I’ve heard people say, “That’s not a real word. You just made it up!”
What a load of wifflejack.
Somebody has to make up words. Why not me?
There are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language alone (yes, I know we stole a lot of them), and thousands of different languages, so there are millions of words out there.
Sometimes that’s just not enough.
Every once in a while, a situation or a mood or an idea comes along that needs its own word, because no other word will do.
Zwintampo is such a concept.
* * *
I was talking with my friend Pete the other day, and as is wont to happen, the topic of girls came up. Betwixt my varied whining and complaining, Pete asked me what I was really looking for. I thought for a while and rattled off some basic qualities that went without saying, and then I hit a wall. There was a particular quality I was trying to describe, but I couldn’t think of the word. It was… It was…
I will try to explain this word as best I can.
Zwintampo is a sort of creativity. Not just any sort of creativity, but a quality found in only certain writers and artists and filmmakers.
Zwintampo is whimsical, but it goes deeper than that. Zwintampo has the playfulness and explorative feel of whimsy, but also a more solid, consistent nature. Teletubbies is whimsical, but it does not have zwintampo…there is only playfulness, nothing serious. Zwintampo is whimsy treated with respect.
Zwintampo is childlike, yet mature. It is childlike in that it can freely explore wholly different worlds, different existences, and different ways of looking at things. But rather than dismiss those ideas as impossible and irrelevant, zwintampo lets these concepts grow to fruition, treating them as rational as normal reality. Zwintampo is a fairy tale for adults.
Note: Zwintampo is not explaining the wondrous, the whimsical, or the fantastic through rational means. This need to explain all things out of fear of the truly mysterious is anti-zwintampo.
Zwintampo allows that something can exist in a story simply because it is fascinating. These beautiful things and concepts are not completely untethered to reality–they often have rules that govern them and ensure their consistency–but they do not have to be explained or even acknowledged as unusual, if they are normal for the world of the story. Zwintampo is beauty without rationale.
And now I will talk about some stories and storytellers that I consider to exhibit zwintampo:
Neil Gaiman is a very zwintampous writer. Most of his works have a sense of playfulness blended with dark seriousness (Neverwhere, Coraline, Stardust, etc.), but the body of work that I feel best exemplifies this quality is the series of graphic novels: The Sandman.
Written by Neil Gaiman and inked by a number of different artists, The Sandman describes the adventures of Morpheus, Lord of Dreams and the other members of his family, The Endless.
This series explores numerous realms of dream, imagination, and story, and the mixture of stylized art and poetic writing creates a very otherworldly feel.
Doctor Who is a science-fiction show, and as such, it could easily be a hazardous environment for zwintampo. But rather than try too hard to explain things rationally (it’s a show about time travelling in a blue police box), most of the show’s science-fiction settings and concepts are treated with a “that’s just the way things are” sensibility. And zwintampo reins supreme.
I return again to the realm of graphic novels to illustrate zwintampo with Warren Ellis, and in particular, his 27-issue series: Planetary. In this series, a group of super-powered characters, who call themselves “Archaeologists of the Impossible”, investigate unusual happenings around the world, many of which feature parallels of famous fictional characters and events.
Many of the stories feature concepts that would normally be found in B-movies and pulp magazines, but they are treated seriously and underscored by David Cassiday’s compelling art.
I don’t usually watch anime, but when I do…I watch Miyazaki movies.
Miyazaki’s films have a very keen sense of whimsy (bath houses for spirits, that awesome walking house, living coal dust), but, in keeping with the nature of zwintampo, they are full of matured whimsy…many of the films have a sense of darkness and brooding hanging over them, much like older, grimmer versions of fairy tales.
If you enjoy these zwintampous stories and films, or if you know of other works that exemplify zwintampo, let me know!
Have a good day, and enjoy zwintampo!