As I begin working on Candle Man 3, and grapple with the plot, I find myself noticing the cunning plotting, the contrived set-ups, and the dodgy sleight of hand in all the TV shows and movies around me.
One classic plot element, which is satirized daily in kids’ cartoons (such as the excellent Fineas and Ferb), is the idea that the villain’s base has a self-destruct button, or ludicrous weakness, with which the hero, in his moment of darkest peril, can turn the tables on his enemy.
From James Bond, through Star Wars and beyond, this notion provides a neat, explosive finale to many a convoluted storyline. This convenient plot device guarantees the maximum of tension at the climax of the story. It cleverly requires the hero to proceed to the very heart of danger before he can solve his problem.
But where does this unlikely plot element come from? Why would the bad guy have a self-destruct for his own base? Do you have one in your own home?
I was pondering this and decided the buck stops at… JRR Tolkien.
Lord Of The Rings was voted the most popular story of all time in the UK, and its resolution depends on the idea that the heroes (Frodo and Sam) have to travel into the very heart of the baddie’s domain (Mt Doom), and there – where they are in the midst of their darkest peril, at their most helpless, can suddenly bring down not just the enemy’s base, but his whole empire in one fell swoop (Destroying the Ring).
So Tolkien invented the self-destruct button.
Talk about a tidy ending – even some of the script editors I’ve come up against couldn’t complain about it from that point of view!
Tolkien showed that the dramatic tension really could be kept up until the last shot of the war – and then, of course he spent several chapters exploring the fall-out – but that’s another story or two.
How do writers get away with such convenient and credulity-stretching endings? Perhaps because while storylines of this type may be hard to believe – on a literal level – they do contain metaphorical truth. In reality, to solve our own problems we have to go into the hardest place, face an enemy, a difficult situation, a personal demon, in order to win out in the end..!
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