Writer Sherri Smith on the beauty that kills, and why we need to remain on Pandora.
We tend to think of Pandora as a “primitive” place. It is largely “untamed” (another word we like to use), and so it remains dark and unknowable in our imaginations, a place at the beginning of its history, not at a midpoint.
It’s the kind of thinking that Sherri Smith wants to see dismantled.
And she plans to do it, story by story. Smith is a fiction and comic book writer that aims to show that, far from a primordial wilderness, Pandora is rich with lineage, from myths carried on by oral tradition to the more recent histories of the human era.
We sat down with her to get a sense of Pandora in the present moment.
AVATAR.COM: There’s a tendency for people who’ve watched Avatar to think of Pandora as either a tropical paradise or a hellish wilderness. What’s your impression?
Sherri Smith: Ha! I’d have to agree on both points. There’s a yin and a yang to the place that can blow your mind or bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. What was it Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet—‘serpent heart hid with a flowering face?’ That’s Pandora. Gorgeous and deadly.
AVATAR.COM: In the human history of Pandora, one of the more influential figures is Dr. Grace Augustine. What is your impression of her?
SS: Augustine. I respect her. Her heart is in the right place. She was doing a lot of groundbreaking work on Pandora starting with next to nothing. But that thing at the end, with the Na’vi? Well, I don’t want to talk about that. I mean, she went off the reservation, sure. But she must have had her reasons. Right?
AVATAR.COM: The Na’vi are the indigenous people of Pandora. They still live a tribal lifestyle and live on the land. They’re also up to three meters tall, have tails, and can forge neural bonds with animals. Do you see civilization, in the way we humans understand it, in their futures?
SS: It’s interesting because, on the one hand, it’s like these are Neolithic people. But there’s a place for everything, and everything in its place, right? On Pandora, they make a heck of a lot more sense than we do… so far, anyway. And I wouldn’t call them ‘savages’ really. I mean, the wildlife is far worse than the people.