Podcast

158 – Candy and Spinach

The Mythcreant Podcast

In the ancient days of 2013, Chris coined the terms “candy” and “spinach” to describe the way characters need to be cool but also have problems. This week, in the far future of 2018, we take another look. How much candy should a character have? Can they get by on just spinach? What happens when the balance is off, and how do you get it just right? We might not have all the answers, but hopefully we can get you pointed in the right direction.

Download Episode 158 Subscription Feed 

Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to [email protected]

Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Candy and Spinach

Mary Sue Comic

Malcom Reynolds 

Kylo Ren

Blank Characters

Captain Janeway and Ensign Kim

Captain Sheridan

Harry Potter and Ron Weasley

Dawn and Buffy Summers

Fizs

Pippin and Merry

Prince Sammeth

Jump down to comments ↓

Transcript

Generously transcribed by Perspiring Writer. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening song]

Oren: This episode is brought to you by our patron: Kathy Ferguson, a professor of Political Theory in Star Trek.


Chris: Welcome back to the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris, and with me is…

Wes: Wes.

Chris: And…

Oren: Oren.

Chris: And today, we are talking about food.

Wes: Mmm, food.

Chris: In particular, candy and spinach, and how your character should always sit down at the table and just eat lots and lots of them for every story.

Oren: But like, spinach doesn’t taste very good, Chris; it’s kind of bitter. And like, I like candy, so I’m just going to eat a big bowl of gumdrops, and that’ll be fine, right?

Wes: I disagree; I think that you should only have spinach all the time.

Oren: Wha- what? [Chris laughs] Okay, this bit has gotten really weird. [laughter]

Chris: Well, I will say that what will happen, Oren, is that you’ll have a lot of fun, but you’ll get pretty sick in the end. Whereas Wes won’t have much fun, but he will be healthy. [Wes laughs]

Wes: Yeah, but my- I might be a little sadder about things. Who knows? [laughs]

Chris: You might be kind of sad. [laughs] Okay, now that we’ve given ourselves the reward for taking the analogy way too far- [Wes and Chris laugh] -let’s talk about what we actually mean. So, recently we had a comic on the site that was talking about why we shouldn’t use the term ‘Mary Sue.’

Oren: I did have that comic, yes. It’s very pretty.

Chris: And so, we had people protesting that, like, ‘hey, but Mary Sue is such a useful storytelling term.’ And, you know, it does have its utility, but it just has way too much baggage. It just has too much- the association with like, looking down on women is just too strong. It also has this connotation that comes from fanfiction of being about self-insert characters. And I’m really tired of seeing people look at characters and compare them to the author profile and try to guess as to whether that character is a self-insert, because it just doesn’t matter.

Oren & Wes: It does not.

Chris: And so, if a character is over-glorified, that’s a problem of itself; it has nothing to do with a self-insert. Even if they’re correlated, it just- it doesn’t matter. So, talking about- but what terms can we use instead? And then, Mythcreants does have a couple of terms which I thought we could go into that I think, ultimately, are much more useful, and a lot more- well, not a lot more nuanced, and allow us to express these concepts a lot better. And they are candy and spinach.

Oren: Right. And before we go any further, I do just want to say, for the record, cause there’s a lot of confusion about this every time we bring up the question of using ‘Mary Sue’ or any other gendered slur, is, not using it, we’re not claiming that it will get rid of sexism, in the same way that not using words like ‘bitch’ will not erase sexism, and not using racial slurs doesn’t erase racism.

But those words are inherently gendered or racialized or whatever they are, and so, not using them and using something else that’s more neutral does help level the playing field a little bit. Alright, that’s my soapbox. I’m off of it. Chris, why don’t you tell us about these terms. [Chris and Wes laugh]

Chris: Okay. So, candy is any element in the story that glorifies a character. It means they look cool, they’re super badass, other characters praise them; and you can think of a character that would normally be called a Mary Sue as being a character that is candied. Very over-candied. But it’s also useful because then we can talk about actual events in the story that create that effect.

And- oh gosh. One of my favorite examples is- so, Firefly. I love Firefly, but it has this one scene that I cringe at every time, because it is just so much candy, and it feels contrived and ridiculous. It’s the scene where Inara is talking to Shepherd Book, and they’re talking about Mal, and they’re like, ‘why are you so fascinated?’ They’re fascinated by him. [Wes and Oren laugh] And it’s like, ‘oh, I guess he’s somewhat of a mystery.’ You know? [Chris and Wes laugh] It’s just really, like, ‘so few men are mysterious, but Mal is so mysterious.’ And-

Oren: Yep, yep, yep, yep.

Chris: Right? And, you know, that might not be considered a trait about Mal. I wouldn’t say that Malcolm Reynolds in general is an over-candied character, but that is just too much. It is just too much.

Oren: He’s not particularly mysterious, either. Like, I would describe Mal a lot of ways; I would never describe him as ‘mysterious.’

Wes: Yeah, he’s stubborn and withholding. [laughter]

Oren: Like, Shepherd Book is mysterious. Mal is not. [laughter]

Chris: But then, on the other side of the coin, we have spinach, which is the opposite. And spinach does not get talked about enough. It really does not-

Oren: Right.

Chris: It kind of- when it is talked about, it’s talked about in kind of very vague terms, like, ‘hey, make your characters go through troubled times,’ et cetera. But spinach is things that humiliate a character, and it’s not just like the character being unhappy, it’s the opposite of glorification. So, if they can’t do anything right, if they embarrass themselves in front of people, if people- if no one likes them, if they don’t look good, if they’re not attractive to love interests, that kind of thing. That would be considered spinach.

Wes: Can I interject here, Chris?

Chris: Go ahead.

Wes: So, you said anything that would humiliate them; I’m curious if it’s- spinach, if it’s- could we say something happens that humbles them?

Chris: Hm-hmm. Yes.

Wes: Okay. Just wanted to clarify that.

Chris: No, that’s better terminology. [Chris and Wes laugh] Yeah, something that humbles them, that kind of brings them- takes them down a notch. And as we were talking about, with the eating food analogy, the idea is that candy is fun, okay? But it’s fun for people who already are really attached to that character, who already love that character. It doesn’t get people attached to a character, not unless they strongly identify with that character, which- you know, we talked about wish fulfillment a while ago. So- whereas it’s more likely to push them away.

Whereas spinach, it does the opposite. It’s not fun; it does get people to like the character. It gets people- people love underdogs. People who go through hard times, who have humility, they are more sympathetic. And so, we have the fact of like, spinach bonds you to the character, and then, once you’re bonded to the character, candy gives you enjoyment.

Oren: Yeah. And like, different kinds of characters, I think, generally want different ratios of candy and spinach, and there’s sort of two dimensions to this, right? There’s the prejudice and discrimination angle, where like, female characters will always be judged more harshly for having candy than male characters. And that’s- or at least, they will right now. Hopefully not always.

But even if you dig beyond that; if you dig further in, in general, protagonists need more spinach than villains. Like, giving your villain a lot of spinach is a good way for them to just become not interesting, unless you’re building them towards a redemption arc, and that’s basically what happens with Kylo Ren, is that he gets nothing but spinach, and he’s just not a very good villain. He’s just not threatening.

But anyway- but then like, characters- like, wish fulfillment- or not wish fulfillment, but blank characters can generally get- make do with more candy, because they are where the audience can insert themselves, because the audience is supposed to like- and that’s why blank characters generally have like, a couple of vaguely positive traits, like being brave and clever.

And so, you want to give them a little more candy than a protagonist who has their own personality, because then, if you get- whenever you give them spinach, the audience feels like they’re getting spinach, because they are living through that character, right?

Chris: Although, I should still point out that even blank characters who are popular still usually start out with a fair amount of spinach.

Oren: This is true.

Chris: Like, even Harry Potter, for instance- we know that he’s the chosen one at the beginning; that is a significant amount of candy. But then we have to go through and watch him be mistreated for a while before he’s able to capitalize on that in any way. So- but I think that certainly, when we stay within wish fulfillment parameters when we want a character that one audience group really identifies with strongly, they can also get more candy.

Oh! And related, this is more interesting, second-person protagonists, I think you can give them more candy, because the second-person, once again, puts the reader farther into their shoes, makes it feel more like it’s you that the story is about. You can actually give them more candy than you would if you were writing in third-person.

Oren: So, here’s a question, Chris; I’ve always had a little bit of trouble with this one. One of the examples that you often give of spinach is Harry Potter, where he has like, his interactions with the Dursleys, and they tell him that he’s worthless and such. There’s- I feel like there’s also a kind of interaction that a character can have where everyone else disagrees with them that can be candied, where it’s supposed to make them be like, everyone else is telling them that they’re wrong, but they’re right anyway, sort of thing.

And like, it’s not really clear to me where that line is. Like, at what point is the character becoming like, a Christ figure where everyone is hating on them but they’re so cool, because they’re the only one who knows. And like, when is it actually humbling when they’re told that they’re wrong by other people?

Chris: I mean, I would say one of the biggest things to start with- you know, candy and spinach have different balances throughout the story, and I think that- to start with, I would actually look at whether that character is in a position of power, because when I’ve seen it done where it feels like it’s for the glorification of a character, it’s been like Captain Janeway. She’s in charge; other people can doubt her as much as they want, but she can do whatever she wants to.

Oren & Wes: Yeah.

Chris: And- whereas like, Harry is in a position of- he’s very vulnerable. He’s a kid. He’s completely at the mercy of his foster parents. So, I feel like that’s different. And then I think- certainly, how- some of this is very subtle, and how it’s portrayed at the end- like, when the character- a big thing; when the character finally is shown to be right at the end of the story, what do the other characters do?

Do they grovel? [Chris and Wes laugh] Do they, like, ‘oh my god, you’re so right. All along. I’m sorry for not believing you. I will never waver again. You have my undying loyalty.’ [laughter] Right? Because, when you have that kind of- when you have that happen, you can get the feeling that the setup was just there to give them that moment of huge candy.

In fact, that’s why some characters- it’s very strange, but some characters die for the sake of getting more candy, because then, we have an excuse to hold a big funeral where everybody talks about them and praises them and be like, ‘this person sacrificed themselves for us all, and…’ you know.

Oren: We’re just subtweeting about Voyager here, okay? [Wes laughs] I don’t know if- if you guys have seen Voyager, there are very specific episodes that Chris is alluding to here. [laughs]

Chris: But anyway… so- [laughs] -so-

Oren: Although, I should point out that this stuff all happens with John Sheridan in Babylon 5, too. [Chris laughs]

Chris: Oh, gosh. Sheridan is just the worst. He has so much candy. He has so much candy.

Oren: Like, everything we’ve just described about Janeway can be applied to Sheridan, including him dying so everyone can talk about how cool he is and how bad it is that he’s gone now. [laughter]

Chris: Yeah, the dying thing; if that happens in Voyager, I don’t remember it. I wasn’t actually thinking about Voyager in that one.

Oren: There’s an episode of Voyager where Janeway thinks that she’s dead, and she’s actually being attacked by a mind alien, but whatever. She thinks she’s dead, and there’s a scene where all of the crew are giving these really teary eulogies about how awesome Janeway was, and you could choose to read that as Janeway’s extreme narcissism, because this is all happening in her head, but there’s certainly no indication in the episode that that’s not what they would actually say, right? [laughs]

Chris: Analysis of stories gets fuzzy when you have something that turns out it was actually not real the whole time. But I think in most cases, the writers are still intending for that scene to be perceived as real by the audience. And so, I would just, for analysis, say to treat it as though it’s actually in a real event.

Oren: If the writers don’t want it to be read as real, they have to give some implication of it, otherwise it just looks real to me.

Chris: But one of the things that’s interesting that is not- I like using the words ‘candy’ and ‘spinach’ because I think that it gives you a lot of opportunities for creative wordplay and also gives you some idea of what they do. But one thing that does not map up to real life is, I think that you can, again, get away with more candy if you also have more spinach. [laughs] You’re just-

Oren: Wait, is that not how real life works? I thought if I ate enough vegetables, it was okay to eat lots of pizza. [laughter] Oh no!

Chris: And I haven’t taken a strong look at stories that have lots of spinach and lots of candy compared to stories that have a little of both. I would think that having more of both is probably a little bit more gripping and engaging. If nothing else, then we have a lot of back-and-forth. And certainly, Harry Potter is a good example of, I think, a high amount of both.

Oren: Yes.

Chris: Rowling really like, plays them off of each other quite strongly all the time, with Harry first being like, the famous boy who’s adored by everybody, and then, the next moment, everyone hates him. [Chris and Oren laugh] Does this all the time.

Oren: Yeah, I- although, and I think that- I do agree with you; in general, that is a true thing. I do think that you- like with most things, if you take it too far the story will start to feel discordant, like it’s just switching back-and-forth too quickly. And I actually have felt that in Harry Potter sometimes, where it feels like Harry sometimes goes from being the famously adored slayer of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, to like, that weirdo that everyone doesn’t like, really quickly.

And it’s not that public opinion can’t change quickly; it’s just, sometimes it feels very jarring. It’s like, ‘wait, do they like him now, or- I honestly don’t remember.’

Chris: Yeah.

Oren: And it’s not usually a problem, Rowling is usually pretty good at that, but I can imagine that being more of an issue in another story. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head.

Chris: Well, it probably also doesn’t help that it’s the same group of people, for the most part, right?

Oren: That’s true.

Chris: Whereas the way that Rowling does it otherwise is like, for instance, Harry is really good at Quidditch. He’s the- that is the one place in Harry Potter where he definitely has too much candy. [Wes laughs]

Oren: A little bit.

Chris: And like, the game is built to give him more candy. The game- [laughs] -the way that she made the rules. I mean, it definitely helps that he’s not- at the beginning, he’s not good at anything else. He’s just good at Quidditch. But if we- if she just goes back and forth between focusing on Quidditch and focusing on a- like, Potions or something, where he’s struggling, then that might feel more natural than having the same group of people suddenly like him and hate him back-and-forth.

But certainly, it is- again, I will say that having more spinach does, I think, make candy more enjoyable when you get the payoff. Going through Harry Potter 5 right now, where Harry Potter just does not do well in book five. And maybe this should have happened at the end of book five and not in book six, but at the same time, I feel like one of the reasons why book six is one of my favorite Harry Potter books is because, after having Harry be like, super emo and struggling so much in book five, seeing him come into his own in book six is just super satisfying.

Oren: I would agree; and it’s worth noting, I think, that the Harry Potter Quidditch stuff, I just completely tune it out. Every time Harry Potter plays Quidditch, I’m just like, ‘yeah, okay, whatever. I’m just going to skip to the end and see if this is the one where he gets attacked by a monster.’ [Wes laughs]

But I actually- even though on this second read-through I really don’t like Ron. Like, Ron is just a jerk. I am still way more invested in the scenes where Ron plays Quidditch than where Harry does, because Ron is not amazing at it, and he’s trying really hard, and he has these emotional stakes of like, living in his friend’s shadow who’s way better at Quidditch than he is, and this family tradition he needs to uphold, and I just- like, that is way more interesting, because he has that spinach, and then like, I actually feel good when he does well at Quidditch.

Whereas when Harry does it, it’s just like, ‘yeah, of course Harry did well at Quidditch. Whatever. It’s fine. Moving on.’ [laughter] It’s like, I would skip the Quidditch matches if I could. If there was an easy way to do that.

Chris: Yeah. But anyway, so, there is- of course, we don’t have to use just Harry Potter in this example; there’s a whole bunch of other characters…

Oren: Are you sure? [laughter]

Chris: I feel like every podcast ends up being Harry Potter Time. [laughs]

Oren: Well, that’s what happens when you’re doing your re-read of Harry Potter; you want to talk about it. But- okay, okay. So, let’s reach outside of Harry Potter for a minute. There are lots and lots of examples of characters with too much candy. It’s actually a pretty normal author mistake, especially for newer authors, although not exclusively.

It’s very normal that authors will give their characters too much candy, because they like the character, they want the character to be cool, and like, at first all of their readers respond well to the character being cool, so they figure, ‘can’t have too much of a good thing, right?’ So, that’s all over the place.

But- it’s rarer, but potentially just as bad, for a character to have too much spinach. When that happens, you get a character who’s just like, not fun to watch or read about. They’re just like- you kind of feel bad for them, but like, in a way, you wish they would go be sad somewhere else. [Chris laughs]

And I feel that way about characters like Harry Kim in Voyager, where like, he gets nothing to do; on the rare instances where he tries to do anything, he just fails and is humiliated and is the only Star Trek character ever to be berated for having an alien lover. It’s just bad. I’m just like, ‘oh gosh, I don’t want to see Harry Kim fail more.’

And same thing with Dawn from Buffy, right? Like, Buffy even made a joke about it in season six, where they were like, ‘Dawn’s in trouble. Must be Tuesday.’ But like, lampshading- in many other stories lampshading doesn’t fix the problem, where it’s just like, ‘okay, well, this character’s just kind of pathetic, and they’re either obnoxious, and I don’t want to watch them for that reason, or I’m just tired of seeing them fail and I want them to succeed at something.

That’s what happens when you get too much spinach; and it’s a little bit harder to ascertain why characters with too much spinach have too much spinach. I think sometimes, it’s because authors have a good instinct that they need to give their characters spinach, but then they go too far with it. In the case of Voyager, I think it might just have been because Rick Berman didn’t like Harry Kim’s actor. Don’t know that for sure, just a theory. [laughter] So, that can happen, and the consequences are pretty bad.

Chris: Yeah. It is certainly less likely, I think, with the central character. I think the one time I’ve seen it is- I’m pretty sure you have read this series, or one of them, Oren: Assassin’s Apprentice.

Oren: I read the first one.

Chris: Where, the main character, he just- like, supposedly he’s okay, but every time he tries to do anything, he fails. He just messes up. And it’s like, I feel like I stuck around and read the entire series just hoping, at some point, that he would come into his own, because again, spinach does help you get attached to a character, and it helps you want them to succeed. And it means that if you build up a lot of spinach, the candy is a higher payoff.

But like, if the candy never comes- [laughs] -it’s very unsatisfying, and you just never- he never shines in that series, I don’t think.

Oren: No, that was definitely a problem with Fitz in that. And what’s weird is like, when you describe Fitz in a vacuum, he sounds like an over-candied protagonist, cause he has, like- he’s an assassin trained by the master assassin, and he has two kinds of magic, and he knows all these poison techniques, and he’s just so cool.

But then when you actually read the book, he’s like, he never succeeds at anything. And like, I think the other problem with Fitz is, frankly, that his motivation is weak. A lot of the conflict that’s happening is like, high-level political conflict way above anything he knows anything about. But he definitely suffers from having too much spinach.

And that’s one of the reasons why I did not read any more of those books, cause I was just- by the end of it, I was just kind of like, ‘I don’t wanna read more of this character. He’s just kind of exhausting.’ [Wes and Chris laugh]

Wes: A lot of the talk about like, giving spinach to these characters: I’m trying to think of more instances where there’s over-spinached characters in stories. And I guess I want to test the definition of spinached a little bit, cause I was thinking about- let’s maybe try to focus on Fellowship of the Ring. You know, just so many bad things happen to them throughout that first book. And it’s not that they’re trying and failing, but like, they’re increasingly realizing that they might be on a hopeless mission. And is that spinach?

Chris: So, I tend to think of candy and spinach as being attached to a particular character, and whether that character is seen. How cool they are.

Wes: Yeah.

Chris: And so- certainly, in Lord of the Rings, it’s just depressing. It goes on a long time; it definitely feels hopeless. But I think the big question is: do you come out of it with the sense that some of these characters are just failures as people?

Wes: That’s a good clarification. That’s a really good clarification.

Chris: So- because you can have- I think, for instance, Buffy is over-candied a little bit. Not too bad; I’ve definitely seen worse. But she is- but there are certain points during the series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she is just dragged through some terrible stuff, and she’s really unhappy.

And- but she’s not given spinach, I think. And I feel like, spinach, you need spinach to correct candy, and if you just make a candied protagonist unhappy, but you don’t correct the fact that they’re- like, the story has just overinflated their ego- if none of the hardship that happens to them is in any way their fault, then that’s when- like, I don’t think it really corrects the problem.

Wes: Right, okay.

Chris: So- whereas if they go through lots of hardship and they are somehow responsible for it, they are just not good enough, it feels that way, then what you’ve got is spinach.

Oren: And I do think there is some spinach in The Lord of the Rings, and, at least from the movies, that they do a pretty good job of balancing it. Like, if nothing else, Frodo, for example- all the hobbits at the beginning get some spinach in that they really have no idea what they’re doing. They’re all a bunch of noobs- [Chris and Wes laugh] -and they want- they’re all level 1 commoners, and they wander around, like, not really sure what to do, and trying not to get in the way when Aragorn is doing stuff.

And even so, like, Frodo- they still, I think, manage at one point to signal the Nazgûl by- I think it was by lighting a fire if I recall correctly.

Chris: I think it’s Pip. Pip is the one that gets tons of spinach, cause he’s the one who actually messes everything up, right? It’s not that they’re going through hardships, the hardships are his fault. Like, I think it’s him and Merry that light the fire. They do it together. That causes trouble, and then he is the one who calls attention to all of the goblins- at least in the movies.

I’m trying to remember if he actually- I think he does something like that too, in the books, where they’re in Moria, and he plays with a thing and it falls down a well, and it causes tons of noise and brings more trouble on them. And then he- like, later he steals the eye. The magic eye that Sauron can see from. [Wes laughs]

Oren: Very handy magic eye.

Chris: And once again calls attention to himself and makes more trouble. Then they go to… oh, gosh, what’s the big human city? Why can’t I remember the name?

Oren: Minas Tirith?

Chris: Yeah. They go to Minas Tirith, and he like, spontaneously vows himself to this regent guy who is not a good person. [Chris and Wes laugh] And Gandalf is like, ‘what are you doing? I didn’t tell you to do that! Why did you do that?’ You know, at one point at the end, he does help save Faramir, but like, I’m not sure he ever actually-

Wes: It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, but I do remember- like, a lot of that still kind of happens with Merry and Pippin, but I do remember, by the end of the series, they get very candied up, and that’s because they end up drinking the entwash, and they grow, and they’re like, bigger than normal hobbits. And then like, they ride back into the Shire on big ponies with treasure and cool clothes and stuff, and everybody’s like, ‘whoa! You guys are huge!’ [Wes and Chris laugh]

Chris: I think- in fact, even in Minas Tirith, I think once he vows himself and becomes a guard, Tolkien narrates how there’s rumors that he’s not just like, some hobbit, but a hobbit prince. [laughs] So, people think he’s a prince. And then he’s very refined, cause he has all the guard training, and so, when he rides back to the Shire, everybody’s like, ‘ooh.’

Oren: You know, another character, a main character, from a book who gets too much spinach is Prince Sammeth from Lirael. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember this, largely because I put him on my list of characters with too much spinach, which I just looked up. [Chris laughs]

Chris: While we were podcasting? For shame.

Oren: Yeah.

Chris: For shame.

Oren: So, like- but the reason- here’s the big reason why Sammeth has too much spinach: it is because, at the beginning, he gets a good dose of spinach when he’s like- cause he knows magic and he’s pretty cocky. And at the beginning, an evil undead shows up and attacks his school, and he’s like, ‘I’m going to fight this thing.’ And he rolls up to fight it, and gets his butt kicked and is like, scarred.

And that’s a really good way for the character to be introduced, right? Because now he has personal beef with this undead thing, and a motivation to overcome his humiliation and get better. That’s a really strong motivation. And he doesn’t. Like, the rest of the book is him questioning; it’s like, ‘is this- people say it’s my destiny to become the next-’ it’s called ‘the Abhorsen.’

But like, ‘the next Anti-Undead guy.’ It’s a really important job. And like, ‘people say it’s my job, but I lost to this undead. I have to work harder to do- to get there.’ And then, at the end, he just finds out ‘no, it was actually someone else’s destiny, and I just suck.’ [Chris and Wes laugh] Is what happens at the end, and like, this could have been cool. It could have been a cool subversion if he had discovered he had some other destiny.

Chris: Well, they kind of give him one, but it’s very… it’s very underdeveloped. It’s very kind of casual, like, ‘oh, by the way, you’re also this thing.’ ‘Okay, good.’ ‘Now go over here.’

Oren: ‘Yeah, by the way, you’re descended from this builder guy,’ and it means nothing and literally never comes up in an important story manner. [Chris and Wes laugh] But yeah, he spends most of the book failing at stuff and getting mocked by the sarcastic animal companion that he has. Interestingly enough, this book has two sarcastic animal companions, and it turns out that is one too many sarcastic animal companions. [Wes and Chris laugh] You only need one. Two is too many.

Chris: No, he never really feels like he actually came into his own. And I think that’s- again, one of the reasons I think it’s much better, in most cases, for a story to have one primary important character, not to have two of equal importance, is because, more often than not, I think the writer just likes one of them better.

Oren: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Chris: And one of them just ends up being better and getting more focus, and just being… you know, and the other one- and definitely, I feel like this was the case here with Sammeth and Lirael, where Lirael was clearly the writer’s favorite.

Oren: I cannot figure out why Sammeth is even in this book. Except- okay, the only reason I can think of that Sammeth even needs to be in this book is that the author felt it was important to have the child of the previous protagonist to be in the story. That’s the only reason I can think of. And like, I think it’s even revealed later that Lirael is also related to the previous protagonist; I think it’s like, her younger sister is what it’s revealed to be.

But at the beginning, it’s like, Sammeth, really the only purpose he serves is- and it’s not even a real story purpose, it’s a meta-purpose, is to remind us that the previous book’s protagonist exists, because she’s his kid. Or he’s her kid, excuse me. [long silence]

We have gone over our time. Too much candy and spinach. I’m going to go be sick because I had all this candy. Wes, you are now healthier, but you will also have no joy in life. [Chris laughs]

Wes: I know. Just raw spinach. I’m not even going to try and cook it. [laughter]

Oren: Oh, my gosh! Okay. Alright, so, thank you, everyone, for listening. If anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on our website at Mythcreants.com. Otherwise, we will talk to you next week. [closing song]

 

Chris: This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

Read more about ,

 

Comments

  1. E S Lavall

    I was very sad to hear that you didn’t enjoy the Farseer Trilogy, it’s my favourite. But I’ve always liked my “spinach”. (I also like literal spinach). I enjoyed crying at Fitz’s failures. (Oh and can you fix the spelling?)
    My example of an over-spinached character would be Shallan from the Stormlight Archive, particularly in the latest book. Her failures were NOT enjoyable to read about.
    Sammeth was so bland and useless that I forgot he existed until you guys reminded me.

  2. Julia

    I love the framing of advantages and disadvantages for characters as ‘candy’ and ‘spinach.’ I think a good example of a character who has a lot of both is Miles Vorkosigan of Lois Bujold’s books. He’s got a lot of spinach (brittle bones and short stature in a world that practically fetishizes the military, a sense of honor that keeps him from breaking his word, and belonging to a family that has some powerful enemies,) and a lot of candy (he’s super intelligent, belongs to a high status family, and tall women practically throw themselves at him – except the one woman he wants.)

  3. Clare

    Interesting to hear you talking about Pippin in LOTR – in the books of Fellowship and The Two Towers he definitely has all the spinach. I think it’s worth looking at his actions in Minas Tirith again though, because there is more deviation from the source material in the film of Return of the King. Tolkien wrote Denethor (the Steward Pippin swears allegiance to) as a formerly great ruler whose mind is poisoned by using the Palantir seeing-stone, but you still see some of that greatness in the book: Denethor is taking charge of things, mustering his army and sending the women and children of the city away for protection. When Pippin offers to serve him, Gandalf praises him afterwards as having done something worthwhile. In the film all this is ignored. Denethor isn’t just useless, but actively a danger to the city. I would argue the fact that because he’s been given so much spinach, it makes Pippin look bad yet again because he chooses to work for him, when that wasn’t what was intended by the author. Peter Jackson really does not seem to like Gondor or most of its people judging by the way they’re portrayed! My best guess is that this was done to make it even clearer they badly needed Aragorn to sort things out – thereby giving him too much candy.

  4. Oren Ashkenazi

    Behold, a transcript!

  5. Jeppsson

    The Harry Potter example – does he really get spinach when he’s mistreated, or is it some kind of backwards candy? – has come up in comments section discussions too.
    I really feel like you guys should invent more terms here! If it pops up in discussion over and over, but people find it hard to describe because they lack the terms, then you should invent terms!

    So, someone can be mistreated and EVEN powerless and vulnerable, but I think there’s still a big distinction between
    1. The narrative presents them as this, well, Christ-like figure, to use the comparison that popped up in the Podcast discussion. The narrative presents them as great and innocent and unjustly persecuted, there’s no doubt about their greatness in the READER’S eye.
    2. The narrative presents them as actually flawed, failing because they weren’t good enough (rather than because other people fail to see that they’re objectively great), ridiculed and mocked in a way that might very well be immoral, but still based on real flaws and mistakes.

    A similar distinction can be made with candy.
    1. The narrative presents them as objectively successful, awesome etc.
    2. All the other characters adore them, but the narrative presents this adoration as completely misguided.

    I think these distinctions often matter for how an audience perceives a character. I remember that some people in the comments have said they think Harry Potter is completely over-glorified from start to finish, because he never gets “real” spinach, only candy-disguised-as-spinach. I think what they referred to is that he only gets type 1 spinach, and they would have needed type 2 to feel satisfied with the later candy.

    This is also a problem with Wesley Cruscher – he usually DOES get a hefty dose of spinach before he saves the day, but it’s extreme type 1 spinach, where normally smart officers stupidly dismiss him and tell him to shut up even though they should realize that he’s got important information for them.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.