Madness and Sadness in Adventure Time

Madness and Sadness in Adventure Time

When you begin learning magic you’re infecting with a madness and a sadness along with power.

I’ve been thinking about Adventure Time more since my interview with Adrian Gramps. You see, I’m an OG fan, I actually discovered it when it was piloted on Nickelodeon as they were experimenting with some new stuff. It didn’t take on that network. I guess someone up top didn’t like the tongue and cheek nature of it or it was just too zany. Cartoon Network later took it up but I think even the most enduring fan of the show would acknowledge that it’s not for everyone.

Adventure Time does everything wrong with worldbuilding. There’s a tenuous thread of logic that runs through the show. It’s essentially a ‘vibe’ that holds the whole thing together. Almost anything could happen at any moment. There’s literally a scene in which Finn (the main character) arrives into battle riding a two headed, cybernetically modified, cosmic flying elephant with laser shotguns for tusks who had only been used for a bit joke in prior episodes. We accept this zany reality because the show doesn’t really ask us for permission, it just sort of dumps it on us and it, well, fits.

This is wrong, right? This strains credulity, doesn’t it? It’s silly. But it fits the theme of general madness, it fits the conceit of the show so we roll with it like it was always there and are delighted by the vibrancy, the childlikeness, the mad cap of it all. But the off-the-wall world and its mechanics are only half the reason we’re here. This world gets heavy.

But then, the sad

Sometimes characters die, or worse, they change. Throughout the series we learn the story of the Ice King and his history with Marceline the Vampire Queen. To cut a long story short it’s a tale of a good man descending into madness and his adoptive daughter learning to accept this part of him. Never mind that his madness makes him an irrepressible flirt surrounded by penguins. There’s also relationships that break and are never really fixed like Finn’s relationship with Flame Princess. It’s not all sad and there’s tons of mad cap capery for everyone to enjoy but it just seems like when you scratch beneath the candy coated surface you’re left with relationships that have history and pain. The show seems determined to dispel your belief in ‘happily ever after’ and replace it with ‘forever changing’.

This is all wrapped up in magic. It’s said that in the world of Adventure Time magic brings about both madness and sadness. Magic grants a paradox in Adventure Time and all the users. Every magic user wants to fundamentally change their circumstances or, better yet, reverse a change that’s already happened. What they find is that they can’t ever truly get what they want by magicking it into reality. Making someone love you when they don’t is a hollow victory. Crushing your enemies doesn’t really bring you peace or resolve the damage they’ve done. You’re simply left with yourself. When you’re all that’s left you find yourself descending into either a deep sadness or a deep madness because, for all your power, you can’t alter anything that truly matters and it breaks you.

I think this is the core of much of Adventure Time’s story. Despite its zany world and mad cap story lines there’s a deep and melancholic truth underneath.

I thought this was a worldbuilding blog

Hold up, don’t leave yet, I’m getting there. The world doesn’t align perfectly with the tone of the show and that apparent discordant melody is what draws us in. In fact, saying that the world doesn’t match its narrative is a bit of an understatement. These elements of the show are in deep contrast and rub up against each other frequently. Leaving you with an initial existential chuckle at the absurdity of the situation followed by a tear at the depth of damage being done. At one point Finn finds his father a large narrative arc and his father, who is a schlub, once again leaves him aboard a floating rock Finn attempts to pull the rock back using a powerful artifact grafted to his arm. HIs father, however, is determined to escape, he pushes his flying rock ever harder and pulls Finns arm off while doing everything he can, again, abandon him, a small flower protrudes from the wound. In future episodes Finn’s missing arm is a reminder of aching loss and absurdity. A literal artifact of the madness and sadness of trying to fix brokenness, reverse history and change people forcefully. The contrast and nonsensical nature of this world doesn’t take away from the depth of the story, it adds to it.

So here’s your takeaway. It’s not necessary to have your world fit your genre or narrative. I’m not saying it’s an easy lift or won’t take skill to manage the ups and downs of such contrast but it can be powerful as Adventure Time continues to prove.

About the Author
James lives somewhere in Pennsylvania with his wife and baby boy. He is an avid distance runner who really gets a kick out of talking to folks. His biggest asset might be his thorough enjoyment of people.

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