Christmas at the Box Office: Avatar Beats Sherlock and Alvin


Christmas at the Box Office: Avatar Beats Sherlock and Alvin

There is a class of men—shadowy, unhappy, unreal-looking men—who
gather in coffee houses, and play with a desire that dieth not, and a
fire that is not quenched. These gather in clubs and play
tournaments…but there are others who have the vice who live in
country places, in remote situations—curates, schoolmasters, tax
collectors—who must needs find some artificial vent for their mental
energy. —H.G. Wells, Concerning Chess THE players and their seconds now gathered in Reykjavik for the world
championship match are neither shadowy nor unreal-looking men, and they
are only occasionally unhappy. The same is true of the millions round
the world whose imaginations have been fired by the battle of the
giants, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. They gather in chess clubs, if
they are seasoned aficionados, or in front of the TV in the corner bar,
or around a transistor radio if they are out in the boondocks. They
scream instructions, encouragement or abuse at the contestants with all
the futile energy of spectators at the World Series. The psychology of
the Johnny-come-lately fans is much like that of the masses of men and
women who take up any craze, and much of their enthusiasm will be
evanescent. Far more complex, however, are the psychological bases of
the quiet passion that has prompted countless millions to play the game
through the centuries—and the unquiet passion that turns championship
contenders into egomaniacs and monomaniacs. Chess originated as a war game. It is an adult, intellectualized
equivalent of the maneuvers enacted by little boys with toy soldiers
and has, throughout history, appealed to diverse peoples. It was played
by the contemplative Hindus, the holy warriors of Islam, the chivalrous
knights who were allowed to visit ladies fair in their boudoirs to play
a board, and by the rambunctious sea rovers who had carried the game to
Greenland by the 12th century. Dr. Karl
Menninger, an aggressive Freudian analyst, once declared: “It seems to
be necessary for some of us to have a hobby in which aggressiveness and
destructiveness are given opportunity for expression, and since I long
ago gave up hunting , I have found
myself returning more and more to the most ancient of all games.” Ernest Jones, official biographer of Sigmund Freud, seemed to agree with
those sentiments when he wrote in 1930: “Chess…is a play substitute
for the art of war.” But in the same essay, The Problem of Paul Morphy,
which discussed the paranoia that beset the American chess prodigy of
the 1850s, he also moved Freud's much-debated interpretation of Oedipus
onto the chessboard. Morphy, in Jones' somewhat questionable theory,
had to sublimate a strong Oedipal urge to “kill the father.” His own
flesh-and-blood father was already dead, but Morphy had a surrogate
father, Howard Staunton, the uncrowned chess champion of the world,
whom he needed to kill at chess.

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