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Who Invented The Self Destruct Button..?

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..!

You have ten seconds to close this page before it explodes.

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About Glenn Dakin

Glenn Dakin is a writer, cartoonist and editor. He is author of the Candle Man series of fantasy novels for Egmont. His best-known comics are Abe - an autobiographical strip (Top Shelf);Temptation (Penguin Books and Active Images); Spider-Man heroes and Villains (Eaglemoss);the Rockpool Files (With Phil Elliott, Slave Labor/Marvel UK); Robot Crusoe (Funday TImes); Plasmer (Marvel UK); Clan Destine (Marvel USA).

5 responses to “Who Invented The Self Destruct Button..?

  1. Mordecai P. Boggs ⋅

    I’m also reminded of the Paul McGann Dr Who TV movie, in which it was revealed that the Tardis has an ‘Eye of Harmony’. Whatever it is, if you accidentally press it the universe is sucked inside out or something. I can certainly see how that would come in handy – way to go, Type 40 Tardis designers!

    In the Type 41 Tardis this was upgraded to a ‘Nose of Discord’ which does the same thing with the added features of a giant red digital display and coloured wires to cut.

  2. Gareth Perry ⋅

    So would this be like a kind of Achilles heal – the invicible enemy that has his fatal flaw or weakness that allows any self respecting Superhero or agent of good a get out of jail card to overcome evil?

  3. Cade ⋅

    True but the one flaw in your argument is that Lord of the Rings is a bit poo, goes on too long and has the dullest opening in the history of literature. Conan would have chopped the bad guy’s head off by the end of page 30 and then spent the night boozing it up with Liv Tyler.

  4. Alan

    Just to be safe, my self destruct button has a self destruct button inside it so if one of my enemies manages to press it, the self destruct button will self destruct.

  5. I bet that sort of thing hearkens way back to myths & folklore, but I’m too lazy to find sources (it’s past my bedtime, anyway!).

    Alan: that’s right clever!

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