A Tale of Two Abes: The Importance of Using Historical Figures In their Prime in Fiction

Pop quiz time! Read these titles of movies too awesome to actually exist:

King Arthur vs Godzilla

Napoleon Bonaparte vs A Really Big Alligator

George Washington vs Dinosaurs

Teddy Roosevelt vs Bigfoot (Oh, wait: This actually exists!)

Amelia Earhart vs Killer Crabs

Jimmy Carter vs Killer Robots from Neptune

When you read each of those sentences, how did you imagine these famous people? Probably how they’re best remembered in pop culture, such as Napoleon in his field gear and bicorn hat, Washington in his presidential outfit, and Amelia Earhart in a flight jacket.

Now, read these next two sentences:

Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

When you imagined Mr. Lincoln in these movies, you probably visualized him in his 50’s while wearing his presidential outfit and famous top hat, correct? Anyone would, as these style of stories rely on using historical people when they’re at their most famous. However, trying to subvert the formula can lead to disappointment from our audiences.

If you were like me back in 2012, you probably heard of ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,’ a big screen adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, and were very curious to see how such a silly premise would work.

If you were like me, you were probably disappointed to find that most of the movie didn’t feature Abe fighting off vampires in the White House, or on the battlefields of the Civil War for an hour and a half, but instead got an overly-serious film that followed Abe as a young adult learning his axe-chopping trade. While we do get a spectacular climax where President Lincoln does fight vampires on a train, by that point it’s too little, too late.

Disappointed at how such a silly idea turned into a big disappointment, I sought solace in The Asylum’s mockbuster, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.’

While the film’s storyline, effects, and acting are… not A grade material (save Bill Oberst Jr.’s performance as Mr. Lincoln), and the budget is only 1/1,000th the size of its big-screen counterpart, the one virtue that cannot be denied is that ‘Zombies’ gives the audience what we came to see: President Lincoln fighting the undead from beginning to end (save a brief prologue where little-kid Abe has to kill his undead mother).

As another example, if we were going to write a story about, say, Jesus defending Earth from invaders from Mars, audiences would expect to see Jesus in his 30’s, with his classic robe, sandals, long hair, beard, and mustache. They would want to see classic Jesus hopping into a UFO to blast off into outer space, not teenage Jesus or child Jesus.

As a final example, imagine that you’ve seen a trailer for a movie where every single US president, living or dead, teams up to save the world when Hell invades Earth, featuring a spectacular climax where Obama, Lincoln, Coolidge, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Fillmore, Nixon, and every other president shoot millions of machine gun rounds into Satan’s face. Sounds awesome, right? That’s what audiences would want to see. They wouldn’t want to see the presidents when they were kids or young adults: They would want to see them as they were in office.

The takeaway from all this? When using historical people in fiction, use them when they were at the peak of their fame and influence. Avoid following them as a child, a young adult, or any other age when they hadn’t accomplished their greatest feats (though Presidental Babies would be an… interesting way of bringing all the US’ presidents together). If you want some awesome examples of this, check out this gentleman’s Deviantart page for US presidents in action-packed, ‘What if?’ scenarios.

Favorite Moments: ‘Titanic SUPER 3D’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

While it’s always fun to imagine crossovers with our favorite stories and characters, one crossover that’s rarer is to imagine a writer or director doing a famous film or book and adding their own unique touches to it, such as:

What if George Lucas directed ‘Gone with the Wind’?

What if Steven Spielberg directed ‘Robot Monster’?

What if Michael Bay directed a Teletubbies movie?

Thanks to this hilarious video by PistolShrimps on Youtube, we get a glimpse of what might have happened if JJ Abrams, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Bay directed 1997’s ‘Titanic’. The result: there’d be a heck of a lot more digital effects, lens flares, and explosions (oh gosh, that chair).

Favorite Moments: IT + The Lord of the Rings

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Today’s video is a great example of fans taking two unrelated franchises and combining them to create something new and fascinating. In this case, combining the Lord of the Rings trilogy with the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ to create a version of Middle Earth where the greatest threat isn’t an evil ring, but an evil clown.

While it’s amusing to see Gandalf getting creeped out at seeing Pennywise, or Frodo shaking as a bloody balloon floats his way, what’s great about this crossover is how it stimulates the imagination into thinking how Middle-Earth would react to the presence of such an evil, shape-shifting entity from Earth. Would Gandalf be able to deafeat him? What would Pennywise do if he got the Ring? What would happen if he and Sauron got into a fight?

The best fiction, in my opinion, invites our imaginations to play around with wondering what might happen beyond the pages or the screen. We only get a few snippets of Pennywise interacting with the Fellowship and the denzins of Middle-Earth here, but it’s fun to wonder what might happen if he met other characters or went to places not shown in the video, and a reminder that writers don’t have to show or explain everything: Leaving some blank spots for our readers to fill in for themselves lets them conjure exciting scenarios and ideas beyond what we could ever hope to put on the page or on the screen.

What we can learn from my favorite videogame commercial

In tales, myths, and legends told throughout the centuries, one constant rule is that the characters in our stories are unaware that they’re fictional. It’s only been in the past few decades that writers have played with this idea by occasionally having these characters realize that they’re characters in a book, a movie, or a video game, existing only to give pleasure and enjoyment to their observers. Naturally, it’s logical for these characters don’t react well then they realize that they don’t exist beyond the confines of the medium they’re in, that they’re little more than playthings of the author. And who can blame them? If I found out I was a background character in a sitcom, I’d probably go crazy, too.

But what we rarely see is when the fourth wall is broken is characters who are okay with their situation. Even rarer is the work where the characters are grateful to their author, player, or audience, which is shown so beautifully in the Sony PS3 ad, ‘Long Live Play’:

When doing a fourth-wall breaking story, consider having your characters be grateful to their creator/audience.

‘Long Live Play’, my favorite video game commercial of all time, is perhaps the best example I’ve found of fictional characters being grateful to their audience. Aside from the coolness of seeing numerous characters from different video game franchises coming together (and just hanging out instead of fighting), it runs with the idea of the player (in this instance, Michael) being a sort of god who helps all of them accomplish great things, which they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, ending with all of them cheering Michael’s name in gratitude for everything he’s done for them.

For writers, ‘Long Live Play’ shows that when the fourth wall is broken, it can lead to fascinating story concepts. We aren’t confined to tales of fictional characters fighting off suicidal depression at realizing that they’re not real, or raging against all the hardships and sufferings they’ve been forced to go through; why not try a story where those characters look at their creator, audience, or player with gratitude and reverence for all the good things they’ve been given? Even better, explore how would self-aware fictional characters interact with their creator? Do they try to have a face-to-face meeting with him/her/it? Do they start a religion? Do they ask for certain things to happen to them, in hopes that the author will grant them that request?

Breaking the fourth wall can be a good source of comedy and tragedy, but it also gives the author a chance to explore what it means to be a god, and the relationship that god has between themselves and their creations. And in doing so, it also invites the reader to rethink our relationships with our favorite characters from books, films, comics, and games. How would they react if they learned about you, or the reasons why you enjoy following them? Such questions invites us to expand our thinking and see fictional characters in a whole new way. And while it was meant in the context of videogames, consider what Youtube user Tia Shok said:

“This was the commercial who showed us that game companies can give characters souls, but it’s the players who give them heart and morality and nobility. Players can make characters into heroes. Thank Sony for understanding the power gamers give their characters.”

Favorite Moments: Enya’s Space Jam

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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Today’s post doesn’t cover a favorite literary, film, or videogame moment, but a musical one: After I discovered the magical world of Space Jam remixes, I’ve been on a quest to find the best, most catchy, most implausable mashups I can. I’ve found many, but this one, which combines outer space basketball with my favorite musician, has quickly become a favorite. Enjoy!

Favorite Moments: ‘My Slam Will Jam On’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video

Why It’s Great

The 90’s were a magical time for cinema. From that era, we got such classics as ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Toy Story,’ and the juggernaut that was ‘Titanic’… and then we got ‘Space Jam’, which features Michael Jordon teaming up with the Loony Tunes to save them from being kidnapped by aliens by playing basketball.

Uhh… Yeah.

However, from this unlikely tale came a title song that has gone on to become a low-key, but steady internet legend, a song that can be mixed with anything. I myself only recently became aware of its existence, through one of the most unexpected mashups I’ve ever heard. It shouldn’t work; there’s no logical way a song about outer space basketball and doomed teenage romance on a sinking ship should work… but, incredibly, it does. I have no idea why, but… gosh dangit, this is one catchy song, and it is my sacred duty to expose it to as many people as possible so they, too, can weep at its glory.