Saturday Starter: Trophy Rooms

Saturday, Apr 22, 2017
Tagged As: saturday starter
Local Writers

An obscure reference for you: In the 1985 movie Highlander, there is a brief scene showing Connor MacLeod's loft. Connor is an immortal from 16th century Scotland, living in the movie's contemporary New York as an antiques dealer. He has had the time and ability to amass quite a collection, and his loft is where he keeps his most prized items that are not for trade. It is a round, dimly-lit room, open floor in the middle surrounded by a built-in couch that circles the room (but for the door), with shelves behind and above displaying art, artifacts, weapons, and other assorted treasures.

Along similar sword-and-sorcery lines, picture also a wizard's study. Again, round. Walls of stone at the top of a tower. A monolithic desk plus worktables to the side, shelves lining the walls, most of the surfaces covered with arcane books, scrolls, wands, potions, and assorted magical artifacts.

As Woody Allen so effectively conveys in the time travel movie Midnight in Paris, many of us romanticize bygone eras from history as better, more magical times. For the movie's protagonist it is the 1920s Golden Age in Paris--until he discovers those from that era feel the allure of nostalgia for earlier times and ever on, so that no one feels their present moment is as extraordinary as sometime from the past.

For the younger, fantasy-reading, D&D-playing me, it was pre-industry and pre-technology ages of swords and conquest. So, if I were to imagine a perfect trophy room to display my cherished treasures, it would be greatly influenced by the images of Connor MacLeod's loft and a prototypical wizard's study.

I bring this up in response to a prompt from Nick Bantock's book The Trickster's Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity. He writes about how the two main characters in the movie High Fidelity distract themselves by coming up with lists of their favorite top fives--top five dead drummers, etc. The game fascinated me, and I started making my own lists of things, like top five villainous foreign names that would look good in neon over a nightclub, or top 5 misheard song lyrics. As an artist he found his way to . . .

. . . making a list of the top five pieces of art I'd steal if I were that way inclined. The list kept changing, but as I added and crossed off some of the world's greatest treasures, I realized that it was becoming not only a gathering of my artistic taste but a barometer of what I feel is worthwhile and meaningful to me.

Here's the list I ended up with:

Top Five Art Objects I'd Steal If I Could

  • Da Vinci's sketchbooks
  • William Turner, any one of his later big paintings from the Tate Gallery
  • Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring
  • The British Museum's limestone sculpture of Horus (the falcon)
  • The Alhambra (all of it!)

With that thought in mind, he offers the following prompt:

Write a list of your top five most desirable artifacts from anywhere in the world. Then describe what it is about each of them that so draws you in.

Hint: This isn't about wanting and possessing, it's about understanding your passions and using that understanding to direct yourself toward those things that represent significance.

As I've said, my list would be influenced by the enchantment I feel from classic fantasy settings. Yours might look similar to Woody Allen's or be entirely contemporary, without influence of nostalgia. It is about you and what drives your creative passions.

It might not be about you, though; if you are a fiction writer, you might find the same exercise helpful when done from the perspective of one (or more) of your characters to help you get a better handle on them and their passions. What famous acts of creative expression most inspire them?