Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Early production sketch of Princess Merida in Brave
I admit, I'm not a big fan of weaponry. When the Southern guy on Antiques Roadshow starts relating the long, complex history of somebody's great grandaddy's Civil War sabre, I go out and do the dishes. There's no surer way to persuade me not to see a movie than to show me a trailer full of cannons, six-shooters, machine guns, flame-throwers, Uzis, and/or space guns firing off in all directions.

Yet there is one weapon whose mythos appeals even to me. Humble, yet elegant, it's something I have even used on occasion (although not in self-defense). I refer to the bow and arrow, a weapon practically as old as humankind itself,  which is experiencing a sudden resurgence in "cool" right now.

First, it was Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, racing through the forest in survival mode, armed with only a bow, a quiver of arrows, and true grit. Then came Hawkeye in The Avengers, taking aim with cold precision while the rest of the team were hurtling off into space in their jet-propelled suits or smashing things to smithereens. Next up is Brave (we've all seen the trailer), a Disney/Pixar adventure where a spirited young Scots princess puts the kibosh on an archery competition for her hand in marriage by out-shooting the menfolk.
Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) & pals, The Avengers

What could be more simple, stealthy, and reliable than a bow and arrow? It doesn't make any noise, except for a subtle sproing and whoosh, it doesn't require any kind of internal combustion or ignition, and it doesn't explode on contact (unless you're shooting a flaming arrow into a powder magazine).

And it's all about individual skill—one person, one bow, one arrow; a keen eye, a sure grip, and the steely composure to go into the zone in the midst of utter chaos and choose your moment. Best of all, it's not gender-specific; it can be wielded just as surely by a woman as a man.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, The Hunger Games

I took a semester of Archery back in junior college. I loved that it wasn't a team sport, and it didn't require a uniform; you could do it in street clothes. (And, OK, since I couldn't take more than two semesters of Modern Dance for credit, it fulfilled my dreaded P.E. requirement.)

It takes a lot more strength to draw back the bowstring than you think. To nock the arrow into place, feel the fletch pass by your cheek, stay focused on the target—let me tell you, it's a Zen-like experience.

Of course, I trace it all back to those early Robin Hood, movies of my misspent youth, especially the Errol Flynn version (scroll down to the bottom of the page). With his usual brio, Flynn made archery look like fun, not a warrior's tool, but  a character-building skill to be mastered for the sheer joy of it.

I thought Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe did an admirable job with the material 70 years later, except for one thing: for a story whose heroes were employed in the king's company of archers, there wasn't enough, you know, archery. (Although there was plenty of cannon fire, siege weaponry, and things blowing up, which is always considered more macho.)

Archery is an anti-macho discipline; it takes skill and smarts, not brawn. No wonder archery lessons are becoming popular again, especially among women. Personally, I'm looking forward to a Disney Princess doll who comes equipped with something more useful than a tiara.

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