soon.

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this is my first time participating and I’m trying to be cool

1. The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare: The Magisterium Book #3! It’s a magic school series with amazing friendships and includes a Chaos-ridden wolf pet, so, get on that (I’m just about to start it now that I’ve finished Six of Crows).

2. Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews: Book #8 in the Kate Daniels paranormal fantasy series. These are very formulaic but they have a ton of awesome magic battles and mysteries and I love them.

3. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo: I just finished Six of Crows last night but I am very  ready for more adventures in crime and magic! Inej is the Wraith of my heart.

4. The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan: The sequel to the first Magnus Chase book comes out really soon on October 4th. I eat up any Rick Riordan and the first one was very intriguing – this one is reimagining Norse mythology and features a really well-done Loki.

5. Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig: This YA thriller comes out on October 4th and my Twitter feed won’t shut up about it.

6. Ahsoka by EK Johnston: I’m a huge E.K. Johnston fan and a HUGE Star Wars fan so I am all over this one. Ahsoka is a really amazing Force-using character from The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels and is about her journey after Order 66 (comes out October 11th).

7. The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan: Did I mention I have a huge Rick Riordan problem? This one is already out and is the first in a new series about Apollo. I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, I guess, because it sounds amazing.

8. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan: I love David Levithan’s collaborations with Rachel Cohn and John Green so I’m excited to see how this one is. It’s a contemporary friendship YA about Kate and Mark and tbh I don’t care about the plot just these authors working together.

9. Jerkbait by Mia Siegert: A YA about two twin brothers that have to learn to live in close quarters after one of the twins tries to commit suicide. I’ve read the first chapter and it’s promising, although I’m not familiar with the author.

10. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope: I reread this book every year at Halloween because it’s precious and I love it. It’s a quasi-Tam Lin retelling set in pre-Elizabethan England.