PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

Is Growing Up Such a Good Thing?

Adventure Time and Philosophy takes us on a journey to the land of Ooo in search of truth.


Adventure Time and Philosophy: The Handbook for Heroes

Price: $19.95
Publisher: Open Court
Length: 306 pages
Editor: Nicolas Michaud
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2015-04
Amazon

The term man-child gets batted around quite a bit when describing pop culture targeted at guys. From superheroes to dinosaurs, an argument can be made that many pop culturally plugged in males live in a state of arrested development, more focused on the nostalgic flavors of the past, rather than climbing out of the basement and into the bright light of something new.

Of course, that’s a cynical way to analyze what millions hold close to their hearts. But people do. Cultural critics of a certain stripe tut-tut that men are no longer men: they’re boys. And it’s probably true you can know more about someone by the toys they keep and the shows they watch, rather than what salad dressing they use, a thought explored by Eleanor Catton.

But what’s so bad about being young, if not in body, perhaps in heart? In Adventure Time and Philosophy: The Handbook for Heroes, editor Nicolas Michaud and a selection of philosophers and professors, dive into the hidden complexities of a long running cartoon that has morphed into something unique and profound. Or, perhaps, that depth has always been there.

For those unaware, the television show, Adventure Time takes place in the land of Ooo, featuring young human Finn and his shapeshifting dog Jake. The two have adventures, save princesses from the evil Ice King, fight monsters, and generally lead an interesting life one cannot help but envy. As the book’s introduction states, the show’s opening lyrics, “C’mon grab your friends, we’ll go to very distant lands” might be all you need to know to get invested.

While Adventure Time seems to be a brightly colored cartoon skewed towards all ages, albeit one filled with non sequiturs, contributor Daniel Vella notes, “Something strange sets Adventure Time apart from most other examples of the sword-and-sorcery genre…”

Too true.

The show is rich in meaning and open to interpretations of dizzying shades, as The Handbook for Heroes demonstrates. The show is also quite sad. Ooo is a place where magic and science exist side by side after the Great Mushroom War, an apocalyptic event with pretty apparent connections to atomic warfare. Finn is the last human survivor. In a roundabout way, the show is about loneliness, isolation, and identity, as well as playful adventure and friendship. It's also about growing up.

Over the course of 26 separate essays, Adventure Time is picked apart. Issues of fate, memory, play, and the nature of good vs. evil are explored. Like any collection of essays from multiple contributors, some stick, some reach. In a book written by professors, it can skew towards the dry side of things or stumble trying to fuse content with concepts. I should know, I’m a professor, too, and have been guilty of spending too much time in my own skull.

What also is an occasional misstep is a lack of context. Of course, this text is targeted at fans of the show, those with an understanding of how Ooo works, who populates it, and what adventures have been had. A general reader, interested in philosophical concepts, if such a general reader exists, is likely not the intended audience.

Yet, even fans of the shows might be put off. Adventure Time has aired for so many years, produced so many episodes (shorter than the typical 22-minute long cartoon), that without proper grounding a haze settles in and obscures the when, where, and who of some essays. Each entry has an italicized introduction, but these can often hinder, rather than help.

For example, Michaud’s own entry on identity and the Ice King relays dialogue from a scene but without sufficient stage direction or context. The end result is an essay hobbled by uncertainty. Good points are made but without that specificity, they could have been applied to anything, not exclusively to Adventure Time. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the episode in question, but of course, memory is a seriously faulty thing. A better reminder would have been appreciated.

Still, this collection speaks to the power of Adventure Time, and the excellent balancing act that makes the series so popular and profound. As contributor Marty Jones explains, “The show’s achievement is in its sharpening and clarifying the spirit of play that characterizes our younger years without sacrificing either adult sophistication or youthful exuberance.” We are reminded of childhood without being pandered to.

And that brings me back to the beginning. For a show featuring a young boy and his talking dog going on adventures, Adventure Time has attracted a great deal of adult attention. Yes, children watch the show but I’ve found most fans have left puberty a great many years ago, and are now at a point in their lives where they’re told to do as St. Augustine did, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Is growing up such a good thing? Well, like everything, yes and no. To be young is to be unhardened in one’s ways, but also to be inexperienced. Of course, we get older and mature. To use youth as a life raft is untenable, though some may try and live, as Finn once exclaimed, “youth culture forever!”

What Adventure Time demonstrates, and this book explores, is that you can, and should, try to have it a mix of both ways: the openness of youth with the wisdom of maturity.

Despite some missteps and unevenness, this book, as Finn and Jake would agree, is: “mathematical!”

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.