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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/24/1999
Column 2

THE MYTH VERSUS THE MAN

I did quite a number of stories like that with Superman in the background, helping others but hidden and offstage to his beneficiaries. But Superman also had the problem that all mythic figures have faced, how to live a normal life among ordinary people without being on constant guard, without being able to relax and enjoy normal moments. It's a problem that larger than life public figures always face in one way or another, the superstar, a US President, a royal personality, a great athlete.

Essentially, how does an outstanding personality, in this case, Superman, conceal himself among the everyday and lead a life at least partly free of constant states of emergency?

I did many stories in which Superman had to confront that question, by falling back on his Clark Kent adaptation. So, as with any of us who have achieved some recognition, even of the smallest kind, the ability to withdraw into the ordinary, if only to hide behind sunglasses for a moment, is essential. So even a Superman as needs his ordinariness to rest from the unremitting high energy levels of his Superman existence. That's why Clark Kent provided balance and a kind of credibility.

I was able to convince my editor, Jack Schiff, to let me write Superman in this way for the most part, and, of course, as a result, I did develop a special personal interest in an aspect of the character that I could claim as purely my own, representing my own beliefs and values, and private literary insights, the results of probing explorations of my own psyche, exactly as though I were using the medium to refine and rediscover ideas of significant value and meaning as each plot situation presented itself. This often slowed me down, but I was reaching, in a sense, toward recreating the archetypal validity of the character. So ultimately, the Superman I wrote about was not the same Superman Jerry Siegel wrote about. Maybe he looked the same, but in my mind, the images were somewhat different because they represented a necessary evolution of the character. It kept the character alive, you might say, past its time, past the time of world crisis that I referred to previously.

And in a sense, as my commitment grew to this idea of Superman, he actually did become real to me. How real?

A NEW CHALLENGE TO REALITY

Superman had become real enough to make me quit when I could no longer recognize that reality when Mort Weisinger insistred on having me write a story I felt was out of character. But did Superman actually strike me as a living being created by pure thought? I tended not to think so, because we generally do not think this way in the west. Treating Superman as real, in my mind, was a kind of literary conceit. An expression of value not of substance. Or so I thought until Mr. Thongden came on the scene.

I won't repeat here the skepticism, the confusion and even the marital disharmony that Thongden's appearance in my life, brought. It's covered in detail in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. But Thongden sought me out because he took quite literally my statement in a journal published at the University of Connecticut some years earlier that I considered Superman real. But Thongden himself was the greatest challenge to my sense of reality than anything I'd yet experienced. He claimed to be a tulpa. He even insisted with some interesting historical data that Alexander Hamilton was also a tulpa. I don't think I need to explain to anyone these days that a tulpa is a Tibetan name for a living human being created by a heavy process of meditation. I think I do have to explain why I believe that Mr Thongden, at any rate, was really a tulpa and really real. And that, in a different way, even after thirty-five years had passed since I stopped writing comics, Superman too was still real to me. That's what Thongden claimed.

The details are all to be found in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET (Divina, an imprint of MacMurray & Beck, $12.95).

But people keep asking for more and more explanations precisely because our western ideas of time and reality are simply cultural structures rather than, to use that word again, reality. In fact, we need only turn to our own more recent scientific discoveries. In science today we're just learning that matter isn't really a passive inert substance; it's no longer made up of the hard billiard ball atoms of 19th century physics. It is now thought to consist of rhythmic processes of activity, of energy bound and patterned within fields, fields very much like electro-magnetic fields and gravitational fields. Morphic fields, as some describe them.

In other words, matter itself, the so-called hard reality of the way the world appears to most of us, is not much different than thought. And thoughts can actually produce things. Consider the way imagination (imaging) is used today as another way of fighting illnesses, especially severe ones like cancer. But there are endless instances of the identity of thought and matter right under our noses.

Alvin Schwartz

<< 05/17/1999 | 05/24/1999 | 05/31/1999 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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