March 30, 1998, p. E1 & E3.
Many thanks to Boeotian, Librarian Sidekick for the article
A Myth-a-logical Subject, by Ellis Widner.
highlighted-- Xena and Hercules books magically appear and disappear from
2 pictures, captioned --
Kevin Sorbo plays the good-guy Greek god with heart on _Hercules: The
Lucy Lawless brings the stoic heroine Xena to hard-kicking life on _Xena:
The sounds of _Xena: Warrior Princess_ and _Hercules: the Legendary
Journeys_ are music to the ears of their fans: the whoosh! of Xena's
chakram as it flies through the air to disable an enemy's spear, the clang!
of sowrds in combat, the straining unnnghh! the heroes make in hand-to-hand
combat or the thwack! heard when Herc's fist makes myth-meat of an enemy's
Now there are more sounds from these Greek mythology-based TV shows, and
they're a lot closer to home -- the thumpity-thud! of books and comics
landing at the bookstores and the whirrrr and chitter of computerized cash
registers ringing up sales.
The syndicated shows are hotter than Hades' domain and more popular than
the once invincible _Star Trek_ spinoffs.
Like Trekkies, fans of Xena and Herc are shelling out the dinars -- uh,
dollars -- to snap up a growing trove of printed treasures that are
multiplying faster than Internet Web sites devoted to the shows.
The latest books are _Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, the Official
Companion_ (Doubleday, $14.00), _Xena: Warrior Princess: The Official Guide
to the Xenaverse_ (Doubleday, $14.00), both written by Robert Weisbrot; and
_Hercules & Xena: The Unofficial Companion_ (Renaissance Books, $15.95) by
James Van Hise.
That's not counting the eight paperback originals the shows have spawned
in the past year. Each show has a series of novels with new plot lines
written by Ru Emerson, among others. The two series are published by
Boulevard Books and are priced at $5.99 each.
And what of writers facing the rather Herculean task of transferring
these larger-than-life heroes from TV to the printed page?
Weisbrot is a professor of American history at Colby College in Maine.
The author of _Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement_
seems as likely a choice to write a fan book as Hera, Queen of the Gods,
would be to become a doting stepmother to Herc.
More likely is Van Hise, who has written comic books, a series of books
on pulp magazines and stories for such magazines as _Cinefantastique_.
Emerson is no stranger to myth-making; she has published 18 fantasy and
science fiction books.
The one thing the writers have in common: All three say they are fans of
the shows, with _Xena: Warrior Princess_ the unanimous favorite.
"Xena is the strongest female character, the most complex we've seen on
television." Weisbrot says.
"To have a female character in what could be a very dark male role is
remarkable. And one who is so independent of men, whose one great
friendship is with a woman, is far beyond what's gone before."
"Both shows try to do different things, there is no basic format," Van
Hise says. "There's humor, satire, serious drama. The series seem to find
more ideas, more things to do the longer they are on."
Emerson is particularly hooked on the character of Xena.
"Not since Emma Peel on _The Avengers_ has a woman stomped someone and
not regretted it," Emerson says. "As a woman, it's kind of cathartic for me."
The irony of an academic writing a fan book is not lost on Weisbrot.
"This will do my [academic] career no good," he says. "But it meant so
much to me I didn't care about the consequences to my academic career. I
had a lark for two years, it was wonderful."
Weisbrot got the two "official" guides by being as persistent as Herc's
pal Salmoneus on the trail of another get-rich-quick scheme. Weisbrot won
the support of the shows' producers, but Universal, which distributes the
shows, was more than a little wary.
"They felt I had no experinece as a genre writer and they were right."
With the support of the shows' producers, Weisbrot forged on and traveled
to New Zealand at his own expense before winning an official go-ahead and a
contract. His books offer cast profiles, a behind-the-scenes look at how
the shows are created and episode guides. And, of course, lots of pictures.
"I wrote a book I always wanted to have, a fan book to place commnets of
the stars above the author's view. I tried to get inside the creative
process at every stage."
Of the three, Weisbrot, 46, is the only one to meet the series' top stars.
"Kevin Sorbo is a large, athletic, easy-going, humorous fellow," he
enthuses. "The dissimilarites between Xena and Lucy Lawless are striking:
Xena is stoic, hard-edged. Lucy is wonderfully up-beat, funny and she
bubbles with the joy of life."
His next project: Finishing a book on the Cuban missile crisis.
Van Hise's "unofficial" guide to both shows includes chapters on the
original Hercules myth, Herc in film and television and creating the new
series. He also offers episode guides to both series and a "Who Is Xena"
He feels he had some advantages in writing an "unofficial" guide, though
he didn't have access to the series' stars.
"I was free to express my opinions, and fans get both shows in one book,"
Van Hise says. "I can be critical of episodes I don't think are as good as
others. I have a chapter on what everyone is aware of, the lesbian
overtones in _Xena_. People talk about it. It's an open secret, at best."
Emerson says she's been given "leeway" on that subject.
"I just feel if you get too specific you lose people," she says. "I
think it's great to leave it shadowy in the relationship."
When she was approached to write the books, Emerson says she was told
they wanted "someone who could write a scene about a kick-butt fight scene."
Writing these scenes, she says, have had other benefits.
"I killed off an ex-boss and had Xena beat up an old boyfriend," she
The gods of Mount Olympus must be pleased with her work -- Emerson has a
contract for three more _Xena_ books.
Weisbrot isn't surprised that _Hercules: The Legendary Journeys_ and
_Xena: Warrior Princess_ have the Midas touch with fans and audiences.
"When they first aired, _Xena_ and _Hercules_ were startlingly original,"
he says. "At its best, _Hercules_ is a clever show that updates Greek
mythology for our own values and concerns. _Xena_ at its best is a deep,
wrenching show, an emotional jolt."
The shows could be an enduring pop cultural phenomenon, Van Hise says.
"They could spin into a movie series, Like _Star Trek_ and _Next
Generation_. There is continued life, as long as fans want it and they
come up with versions that live up to expectations."
Providing they don't displease the gods.
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