KEVIN O. FLYNN AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE
In many interviews, Cindy Morgan has compared TRON to THE WIZARD OF OZ, the idea that the characters in 'the real world' have alter egos in 'another world.' This comparison is intriguing because it takes TRON a step beyond the simple concept that people working on computers have 'cyberspace' alter-egos, or avatars as they are called. The concept of 'avatar' comes from the Hindu belief that a god can incarnate into a human being, and operate in a sense as one from 'on high.' In the 'electronic world,' the 'real people' are called Users, as they are the actual users of computer software, but these sentient programs believe them to be like gods. The 'electronic world' or cyberspace as we might call it today is somewhat of an ambiguous concept in TRON, but it isn't accidental.
Inside the 'computer' as it is presented to us, it would seem both literal and digital, the landscapes are a cross between three-dimensional renderings of video games of the time, but also a kind of microscopic physical landscape of circuit boards and wires. The ideas are blurred a little between the purely digital and the 'nanoscopic.' These beings inside the computer are truly the 'little people' of ages past, they are in a sense digital elves, doing the bidding of the Users, running about performing tasks on the other side of the screen like tiny elemental spirits.
In folklore, the "Little People" also known as the elves, the fairies, gnomes, brownies and countless other names, are a mysterious group of mythical beings who exist in some way as if on another plane of reality. W.Y. Evans-Wentz and Thomas Keightley have written extensively academic studies of the folklore of fairies and elves, and in many of the stories they collected in their books, one finds a common one, "those who return from Faerie." Also called "Fey" and "Fairyland,' among many other names, the tales are told of people who have travelled afar to the 'other realm,' the land of the elves. "Somtimes one may thus go to Faerie for an hour or two; or one may remain there for seven, fourteen or twenty-one years..." [Evans-Wentz] The stories often tell of a man who disappeared for a time, and lived with the Fairies, often revealing a moral or some lesson that is learned. It is likely that it is no coincidence that our hero is named Flynn, a very Irish name indeed.
In TRON, this idea that a man is sucked into a computer is generally considered a pretty silly idea, and obviously a science fiction plot device, so that he can end up in 'another world.' The most interesting thing about this, is that it has taken the thing itself, the computer, and made it the 'other world.' Technology is suggested as a 'habitat' for 'little people' who live in 'cyberspace,' another world where strange adventures can be had. What is more interesting is that the metaphors work so well, and that the tale of TRON is essentially a 'fairy tale,' literally, it is the story of Kevin O. Flynn and the "Little People" inside the computer.
As usual, our little fairy-folk are like little workers, doing their duty inside the machine, and as elves are little machinists and builders and technologists themselves, this relationship to fairy-tales gets more and more amusing as one looks into it. The Little People have their politics, and they drink the invisible nectar floating in nature, they sometimes have wars and conflicts, and in this case, the Herle-king is SARK. The MCP works magnificently as the mysterious and 'hidden' dark Lord who is incorporeal, like Pan. The Herle-king, or Herlaquen, is the Chief of all the elves, and is usually a pretty bad guy. Stringing the elves along like slaves to do bad things to mankind. In this digital fairy tale, Flynn comes along and uncovers the whole plot, and is there at the right time to help. Of course, what is even more interesting is that the Little People in TRON look up to humans like gods, while in myths, most often it is the humans who mistake the fairies for gods. This is a new spin, and when technology is taken into account, it has a whole new sense to it.
In TRON LEGACY, Flynn has been away for many years, another common tale of the man who is trapped in the land of Fey. His son comes to break him out. All of these are tales to be found in the folkore. Writers like Evans-Wentz were fascinated by fairie-lore for one of the ideas he uncovered in Buddhism was the possibility that these 'little people' or 'fairies' were parts of the subconscious, which could today be described as operating much the way the invisible scripts on computers work, or 'daemons' as they are often called. Perhaps these Little Programs and the tale of Kevin Flynn are suggesting something even deeper. Perhaps the story when taken as Little People inside the mind, rather than the computer presses another issue, that of course our brains are very much like computers (or rather...since the brain came first: the computers are very much like a brain.) Perhaps unwittingly we design and build the computers out of the depths of our unconscious, and they begin to take shape--though not as a literal brain, but 'the mind.' The mind is something not exactly quantified by science, and is thus, 'an invisible' and intangible thing, but if there were rules, if there were protocols and a mechanics to the operation of the mind, it would be like the complexity of an operating system which is not made of wires and electronic circuits but ones and zeroes... and perhaps the mind has a similar counterpart. Since we don't know, we guess, we write myths, we tell tales, and we speculate, and we speculate comparatively... so in this case, perhaps TRON is also giving us another dimension here to ponder.
TRON is truly a modern fairy tale, in the most ancient sense of fairy tales. It takes us way back, long before Grimms storybook tales, to the almost mystical and original fairy-tales. It blends technology, literally and figuratively, with fairy tale lore, while also bringing many other issues to the table. Perhaps this is why it will last many generations, perhaps longer than Star Wars and the Matrix because of its universality, because it will continue to mean something as we continue to develop our technology and our minds, and we'll keep going back and referring to TRON.