Avatar is about transformation

[Read below for how to win a free, autographed copy of the author’s book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks]


Like many action-adventure, science fiction and fantasy movies of recent years—Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Batman, Transformers, to name only a few—James Cameron’s Avatar taps into our primal selves. That pick-up-your-battle-ax and kill mentality, long suppressed by so-called society, still courses in our veins. Movies let us “just do it.” We travel to richly-imagined parallel worlds and watch a hero like Aragorn kick major orc butt. We cheer, and secretly wish that we were him.

What distinguishes Avatar from its vicarious derring-do ilk is that the plot touches directly on this craving for transformation.

Jake Sully, the protagonist, is a paraplegic trapped by his body. Controlling his blue-skinned, feline Na’vi avatar on the jungle planet Pandora, he springs to life. Sully becomes a stand-in for all of us—the post-industrial, post-blue collar office worker stuck in our civilized ways. We are effectively paralyzed too, chained to our desks and DSL lines, far from Eden, far from nature, far from the magical thinking of yore.

The appeal may be about something larger, too. There’s a spiritual and communal emptiness that Avatar speaks to. Is it odd to look to a movie for moral guidance or a life philosophy? Not really. Here’s why: our technology-driven ways don’t include sage advice, only how to connect, transmit, download, upload (and, you might argue, make us feel awfully anxious and scattered in the process). Chaos, not harmony. Besides, organized religion is corrupt, scandal-ridden, archaic (or so many think). The material world is mundane, despoiled, an ecological mess. No wonder that our jaded Jake is lured by the Na’vi belief in a vast bio-spiritual neural network, like the Star Wars universe’s “the Force,” that connects all Pandoran organisms like a warm-and-fuzzy fiber optic cable.

Sitting in the multiplex, 3D glasses draped on our faces, we’re asked to fantasize like Sully. Isn’t this how we were meant to live, and might live again? Hunting the forest, leaping through the canopy, killing beasts, taming others, enacting meaningful rituals? It’s the same dream offered by Tolkien’s Middle-earth—to be peaceful, nature-bonded hobbits, quietly growing crops, smoking pipes, drinking ale and laughing. An alluring fantasy life to be sure. And one perhaps worth fighting for.


Win a free, signed copy of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

Author Ethan Gilsdorf, Globe Pequot Press and Froobi.com have teamed up to offer a special opportunity to win one of 10 free autographed copies of Gilsdorf’s critically-acclaimed book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. The book is an exploration and celebration of fantasy and gaming subcultures. 

To enter to win your free copy, sign up here (now through 1/13/10):


Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:  An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms

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