Log in

21 February 2006 @ 09:33 pm
Smallville: Seven Basic Plots (Part III)  
Previous Parts here
The little baby essay of the seven!

3. The quest
This will probably be the shortest of the seven essays, because it is the least relevant plot to Smallville. Initially I thought it had no relevance at all. However, I think it is worth exploring for completionism's sake, because Smallville uses aspects of the Quest plot at different times.

The plot of the Quest centres on 'the pull of the hero towards some distant, all-important goal.'. Usually the Quest involves a literal journey. The story may begin in what Booker calls a 'City of Destruction' where life becomes untenable for the hero (and his companions) and the hero receives their Call. In the greater scheme of Clark Kent's life, Krypton could be seen as a City of Destruction. From there he is thrust on his journey to Earth and finally to his destiny as Superman there. But when this plot begins, Clark Kent is an infant. He has no personal choice in the path he is sent on. This is one of the ideas that Smallville explores: inescapable destiny.

The five stages in the Quest plot are:
1. The Call
2. The Journey
3. Arrival and Frustration
4. The Final Ordeals
5. The Goal

3.1 The incomplete Quest
The Season 4 plot arc was one instance where Smallville toyed with the Quest plot. Several characters undertake the Quest to find the stones, but for different reasons. Their Calls occur at different times and they are rivals rather than companions to one another. The Quest is perhaps of most emotional significance to Lex, for whom it represents the drive for knowledge and power. He travels to Eqypt and to China in search of his goal and encounters many obstacles. His 'ordeals' include imprisonment and torture. But unlike the typical hero of a Quest plot, he overcomes these not through a show of virtue and worthiness, but by duplicity and collaboration with 'dark' figures such as Lionel (in his escape from the Teagues). He is ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining his goal. It is Clark who obtains the stones which form the crystal that will create his Fortress of Solitude. Lex has been on a 'false' Quest: the Kingdom at the end of the quest is not destined to be his. This sets up an embittered Lex for Season 5, who is determined to forge his own 'Kingdom' in the corporate and political world.

3.2 Darkness within
One of the differences between the Quest and the earlier plots is that it is not uncommon in the Quest plot to see the hero and his companions display weakness and make mistakes. In the Rags to Riches and Overcoming the Monster plot, the dark forces stand between the hero and his goal. In the Quest plot, the dark forces may lie within and the hero must overcome an internal battle. In Smallville, this idea is set up in the Pilot, where Lana remarks that 'everyone has a dark side'. The idea that Clark battles a 'dark' self is sometimes shown literally (in RedK!Clark and in the double-headed figure in Arrival) and sometimes referred to more obliquely. For Lex, we see his literal dark half in Onyx and are aware of the 'darkness' that shadows him.

ETA: We learn of Lex's 'dark' half early on, when Ryan tells Clark that he has a lot of darkness inside 'that he keeps from the world'. Clark appears to heed this warning in being wary of Lex, although Ryan himself later reaches out to Lex and tells him to remember that the path to darkness is a journey not a lightswitch.

The Quest represents a journey to maturity, wholeness and self-realisation for the hero. In this, we can recognise both Clark and Lex in their journey to maturity. Here Smallville presents us with a paradox: it is Lex who is most self-aware to begin with, but he falls into darkness, whereas Clark rises from naïve immaturity into light.

3.3 Summing up
Smallville's structure, with the importance of a grounded geographical location, does not lend itself to the literal verion of the Quest plot, but it does contain some figurative Quests. In particular, it centres on the journey towards self-realisation for two figures: Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.

Next: the interesting stuff! ;-)
Vicki: hourglassmyownghost on February 21st, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC)
i think that's very interesting, and your point about lex falling into darkness despite his self-awareness at the outset is just right. the integration of the Shadow into the unified self is the work of a lifetime, it has seemed to me. in reading SV fiction, i tend to like stories that show lex becoming integrated and moving into light, but then i always go for a redemption scene!

this is a thought-provoking series of posts. thank you for thinking it all through.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex alcoholicbop_radar on February 21st, 2006 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I am glad you are finding them interesting. I'm always a sucker for redemption stories myself, though I like them to be as complicated as possible. Lex holds out as a tantalising prospect for that reason!
Nora Norwich: inner geeknorwich36 on February 21st, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
Half-awake, haven't had coffee yet thought: I think actually *Lana* has the most coherent quest-arc in S4. (I've had vague thoughts about Lana fitting into the earlier plots you discussed too, but they are still only partially formed in my brain.)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lana iconbop_radar on February 21st, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, please feel free to write a Lana coda to these essays! I hummed and hahhed about writing her into the earlier ones, but she only partially functions as a heroine in her own right. In those early plots in particular she is the obvious 'goal', 'trophy' or 'princess'. But I *do* have things to say about her later on.

You are totally right--I should really have explored Lana here. That I didn't is only testament to me finding this the least relevant SV plot structure: it's not that it's not there, it's just I don't think they do anything interesting with it. Feel free to find me wrong! If I've overlooked anything major, it's likely to be with this one!
Nora Norwich: inner geeknorwich36 on February 21st, 2006 10:40 pm (UTC)
Well, I was curious about the omission of Lana, because most of your essays about this season's SV have deliberately drawn the parallels between Clark, Lex, *and* Lana. But I'm not interested enough in revisiting season 4 to write a Lana coda for you, I'm afraid. And I can certainly understand your reluctance to do so!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lana death giftbop_radar on February 21st, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)
Waaah, this is my problem! You see even though I am more forgiving of S4 than most, and even though I *do* integrate Lana into most of my reading of SV, the Lana quest plot bored me to tears, and I could NOT be bothered revisiting. However, writing this I realised one of the reasons that it did bore me: it was pushed onto the character at a late stage, rather than growing organically from the show/her character development. That might be worth me footnoting.
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lana iconbop_radar on March 5th, 2006 11:44 am (UTC)
Sorry it's taken me so long to reply to this comment. My mail account has been very temperamental. Thank you for the observations, which are very astute. You are right that the Quest, or her discovery of it's falseness, doesn't seem to change Lana in any significant way. Viewing it intra-textually, it seems as if Lana has filed those experiences away as being irrelevant to her normal life. Perhaps this is partially because she was possessed at the time and doesn't treat this as her 'true self'. But perhaps it's also partly because she doesn't want to face the reality of her actions--we saw, if briefly, that she did find killing Genevieve Teague confronting.
amandajaneamandajane5 on February 22nd, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
I'm with you, the journey as *journey* totally isn't there in SV (or at least not the way it is in LOTR), but you should include Ryan telling Clark that Lex has the darkness inside, and that Clark should be wary of it. I think, at least.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Lex purple evilbop_radar on February 22nd, 2006 01:52 am (UTC)
Yes, you are right! I will add it in. Thank you.