The Neverending Story: Part II

When Bastian hides in an attic to read a mysterious book, he discovers that this is no ordinary story……..the Neverending Story is a living book.

It tells of Fantasia, a land of magical creatures threatened by the Nothing. The Childlike Empress needs a new name and only a human child can grant it. Hardly believing what is going on and shivering in his damp attic, Bastian calls out the Childlike Empress’ new name and in doing so, he enters the Neverending Story.

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He finds himself a character within the story he was reading, Here, Bastian is handsome and bold, a boy equal in strength and courage to Atrayu. As saviour of Fantasia, he is granted AURYN, the gem of the Childlike Empress, inscribed with the words “Do As You Wish.”

Here, his imagination can create worlds. Everything he wishes, comes to pass.

Bastian is cautioned by the Childlike Empress to be aware that his wishes become realities, and these realities affect the fates of other Fantasians. Bastian can only govern Fantasia well when he considers deeply his desires and wishes only for what he truly wants.

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However, as Bastian grows in confidence, he becomes less and less aware of the deep desires that motivate him, and less careful of the consequences of his wishes. With every wish Bastian loses a memory of his former life. Atrayu points out, that without memory, Bastian cannot have a true will and without a will, he will lose himself.

Without a will, he cannot wish himself home again.

Can Atrayu save Bastian from his descent into madness? Will Bastian become trapped in Fantasia forever?

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Ende achieves in the second part of the Neverending Story, new insights of the significance of dream and myth to human health and happiness. Just as travelling into our dreams and subconscious is necessary for human health, a journey required to understand our deep complexes and to do battle with our subconscious fears, so too the converse journey is critical – the return to conscious life.

It is in the conscious world, our external world, where human relationships occur that the deep desires of the human heart are realised. Here we love, are loved, face external challenges and grow.

A person lost in dream or myth, or a person at the mercy of their fantasies and desires, without touch with the real world, is someone who eventually loses touch with their core identity, their memory, their will, even their own name.

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The maddened Bastian becomes so lost in his own fantasy that he needs a saviour, someone who can give him a name and restore enough will for him to remember his father and so desire to return home. Moreover, Bastian needs someone to remain in Fantasia to take responsibility for all the stories that his wishes have given life to.

Atrayu, despite being betrayed and wounded by Bastian steps in, reminds Bastian of his true name and in doing so restores him with enough will and memory to send him back to his conscious life.

It is Atrayu who remains in Fantasia to finish the story. And so Ende delivers the final note to his story. The true hero sacrifices himself so Bastian might have life.

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Atrayu is not a product of Bastian’s imagination. He is the character who drew Bastian into Fantasia, he was betrayed and wounded by Bastian his friend, and now as Bastian surrenders AURYN, at his wits end, Atrayu restores Bastian’s ‘self’ and ability to return to a life of relationship and being.

We need more heroes like Atrayu.

 

The Neverending Story: Part I ….

When Bastian Balthazar Bux, a shy, fat and lonely school boy, steals a mysterious book from a mysterious book shop one rainy morning, and hides in an attic to read it – little does he know of the adventurous journey on which it would take him.
Lost in the world of Fantasia, Bastian reads of the adventures of Atrayu, a boy his own age and his friend Falkor the Luckdragon, as they seek a cure for the Childlike Empress. The Empress is dying and with her, the land of Fantasia, a place where every imaginary character of dream and story lives.
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What is the cause of the Nothing which threatens to consume all of Fantasia? Can Atrayu find the cure for the Empress and turn back the destruction it brings?
Michael Ende’s classic children’s tale, The Neverending Story was first published in 1979 and has been since made into several films. Originally a playwright, Ende is best known for his children’s stories which have sold over $35 million of copies worldwide and translated into over 40 languages.
The story is a rich tapestry of mythology and legend and like all good works of fantasy plumbs the depths of human identity and purpose via our dreams.
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Moreover, like the works of many fantasy writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including JK Rowling, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein, Michael Ende’s fantasy functions as a polemic against modernity, rationalism, pragmatism, and progress and calls readers back to values of the romantic era, values such as the the imagination, intuition, and the transcendent.
One such key message emerges in dialogue between Atrayu, our hero, and the wolf, Gmork, a servant of the Nothing. Gmork explains the relationship between the death of Fantasia and the world of humans.
Humans have stopped believing in Fantasia, Gmork explains, and because they have stopped believing, they have stopped visiting. It is human imagination which gives Fantasia its life and without their presence, Fantasians are perishing, consumed by the Nothing.
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When humans did visit, they were able to return to their own world and see it through a more magical lens. In this way, Fantasia and the human world are necessary sides of a coin, each needing the other.
The creatures of Fantasia are not only dying, but as they are consumed by the Nothing, they end up in the human world but not in their fantastical form, but in the form of the lies. They become the vain hopes and delusions of the human world such as ambition, greed and vice.
With this brief parable, Ende manages to sum up the modern malaise. Enlightenment and post-enlightenment rhetoric of the 1700s and 1800s, emphasised the rational and scientific, marginalising the role of religion, myth and legend to the realm of childhood or the primitive man.
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The result however was the impoverishment of the subconscious, the dreamscape and the deep psyche which when left unexamined, plagued modern man with unresolved issues such as depression, malaise, unacknowledged vices, greed, self obsession and nihilism.
The Neverending Story is “preaching” the value of dreams, imagination, and story as portals to the depths of the human heart.
Through stories and dreams we can come to know ourselves and we learn to restore our connectedness, a sense of something larger than ourselves,  trust in one another and a hope for our world.

Beauty and the Beast

In 2017, a live action remake of Disney’s 1991 animation, Beauty and the Beast was released staring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast and Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline [and more] in supporting roles.

Since its release [March ’17] the film has grossed over one billion dollars, making it the top earning  film of the year and the 28th top grossing film of all time.

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The story is taken from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s eighteenth-century French fairy tale La Belle et La Bete, and has similarities to the Grimms Brothers’ tale Bear Skin [1812], with variants from Italy in Don Giovanni de la Fortuna and Italo Calvino’s The Devil’s Breeches [1956]. As I outline below there are resonating themes in Goethe’s Faust as well.

Of course, the moniker of this blog being Bear Skin, I cannot refuse an opportunity to examine the subtle layers of this story, its variants and its influences.

What causes this story to be so timeless and resonant? What themes and motifs strike a chord with generation after generation of viewers and readers?

The plot:

A wealthy Prince is punished for his hubris one night when a sorceress comes to him disguised as a beggar. He rejects her request for hospitality and is cursed to bear the form of a hideous beast, his whole household to become inanimate objects, his lands to descend into an eternal winter and the outside world to forget all about them.

The curse is irreversible unless the Beast find someone to truly love him despite his beastly appearance. The time limit is set by a single rose, which sheds a petal every year giving the Beast only a handful of years to restore his true form.

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Time passes until by some glitch of destiny, Belle’s elderly father stumbles through a lost forest pathway into the Beast’s territory. Caught by the Beast for trespassing and daring to steal a single rose for his daughter Belle, the old man is locked up in the tower dungeons.

The lone horse returns to Belle, alerting her of her father’s troubles. She urges the horse to take her to her father, and so Belle finds herself too, face to face with the fearsome Beast in his strange wintery kingdom. Bargaining the release of her father, Belle offers herself as single prisoner for her father’s crimes. The Beast agrees and Belle becomes his prisoner.

Here she discovers the house is alive with staff turned into inanimate items – clocks, dressers, tea pots and tea cups, candelabra, pianoforte, stools, hat-stands and more. The staff love and care for Belle and begin to pin their hopes upon the sweet girl for their redemption.

Indeed the gruff beast soon softens to the girl in his house, wondering if she could truly love him. Caring for his wounds after a wolf attack and sharing his love for his vast library, the two become friends and indeed for a while it seems they might truly fall in love.

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Back in the village, Belle’s father tells the locals of the Beast and with pompous Gaston, stirs them up to rescue Belle. However, selfish Gaston uses the old man’s ramblings about talking chairs and tables to lock up the old man in order that the glory of slaying the Beast might be his own.

With the help of a magic mirror, Belle sees her father’s trouble and begs the Beast to let her go. Because his love for her has grown so deep, the Beast releases her and in doing so, relinquishes any hope that he and his household can ever be freed of the curse.

The villagers storm the castle to kill the Beast and are gamely held off by the army of household items defending their master.

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Meanwhile, Belle arrives in the village to find and release her father. Having released him she immediately returns to the castle to defend the Beast. There she finds a showdown between Gaston and the Beast, who is mortally wounded.

Is she too late to tell the beast she loves him? Can the curse be lifted and all the land restored?

Other stories which resonate: 

The Brother’s Grimm fairy tale Bear Skin, tells of a man wandering alone and lost in the woods, who is offered untold wealth by the devil in exchange for the form of a beast. At the end of an allotted time the devil would return and claim the man’s soul unless within that time, he could, even with his beastly appearance, gain the true love of someone. The man is given bottomless pockets of money, but his beastly appearance prevents people from getting close.

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Can he find love? Can the curse be reversed?

An ancient German legend of Faust, later immortalised by Christopher Marlowe in The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus [1588] and by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Faust [1806] shows some similarities to these tales.

In this tale, an ambitious and successful scholar, Johann Faust, makes a pact with the devil to exchange unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures for his soul. He enjoys 24 years of limitless power, privilege, knowledge and influence before the devil returns to claim his soul.

In Marlowe’s version, Faustus is granted no grace and indeed refuses all opportunities to repent of his wager, due to his own understanding of the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity and of limited atonement. He simply acknowledges that all men are born to sin and the destiny of his soul is set and is dragged off to eternal suffering by the devils.

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Goethe’s later version had Faust saved from eternal damnation, not only by the grace of God but by the pleading intercessory prayers of Faust’s beloved Gretchen.

The Message:

In each story, the plight of the Prince/ Beast is the human predicament.  For all characters – the Beast, Faust and Bear Skin –  all live the consequences of their selfish and foolish actions, requiring “redemption” from the wickedness they sowed.

In Bear Skin and Faust, an arrogant or lost man is seduced by the devil to engage in a wager for his soul, for a time period during which power and privilege is offset with a beastly appearance and loss of true relationships.

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In Beauty and the Beast, The Prince’s hubris leads to a living “hell” – he retains his majesty but becomes an unlovable creature. He finds his actions not only ensnare him, but affect those around him, poisoning those he was in a close relationship with [household] and even the nature and the land in which he lived.

Each major religion or faith system seeks to address this challenge facing humanity – what is wrong with us, what ails our relationship with each other and with the environment and what is the solution?

According to Hindu teaching, humans are reborn endlessly, living the consequences of the sins of each of our lives finding no release unless we purify ourselves of attachment and hubris. According to Buddhist teaching, karma for our deeds follows us within this life time and into the next. Nirvana is found through renunciation and meditation.

In most wisdom teachings of the ancient world, human hubris affects our community and the natural world in which we live, immutably harming relationships and the environement.

According to the Hebrew faith, humans were created in perfect harmony, beautiful and noble but because of hubris, lost their innocence and became wanderers in the earth, wearing the skins of animals and becoming more and more depraved. Not unlike the story of Bear Skin or of Beauty and Beast, humanity is cursed to live out the consequences of their vice and greed, until something or someone shows them true love and redemption.

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As is often outlined in this blog, the “hero journey” is one in which a “hero” experiences a death trial  which they are reborn from, providing salvation for their community.

Here too we have Belle, a girl willing to sacrificially take the place of her father and become imprisoned to the fearsome beast in his wintry castle. There the Beast learns to love her to hope that one day she could love him too.

His test comes closest to his own point of redemption when he is challenged to let Belle go, essentially surrendering any chance of being restored. This act of surrender shows greater love than any show of power could.  He allows her to go and return to him, freely expressing her own love in return to him in his dying hour and turning back the curse.

So too, the Hebrew account of the Fall of man, is countered by the appearance of a “second Adam”, one who surrenders his own freedoms and life to reverse the curse that befalls all humans wearing “skins of animals” and cursed by broken relationships with each other and the environment.

This love story restores humans into their former glory, Princes and Princesses, and restores the eternal winter to spring and brings joy where there was mourning.

Doctor Strange [spoilers within]…

The latest installment from Marvel Comics and Disney Studios is 2016’s Doctor Strange.

It tells of Doctor Stephen Strange, who is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon who through a twist of misfortune ends up crippled and unable to perform surgeries.

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Much like Bruce Wayne’s genesis as Batman, Dr Strange journeys into the Himalayas to search out the Ancient One and learn the mystical arts of healing. 

Also, like many comic book and hero stories, Strange learns of unique giftings hidden within him and an uncanny aptitude to learn magic and sorcery. With the aide of a side kick and several magical items such as a levitating cloak and necklace which can bend time, Strange becomes a serious force to contend with in the magical realm.

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The story is classic hero journey.  A skeptical scientist carries the audience with him on a journey into mystery, thrown from his comfortable reality into the depths of dream and deep psyche. 

On this journey, he discovers mentors, allies, enemies and magical weapons and touchstones.

Strange’s story reaches denoument when he faces a choice – he can channel healing into his hands and return to love and career – or he can stay and battle forces of evil, a broken man the rest of his days. 

His choice to remain, carries him to the very nexus of evil, to face the Dormammu or the Dark Dimension.

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Herein lies on the most startling hero motifs of any sci-fi or fantasy I have seen for a long time. 

Doctor Strange with the aid of his time bending amulet, creates a loop of time in which he and Dormammu are trapped without end. In doing so, he willingly condemns himself to infinite death so that humanity may live.

Our hero takes infinite death that humanity might live……..

This saviour motif resonates time and time again, throughout stories, myths and legends of many cultures. Too many to recount. 

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All in all, the film relies too heavily on computer generated effects and the at times the plot is clumsily narrated through longwinded dialogue. Nevertheless the cast are brilliant and some genuinely witty interchanges brighten the story.

I give it – three out of five stars.

 

Where Are The Female Superheros

A strong theme of Bear Skin is how narrative both reflects the world and shapes it. Story is educative, story asserts a view, story informs and we viewers and readers engage, and re-tell and become.

Deeply truthful stories are vital to good and strong society. This wonderful TED talk by Christopher Bell sums up the importance of this fact by addressing the place of strong female role models in narrative, not only for little girls, but also for little boys.

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But here’s the question that I have to ask. Why is it that when my daughter dresses up, whether it’s Groot or The Incredible Hulk, whether it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Maul, why is every character she dresses up as a boy? And where are all the female superheroes? And that is not actually the question, because there’s plenty of female superheroes. My question really is, where is all the female superhero stuff?Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

Because every day when my daughter plays when she dresses up, she’s learning stuff through a process that, in my own line of work, as a professor of media studies, we refer to as public pedagogy. That is, it is how societies are taught ideologies. It’s how you learned what it meant to be a man or a woman, what it meant to behave yourself in public, what it meant to be a patriot and have good manners. It’s all the constituent social relations that make us up as a people. It’s, in short, how we learn what we know about other people and about the world.

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Michael Ende is best known for his novel “The Never Ending Story” [1979] however, the German author was a prolific writer of fantasy and children’s fiction, selling more than 35 million copies of his works in his lifetime and having them adapted into  films, plays, operas and audio-books .

His fantasy novel Momo [1973], also known as The Grey Gentleman explores themes of modernism and materialism and the power of a young girl to simply give people a most valuable asset, her attention and time.

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Set on the outskirts of an unknown Mediterranean city, perhaps in Italy, the story centres around a neighbourhood of simple folk and an orphan, Momo.

Living in the ruins of an amphitheatre, Momo does not know how to read or write, nor does she know her own age. She however has a unique gift for truly listening to people. Momo is considered to be somewhat of an advisor to all the people of the neighbourhood for helping them solve their petty problems by simply listening.

Momo does not say much but her gentle ability to listen to people helps them untangle their problems themselves. Momo’s closest friends are Beppo, the street sweeper and Guido, a tour guide.

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Into the tranquil world of this community come the Men in Grey, bald men with greyish skin and grey suits who represent the Time Savings Bank. These men indoctrinate the people of this town to the value of ‘saving time’ which requires depositing time in accounts in order to gain interest on it.

Gradually, activities perceived to be time wasting such as socialising, art creation, imaginative playing or even sleeping begin to be replaced by hectic work and stress.

Momo remains immune to the powers of the Men in Grey. As her friends no longer come to her for counsel, she perceives the irony that the more time people save, the less time they have.

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Momo is assisted by curious creature called Cassiopeia, a tortoise who communicates with words illuminated on her shell and who has the gift of future-sightedness.  Cassiopeia introduces her to the Administrator of Time,  Professor Secundus Minutus Hora, who grants her one “hour lily”, freezing time for one hour, long enough for Momo to infiltrate the lair of the Men in Grey.

Momo discovers the the Men in Grey are not real humans but are in fact parasites living off the time deposited in their bank by people. The cigars they smoke are made from dried “hour lilies” deposited in the bank for saving and without these cigars, the Men in Grey perish.

It is Momo’s challenge to deprive the Men in Grey of their cigars while simultaneously releasing the trapped “hour lilies” kept in the bank for safe keeping, and return them to the people who have lost them.

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Written at the end of modernsim and at the cusp of post-modernism and the flowering of neo-spiritualism, Ende like the Romantics before him, lamented the gradual erasure of the mystical, spiritual or esoteric from human life in favour of utilitarianism, materialism and economic rationalism.

To Michael Ende, children such as Momo are unique symbols of resistance to adult preoccupations such as materialism, work, stress and time saving.

His story is an essay to the magic of friendship, the importance of time, the power of stories, the significance of compassion and the value of the small but pleasant things that make life more worth living.

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Our unlikely hero is Momo, whose invincibility lies in the fact that her childish imagination can see through the Men in Grey, and her love for her friends leads her to courageously challenge the establishment which would rob them of their most precious asset -time.

 

Game of Faiths

The HBO series Games of Thrones aired the final episode for Season 6 last Sunday to an epic 9 million viewers. The fantasy drama is  based on a series of novels by George R. R. Martin, which currently number 5 in a potential series of 7 books, and form the greater compilation entitled,  A Song of Ice and Fire.

With nods to J.R.R. Tolkien, the epic fantasy novels are set in a parallel world which shows many cultural, sociological and literary similarities to Medieval and Renaissance Europe and the Near East, with added mythical beasts and magical cults.

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Darker and more blood thirsty than Tolkien, the books and now TV series have incited consternation for the frequent demise of major characters.

‘Why the appeal?’ one may well ask!

To early impressions, the stories can seem amoral. Many of the “good” characters get axed [literally] quite quickly, while the wicked prosper. All manner of vices proliferate on page and screen. Terrible inequalities emerge between owner and slave, between men with power and women without, between kings with money and armies and peasants without, and so forth.

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While unsavoury in nature, this portrayal of the world bears more likeness to true human history than other romantic epics of literature, Tolkien’s works included.

One cannot read much history without encountering the same gruesomely bloody and immoral acts portrayed within Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin, based much of the political machinations at the heart of the books on the British events of the Wars of the Roses. Some of the alarming and brutal customs including Cersei’s public walk of shame through the streets of the capital, or Tyrion’s ‘trial by combat’ come straight from Medieval history.

Moreover, the island of Westeros bears much historically in common with the British Isles with its long elaborate history of settlements, invasions and skirmishes between the Celts, Britons, Romans and Anglo-Saxons.

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History is brimming over with brutality. One reads of the Egyptian dynasties in which incestuous marriages were not uncommon, or Roman dynasties in which inbreeding created maddened rulers, cruel and drunk on power. Of course there were Persian rulers who impaled prisoners or crucified them publicly to deter dissent. One cannot read much of the most revered texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition,  the Old Testament, without encountering brutal accounts of parricide, polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, attempted genocide and more.

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And so, the world of Game of Thrones portrays life as cheap, hard and subject to the power plays of ruling elite. Caught in the midst of these power plays are the vulnerable – the women, the disabled, the illegitimate and the lesser born. And why shouldn’t it be so, for this is in fact the pattern of history is it not?

Here lies an interesting differential between history and poetry. While most often written from the vantage point of the victor, history is (at least in name) concerned the “what” and “when” of events past. On the other hand, poetry addresses the “whys” of human affairs. Poetry is unapologetically biased, adding layers of meaning, morality, and destiny to human accounts, straying into the metaphysical.

We look to art and narrative to provide a reprieve from the random patterns of brutality that make up life.

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It’s interesting then to revisit the claim Martin’s narratives seem amoral or without redemption. In fact, the stories are framed by an epic quest of cosmic proportions. The stories embody a narrative of redemption, ironically while religions within the stories function like any other element of an intricate socio-political universe.

In Martin’s world pagan Druidic beliefs exist along side the the established religion, the Faith of the Seven. George R.R. Martin, a catholic in upbringing, based the Faith of the Seven on the Medieval Catholic church, replete with inquisitions and political machinatons. Further afield, mostly originating in the east are other faiths including worship of  The Faceless God, or god of death, The Horse God of the Dothraki,  and of the Red God, or the Lord of Light, a religion based on Zorastrianism.

These religions form part of the fabric of Martin’s world and provide characters with agency. For example,  Cersei uses the Faith of the Seven and its adherents for political advantage, but is later caught in her own trap and manipulated in return.

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Behind this however, Game of Thrones paints a background of a cosmic battle between the forces of death and of life. Beyond the petty doings of human men and women, with their iron suits, gold coins, wicked hearts and political ambition, lies a massive army of  evil undead which threaten to wipe out all humanity and bring an unending winter.

Game of Thrones stretches beyond history and religion, and reaches into poetry; it sings a song of salvation.

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This song is familiar to us all, since it follows the pattern of every Hero Journey.

It is Jon Snow who demonstrates he is a true leader, one worthy of this cosmic battle. He sacrifices for his men and gains their loyalty and trust. He is betrayed at the hands of his friends and murdered, but he returns from the clutches of death to prompt the Priestess of Light to declare him  Azor Ahai, the one prophesied to bring balance between light and dark, to end the Great Battle with the forces of darkness and death.

Jon Snow is a humble man, over-looked by nobles and princes, one willing to give his life for his friends, one betrayed by his closest brothers, one who returns from the dead, reborn with a unique mandate-  to restore peace and harmony to a broken world.

 

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George Martin’s study of history and religion within the greater context of mythology and poetry, informs us how modern and post-modern teachings have impoverished western culture. In an effort to encourage objectivity and tolerance in increasingly diverse political and religious melting pots, western tradition has eliminated any meta-narrative or song of salvation.

Martin, like Tolkien reasserts a grand narrative, an epic hero story, one which echoes with the same themes and motifs of all epic narratives throughout the generations.

The Force Awakens

In 1977, Star Wars – A New Hopelaunched a whole generation on a journey with a farm boy from a desert planet, to the discovery  of a mysterious destiny and a mysterious power, to meet a whole litany of curious friends and foes and to reveal a unique courage and mission to save the galaxy. 

Lucas was a self-confessed Joseph Campbell fan and his use of the Hero Journey to frame the Skywalker journey is marked. As such, it resonated with epics and classic tales told for generations.

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The next episode, The Empire Strikes Back took the same cast of characters into a deeper journey of love, loyalty and self discovery. Continuing with the Skywalker journey, the film dove into one of the most timeless horror motifs of fairy tale and myth – that of the murderous parent.

Grimm’s Tales abound with step-parents who would murder their child, lock them in towers, poison them or abandon them to witches and wolves. The most primal love story of parent-child is turned on its head as child struggles to find not only life but the meaning of love.

Return of the Jedi simply closed the chapter with Skywalker as he emerged from a crysalis of youth into maturity of a Jedi, facing not only his foes but his most dread fear. He overcame hate with compassion, dissolved darkness with light and again restored peace to the galaxy. It’s another Hero Journey extraordinaire.

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The most recent iteration, Episode VII, The Force Awakens, [2015], was a much feted reboot of the originals by wunderkind J.J. Abrams. The film, starring many of the original cast members, was however, a rather disappointingly repetitious revisit of the same mythical narrative tropes.

Nothing truly took the story forward.

It feels as if we are reliving “A New Hope“. We are introduced all over again to a disenfranchised orphan [this time a girl], and we follow her journey as she discovers a mysterious destiny and a mysterious power, encounters a whole litany of curious friends and foes and and discovers a unique courage and opportunity to face and thwart evil.

Not only did it repeat many elements of Episode IV, but the characters are only briefly developed and even the protagonist Rey is one-dimensionally perfect. She can fight, she can fly, she can wield the force without training, she is beautiful and good. One feels we are truly in a Disney movie with a modern day princess as our heroine. There is no petulant selfishness of Luke Skywalker nor his journey of growth.

Rey has no journey – she’s already amazing.

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The most interesting character is the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo – now the prince of the First Order. Professing allegiance to his grandfather, Darth Vader, Ben Solo seeks to grow his power and suppress his confused feelings of love or compassion. The ultimate test for this young Jedi is to sacrifice what is most dear to him, to prove power and vengeance are most justified.

This point of tension, reverses the narrative motif of The Empire Strikes Back. No longer murderous parent – we see the inverse – murderous son.

His journey is an ultimately human one, feeling betrayal he seeks to free himself to greatness by removing the father who disappointed him. The nuance of the Dark side of the force here is sharpened.

No longer do we see the dark side to be pure hate, fear, vengeance or lust for power, as established by the Anakin / Darth Vader story. No,  now it portrayed as a necessary and justified path to self fulfilment. 

Very Nietzschean.

Interestingly the German philosopher Frierich Neitzsche’s ‘will to power’ was the bedrock and foundation of much of Hitler’s Nazi philosophy.

It will be interesting to see where the Ben Solo journey takes us in coming instalments and how the epic and mythic narrative types are deepened and extended.

 

 

 

 

A Wrinkle In Time

Madeline L’Engle’s novel “A Wrinkle in Time” [1963] combines physics and metaphysics into an engaging science fiction fantasy novel for young adults.

13 year old Meg Murry is a bit out of sorts with her life, misunderstood by teachers and classmates and not as gifted as her athletic twin brothers Sandy and Dennys. Her father, a brilliant physicist, has disappeared a year earlier without a trace, leaving her beautiful and clever scientist mother and happy family with unresolved grief and questions.

Meg’s five year old brother Charles Wallace, a child prodigy, is her only kindred spirit and companion amid all the confusion of her teen existence.

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One dark and stormy night, Meg, Charles Wallace and their mother, are visited by their curious neighbour Mrs Whatsit. The eccentric old tramp mysteriously mentions,

there is such a thing as a tesseract…

…nearly making Mrs Murry faint. She reveals that it was their father’s life mission to discover the tesseract and he was close to making a breakthrough when he mysteriously disappeared. The revelation launches Meg and Charles Wallace on an adventure to find their father.

With the help of Meg’s high school friend Calvin, they track Mrs Whatsit to her ramshackle house in the woods where they discover her two equally mysterious and eccentric friends, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. These women transport the three children through a tesseract, a fifth dimension fold in the fabric of space-time, to the planet Camazotz where Meg’s father is held captive by “The Black Thing”.

Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace discover the universe is threatened by “IT”, an evil presence which already partially has a grip on planet earth. “The Black Thing” or “IT” controls minds and enslaves all living beings, removing all freedom, joy, creativity and love.

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Charles Wallace seeks to counter “IT” with his intellect but succumbs to its mind-controlling powers. It is only Meg who discovers that she is in possession of the one thing “IT” does not have – love.

The novel is a classic in teen and young adult fiction, placing the cosmic battle of good and evil into the hands of children. Meg realises that parents cannot always solve things, and sometimes kids can solve problems themselves.

Originally despondent she did not have the genius intellect of Charles Wallace or the athletic good nature of her brothers, Meg realises she is in possession of the most powerful force in the universe to counteract evil – love.

 

A Brave New World

Brave New World [1932], by Aldous Huxley is a dystopian novel set in futuristic London. On our calendar it would be AD 2540.

The story opens in the year 632 A.F.—”Anno Ford” or rather 632 years since the year of the first Model T production. This future world is founded entirely on “Fordian” methods of mass production and consumption.

The events transpire in The World State, a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers over a stable global society.

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It is to all appearances a successful world in which everyone appears to be content and satisfied. It is a world of advanced technology and science, peaceful and stable. However, upon closer inspection, this stability is only achieved by sacrificing freedom in its true sense. Progressive efforts to eliminate any sorrow or disharmony have also eradicated any individual identity or responsibility.

We are introduced to Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, members of the Alpha caste. They both work within the Hatcheries where human embryos are raised artificially. Bernard oversees the hypnopaedic process, a system of subconscious messaging to form growing children’s self-image.

Children are bred to fit into ranked castes with Greek letter names, from Alpha (the highest) to Epsilon (the lowest) each with different economic roles. The lower castes are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think but the more intelligent upper castes are socially conditioned by taboos.

Art and culture has ceased to exist, literature is banned as subversive, as is scientific thinking and experimentation.

Shallow and hedonistic lifestyles are promoted; recreational sex rather than emotional ties are celebrated. Any pain is reduced by the freely accessible hallucinogenic drug soma. Moreover, to maintain the World State’s economy, citizens are conditioned to promote consumption and hence production, reciting platitudes such as “spending is better than mending

 

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Bernard disapproves of society and is vocal about his differences and he is threatened with exile because of his nonconformity. On an outing to a Savage reservation outside of civilisation, he encounters Linda, a woman who has a biological son John. She had become pregnant by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, a societal taboo which leads her to hide away with shame.

Linda has taught John to read, although from only two books: a scientific manual from her job in the hatchery, and a Collected Works of Shakespeare. John, naive to the world, can only expound his feelings in terms of Shakespearean drama.

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It is John’s desire to see the “brave new world” which inspires Bernard to take them to the Director of Hatcheries. Presenting him with his unknown son and past lover, Bernard humiliates the Director who resigns in shame.

Bernard and John are then brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident “World Controller for Western Europe”. They are told they are to be punished for antisocial activity.

Mond outlines to them the events that led to the present society and his arguments for a caste system and social control. While Mond’s words are designed to convince,  John rejects them and Mond sums up the dilemma by stating that in demanding freedom, John demands “the right to be unhappy“.

John concurs.

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Huxley said that Brave New World was inspired in reaction to the utopian novels of H. G. Wells, especially, A Modern Utopia (1905).  He rejected the enlightenment view that science and technology would progress society only onward and upward. Having lived through the First World War and observing concerning trends in his own industrial and modernist society, he posits a futuristic society grounded in these elements.

The prognosis is grim.

Huxley uses the irony in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, to make his point. He cites the passage in which Miranda exclaims:

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206

 

The excerpt is drawn from when Miranda, like John raised in isolation, sees other people for the first time, is overcome with excitement and utters the famous line above. However, what she is actually observing is representatives of the worst of humanity, traitors and manipulators.

Like other dystopian novels such as “The Giver” or “1984,” Huxley’s novel explores the relationship between advances in technology and the [in]credibility of creating a utopian society. He highlights concerns for the direction of his own society and hypothesises about the the controls necessary to manufacture a world without pain and suffering.

Freedom, individuality, relational ties, the arts, the ability to question. All of these are linked to feeling pain and suffering. Perhaps the “right to be unhappy” as John, steeped in Shakespeare, realises,  is the greatest freedom we humans have?

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