EMP’s Fantasy Exhibit: Who Am I? Who Are You?
EMP’s Fantasy Exhibit: Who Am I? Who Are You?
By: LB Chambers
I was touring the EMP’s newest Fantasy exhibit this last weekend when I had a moment that made me question my entire identity as a fantasy nerd.
We (my fiancé and I) toured the exhibit, alternating between obsessively studying the original fantasy drafts and drooling over the costumes and artwork I had spent my lifetime worshiping and imitating. From Lucy Lawless’s Xena costume to interviews with George R.R. Martin to a Make–Your-Own-Fantasy-Map station, the exhibit takes literally dozens of completely distinct and different fantasy worlds and threaded them together into one seamlessly spectacular exhibit.
Needless to say I had a blast. But something irked me.
One of the exhibit’s methods of organization is the establishment and sorting of the different character archetypes commonly found in fantasy. You know, the Barbarian, the Trickster, the Maiden Warrior- those sorts of characters. Now, as a huge fan of personality tests I got way too excited about the exhibit’s antasy personality test, in which you answer a handful of questions and your fantasy archetype is identified.
Unfortunately there were like, twelve preteens when we entered the exhibit so I grumbled away, letting myself be distracted by the awesomeness that is the rest of the exhibit. But then, on my last circle through, with only ten minutes until the museum closed, the station was open, and I seized my chance!
I’d already spent the last hour or so studying the different archetypes the exhibit recognized and I was confident I’d be labeled as either a Maiden Warrior or Iron Woman. After all, I’d spent my entire life idolizing and identifying with the strong, confident, and smart warrior women of fantasy. Eowyn, McGonaggal, Athena, Xena, Lara, Hermione, Susan, these are the fictional girls and women I remember when facing daunting tasks, who I try to emulate, and who I respect and admire. So I was completely psyched to find out who I was more like; was I a Xena or a Professor McGonagel, a Maiden Warrior or an Iron Woman?
So you can imagine my surprise when I was labeled…a Hero’s Muse.
“Hero’s Muse? What the hell?” I scowled while working quickly to restart the quiz. My fiancé looked confused.
“What? That seems about right. You’re an extremely supportive and kind person.”
To which I snapped back, pouting, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”
So I was an adult woman and recognized it was just a test, left the exhibit and never thought of it again.
Just kidding, I barely gave my fiancé enough time to take the test himself, retook the test and got one I’d been hoping for (Maiden Warrior). And then we were shooed out of the closed exhibit. And then I obsessed over this scene for about 36 hours.
Needless to say, this test really made me question my fantasy values.
It got me thinking and made me reconsider what I thought of as heroic, what I thought of myself, and how I perceived those characters I’d always loved. Sure, it’s easy to look at Eowyn and praise her bad-ass warrior heart and fearlessness, but that’s not all that is worth recognizing in her. Her kindness, dedication to her family, and the loving support she gives to those around her are noble qualities; why had I never appreciated them before? No one person, or character, is a handful of simple qualities with a singular purpose; we, and they, are rich, complex, and complicated.
So why do I expect it from my favorites?
The same could be said for any character or person, we know them for one set of attributes but in truth they are many, many more- some admirable, some not, but all are present.
The EMP’s fantasy personality test simplifies the characters, but in a way that calls into question how those characters are then viewed. Athena was a Barbarian before she became a Maiden Warrior, and Jered was a Trickster before he was a Villain; Ravenna was a Damsel before a Sorceress, and so on and so on.
We are all different archetypes during different parts of our lives, and during our changings and growings we all turn to those we admire and hope to emulate; we want to grow like they did.
For me, and for many, those people are in fantasy; and I can’t imagine a better way to understand characters and stories (especially those beloved and well known) than to be facing them in the new light presented by the EMP’s exhibit.
So, while it may seem entirely narcissistic that I took a Hero’s Muse title and decided it could be applied to any female character I love, I’d like to think it’s more about introspective growth.
That I realized there is no shame in inspiring others and being the sidekick to someone else’s story, as long as you remember to be the hero in your own.
I highly encourage everyone to visit the EMP, tour the fantasy exhibit, and take the quiz- let us know what character archetype you firstname.lastname@example.org