In my stories, as in the X-Men movie, Scott Summers is a mutant superhero who also teaches high school. The movie doesn't specify what he teaches, but I've made him an English teacher. Xavier's Academy is a small school with a large variety of classes to choose from. Consequently each of the teachers takes on several different classes. Scott is seen in my stories teaching courses ranging from Shakespeare to Creative Writing to a poetry survey course, when he's not off on a mission. As Scott tells Logan in Canadian Nights, it's kind of a strange job. "Sometimes I teach English, sometimes I save the human race," he explains.
With Scott a major figure in most of my fiction, the stories tend to contain a lot of literary quotes, most of them guided by Scott's tastes in literature (which, strangely, mirror my own). It has been my practice to publish a literature guide providing references for the quotes in each series, along with URLs, where available, for those wishing to read the works quoted.
This series, in addition to literary content, raises some issues that might be of interest to some readers in the Northstar subplot. After the literary descriptions there is some further information on homosexuality in Judaism, and on the legal status of same-sex parents.
W.H. Auden. "Villanelle"
A villanelle is a fairly uncommon form of poetry, the best known example of which is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Auden’s villanelle deals with a familiar theme – man’s inability to conquer time. The words are sparse and the images evocative. Read the poem and some interesting commentary on it, and on villanelles in general, at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/677.html
T.S. Eliot. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
This poem is one of Scott’s favorites and shows up in most of my series. Although Cyclops is commanding and decisive in his work life (essential characteristics for a Field Leader of a combat team) my Scott has difficulty making decisions in his personal life, and relates to Prufrock for that reason. The title of the third story, “Decisions and Revisions,” in which Scott is trying to decide whether or not to read the diaries, comes from Prufrock. He also quotes the poem with reference to Charles, saying that what’s revealed in the diaries must be more the true Charles than when he “prepares a face to meet the faces that he meets.” Is he right? I’m not sure. I don’t think Scott’s private self is more him than his public Cyclops persona or his English teacher persona. I don’t even think the private power dynamics between him and Logan are just games, or he wouldn’t find them so compelling. I believe that Prufrock’s view is only one way of looking at self, and that people really are all the different facets of their personality at the same time, not a real self that’s private and a false one that’s shown. Read the poem at http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html and decide who is the real Prufock.
Sylvia Plath. "Cut"
One of the premier poets of the twentieth century, Plath’s short and troubled life is chronicled in her poetry. Scott is teaching Plath during the poetry lesson that Jean sits in on. The poem they’re discussing begins “What a thrill – my thumb instead of an onion.” The imagery is astonishingly vivid in the poem. Read it at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/cut/.
Carl Sandburg. "Chicago"
Probably Sandburg’s best known poem, it was featured in my X2 fiction, where Scott quotes it to Logan and the way it resonates with the Chicago Logan remembers makes them realize he’s a lot older than they think. In this series it’s Charles who quotes from Chicago, saying that Scott was “under the terrible burden of destiny.” The poem can be found many places, including http://www.bartleby.com/165/1.html.
William Shakespeare. Sonnet 23
The Shakespearean sonnets figure largely in my stories. Scott teaches Shakespeare and is fond of several of the sonnets, in particular those addressed to the Fair Youth, Will’s lover. This is one of Scott’s favorites and it gives the title to the sixth story. It’s also one of the most accessible sonnets, as the language seems almost modern. Read it at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/23.html.
This sonnet is about long distance relationships, before there was such a term. It provides the title for the second story, featuring Jean-Paul and Adam (who spent the early years of their relationship in different countries). You can find it at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/27.html.
This sonnet, about melancholy and a tendency to self-pity, is one with pretty universal appeal. Will tells of how sad memories can kind of overpower someone, resulting in tears and grief. It ends on a much happier note, though, as he thinks of his lover (the "Fair Youth", whose identity is subject of much debate), saying:
"But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end."
Adam references the poem when he says that "remembrance of things past" is rushing in without summoning, when he begins to recall his night with Jake. The phrase "remembrance of things past" is also the title of the English translation of Proust's novel, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, which was featured in Safe House. The English title clearly comes from this sonnet, though, since it is not a translation of the original French title.
William Shakespeare. Hamlet.
This is my favorite play of all, and it shows up a fair amount in my fiction, including Scott teaching a lesson about it in Commencement. In this series, he quotes Prince Hamlet’s first line in the play, “a little more than kin and a little less than kind.” It also gives the title to the ninth story. Probably Shakespeare's best known play, Hamlet has something for everyone: love, death, intrigue, theatricality, ghosts. Read it at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamletscenes.asp.
One of the most emotionally affecting of the tragedies, Lear is a story of parent/child betrayal – in both directions. Charles quotes from the play in his diary when he says that he wants Scott never to see what is written there lest the bond be cracked ‘twixt son and father. Read the play at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/learscenes.html.
Scott quotes from Macbeth a few times in the course of the series. Macbeth is widely believed to be an unlucky play. Superstitious actors often won't even say the play's title except when necessary, referring to it instead as "the Scottish play." Read it if you dare at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbethscenes.asp
Oscar Wilde. A Woman of No Importance.
Wilde’s epigrams and witty repartee make him eminently quotable. Scott likes him as a poet, too, and includes some of his poetry in the curriculum. In this series, the line “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future” gives the title to the eighth story. The Project Gutenberg version of the play can be found at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/854.
Philip Roth. Portnoy’s Complaint
Breathtakingly original when it came out, Roth’s story of a neurotic American Jew has been much copied, but never matched. It’s brilliant in its characterizations, screamingly funny, astute in observations of human foibles. It also exhibits the unthinking misogyny that mars Roth’s novels. In particular, this one gave us the stereotype of the smothering and neuroses-inducing Jewish mother. Adam identifies with Portnoy and mentions that when he tells Jean-Paul “Love me, love my neuroses.” Portnoy is not available free online, but can be found in any public library or bookstore.
Miscellaneous Works and Some Speculations on Biblical Sex
Tanakh. Two books of the Tanakh (Jewish bible) are referenced in Adam’s story about his relationship with Yossi. As Adam points out to Jean-Paul, the books are also included in the Christian bible (although he mistakenly says “your bible” to Jean-Paul and is corrected). The book of Leviticus, Chapter 18, is referenced in the prescription against anal sex as “toevah” – abomination. See notes below on homosexuality in Judaism for more on that.
The story of David and Jonathan and their love for each other is told in Samuel, Book 1, particularly in chapters 18 and 20. When their relationship is first introduced the narrative says that David loved Jonathan “as he loved his own soul.” That line gives the title to the story in which Adam and Jean-Paul talk about this. In chapter 20 of Samuel, Book 1, David and Jonathan are seen kissing and it says “they kissed each other and they cried with each other until David got big.” What does that mean? We really can’t know, and different people have different interpretations.
It’s always difficult to try to interpret something from a different time and place and in a different language (what I gave above is a literal translation – some translations have it as “David wept more” or “David exerted himself” or “David exceeded”). We need to be careful not to impose our cultural assumptions on a different culture. It’s pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that they were lovers in a sexual sense just because they kiss and love each other and Jonathan strips in front of David and gives him all his clothing and David “gets big” when he kisses him. Hmm. It kind of sounds pretty sexual to modern ears.
On the other hand we also need to be careful not to impose our cultural taboos on a different culture – in this case our internalized homophobia - and assume that they could not be lovers because David is a hero. But what about those verses in Leviticus? Is it likely that someone portrayed as hero would violate them?
I think that’s a complicated question. For one thing it’s unclear exactly what is meant by “Mishkevay Isha” – the acts forbidden between men that men engage in with women. Still, for argument’s sake, let’s say that all sexual activity between men is forbidden in Leviticus and deemed “toevah” - abomination. The simple fact is that many things are forbidden in one part of the Tanakh yet shown engaged in by highly admirable people in other parts. Sex with one’s half-sister is similarly marked “toevah” – yet Abraham and Sarah are half-siblings and their marriage is admired. Similarly, sex with a woman and then with her sister is forbidden as an abomination in Leviticus, but our patriarch Jacob married Leah and then her sister Rachel. So, it’s not at all unusual to see these seeming contradictions, leading some to believe that “toevah” is not a general category, but particular to time and place.
In addition, David is not an unambiguously heroic figure. He is shown to have some very human failings and is criticized in the text for them. In particular, his sexual irregularities are condemned (e.g. the whole episode with Bathsheva). But his love for Jonathan is not presented as anything but wholly wonderful, except in the eyes of Saul, who is suffering from severe mental illness. So, we would have to conclude either that their relationship was sexual and approved of by the author of the book, or that it was not sexual at all and approved of. Different people come to different conclusions.
Read the story yourself and see what you think. It’s easily available in both Jewish and Christian bibles (but only the Jewish ones will give you the original text as well as a translation). Taken in its entirety, I think it takes a huge effort of denial to not see David and Jonathan as in love and their love expressed physically. But there are still some people who think Will and the Fair Youth weren’t lovers, either.
Shelby Foote. The Civil War: a narrative. Considered by many to be the premiere historian of the American Civil War, Shelby Foote was not trained as an historian and, in fact, never completed a college degree. His history reads like a novel, yet is known for its attention to detail and its accuracy. Havok tells Storm that he was hooked on the Civil War from when he first read Shelby Foote.
A couple of issues come up in the Jean-Paul and Adam subplot of the series that I’d like to provide a little more information on. Adam tells Jean-Paul a story from his youth, of having been in love with a high school classmate, an Orthodox Jew. Jean-Paul tells Alex that he and Adam are still working on getting legal parental rights to Ezra (also alluded to in What’s Past is Prologue). Some further information and further reading/viewing opportunities on both of these issues.
Homosexuality in Judaism
The different branches of Judaism approach most things differently and homosexual behavior is not an exception. Traditionally, Judaism has not been accepting of any kind of sexual contact between two men or two women, and has not acknowledged gay or lesbian relationships. The more progressive branches of Judaism – Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism – have long been at least somewhat accepting of gay and lesbian couples, and have ordained out gay and lesbian rabbis for some time.
It can, on the other hand, be very difficult to be a gay Orthodox Jew, and Yossi’s accommodation to his homosexuality through hiding it and eschewing a particular sex act, is a common one. There are few, if any, Orthodox synagogues where openly gay members are fully accepted. Much more common is a strong opprobrium attached to anyone thought to be gay.
The Conservative movement attempts to be the bridge between the more traditional Orthodoxy and more progressive Reform movement. It tries – as its name suggests – to conserve what is of value in long held Jewish tradition while updating practice as needed for a modern Jewish community. As a movement, Conservative Judaism is currently struggling with gay issues, and particular Conservative shuls have a variety of approaches, from full acceptance to active discrimination. The official position of the movement includes approval of acceptance of gay men and lesbians, but not acceptance of same sex kiddushin (holy marriage) and also maintains the requirement that Yossi found so hard to comply with, that men not engage in anal sex.
A couple of good resources on lesbians and gay men in Orthodoxy are widely available. The documentary film “Trembling Before G-d” offers a window into the hidden lives of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. Rabbi Steven Greenberg, an openly gay Orthodox rabbi, has written a very accessible and fascinating book on homosexuality and Judaism, called Wrestling with G-d and Men: homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition.
For a summary of the Conservative movement’s current struggle with homosexuality, see my entry at http://mofic.livejournal.com/43675.html. Extensive discussion of the issue can be found on the website of the Jewish Theological Seminary at http://www.jtsa.edu/cjls/index.shtml.
Legal Status of Same-Sex Parents
As Jean-Paul says to Alex, he and Adam were unable to adopt together. He expresses this kind of simplistically, saying that because they could not be legally married in “this benighted country” they could not jointly adopt.
The issue is somewhat more complicated than he mentions in a brief conversation during training, but it’s quite true that marriage affords an enormous assortment of rights and privileges in the United States, all of which are denied to same-sex couples (and frequently taken for granted by opposite-sex ones). Adam adopted Ezra as if he were single, using a gay-friendly social worker to do the home study and a gay- and mutant-friendly adoption agency. Now they are adopting again – going through another home study and another legal procedure. In New York State, where they live, it will likely take two years to complete the second parent adoption, and it would be a good thing if the X-Men start getting paid again, because it will cost them. For more information on the achieving legal rights for same-sex parents – mutant or otherwise – see my Gay Parenting 101 series, particularly What is the Legal Status of Same-Sex Parents?,
Tools to Protect Gay and Lesbian Families, Part 1, Second Parent Adoption, and Tools to Protect Gay and Lesbian Families, Part 2, Civil Union, etc.