Friday, February 26, 2010

Exploring Avatar Part 1: Judgment on Janus

We've seen many parables between existing movies and the movie Avatar. Dances with wolves being a big one. Sometimes a working plot template is a sure way to success, and Cameron's Avatar is no exception. But I wanted to delve deeper to see what kind of similes I could find in the literary  world, and came up with a couple of examples that I'll read in the next few months. Call it my Avatar book club. This months reading is Andre Norton's Judgment on Janus.
   Judgment on Janus is a SciFi novel written in 1966, and has many nature preservation themes that are years before its time. The story revolves around Niall Renfro an interplanetary war refugee that sells himself into slavery to relieve the pain of his dying mother. By doing so, he is forced into forced labor on a back water colony planet that is dubbed by the humans as Janus. Like in Avatar, Janus is a forest planet that is filled with giant trees and wild life that the humans though was devoid of intelligent creatures. The colonists are a fanatical religious sect that's only goal is to burn down the forests to make way for vast farmlands to live off of. Niall finds out about people who have found "treasures" in the forest, but only to fall sick and are shunned and exiled by the colonists who believe it's the work of the devil. He figures that this treasure would his ticket off this planet and out of slavery, so when he himself finds a treasure of his own, he hides it away. However these jewels are actually a trap. A trap that transforms him into a green skinned, pointy eared nocturnal humanoid. He begins to have memories of an "Iftin" as they are called named Ayyar. As the days move on his transformation becomes deeper and deeper. He finds the remnants of this long dead race, and finds that he has skills to live in this wild forest.
  It turns out that this has been happening to colonists of this planet for over a hundred years where many of these traps have converted humans into this forest race of Iftin. As he is chased through the woods by various human colonists and hunters, Niall happens upon another convert colonist female who was transformed into Ashla. Together they try and find the answer to why they were transformed in the first place. Only to be captured by a walking suit of space armor of an earlier colony ship. Driven out of the Forrest and into a crystal like valley, they find that they are not alone in this prison. For the empty suit is a menacing presence called "He who abides" and was responsible for killing the Iftin eons ago. Together they find the secret of a giant cratered mirror that is used to control storms and rain on the planet, and use it to flood the crystal wasteland of the evil "presence".
  It was a cool and easy read, and I can see where the similarities to Avatar come from. You have your Forest dwelling race of "elvish" like people that are all humans, and the transformation into the aliens. You have the giant trees that are connected to the mythos of these people. And you have the colonists that are there to tame and exploit the planets to their means. I have yet to read the sequel to the book called "Victory on Janus", but it is definitely on the to read list.

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