Just the other week my Greeklings and I were working on the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, a delightful tale about the messenger god of Greek mythology and his "origin story," when he was a baby god and stole the cattle of Apollo.
What??? said my Greeklings. A baby god stole cattle?
Yes, I said. Anything can happen in a story.
Who would believe in such crazy stuff? They persisted.
Hermes (not as a baby?) steals Apollo's cattle: image from here.
Well, I have to allow that the baby god stealing cattle detail does strain credulity. It lacks "verisimilitude," or a sense of something happening that could happen in real life.
But, as I was reminded last weekend, American stories go to the same extremes.
"The Avengers" is one of those big blockbusters that cost a huge amount of money to make. In movies such as these, where the story and the characterizations are only intermittently interesting, my eye wanders to the set direction and the CGI.
Everything looks so real, even if it is an illusion.
There is one part in particular that looks very real, but clearly is a total impossibility physics-wise. (And for the record, I am not a physicist, but I think I am on solid ground here. If I'm not, let me know.) This is the flying aircraft carrier, or "helicarrier."
Yes, the 100,000 ton full-sized sea-going vessel with airplanes on its flight deck converts into an aircraft by means of four enormous whirligig things ("ducted rotors") that splay out on its four corners. The whirligigs act as lifters, and once the craft is in flight they keep it in the sky.
Now, you might think that the makers of the movie would leave it at that. Once the aircraft carrier is up in the sky, never mention the whirligig things again, because they are so unbelievable. But no, at one point, one of the whirligig things is put out of commission by the villain, and the heroes have to get it started again.
I will not discuss how that happens. Suffice to say it is totally unbelievable as well.
Now at this point you might have lost the thread. You might be saying, "It's a comic book story. Of course unbelievable things happen."
I know that. My question is, why would any American think Greek Mythology is absurd when millions of us part with good money to see something in our stories that is just as impossible?
Human beings are born with the capacity for wonder and for impossibility. We should celebrate that-- celebrate the fact that, no matter what the culture, every story is in its way impossible at some level, and that's a good thing.
"Helicarrier" image from here.