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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #332: Jack Skellington

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Last night I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time. Hard to believe, I know, but in the 23 years since it was released, I'd simply never gotten around to it, and so it was a completely new experience for me and my kids (and Sarah - somehow neither of us had ever seen the thing). I knew it was a Tim Burton work, and as such would be creative, novel, strange, a tad macabre, and yet with a sort of sweet ache at the center. And yeah, it was that in spades.

There's a lot going on in the film - it's visually dense, busy with movement and characters and quick-twitch dialogue. But the heart of the story is Jack Skellington. He's the prodigal son of Halloweentown, the Pumpkin King, the hero to the morbid masses who cheer his unbroken string of spooky success. And yet he's unfulfilled despite that perch atop his profession. The scaring has grown stale, the routine stultifying and dull. He craves something more, something different. When he stumbles across the gateways to other holiday dimensions, he's convinced he's found a new raison d'etre. Christmas, with all of its color and cheer, represents a new world to conquer, and it energizes our spidery hero. His popularity and charisma sweeps the Halloweentown denizens along with him in this misguided new agenda.

It goes all wrong, of course...Jack manages to make a mess of everything, to his disappointment and chagrin. And yet there's sufficient strength to Jack that he knows he done wrong, and he sets out to set it right. Sometimes we have to reach outside of ourselves to discover that we're where we're supposed to be, that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. Jack's mid-undead crisis leads him to seek new meaning, and in the end he finds that it's not his professional life that lacks verve but his personal, and that gap in his soul wasn't some new holiday experience but the love of his raggedy paramour, Sally.

My favorite thing about Jack was his faith in himself and his destiny. He's a man of enthusiasms, of sudden impulse, a lithe kinetic dynamo of deed before thought. "Just because I cannot see it, doesn't mean I can't believe it!" Don't stop believing, bone daddy.

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