Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Most people in the US, know about Guy Fawkes Day from the Movie V for Vendetta. The 2006 film based on Alan Moor’s incredible 1988 comic book series. I am a bit ahead of the curve on the Guy bandwagon because I had a friend who spent some time in England in the early 1980’s. He had a brother whose birthday was on November 5th. So they would celebrate by lighting small magnesium guys, on the 5th.
These high school antics always stuck in my mind. My degree is in history, so to me Guy Fawkes Night is more about the real man than the comic series 9sorry Alan Moore). But then again I am a nerd so the comic book and movie colors my view of what was originally called Gunpowder Plot Day.
First I suppose that we should say what happened in Guy’s life to create a day with his name. He was an ultra-Catholic who wanted to depose Protestant king James I. Who got busted with a cache of gunpowder under the House of Lords. There is a debate whether he was guarding it for someone else to ignite or he was there to blow up the building. He was executed and protestant ministers got a law passed making the 5th of November a day of thanksgiving. Basically a day all about gee I am so glad we didn’t get blown up by crazy Guy. A cheap way for poor Londoners to celebrate was to light bonfire at night. Hence the origin of the burning Guy in effigy. As the holiday grew so did the celebration. Gunpowder was set off. This lead eventually to fireworks and food and beverages.
It is also possible that there Guy Fawkes Day was blended with pre-Christian holidays, much the way Halloween did. Some anthropologist doubt this though. But there seems to be a bit of competition in England now between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Days. Some see Halloween as an Americanized holiday but it is becoming more popular in the UK, at GFD expense.
To me it always been kind of ironic that we call it Guy Fawkes Day. But well we already have a thanksgiving. That is like having an Osama Bin Ladin Day or Lee Harvey Oswald Day. Despite being the heroic icon of many after V for Vendetta, Fawkes was a terrorist. And well not a very effective one. It was not a day to celebrate the underdog rising against an oppressive regime but a day to remember that the powers that be can defend themselves.
Even the enigmatic V who dons a Guy Fawkes mask, is basically a terrorist. True in the movie V is fighting an oppressive regime. He blows things up, he kills cops and commits the sin of shaving Natalie Portman’s hair.
Don’t get me wrong I real liked the Movie and the comic book is phenomenal. Like many movies the source material has nuances and details that just can’t be captured on film. Even though the movie version is rather faithful it is never as great as the book. Alan Moor’s attacks Regan’s America in The Watchmen, and V for Vendetta is slap on Thatcher era England. The story is part Scarlett Pimpernel, part James Bond, and part Bat Man.
In the US V for Vendetta is integral part of Guy Fawkes Day. I know people who celebrate it by renting the movie. Just like for some of friends Boondock Saints is mandatory viewing on St. Patrick’s Day. And I suppose that it is a better way than lighting up little magnesium figures formed as a human.
But Guy Fawkes Day to celebrate history, and comic book movies, two of my favorite things. So yes I Remember the 5Th of November.