Momo

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.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit

First published in 1922, by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children’s tale, often rated as one of the Top 100 Books for Children.

It is a simply tale, of a toy rabbit who dreams of becoming ‘real’. Made of velvet corduroy fabric, the velveteen rabbit is given to a young boy for Christmas. Initially overlooked by the boy, the Velveteen Rabbit hears from one of the oldest nursery toys, the old Skin Horse, that toys can become real due to the love of their child. To the Velveteen Rabbit his chances of becoming real are slim.

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One night, the boys Nana gives the rabbit to him at bedtime, and soon he becomes the boy’s favourite, accompanying him on picnics and outings. At one summer picnic, the Velveteen Rabbit encounters some real rabbits who point out he cannot hop and so is not ‘real’.

When the boy falls ill with Scarlet Fever, the doctor orders him away to the seaside and all his toys and books burnt. The Velveteen Rabbit, shabby and old,  is taken out in a sack to the garden where he sadly remembers his life with the boy. Here he meets a Nursery Magic Fairy who grants him a kiss.

The following spring, the boy is visited by a rabbit who reminds him of his old toy, the Velveteen Rabbit.

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A precursor of the very popular “Toy Story” franchise, this story inhabits the world of a child’s imagination, the realm of their nursery and the toys who live there and are active when the lights turn off.

Moreover, it explores the life of these imaginations and whether they take a life of their own, due to being loved.  Not unlike the story of Pinocchio, it examines the journey of a toy, to become “real”, a journey for which Pinocchio must follow the character arc of a “heroic quest” to become reborn as a “real boy”.

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Either way, these stories illustrate human existential questions. What is beyond this mortal coil? Are we but toys in a grand play room, to become moth eaten and discarded?

If we love and are truly loved, must there be something beyond, a greater “reality” to which be belong- something that lives on because of love?

 

The Revenant: A Tale of Revenge

revenant

ˈrɛv(ə)nənt/
noun
noun: revenant; plural noun: revenants
  1. a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.
    “he was three hundred years old, a terrible living revenant”
 Leonardo Di Caprio is Oscar nominated for Best Actor at this years Academy Awards for his role in The Revenant. He plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and frontiersman who endures great physical hardships in the Montana wilderness of the 1820s.
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The film is based on the true story of Glass, who endured a mauling by a she-bear and abandoned by his companions,  survived quite miraculously to cover several hundred kilometers of harsh wilderness and return to the nearest settlement.
The story has been retold in many forms, mostly examining what incredible fortitude was required to not only survive the ordeal but to cover so much territory alone.  Upon arrival Glass, sought out his two companions, the ones who left him for dead, and promptly forgave them.
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Versions of the story including this film explore the nuances of Glass’s journey and what motivated him – primarily a quest for justice. In this case – revenge.
The film is set against the backdrop of a warring Indigenous group the Arikara, a benevolent tribe the Pawnee, bloodthirsty French, British and American fur traders and the harsh North American winter.
It flips Hollywood stereotypes of whiteman vs Indian, showing up the wickedness and bloodlust of both sides, each with their own complex motives for revenge. Most significantly it draws on a lesser known detail of Glass’s life, that he married a Pawnee woman and had a child by her.
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Revenge is so closely tied to love. One cannot simply rest when one we love is killed or hurt. In a world without justice, one man is left to seek it anyway he can find it.  The justice of the tale then is the harsh wilderness they inhabit.The Indigenous people have their own rough justice and honor system. Amongst it all, Glass is one man, who both loves deeply and endures, in an herculean effort to return to face the man who did him wrong.
Revenge is a dish better served cold is perhaps the phrase to underscore the film. The Revenant is an epic tragedy with great performances. Not for squeamish or the faint of heart.

Why Vampires?

A recent discussion with a friend about relationships revealed he was a shameless cad until he met his current wife. Prior to meeting her, he had made plots to sleep with every girl in his department – and he had made good efforts to do so.

Why the change from shameless playboy to monogamous husband?

LOVE. He fell in love. She tamed him, he was willing to settle down. She was enough for him.

Such a discussion illuminates an interesting psychology that complicates the game of love. Of course, novels and stories such as the Twilight Saga, gain traction from the vampire motif to embody this tension.

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It seems exciting and energising to a woman to be the maddening object of desire to an otherwise animalian appetite. Despite protestations of being lusted after, cat called or stared at, women love to be desired. The more powerful the pursuer, the more energising the feeling of being desired.

However, what peaks the romantic tension for her is that his LOVE for her transcends his lust for her flesh but forever, their liaison is one of slight danger in which her “being enough” is the means to hold the full brute force of his animal self at bay. Of course erotica spin offs such as 50 Shades take the danger, violence and sexualisation of Twilight in more explicit direction. But nevertheless the motifs remain.

This is alarming because of course the upshot of discussions around violence against women can tend to slide to female fault. She no longer was enough for him and so he strayed. OR she placed herself in danger of an otherwise untameable force. Protective voices warn women and girls, without addressing the perpetrators, who are after all seemingly acting out of their nature

The prevalence of partner and sexually related violence shows the dark side of these fantasies. The transformative power of attraction and desire can soon wear thin, leaving an unfettered animal instinct and two hungry souls to tear at each others flesh and emotions.

 

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Danger occurs when anyone believes they deserve negligence, violence or exploitation in ANY context.

Love narratives are powerful at showing how redemption can channel and transform unfettered forces into life giving dedication, self giving and sacrifice. However, the converse is not true. The belief that anyone be motivated to maintain the welfare of the other purely by the value or allure of that person holds,  is sorely misguided.

Indeed to be a fully actualised human, male or female, is to realise the power we have over others. This coupled with a full understanding of  the intrinsic value of all others despite our perception of this value should inform our default inter-relationships.

The true supernatural power of being human, is to build and sustain life giving relationships with a range of people despite their utility. Whether we be vampire or not, the role others is not to transform or redeem our baser desires. This transformation must occur first and from which all relationships can flow.

That transformation comes from a greater love story.