Can the Redemption Arc Be Saved?
Plus music to violate your parole conditions by, and more.
Happy Easter, creatures! In this edition I offer a music recommendation, ask you a question (or like… many questions), and remind you that there’s no jubilee in Fairyland.
A Heartache Saved Is a Heartache Earned
I wasn’t able to place a review of Harrison Lemke’s new indie album, Forever Only Idaho. That’s okay, I don’t write about music much and I’m not good at it, but I really do want anyone who doesn’t already know Lemke to give this one a shot. There are basically three ways I know to talk about music: what other music it’s like, what’s in it, and what it makes you feel. So here goes.
What it’s like: most obviously, the Mountain Goats; if you like them you’ll like this, I’m pretty sure. But there’s also the ’80s nighttime promise of the synth in “The Old Band,” and the churning guitar in the menaced and danceable “Burn Down the Title Loan,” carrying the faint acrid odor of the Cash cover of “Personal Jesus.”
What’s in it: songs about living in your hometown; or, being stuck in your hometown. Songs about unfulfilled dreams and unpaid debts—some miraculously forgiven, some still waiting out there in the dark. These are songs which slide along the emotional spectrum from wry gratitude through acceptance into regret and even a lonely anger. There’s hope and blessing (“Like sheep without a shepherd”) but it’s evidence of things very much as yet unseen. And money, “the rising cost of living and the rising cost of land,” is one of the biggest obstacles blocking the light.
What’s in it is haunting nature description, the Ponderosa pines which mean so much more than we allow them; synth and piano and horns and harmonica; just enough pop, just enough country. What’s in it is a fantastic song about getting let off on a technicality for a crime you definitely committed, and how that experience might change something for you even if it doesn’t make you change. What’s in it is songs about work (“someone else’s money being made”), the office park at night with its strange buzzing lights, its pulses and flutters and the hint of voices; the nametag and the uniform scrubbed in the sink.
What it made me feel, most of all, was a kind of sweet unhappiness: an unhappiness which can be accepted because it’s so deeply woven into all the places and the people you love.
Listen here and consider a purchase.
Wish I Were a Tin Can, Then Someone Could Redeem Me
I’m writing something about “redemption arcs.” When a character makes a heel-face turn, people like asking whether it “worked.” Is that how you come back from, idk, turning into the Phoenix Force and eating a planet? Is that enough? Do you “have to” do penance, do you have to work through your trauma, do you have to die? How long is it supposed to take?
These questions mostly come up in sf/fantasy film and TV. I’m at a disadvantage, because I have not seen anything featuring Kylo Ren or Zuko; I knew Catra when she was a hot adult lady, not a furry teen with backstory. Maybe for this reason I’ve been weirdly captivated by the way fans talk about the redemption arc. The way people argue about Snape or whoever seems to draw on their real beliefs about justice, forgiveness, and amends, but the fantasy elements provide a kind of safety cushion, I think. The penances or catalytic forgivenesses we imagine can be more extreme and clear-cut than in reality.
Anyway why I’m saying all this, is that I’d like your thoughts. Which characters have had what you would consider a “redemption arc,” or a failed/thwarted attempt at one, which really struck you? Which stories were insightful, which were unsatisfying? If you like this kind of story specifically, what’s your sense of why you like it? Do any of you hate this kind of story, and if so, why? What is gained and what is lost by this whole framework for talking about wrongdoing and repentance?
Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments, or email me email@example.com .
Section title via Jane Hohenberger, the Nightingale of the Nineties.
If I Owed a Tithe to Hell, I Would Simply Not Pay
Really both of the items in this newsletter, as well as the previous one about Tam Lin, touch on what it means to owe something. I am a believer in owing things; I wouldn’t have written Amends if I didn’t think amends are something you can owe, even though they’re also something you can never truly pay. The fairies in Tam Lin are sinister in part because they won’t ever forgive your debt. They really do think in terms of the system of exchange, not love but barter, and nothing from outside can enter into the tight barbwire circle of the fairy market except a pregnant woman.
I talked with the pro-life newsletter The Pelican about crisis pregnancy counseling and depictions of abortion/crisis pregnancies in art. Praise for Danielle Evans, Blood Quantum, a literal wizard, and more.