Friday, December 10, 2010

Thrice Upon an Epic...

Lately I’ve heard/seen the word “epic.”

The three best (okay, probably only) examples are:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - with the tagline An epic of epic epicness.

Epic Mickey - a video game adventure for the famous mouse allegedly grand enough for the title and supposedly finally doing him some kind of justice among a myriad of Mickey games.

And, well, sort of, the movie of The Smurfs. NOT the upcoming one, but the one which had been tinkered out by two guys well before the 50th Anniversary a couple or so years back. Quickly: They over-analyzed and studied all comics, TV episodes and all things Smurf info to hammer out a logical (since it otherwise is a sea of seemingly contradictory and/or incomplete info [for instance, we don’t even know what Gargamel wants with the Smurfs]) storyline that had been meant to span a three film arc and thus had been described as, yes, an epic. (It’s too bad we aren’t getting these guys’ tale and instead get a rehash of Enchanted.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about the word “epic.” Sure, I/we know what it means. But do we know the actual definition? Moreover, are these uses then warranted? Or are they just touting the word to make themselves seem more grand?

Another way of saying it... do words, too, as well as characters, sometimes reach beyond the scope of themselves in everyday use? Have we put the word “epic” for example, on a level higher than itself? I mean, not everything can be an epic... and when something is described as one, the expectation is for something pretty magnificent.

So, knowing our tendency to be over-superalitve, as well as my penchant for etymology and true definitions, I decided to go back to the ground roots of this word.

Note that such descriptions as “impressively great” are in fact part of the meaning. So it’s no wonder it became a lofty description.

As it turns out, I would classify each example above as worthy.

Yes, I realize that Scott Pilgrim is making light of the word in that tagline, perhaps even bringing my point across in and of itself. But truly, the film does fit this mold: centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style. There's definitely a series of achievements going on... and the very world the characters live in has a level of heightened reality

I can attest to Epic Mickey as worthy as I have gotten through the game once already as a “good mouse” [It can be played more than once as per the choices in gameplay one makes affect the outcome of the game] and it does in fact feel very long, as per the definition. Just the opening animation/cut scene along brings with it a sense of the majestic. It’s one of those games that seems like the end is nigh... and then a barrage of new and extra-cool stuff piles on for more adventure. And Mickey, if anything, turns into quite the hero on a variety of almost never-ending quests.  Even more interesting, it brings to light a lesser known and unintentionally "lost" character of Walt Disney himself - his first creation, Oswald the Rabbit.  Truly an epic feel.

I cannot for sure say how the abandoned Smurf trilogy would have played out, but since it had been compared to The Lord of the Rings in terms of its complexity and scope, one can only assume.  And I have to give them credit for undertaking such an endeavor as bringing focus and concrete answers to the deceptively simple creation of Peyo.

So, I’m happy to say that these epics haven’t abused the word.

And it’s not just that we often over-build up words. We deteriorate them, too, such as “awesome.” That’s bantered about constantly to describe everything from a job promotion to the taste of French Fries. “Awesome” has lost a bit of its luster and original meaning... as in the Grand Canyon is awesome, not necessarily a cool TV ad or a cup of coffee.

I just think too much about such things, I guess...


Anon said...

Hey! That's Oswald the LUCKY Rabbit! :P

(You didn't think I was going to say that, did you?)

Mel said...

The word is a big slang term amongst my students. EVERYTHING is "epic" to them -- a play, a book, a phone conversation, a trip to McDonalds. No real point to saying this -- just reporting what the young folk are saying.

Peter Von Brown said...

Anon - My apologies to you and Oswald. It is indeed "Lucky." And that's definitely in the game. It's just that he's referred to as simply Oswald over and over.

Thanks for that report. That's interesting. So it is in fact abused as a word. I thought so. It just made me glad that in these two (3, including the Smurfs) do actually qualify when I had suspected that it had been oversaturated, as you say it is.

Danielle Mari said...

I think it's a function of the fact that our language is... well... epically alive and therefore evolving. Look at all the words that have morphed from their original specific meanings to mean less, be it an abuse or just a function of linguistics: awesome (very much in line with epic), bogus (not just counterfeit anymore), literally (sigh- a big pet peeve of mine), gorgeous (ew)... I'm sure there are others, but I've only had one cup of coffee.

[avateer.... one who has become a disciple of Pandora?]