aka, “why Hussie making a self-insert character for himself is not nearly as self-indulgent and pointless as it seems”
aka, “why it is actually pretty fucking central to the entire point of all of it”
So basically, one of the things that has long resonated with me is how Hussie has done the Neverending Story callbacks at several points in the story… not just the obvious scene where he’s riding Falcor to drop some well-deserved kickass onto who the fuck ever, but like, in [S] Make Her Pay, when Vriska’s mental takeover of Tavros scene is intercut with shots of the wolf head mounted on the wall, which is a callback to when Bastian Balthazar Bux, the main character of the Neverending Story, is all huddled up alone in that attic and the lightning strikes outside serve to light up an identical terrifying wolfhead, also mounted on the wall.
I’m not gonna name them all (this is me eliding over the fact that uh I don’t remember any other specific instances off the top of my head), but the main point is this: Bastian Balthazar Bux is nothing more than an average reader, who ends up LITERALLY inserting himself into the story in the book called “The Neverending Story.” HE is the one who names the Childlike Empress, which revives Fantastica back into being. HE is the only one who remains at the end of everything, when the great Nothing has devastated all of Fantastica.
The key is this: the Hussie character represents Bastian Balthazar Bux. But Hussie the actual man is the creator of it all: the Hussie CHARACTER is meant to be OUR entry point into the story of Homestuck, which lest you forget is in the end nothing more than a game. A game that we are allegedly playing (this is the baseline conceit behind the entire second-person command line entry format the story is told in). In video games (as opposed to books), the player is not only the “reader” but is also in a way the “author” of the story, and therefore the Hussie character is ESSENTIAL, because he can’t really draw each one of us as the “player,” so we’re all gonna have to content ourself with being represented by him.
So let’s look at the basic “story” of The Neverending Story in a little detail.
The basic outline of the story from the movie is that Bastian is a forlorn boy who is neglected by his father at home and bullied at school. One day, to escape his bullies, he hides in a antiques shop, where he comes upon a curious shopkeeper who is reading an even curiouser book. Bastian is intrigued by the mysterious book, so steals it, and goes to hide away in the attic in his school to read it. The book is, of course, “The Neverending Story,” aka a book within a book, and it is the story of the declining days of Fantastica, a land of imagination which is dying, being destroyed by a Nothing that is obliterating the world. The hero of the book-inside-the-book is another boy named Atreyu, and he is everything that Bastian is not: strong, respected, brave. He is sent by the ruler of the land, the Childlike Empress, to go forth and find the cure, aka whatever it will take to defeat the Nothing. Atreyu undergoes many adventures, and as Bastian follows along he becomes more and more invested in the story, even experiencing it in flashes as if it is becoming real before his eyes. Atreyu is being pursued in his quest by a fearsome beast, the werewolf Gmork who belongs neither to the world of Fantastica or the real world, but who can travel between them. Gmork is attempting to kill Atreyu but can never quite catch him, but does meet up with him finally near the end, when basically all seems lost, the story destined to end in failure. Bastian, who has become bound to the story at this point, simply cannot accept this, and finally accepts what has been hinted to him all along: that he, too, is the hero of the story… the final one, the one who can do what the “real” hero Atreyu cannot: give the Childlike Empress a new name, and give Fantastica a new start, allowing it to become a new world for all of the characters who lived in the old one.
Sound familiar? I hope?
Because Homestuck is the story of two main heros, Karkat and John, who are the leaders of their respective parties of players, tasked to create new worlds following the imminent destruction of their old ones. They are pursued and harried in this quest by a fearsome werewolf-like creature who hates everything, Bec Noir, and are up against an even more formidable and impossible foe: Caliborn, aka the Nothing of Homestuck.
But what would The Neverending Story be without Bastian, the seemingly spineless, worthless, insignificant little boy who is neglected and bullied and who is basically “stuck” in his miserable life? It would be a story that ends in total failure, that’s what! And why? BECAUSE WITHOUT BASTIAN, THERE IS NO ONE FROM THE REAL WORLD WHO CAN DO WHAT IS NECESSARY TO REVIVE THE CHILDLIKE EMPRESS: GIVE HER A NEW NAME. And of course, I hope it should be obvious by me laying it all out in tedious detail like this, but the Childlike Empress in this case is of course Calliope, the Muse of Space, aka Teller of Stories Which She Has the Power To Make Real. Calliope is the one who will have the power to usher the heros into their new world, because she can create it… but only if she is saved from the Nothing that is set on consuming the entire universe in its quest to destroy her.
The two snakes. The opposite sides of the coin. The dark yin opposed by the light yang. Hope and despair. Reality and fantasy. The Neverending Story. Homestuck.
We the readers have been empowered from the very beginning to invest in the story, to feel that our wishes and desires have the power to somehow shape the story, and Andrew Hussie gives this belief weight by taking into account fandom theories and favorites and even shipping preferences when shaping the finer details of the story (things that don’t matter in the grand scope of things; things which can be allowed to be malliable because the driving force of the story remains untouched). By inserting a literal author avatar into the story, Hussie is doing something far from meaningless: there is an implicit shared authorship of Homestuck between him and us, the readers, and the fact that the avatar wears his face represents the fact that by far the greatest share of the authorship still belongs to him.
But we as readers can find ourselves living in mundane lives that may in fact seem pretty hopeless. We may be like Bastian, huddled up in dirty blankets in a cold, dark, and scary attic, reading Homestuck by nothing more than the light of our laptops/computers/mobile devices. Homestuck is an updated and evolved retelling of the Neverending Story, and even though the ridiculous length of the webcomic is something that is often joked about, the huge digressive weight of it all is also the point: the longer the story, the more we are invited to care… the more we DO care. And it makes our desire for a strong and happy ending to a seemingly hopeless situation all the more important.
So then there is Jake, who although not technically the “leader” of the Alpha Kids, is the one we all know is meant to be the main hero, the avatar of the hope for the new world. Why does he of all people have this power? It’s been shown that avatars of hope happen to be people who usually seem ridiculously unworthy of it, and in a way it’s no different for him… he’s aggravating, he’s let down all of his friends at one point or another, he is goofy and not very bright and kind of irritating. But he is also a hero, in the way that Karkat and John are heros, but also in how Rose and Dave are also heros, and Terezi and Vriska, and Jade and Jane, and Sollux and Aradia, and Roxy and Nepeta, and Feferi and Eridan, and… okay you get it. The list goes fucking on.
Homestuck is pretty much overfuckingflowing with fucking heros. The point is, the list is really expansive because the readership of Homestuck is also pretty damn expansive, and as readers we all tend to gravitate towards our own particular favorites. It’s just natural. But it’s designed to make all of us care.
But on top of all of that, one thing is clear: Hussie the Character sure as hell doesn’t really come off as likely to be one of them, right? He has dumb side adventures and makes creepy come-ons to the main anti-hero and his main impact on the story as told thus far is to sort of skitter around in the background like a creeper. But that’s fitting for his status as a stand-in for we the readers, and it’s not meant to be an insult to us since he’s using himself to make the point: in this mundane real world we all live in, it’s unlikely ANY of us feel like real heros in the Atreyu sense. We can look at characters in a story like this and be like Bastian, feeling like we just could never measure up, and we have real lives which we have to live in which may not be as full of danger and violence but which are probably not anything that can be define by the term “adventure” either (please don’t tell me “speak for yourself,” lol: there are always exceptions and I recognize this!).
There is the question of the title itself: “Homestuck.” It’s often seen as a joke: who in this whole damn story is ever actually “stuck” in their homes, in any real sense? But it makes a lot more sense and is a lot less of a joke when you think of Bastian up there in his scary lonely attic, where he feels stuck because he is too afraid to go outside (because his bullies might be there) and he doesn’t want to ho home (to the father who doesn’t seem to care about him at all). If Bastian is us, WE are the ones who are stuck… stuck in the story, stuck with wanting to know how it all ends. And when Lord English seems set to anhilate the grand sum total of absolutely fucking everything, well… all the in-story heros in the world probably won’t be enough to defeat him. But of course then maybe the heros will have the insight to call on the author-avatar-implicit-reader-inset here, and get US to call out to the “dead in all but name” Calliope, and give her a new name already. Because, if you haven’t already noticed, she’s probably the only one who has the power to overcome the great Nothing that is Caliborn.
And she can overcome him really only by BECOMING him… taking over, and then and only then can she give the heros their reward: a new world. And of course its then and only then when she can give the readers THEIR reward: a good and satisfying story’s end.
aka, “why Hussie making a self-insert character for himself is not nearly as self-indulgent and pointless as it seems”
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