Monday, March 23, 2009

Who was that masked man?

I attended one of my occasional day schools last week – this one was about Outlaws – men with a tendency, we realized, during the course of the day, towards masks and hoods. Folk heroes like Zorro and Robin Hood, and the masked highwaymen who feature frequently in poetry and historical romance.

If you encountered any kind of masked figure in real life, other than at a carnival or masquerade, it would be a terrifying experience, so why the eternal fascination with heroes whose faces are disguised? It must be this playing with identity that is so intriguing. Maybe it’s the illusion of freedom created by a mask? Historically the beautiful and traditional masks of the Venice Carnival, in Italy, hid the identity of the wearer and allowed all classes to mingle with a license that was not available at any other time. The masked ball is the traditional meeting place for lovers in countless historical romances. But why is the masked hero such a source of attraction? The eternal bad boy – with a black horse rather than a motor bike?

The study day was a fascinating look at the ‘fact’ behind fictional heroes – there have been mentions of a figure of “Robin Hood” in documents since 1370. What is now the accepted story of a freedom fighter in the time of the Crusades – the time of Richard the Lionheart and King John - was actually created by Walter Scott in the novel Ivanhoe. It's this story that has been transferred so regularly to the cinema and TV screen.
It was a lot of fun looking at the various film incarnations of "men in tights". When the current vogue for pirates palls, are we due for a resurgence of land-based swashbucklers? High escapism for difficult times?

Fictional masked heroes are often men who have been wronged, or falsely imprisoned, who have a secret identity, and a reputation for defending the weak, or fighting for a cause. An irresistible combination in a hero.


Anonymous said...

I think the move toward "high escapism" has already started; notice how much money Iron Man and The Dark Knight made at the boxoffice last year. Two flicks based on comic books, which are rampant with guys in masks and tights. Dunno if Hugh Jackman will be wearing a mask in his Wolverine flick later this spring. We'll have to wait and see.

I suppose a lot of a mask's attraction is the lure of imagination. Anything and anyone could be under there, and the fatasy always beats out the reality. Face it -- without the KISS makeup, Gene Simmons is one ugly dude. Pretending is a lot more fun.

I never could figure out how Superman could fool everybody just with a pair of glasses. I guess that's why he's Superman.


Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, talk about serendipitous... I just did a blog over at Happily Ever After on the Lone Ranger, who is masked. And Zorro has long been a man after my own heart, as well.
High escapism, yep, it's here. And I think it will only get bigger and better and more fantastical.
Good for me, since I love writing those kinds of heroes and heroines.
Long ago, I wrote a story based on the original Zorro novel, only I switched. My heroine got to be the whip-weilding, save everyone heroine.

Anonymous said...

Zorro, yeah. I loved the Disney version with Guy Williams when I was a kid. I can still sing the theme song ... and the theme song from the '60s Spider-Man cartoon show, for that matter. Though if I start doing that, maybe I'd better put a mask on.