Why we need tragedy

Having recently absorbed a whole season of Netflix-original Bloodline, that’s 13 hours of television viewing in the space of a few weeks, I have been impressed upon by, not only the marvel of on-demand long-form drama, but also the importance of the genre of tragedy.

Bloodline is thriller-drama based around several generations of the Rayburn family. It focuses on the return of black-sheep Danny, to the Rayburn home in Florida Keys on the occasion of the 45th wedding anniversary of his parents. Several decades of lies and family secrets are slowly uncovered, leading to greater and greater treachery and ultimately, tragedy.

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Percy Shelley in his essay, “A Defense of Poetry” famously stated,

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

Tragedy is an interesting example of such legislation, as the catharsis it offers is often a reaffirmation of just desserts for hubris. Protagonists of tragedy rarely emerge unscathed, and if they do their lessons are sorely learned.

A theme of Bear Skin is how the hard stuff of life such as conflict, tension, pain, sorrow, and misunderstandings can be redeemed through story. Story tellers combine these raw elements with a character journey and use the readers inherent sense of justice to create a crescendo of crisis.

Resolution then occurs through catharsis or emotional release, often through the payoff required by justice. If our protagonist is not, as it were, caught by conventional justice or punished for their crimes, they often suffer worse through pain, guilt, trauma or an ever increasing slide into self compromise.

Why tragedy then? Why do we or anyone want stories about people suffering? Tolstoy, Shakespeare and the Greek playwrights old all knew the power of tragic narrative.

tragedy

Tragedy presents us with a protagonist full of foibles, flaws, human faults, and vices. The audience is invited to both empathise with the protagonist, but also to judge with the objectivity of a third party observer.

By creating a degree of separation, the story-teller can lead the audience through the experience of cleansing punishment experienced by the protagonist or the key players, and to process internal behaviour change, without deep self-mortification.

Tragedy is in many cases, salvation, for it is another who suffers for our sins. We observe the evils, the justified motives, the small steps which lead to a crime – and while we can empathise with their journey, and we suffer with them, we are reborn to live anew.

Anna Karenina

Waking as from a dream, we return to life, granted a second chance, the chance to live a better, wiser, more integrated life.

Bear Skin goes to New Zealand

Hello all from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Jennifer from Bear Skin,  this week week has been fortunate enough to have had some time travelling around the South Island of New Zealand with her best mate Tamlyn. As a Tokein fan, this trip is exciting beyond words.

Mountains, snow, white water rivers, gorges, mysterious forrests, wide plains – New Zealand has it all.

I fully recommend any lover of literature and story to travel to the scenes of stories they love and re-imagine it all again.

Why archaeologists?

In Science fiction and fantasy there is an abundance of scientific professionals such as archaeologists, journalists, detetectives and doctors who end up on quests in strange realms, seeking talismans of great power or significance, and encountering strange and mythical creatures and tests. My childhood favourite was Tin Tin, who always managed to run into some mystery and follow it through to its mysterious end.

tintin

The more I read, and the more I read “about reading”, the more I discover something called the “hero journey”. This ‘hero journey’ accounts for common features between stories, such as:

  1. An ordinary person, selected for a quest. Sometimes unwillingly, due to birth right or a prophecy.
  2. The leaving of home or the realm of the familar.
  3. Encounter with mythical creatures, tests and trials.
  4. Characters who come along at the right time as “helpers” to aid the hero.
  5. Hero battles creatures and overcomes trials and tests through courage and wit, often this requires great self sacrifice.
  6. Return home of hero to the realm of the familar  but forever changed inside.

In the case of the archaeologist/ scientist, it seems that the curiousity of the individual and their passion for knowledge leads them into a hero quest, often a treasure hunt. Their scientific nature gives them a firm footing in our current familiar world, making them believable as they journey through mythical realms. They stand as though the bridge for us between two worlds, the real world and the mythical dream world which we cannot reach ourselves.

They become our avatar into dreams.

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The tougher, the more sceptical and scientific they are, they more we can trust them and allow them to guide us into the dream world, knowing that they will be able to discern the tests that await and bring us home.