Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Eroticism of Godhood

In my ongoing crusade to immerse myself in the work of James McAvoy, I recently watched the 2003 mini-series “Children of Dune.” I was led to the DVD by the fact that so many fangirls of James seemed to be obsessed with his portrayal of Leto Atreides II, young heir to the throne of the Dune empire. For non-fans of the Dune saga I will refrain from the political details. All you need to know is that Leto and his twin sister are pre-borns, psychically gifted individuals. And from that starting point, Leto undertakes a torturous pilgrimage that increases his powers of mind and body even more.

Sex plays no part in this godling’s story, but believe me, there is eroticism in every scene. Leto and his twin, Ghanima, are supposed to be 16-year-old innocents, but the intimacy they have shared since the womb is blatant in every word, look and touch they share. I asked my husband if he found these subtly incestuous exchanges off-putting. He said they seemed okay--since Leto and Ghanima were so godlike, normal rules didn’t apply to them. I agreed. I found their closeness fascinating because it seemed to transcend natural law. It could not be called sexual because there was no intent to mate; but it was certainly erotic because of the intensity of the twins’ bond and their strange, unnatural powers.

This is the eroticism of godhood, and it has always held great appeal for me. It seems that when a character ascends to a level above ordinary humanity, usually by a combination of supernatural powers and divine destiny, his or her sexuality likewise shifts into an entirely different category. Gods and godlings have a far different agenda from everyday humans, who live out their lives by the rules of society in a manner that benefits and extends that society. While humans employ sexuality to find mates, build families, and enjoy life, divine beings have much bigger fish to fry.

In “Children of Dune,” Leto’s destiny (much simplified) is to save the desert of his planet from destruction, and with it the wonderful and terrible sandworms which dwell there. His relationship with the desert is erotic in itself. “My skin is not my own,” he declares, immersing his hand in a trap full of sandtrout. As a result, a pattern of scales, rather like those of the sandworms, begins on his flesh and progresses over his body (in a surprisingly attractive manner, fortunately). Thus the desert has its way with Leto’s flesh. Conversely, the youth learns to face down the desert’s deadly storms, command the fearsome worms, and run across the dunes faster than the eye can follow. In the end his masculine force conquers and subdues his mate, the desert.

He does all this shirtless and without shoes, attired in the face of a beautiful young man, adorned with the burning blue eyes of those Dune residents who consume the life-extended Spice, and a smile that is ethereal and boyish by turns. In short, he is every bit the godling, and though sex is the furthest thing from his mind, everything he does is alluring. If anyone should find him captivating, even his own sister, it’s quite understandable. That’s the way with gods after all.

James McAvoy, who was 25 when he played this role, looks 18. I was uncomfortable for awhile, looking lasciviously upon a man who appears to be three decades my junior. But once his body became tattooed with worm scales (still looking quite good, mind you) and his demeanor became weighed down with the cares of his godhood, I felt more at ease. It is never inappropriate to yearn for the divine or lust after a god. Why do you think the Greeks and Romans developed so many of them? The eroticism of godhood is marked with a transcendence and nobility that makes it as honorable as the fever that inspired Michaelangelo’s David. And to be honest, my reaction to Leto was not so much a desire to copulate as a feeling of sensuous worship. If that makes any sense.

(I realize most women would cut to the chase and say, “man, he’s really hot!” but I am a writer after all. And I guess I just like to analyze sex.)

I’m a sucker for gods every time. I’d have to write a book about this archetype to do it justice. And whenever I encounter a story or show or film that makes good use of a god or godling, it will keep me going for weeks. So if this entry were a movie review, I’d have to give the big thumbs up to “Children of Dune.” (And P.S., Leto’s father Paul Atriedes is a godling too. Bonus.)

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