Saturday, 24 November 2007

Introducing Two Sides BookBlogs: 1: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Life has got a little crazy lately, and despite having several blessays (to use Stephen Fry’s wonderful term) in progress for Two Sides, I haven’t had much chance to work on them recently. In the meantime though, I’ve come up with an idea which can hopefully keep my hand in on all things Two Sides in a more casual way – bookblog posts, where basically I waffle for a bit about a particular book, kind of part review, part rough-and-ready blessay. And what better book to kick off with than the one for which this blog is named: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.

She found her mind dwelling on Nowhere, as she and Tom used to imagine
it. You slipped between Here and Now to the hidden Now and Here.

Fire and Hemlock tells the story of Polly Whittacker and her strange entanglement with faerie and a man marked by its queen for ritual sacrifice. It begins with the nineteen-year-old Polly packing to return to university, and coming across a book she had almost forgotten. Reading it sets off a Proustian rush of memories of strange events which had seemingly been cut out of her mind. They tell the story of her relationship with a man, Tom Lynn, whom she met at a funeral at the big house near her grandmother's which she accidentally gatecrashed when she was ten. He asked her to help him pick six pictures, his bequest in the will, and then takes her home to her Grandmother. Unbeknownst to him, Polly mixed up the pictures so that Tom selected six he was not supposed to have, including a large photograph, called Fire and Hemlock, which he then gives to Polly. Over the next few years Polly and Tom develop a strong friendship and create heroic alter-egos, telling each other stories of their exploits. This make-believe subsequently expands to include three friends of Tom's, with whom he forms a string quartet. However, as time goes on, strange and supernatural events start to happen, all of which bear a strange resemblence to stories Tom and Polly have told each other, and to the pictures that they picked at the funeral, and they are increasingly threatened by the denizens of Hunsdon House, Laurel, Morton Leroy and his son Seb. Eventually, frustrated at not understanding what's really going on, and at Tom's increasing distance, Polly conducts a piece of magical spying, which allows Laurel to lay an enchantment on her, removing Tom and everything connected with him from her memories. Four years later though, the memories return, just in time for Polly to save Tom from his fate.

Diana Wynne Jones wrote Fire and Hemlock 'out of a desire to have a real female hero'[1], and 'to write a book in which modern life and heroic mythical events approached one another so closely that they were nearly impossible to separate'[1]. One of my earlier posts here discussed how Fire and Hemlock is a reworking of the traditional ballad of Tam Lin, but as Diana Wynne Jones pointed out herself in her essay on the writing process of Fire and Hemlock ('The Heroic Ideal - a personal Odyssey', published in v.13:no.1 of The Lion and the Unicorn, June 1989, see the bottom of this post for links), the mythic underpinnings are much more various. Along with Tam Lin, Jones combines another old ballad, that of Thomas the Rhymer, who is also stolen away by the Queen of the Fairies, and it is from this ballad that the conceit of Tom and Polly's 'gift' (that of things they make up coming true and then turning round and hitting them) comes. Quotations from both ballads head up each chapter, and Polly has to read them in order to find out what's going on and what she has to do (along with other traditional tales using the fairy lover motif, such as East of the Sun and West of the Moon), for fundamentally, Fire and Hemlock is built on this motif. Tom was seduced by the Queen of the Fairies, Laurel, as a young man, and stolen away from the real world. Polly, as his mortal lover, has to free him from her clutches in order to win his life back for him. The other two main myths underpinning the story are the Odyssey and Cupid and Psyche, both of which also cover fairy lover ground - in the Odyssey Odysseus has to free himself from Circe to return home to Penelope (among other things!), and of course Psyche is the mortal lover of the otherworldly Cupid (to whom Tom Lynn's resemblance might not seem all that obvious, but as Jones pointed out to her editor: 'who is mostly blind and goes to work with a bow?'[1]). Overlaying the whole thing are reflections and echoes of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which 'combines static meditation with movement in an extraordinary way, to become a quest of the mind away from the Nothing of spiritual death (Hemlock), towards the Fire which is imagination and redemption - the Nowhere.'[1]. And finally, the allusions and references are bolstered by the literary quest that Tom sends Polly on, trying to tell her in the only way he can what is happening, anchoring their story in a long literary and mythic tradition - The Golden Bough and The Three Musketeers being the two most prominent examples.

Fire and Hemlock is therefore a complex, multi-layered work, the kind of book which reveals more and more of itself with each subsequent reading. But it also works on the surface as a coming-of-age novel, following Polly through her troubled adolescence, and as a love story, as Polly finds Tom again as an adult, now with the maturity to understand him and to love him (in contrast to the possessive love shown by Laurel and by Polly's own mother, which can never lead to happiness). The real achievement of this book is the blending of the layers and the realism of each - the descriptions of Polly's everyday life merge seamlessly with the supernatural events, and both feel equally vivid to the reader. There are no clear boundaries between the different realities, Here Now, Now Here and Nowhere, showing, as Jones intended, how close the heroic is to the everyday, but also lending the whole book an air of uncertainty, of surreality, where anything is possible, but still follows its own distinct logic.

Fire and Hemlock satisfies on both an intellectual and emotional level, and it precisely because of this that it has long been my favourite book - it resonates with my soul and it appeals to my mind. I love intertextuality, mythology, transformations of traditional tales, and Fire and Hemlock has all of this in abundance. But I also love the idea of faerie, co-existing with the reality we know and bleeding through - I love tales of crossing boundaries, ever since I first went through the wardrobe into Narnia. I identify with Polly very strongly - as a child she lives almost more in her imagination than in real life, just as I did. And I'll admit it, I'm desperately in love with Tom. My relationship with this book parallels Polly's story uncannily. I first read it when I was about 12 or 13, and liked it, but didn't fully understand it. I then came across it accidentally when packing to return to university, believe it or not, started reading and fell in love with it. It wasn't until I was an adult that it really spoke to me. People talk about the book, the one which sums up your entire world view, encapsulates the way you think, and cliched as it may sound, for me, Fire and Hemlock is that book.

[1] Diana Wynne Jones, ‘The heroic ideal – a personal Odyssey’, The Lion and the Unicorn, v.13:no.1 (June 1989)

Edit to add: I've found The Heroic Ideal online - 7 gif files at the following URLs. Enjoy!

Sunday, 26 August 2007

The boy who lived, and died: Thoughts on Harry Potter post Deathly Hallows

Now we finally know everything (or almost), I thought I’d follow up my pre-publication post about my thoughts on what was still to come in Harry’s story with a post-publication one, looking back at what I’d guessed, what I missed, and musings on how it all turned out.

WARNING for anyone who still hasn’t finished it – SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Vindicated! But strangely even more tragic than I thought it would be. I was always a fully paid-up member of the ‘Snape is Good’ camp – it just made no sense for him to turn out to be bad – but I have to admit there were points in the Deathly Hallows when I began to get a bit worried… particularly as it was getting nearer and nearer the end and there was no sign of him redeeming himself. I had thought that perhaps he’d get some kind of redemptive death scene, but JK Rowling denied him that, having his redemption come posthumously, and through Harry. The theory about Snape being in love with Lily had wide currency and a lot of supporters before the book came out, and I have to admit I never really bought into it fully. I was convinced that there had to be something more complicated and Voldemort-related, mostly because I wanted to know why Snape had a get-out-of-jail-free card where Voldemort was concerned. But I guess it just wasn’t that complicated after all – he just was a superb occlumens, and was fortunate that the reason he turned against Voldemort was the one thing Voldemort didn’t understand. It is neat that Snape loved Lily though, and having his patronus mimic hers was a nice touch – I think only that could have convinced Harry. The depth of Snape’s love for Lily was much greater and more affecting than I would have expected when thinking about the idea before reading the book, and I’m guessing this was the thing about the importance of Harry having his mother’s eyes – just looking at Harry every day must have been torture for Snape, seeing in him the woman he loved and the man who he hated combined in one person. No wonder he couldn’t bring himself to be nice to him but couldn’t do anything other than protect him. I ended up feeling very sorry for Snape, and I hope that wherever he is in the wizarding afterlife he knows that eventually he was vindicated – it seemed so harsh to watch him killed in that cruel and negligent way by Voldemort, not knowing how it was all going to end and whether everyone would ever know the truth about him. Quite what he would think about Harry naming his son after him though I’m not sure! It made me tear up a little I have to say.

Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows
There wasn’t actually that much in the way of revelation about the Horcruxes in Deathly Hallows – turns out Dumbledore had worked it out all along along with everything else. The only new revelation was what I thought it would be – Harry did turn out to be a Horcrux, if an unintentional one, exactly as speculated. Really it had to be, there was no way to explain his connection to Voldemort and the wording of the prophecy otherwise. So the major question became how Harry would be able to survive in that case – the only way to destroy a Horcrux being to destroy the object in which the fragment of soul is contained, and destroy it beyond all possible repair. And this is where the Deathly Hallows come in. No wonder no-one guessed what they were – all the speculation about Grail mythology and legacies of the four Hogwarts founders was based on pre-existing information and real-world knowledge. It wasn’t until Hermione read us the Tale of the Three Brothers that exactly what they were became clear, although it took the rest of the book for Harry to find out that he had them all already. And to realise that once he had them he was able to defeat Voldemort once and for all, by allowing himself to be killed and accepting death in order to destroy the fragment of soul within him, but then choosing to return and live the rest of his life free of the shadow of Voldemort, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Very neat. In fact the ending, with its impeccable logic but also that ‘huh?’ quality, is very reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, who is the master of tying her characters up into situations from which there seems no escape, but then pulling one tiny little string of logic and unravelling the whole thing with such breathtaking rapidity that you’re left blinking in the sudden re-emergence of the light. It’s satisfying emotionally but also intellectually, and as that has been characteristic of the whole Harry Potter series, it’s good that the ending befits it in this way. And also that the key to the whole thing was found in a fairy tale, reminding me yet again of that favourite quote of mine from G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated.”

Dumbledore’s past and Grindelwald
We knew there was a lot to be found out about this, and indeed there was, but it was nothing like anyone expected. The cleverest thing I think about all the revelations about Dumbledore’s past is the very fact of them – it’s quite an undermining of the archetype of the Wise Old Man to forefront his youthful misguided beliefs, attitude, associations and of course his mistakes, so strongly and at such a late stage. Despite the fact Dumbledore himself insisted on telling Harry (and us) in no uncertain terms that he was fallible, the archetype was so strongly portrayed through him that we almost never believed it. And in terms of the story itself of course, Dumbledore was right all along, and did appear to be almost omniscient and omnipotent. So to be forced to reconcile that with a younger Dumbledore, imbued with the arrogance of precocious genius, is a lot to ask, especially when the archetypal aspect of almost every character in Harry’s world is so strong and unwavering. However, when we reach the crucial part right at the end, when Harry is completing his heroic journey, who should turn up to be his final guide, but his Wise Old Man, back in his archetypal role but strengthened somehow by the new knowledge of him that Harry (and we) have gained.

Final thoughts…

  • I loved the Taboo on Voldemort’s name – I always wondered why this was never the case before, as it’s such a traditional concept and the framework was already there (You-Know-Who, He Who Must Not Be Named). So to see that brought into play at last was very satisfying.
  • I wish we could have seen some further reconciliation with the Dursleys – it was hinted at with Dudley’s softening towards Harry and with the information about Petunia’s jealousy, but a part of me would really have liked to see that developed further later in the book. I guess it’s not so crucial to the story though so there wasn’t room.
  • I was delighted to see Neville get to kill Nagini and share a bit in the glory, since he was so close to being Harry Potter in the first place. In fact, Neville’s story and future has one of the most satisfying endings of all!
  • It’s a shame though that Rowena Ravenclaw’s object wasn’t a wand or similar to fit all the better with the Grail symbols of the other three founders – the stone, cup and sword, but perhaps this is an instance of trying to fit things to a theory they just aren’t concerned with. Would have been nice and neat though.

Overall it was just a hugely satisfying end to the story, with all the loose ends tied up (it was a joy to see so many objects and characters coming back and playing their part) and to see Harry’s heroic journey brought to the conclusion which it always had to have. I think, looking back on the speculation between the publication of books six and seven, we all knew how the story had to end, just not quite how it would get there. And there was a delicious tension because until we read the final book, we couldn’t be certain that it would end the way it should. JK Rowling never deviated from conventional narrative patterns at any point, so there was no reason to think she would, but that didn’t stop the tension of the ongoing story gnawing away at you until you reached the conclusion and could satisfy your appetite for the ‘right’ ending. Now we have that, and we can all happily speculate about the long and happy futures for the One Big Weasley Family and assorted minor characters who survived the war. All is well.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Putting the family back together: the archetypal family in Battlestar Galactica

In Christopher Booker's work The Seven Basic Plots, he discusses the idea of an archetypal family unit at the centre of all stories. This family unit comprises the hero or heroine, a father-figure, a mother-figure and an other half, and shows the cycle of human life and regeneration. Each child is born into a family unit with a mother and father, and as they grow up they negotiate the expectations and conflicts that these primary bonds produce, so that one day they can find their own other half and eventually have a child of their own to start the next generation and continue the cycle. These are essentially familial versions of the Jungian archetypes known as the Wise Old Man and the Great Mother, along with the Hero/Self and the anima/animus. It struck me while reading this that the core 'family unit' in the new version of Battlestar Galactica (Bill Adama, Laura Roslin, Lee Adama and Kara Thrace) epitomises this archetypal structure perfectly, and that the stresses and strains of adhering to or diverging from the drive towards the archetypal aim shapes much of the action throughout the series as a whole. In this essay I would like to analyse each of the four main characters who make up Battlestar Galactica's core family unit, and their relationships to one another, to show the effect of their internal, familial, archetypal struggle on the wider family of the Fleet as a whole.

Bill Adama is the father-figure, the Wise Old Man of the Fleet. He is left as military leader by default after the Cylon destruction of the Colonies, as his Battlestar (which was on the verge of being decommissioned) is the only one to survive. He functions as a symbolic father to the Battlestar crew (who refer to him as 'the Old Man') and the fleet as a whole. He is also a literal father to his son, Lee 'Apollo' Adama, and a pseudo-father to Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace, who was engaged to his other son, Zak, before he was killed in a flying accident. Lee and Kara both function interchangeably as Hero and Other Half in this analysis, or rather they could more usefully be described as Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine. They are both clearly heroic characters, gifted Viper pilots and natural leaders. In addition, Kara is repeatedly shown to have a special destiny, revealed at the end of season three to be to lead the fleet to Earth, and Lee himself has carved out a particular role as the voice of moral conscience, as shown most clearly with his speech at the trial of Gaius Baltar (both Crossroads Part II). The final member of the core family unit is Laura Roslin, sworn in as President after the destruction of the Colonies and the civilian counterpart to Bill. Her role is less explicitly defined in terms of a 'mother' than Bill's as 'father', but she has a strong spiritual aspect which has often traditionally been equated with mother figures (Mother Earth, for example), and it could be argued that with her former roles as first a teacher, then as Secretary for Education, she is often defined in terms of her nuturing relationship with children. She believes her role is to guide the Fleet to the legendary home of the Thirteenth Colony of Kobol, Earth, and as such she is fulfilling the role of the Dying Leader from the religious Book of Pythia.

Bill's relationship with his son begins coldly, as at the point of the mini-series they have been estranged for two years following Zak's death. It is shown quite clearly that this is mainly because of Lee's feelings towards his father, not the other way around, and it is notable that Kara (who was actually partially responsible for Zak's death, not Bill as Lee thinks) has a good relationship with Bill from the start. She almost luxuriates in this in fact, like an indulged daughter who can misbehave all she likes because she knows her father will forgive her, as witness her run-in with Colonel Tigh in the mini-series. This makes it all the more powerful when she confesses what really happened with Zak to Bill, after having previously told Lee in an attempt to heal his rift with his father (Act of Contrition). It appears Bill is not going to forgive Kara, and it hits her extremely hard. She subsequently gets stranded on a moon after her Viper crashes, and the strength of Bill's real feelings for her are displayed in the way he risks the entire Fleet and uses up valuable resources desperately trying to find her (You can't go home again). It's notable that this is also what brings home to Lee quite how much his father does love him and heals their initial rift, with Bill telling him 'If it was you down there, we'd never leave.' (You can't go home again). However the relationship between the Adamas is still the more tempestuous, characterised throughout the series with periodic estrangements and reconciliations, more so than Bill and Kara's relationship. This reflects how a key part of the 'archetypal family drama' (Booker, p.289) is the struggle of the Hero to step out of the shadow of his Father and eventually supplant him* (Booker also comments on how often this drama is couched in terms of royalty, with the ultimate aim for the Prince being to become a King in his own right like his father**). But Kara too needs to grow up and become her own person, free of dependence on the indulgence of her 'father', and this results in her conflicts with Bill. Confessing her part in Zak's death is an important step in this, as is her decision go against Bill's orders and jump back to Caprica with the captured Cylon Raider to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo (Kobol's Last Gleaming). Overall, both Lee and Kara mature significantly throughout the series from their personas as first introduced in the mini-series, where both come across as a bit arrogant and not entirely likeable, and this can be seen as the portrayal of their personal journeys to adulthood within the context of the archetypal family. By the end of season three both have become strong, mature characters in their own right, capable of making difficult decisions and standing up for what they believe in (Maelstrom, Crossroads).

Laura's relationships with Lee and Kara differ from Bill's with their lack of emotional baggage from the past. Laura has no relationship with either of them prior to the mini-series and the events of the Destruction of the Twelve Colonies so these characters are starting afresh within the context of the new world the survivors find themselves in. Laura's relationship with Lee develops quickly as the two are thrown together in the immediate aftermath of the attack - Lee is with Laura as she is sworn in as the new President and the two embark together on a programme of locating and rounding up surviving Colonial ships (Mini-Series). She quickly offers him a position as an advisor (Water) and affectionately refers to him as Captain Apollo. He therefore becomes one of her inner circle, and she relies on his knowledge and judgement. It could be argued therefore that Laura's relationship with Lee is very much a nurturing one, as she builds his self-confidence (which his own doubts from his difficult relationship with his father have marred) and helps him mature into his own leadership role later in the series. She trusts him completely from the start, as is shown time and time again, for example, him being in charge of her security on Cloud Nine (Colonial Day), and after their escape from Galactica's brig following Adama's military coup (which Lee opposed, again displaying the strength of his moral compass) (Kobol's Last Gleaming through to Home, part II). Laura's acting as a mother-figure in this way is very positive for the younger Adama in the early part of the series, but, in keeping with the terms of the archetypal family drama, would become unhealthy if allowed to continue unchecked, and so later on in the series Lee starts to break away from Laura, becoming less closely involved with her faction. Nonetheless, she still trusts him enough to want him to oversee Baltar's trial, and is shocked and disappointed when he seemingly betrays her in his subsequent actions, defending Baltar and revealing the return of her cancer publicly. We do not yet know how this will affect their relationship long-term, but in this reading is a clear indication of Lee's breaking away from the maternal relationship just as he has done from his father, asserting himself as a vital part of the hero's journey within the archetypal family.

The relationship betwen Laura and Kara is the least firmly established among this quartet at first glance, however from early on Laura displays a great deal of trust in Kara. This is first shown when Laura chooses Kara to go and interrogate a copy of the Cylon model known as Leoben Conoy when he is found on another ship within the Fleet (Flesh and Bone), however, other than this, they have little to do with each other until Kara's injured knee (sustained when she crashed on the moon in Act of Contrition) throws them together in observing the Battle for the Tylium Asteroid from Galactica (The Hand of God). When Lee successfully pulls the mission off, Kara impulsively hugs Laura, a surprising gesture but one which clearly impresses itself on the President. But the significant development in their relationship comes at the end of season one, when Laura convinces Kara to steal the captured Cylon Raider and jump back to Caprica to retrieve the Arrow of Apollo, which according to the Book of Pythia will show them the way to Earth if it is brought to the Tomb of Athena on Kobol (Kobol's Last Gleaming, Home). Laura achieves this by appealing to Kara's religious side and convincing her of her role as foretold in scripture, and Kara is sufficiently religious (although she keeps this a private matter) to defy her father-figure and do so. This is the only time Kara explicitly chooses the Mother over the Father, but it is not the only time she chooses the spiritual option, which of course is an aspect strongly associated with Laura and the Mother, for example the events of Maelstrom, which lead to Kara's 'death'. The points of identification between these two characters (Mother and Daughter-Hero) therefore run deeper than the explicit terms of their relationship would suggest - they are perhaps the two most spiritual of the main human (at least, so far!) characters. Both have a 'special destiny' in terms of the Fleet's survival and quest for Earth - by the end of season three both have explicitly referred to themselves as responsible for leading the survivors there, Laura repeatedly in her identification with the 'Dying Leader' of the Book of Pythia, and Kara when she reappears at the very end of the season, telling Lee 'I've been to Earth. I know the way. I'm going to take us there.' (Crossroads, part II). If Laura does die of her cancer before they get to Earth, as the Book of Pythia prophesises, then Kara has already been set up as her successor in this way, Daughter-Hero succeeding Mother, Princess becoming Queen. In addition, Laura's actions with regard to Kara can be seen as nurturing her also towards her destiny - Laura picks Kara of all people to interrogate Leoben Conoy, exposing her for the first time to her 'special destiny' (Flesh and Bone).

The parent-child relationships within this 'family' are therefore consistent with those described by Booker, with the child characters striving to become adults in the image but independent of their parents. Booker makes much of the psychological reasoning for this, with the archetypal family drama reflecting every child's own maturing process, learning from the example of their parents to become a full adult, find their 'other half' and continue the process by becoming the parents for the next generation. I will examine this last stage (finding the 'other half') later with regard to Lee and Kara, but it seems appropriate to first examine the relationship between the parent-figures, Bill and Laura.

As with Lee and Kara, Laura's relationship with Bill starts off as a clean slate. They have no prior relationship and are merely thrown together by the events of the Destruction of the Colonies. At first, it is safe to say, they do not see eye-to-eye. Their interests and background are completely at odds with one another and they begin with a substantial disagreement - Bill wants to stay and continue to fight the Cylons, Laura wants to gather the survivors and flee, in order to try and ensure the survival of the human race. They therefore begin with a fairly conventional male-female conflict. Bill's attitude is conventionally masculine, wanting to fight, kill, get revenge. Laura is more interested with the more feminine idea of preserving life, even to the point of telling Bill flatly that they need to 'start having babies' (Mini-series). Bill is initially contemptuous of this idea, but her words had an effect and by the end of the mini-series she has swayed him to her point of view. It is at this point that Bill takes on the role of Father to the fleet as a whole, rather than just to his son, pseudo-daughter, and crew. This is consistent with one of the functions of the ideal 'other half', to 'tame' the excessive masculine and help the Hero realise his inner feminine, so as to become a balanced individual. Likewise Laura herself has to learn to accommodate her inner masculine as she grows into her leadership role as President of the Colonies, and it is shown that Bill's support helps her with this as they establish the boundaries of their authority as civilian and military leaders respectively. Both Bill and Laura therefore have to reach a state of equilibrium, both within themselves and with each other (and do so fairly quickly) in order to assume the roles and function effectively as Father and Mother to the microcosm of their archetypal family and the macrocosm of the Fleet. Once they have achieved their equilibrium, their personal relationship can begin to develop, adding an emotional bond which strengthens their parental relationship. Conflict leads to a respectful balance, which leads to friendship and eventually something deeper - Bill and Laura begin to rely on each other emotionally (most clearly shown in the episodes surrounding Laura's degeneration and cure from her cancer in season two) and the possibility of a romantic relationship is clearly hinted at but not (as yet) fully explored.

Lee and Kara's relationship is yet more complex, in fitting with their roles as Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine - both roles demanding the eventual discovery of the Other Half as part of their succession to the roles of Father and Mother for the next generation. They begin very much as friends, as pseudo-siblings (again fitting with the concept of the archetypal family) - they were nearly brother and sister by marriage at least due to Kara's engagement to Zak before his death, but quickly move on to the possibility of something more. The 'will they, won't they' nature of their relationship has been clearly portrayed and developed throughout the series, with plenty of sexual tension, jealousy, flirting, and abortive attempts at coming together (Home, part I when Lee kisses Kara, their drunken almost-liaison in Scar, the one-night stand on New Caprica (Unfinished Business), the doomed affair subsequent to their cathartic boxing match (The Eye of Jupiter). While undoubtedly dramatic, this relationship seemingly forever on the brink of actually happening is perfectly appropriate to their roles in the archetypal family. The union with the Other Half is climactic, it is the ultimate reward for the Hero once he has completed his journey and has matured into a complete human being. Lee and Kara are not quite there yet, therefore they cannot yet fully realise their relationship. Both are on personal journeys of self-discovery, as discussed above, both need to break free of the influence of their parent figures and also, like Bill and Laura, achieve the balance within themselves of their masculine and feminine sides. Interestingly, however, for each of them the side they need to develop seems to be the reverse of what would be expected. Lee starts off in conflict with the masculine, in the shape of his issues with his father, blaming the very masculine ideal ('A man isn't a man until he wears the wings of a Viper pilot', Lee quoting Bill in the Mini-series) for all his problems in life. He has to learn how to balance the masculine role he is forced to assume with his internal more feminine instincts (his strong moral sense and regard for the civilian Fleet applies here), and as he does so he grows into his role as a leader, eventually being rewarded with the command of the Battlestar Pegasus (The Captain's Hand). Kara, on the other hand, is too masculine and has to learn to accept her feminine side throughout the series, particularly as this relates to her spiritual destiny. At first she is portrayed in an aggressively masculine way, with her smoking and drinking and swearing and fighting, although this is clearly shown as being a defensive persona, hiding her hurt and vulnerability away from the world (she was an abused child, and of course suffered the death of her fiance, Zak, just two years before the events of the mini-series). Gradually more and more of the 'inner Kara' is revealed, her love of poetry (Final Cut) and artistic leanings (Valley of Darkness), and she also has two very significant confrontations with her feminine, life-bearing potential (The Farm, and the episodes with Kacey, her supposed daughter, at the beginning of season three). By the beginning of season three therefore she has reconciled with her feminine aspect to the point of marrying Sam Anders and setting up home on New Caprica, and then coming to love and care for her 'daughter' Kacey when she is held hostage by Leoben Conoy after the Cylon invasion. Of course, the feminine is strongly associated with the spiritual throughout Battlestar Galactica (as with Laura), and Kara reconciles with this aspect of herself climactically in Maelstrom, when she allows herself to be taken on a spiritual journey to confront her demons over her mother and dies to fulfill her destiny as the one who will lead the Fleet to Earth (Crossroads, part II). It remains to be seen whether, now that both Lee and Kara have made significant progress on their personal journeys and achieved their inner balances, they will be able to form the functional relationship which is necessary for them to be able to realise their potential of eventually taking on the roles of Father and Mother, King and Queen, for the future generation.

The relationships within this core family unit are therefore in a constant state of flux and development. Periods of estrangement are followed by reconciliations, then further disagreements and conflicts as the stresses of the extraordinary situation they find themselves in takes its toll. This too reflects the theory described by Booker of how stories are shaped and experienced as alternating 'phases of constriction and release, a kind of systole-diastole rhythm which provides one of the greatest pleasures we get from stories' (p.49). When the members of the core family unit are estranged or in conflict with one another, we as viewers feel 'tense and apprehensive', we sense that the threat is greatest at these points when the family and the Fleet are disunited, following the old adage, 'united we stand, divided we fall'. We need our family to be together in order to feel they have a chance of combatting the Cylons and surviving to reach their goal, a future life on Earth when they, having undergone their personal journeys of development and having played out the drama of their relationships to a satisfactory conclusion with the two pairs in balanced relationships, Son-Hero and Daughter-Heroine ready to take up the mantle of King and Queen from the Father and Mother, themselves providing a positive example. When therefore the 'family' reconciles once more, we enjoy a period of release, where we can relax knowing all is well. A perfect example of this is the beginning of season two. The events of the season one finale separate the core family dramatically - Laura persuades Kara to disobey Bill and jump back to Caprica to fetch the Arrow of Apollo, an act which provokes him into arresting her and carrying out a military coup. Lee initially seems to side with his father, but balks at actually carrying out his father's orders, and instead turns his gun on Colonel Tigh and gets himself arrested along with Laura for mutiny. Bill is subsequently shot by the Cylon sleeper agent, Sharon Valerii, and spends the first few episodes of season two in a critical condition in the infirmary. The fleet is therefore left leaderless and in the hands of Tigh, who is dismissive of the needs of the civilians (much like Bill Adama himself was in the mini-series before Laura helped him see his role as protector rather than combatant), and of the authority of the Vice-President, Gaius Baltar. Furthermore, his military decisions are erratic, influenced by his power-hungry wife and his drinking, and result in the Galactica losing the rest of the fleet and being boarded by Cylons, with near-disastrous consequences. It is only the actions of Lee, taking on the leadership of the panicked marines when the Cylons are running riot inside the ship despite technically being supposed to be back in the brig, that avert total catastrophe. It is not until the seventh episode of the season (Home, part two) that the family finally reconciles, with a recovered Bill returning to Kobol to follow Laura, Kara and Lee to the Tomb of Athena, a decision he himself describes as 'putting our family back together', and portrayed touchingly and emotionally. Of course, unconsciously understanding the dynamic of the archetypal processes, we know that this is a pattern that must repeat many times before the final resolution.

The archetypal roles and relationships described by Booker are a fundamental part of the way stories work and, more importantly, the way we expect stories to work. Diana Wynne Jones has described how part of the function of a hero is to be a scapegoat, there to do the suffering for us. They act as a kind of concentrated reflection of experience, a microcosm. The core family unit of Battlestar Galactica fulfills this role, playing out the archetypal family drama within the wider world of the Fleet, who as survivors are of course representative of humanity as a whole. They haven't quite completed their journeys, both personal and between themselves, but as we watch them struggle with themselves and each other, all the while in the midst of humanity's struggle for survival, they provide a multiple hero for us to follow. 'Nothing is more remarkable about the way stories naturally form in the human imagination than the way, beneath the surface, they unconsciously centre round this most fundamental of all dramas in human life, involving just four basic figures' (Booker, p.292), and Battlestar Galactica provides a perfect example of the truth of this.

*A fact which is explicitly articulated by Romo Lampkin, Gaius Baltar's lawyer, with reference to the role Lee will play in Baltar's trial and the effect this will have on his relationship with his father: "There's no greater ally, no force more powerful, no enemy more resolved than a son who chooses to step from his father's shadow."
**This matter of social status is addressed within the show, most notably in Dirty Hands, when Baltar says: "Do you think this Fleet will ever be commanded by someone whose last name is not Adama?"

Baltar and Six: a Jungian interpretation

One of the most intriguing subplots in the ‘reimagined’ Battlestar Galactica (2003-) is the relationship between perhaps the most ambiguous characters, Gaius Baltar and his Cylon lover, Number Six. In a narrative full of complicated motivations and moralities, the tale of Baltar and Six has continued to surprise, both in the development of the characters individually and their relationship and effect on each other. In many ways their interdependence reveals them to be an expression of Jung’s theory of the animus/anima, and this is what I would like to explore here.

Some explanation of the story of Battlestar Galactica and the characters of Baltar and Six is necessary before I move on to analysing the characters and their relationship in the light of Jung’s theory. Battlestar Galactica tells the story of the human survivors of a mass genocide by artificially created robots, Cylons. The Cylons were created by the humans of the Twelve Colonies (twelve different planets) as robot slaves, but, in a cautionary tale of the dangers of technology, the Cylons intelligence led to them rebelling against their creators. They then disappeared, and the humans heard nothing from them for fifty years. The 2003 miniseries shows what happened when the Cylons, now counting among their number twelve ‘human’ models (who are indistinguishable from humans and thus the perfect sleeper agents), each of which has multiple copies. A copy of model number six was living on the planet Caprica, involved in a relationship with Dr Gaius Baltar, an eminent scientist and respected member of the establishment. She manipulated him into gaining access to the defence mainframe, thus enabling the Cylons to mount a surprise attack which virtually wiped out all of humanity across the Twelve Colonies. The TV series which follows covers the flight of the survivors, their struggle to rebuild their society and attempt to find the legendary planet Earth, home to the thirteenth colony of man. Gaius Baltar is one of the few to escape from Caprica after the attack, and he gradually rises to greater prominence in the fleet (as a scientific advisor, then Vice-President, and eventually President), all the while trying both to conceal and come to terms with his guilt for being the one the Cylons took advantage of to successfully carry out their attack.

Baltar is a fascinating character in himself, both inherently and because of his unwitting role in the Cylon attack. He is, undoubtedly, highly intelligent and very charming, but he is also weak, manipulative, selfish, vain, desperate for validation as a worthwhile human being yet horribly aware of his own inadequacies. The most interesting aspect to Baltar’s role in the series however is the internal hallucinatory version of Number Six which accompanies him throughout, popping up at every turn to comment on what he is doing or saying, or bullying, threatening, advising or seducing him depending on the situation. No-one else ever sees or is aware of her presence, leading to some very amusing scenes as Baltar interacts physically and verbally with her as if she were corporeal yet from the point of view of other characters no-one else is there. No definitive explanation has yet been provided for her existence, and quite what she is, as well as why she is there, is open to interpretation. She herself gives differing explanations to Baltar when he questions her presence (understandably!). At first she tells him she is a chip in his head, but later refutes this (and a brain scan provides no evidence), then later she says she is ‘an angel of God sent here to protect you, to guide you and to love you’. Baltar himself veers between believing she is a paranoid manifestation of his own guilt and the chip theory, before slowly beginning to be won over by her declarations of God’s love and purpose for him.

In season two, the situation is further complicated by the introduction of the reincarnated (Cylon consciousnesses ‘download’ into a new body when they are killed) version of the original Number Six who was Baltar’s lover on Caprica. She too is shown as wrestling with her guilt at her part in the genocide, and, shockingly, has her own internal Baltar, taunting her and questioning her about why it was ‘right’ to kill so many humans. The existence of this new ‘Caprica Six’ allows comparisons to be drawn between the internal and external versions of both Six and Baltar. As pointed out on the discussion of this phenomenon on the Battlestar Wiki (, ‘both visions differ in personality from the people they represent; in both cases, the visions are confident and scoff at the failings of their subject; the real people remain guilt-ridden and indecisive’. This psychological mutuality seems to me to reflect Jung’s theory of the animus/anima, the ‘contrasexual archetype’ which, ‘as the feminine aspect of man and the masculine aspect of woman, … function as a pair of opposites in the unconscious of both’. (Stevens, 1994, p.71). Stevens’s description of the role of the animus/anima offers some striking parallels to the depiction of Baltar and Six:

Jung … found that in practice both anima and animus act in dreams and in the
imagination as mediators of the unconscious to the ego, so providing a means for
inner as well as outer adaptation. He described them as
‘soul-images’ and the ‘not-I’, for they are experienced as something mysterious
and numinous, possessing great power.

Stevens, 1994, p.71

The internal versions of both Baltar and Six are idealised, powerful and act as ‘mediators of the unconscious to the ego’, confronting the corporeal versions with the realities of their feelings and driving them on towards their destinies, whether internally or externally determined. Internal Six convinces Baltar he has a great role to play as the mediator between Cylon and human – a destiny which rings hollow after the events of the end of season two and start of season three – while Internal Baltar pushes Caprica Six into her assumed role of leader of a new Cylon ideology – to find a way to live in harmony with humans. The actions of the internal versions therefore complement each other, and reflect the unease which both characters feel at the hostility and conflict between their races. Six continually expresses her love for Baltar, and he, while less effusive in his declarations, is clearly infatuated – he develops a relationship with another version of Six who had been imprisoned and abused by humans (which again led to a massacre of humans with a nuclear bomb on one of the ships of the fleet), and resumes his relationship with Caprica Six when she arrives on New Caprica, where the humans have settled.

What light this sheds on the different theories of the internal versions of Baltar and Six is difficult to say. The internally-generated, psychological theory obviously fits the Jungian interpretation well, however if it is a case of implanted chips (problematic in the case of Internal Baltar), then it could still be interpreted narratively as a metaphorical expression of the theory of the animus/anima. The various theories are set out in the Battlestar Wiki at, and while ‘the answers remain unknown’, I feel that the strongly Jungian nature of the Baltar-Six relationship is a strong argument for the psychological theory and is a fascinating take on the motivations of two of the series’ most ambiguous characters.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Frustrating female feminism: missing the point

Before we can imagine a truly feminist hero on television, we must recognise
that she does not yet exist. Since the sexuality, makeup, and attire
of Xena, Nikita, and Buffy detract from their believability and highlight their
traditional femininity, should we not hope for heroic women for whom such
characteristics become incidental or celebratory rather than central
foci? Women who would fulfill more clearly feminist ideals of the
heroic would need not routinely bare their midriffs, would not be necessarily,
formatively, and violently linked to men, and would not suffer tormented lives
in a brutal world. A more laudable female hero, one whom feminist
viewers might celebrate without reservation, might build or affirm a world
without so much violence.
Magoulick, Mary, 'Frustrating female heroism: mixed messages in Xena, Nikita and Buffy', Journal of Popular Culture, 39:5 (2006), 729-755

The above quote comes from an article I read recently which seems to sum up the whole problem I have with feminist criticism of texts. Magoulick was arguing that three recent television shows, Xena: Warrior Princess, La Femme Nikita and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all lauded by many feminists for having strong female heroes, were in fact not feminist at all because of the sexualised presentation of the main characters, designed to appeal to men with their image and acting submissively with regard to the male characters they interact with, and because of their continual resort to male-pattern violence as their means of solving the problems they encounter. I have never really watched either Xena or Nikita, but I did watch and love Buffy and feel strongly that Magoulick's article misses the point of the way Buffy works as a feminist text.

Many articles have been written about Buffy's feminism, all making solid points about strong female characters and the show's reinterpretation of the traditional 'pretty young blonde as helpless victim of monster' horror motif. The strength and importance of the female characters in the show is undeniable, but making a clear 'girls strong, guys weak' distinction is both difficult and unnecessary. Yes, there are many strong female characters, but strength and admirability is not the sole preserve of the female characters on the show. Giles represents wisdom and guidance, and is shown as having a hard streak which enables him to do what must be done even when Buffy herself relents (eg the killing of Ben at the end of season five). This is a character trait shared by the other main Watcher, Wesley, even in his early, buffoonish days, and developed strongly on the spin-off show Angel. Xander, despite his overt cowardice and constant desire to play the clown, is actually depicted time and time again as the heart of the operation, the one who sees, understands and is always there for his more obviously heroic friends (for which he is symbolically punished by losing an eye to Caleb in season seven). And Buffy's two vampire lovers, Angel and Spike, both undergo arduous journeys of redemption throughout the course of the show, so much so in Spike's case that his sacrificial death is the one thing which finally closes the Hellmouth in the show's cataclysmic finale. Put all this together with the weaknesses displayed by the overtly strong female characters (Buffy's struggle with herself in season six, Willow's addiction to magic and destructive revenge binge in the same season, Faith's own journey to the dark side and back again to redemption) and it is clear that this is not a show that worries about gender when developing character. Rather, each character is allowed to travel the journey that awaits them, with all consequences being fully explored. I agree with Magoulick, therefore, insofar as she argues that simply looking at the presentation of the characters is not is not enough to argue for Buffy's status as feminist or otherwise, and we must look more closely at the themes in order to come to some conclusion.

However, this is where Magoulick begins to miss the point of Buffy. As set out in the quote above, there are two main thrusts to her argument. The first is that the sexualised presentation of the main character undermines any feminist behaviour, and the second is that the choice of violence as the main weapon in the story's ongoing struggle is inherently masculine and therefore again undermines the idea that Buffy can be feminist. I will address each of these arguments in turn, and hope to show that Buffy is feminist in a very modern, inclusive sense, which I will go on to define.

The presentation of Buffy herself is important to the initial concept of the show. The creator, Joss Whedon, has stated time and time again that he came up with the idea "to invert the Hollywood formula of "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie" (Wikipedia, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ). It is therefore necessary for this conceit that the hero should be portrayed in a conventionally attractive, relatively sexualised manner, otherwise there would be no expectations to subvert. To argue, as Magoulick does, that this very necessary image negates the intended feminist message, seems to me to be completely missing the point of the founding concept of the show.

Magoulick also has an issue with Buffy's relationships with men throughout the story. She argues that Buffy is always shown as submissive in her interactions with the main male characters and that she is shown to be formed by them, particularly Giles in his pseudo-father role and Angel as the (much) older first boyfriend. Again I feel her interpretation is simplistic. Buffy does relate to Giles for much of the story as a father figure. This relationship is even made explicit in Giles's dream sequence in the season four finale, Restless. But in season six his departure forces her to abandon this rather comforting role for herself, and in season seven she is shown as actively rejecting his advice when he allows himself to be drawn into Robin Wood's scheme to get rid of Spike, of whose importance to Buffy he is suspicious. (It is notable that Buffy is eventually proved right about Spike, not the previously all-knowing and wise Giles). If Buffy's relationship with Giles is anti-feminist, then surely this redresses the balance - she has grown to the point where she can assert herself even with the most formative of her male relationships. But I don't feel that there is an anti-feminist connotation to their relationship anyway. In what way is it anti-feminist for a young girl to have an older male figure (like a father) to look up to for advice and support? It is a healthy relationship to have, particularly for a teenage girl like Buffy whose own father is absent. It's not as if she doesn't have a good relationship with her mother, who, once she is enlightened as to her daughter's role and destiny, is every bit as supportive and loving to Buffy as Giles is.

Buffy's relationships with her lovers is more complex, but I would argue entirely realistic. Angel is her first love, and she is inevitably infatuated with him. But she still insists on being able to look after herself and hold her own in a fight, and is prepared to kill him when the loss of his soul and reversion to his cruel alter ego, Angelus, threatens those she loves and the world as a whole. Parker, her one-night stand when she starts at college, does use her in a manner unfortunately not unusual, and Buffy was naive in her trust of him. But the fact of her having been naive in this way does not mean she cannot be seen as a feminist role model. If anything, this (and the famous 'ultimate metaphor' of sleeping with a guy and having him turn into a monster) could be seen as warnings to young girls about the pitfalls of sexual relationships and trusting a man too much. Buffy's relationship with Riley, her serious (and only non-vampire) boyfriend in seasons four and five, falls apart because Riley can't handle Buffy's role as the Slayer (again, how is this anti-feminist?), and her final major relationship, with Spike, starts as Buffy using Spike (which she admitted when breaking it off) to 'make [her] feel' after her death and resurrection, and develops, during season seven, into a mutual respect and love where Spike remains Buffy's only true ally right to the end. Spike's attempted rape of Buffy has been much discussed, and used as an argument against Buffy's feminism, but in my view the rape is Spike's problem, not really caused by Buffy (except by her getting too close to what is still at that point essentially a soulless evil vampire, struggling with the changes his love of Buffy has wrought - this is the last point at which the evil side wins out before Spike goes in search of his soul), and thus also cannot really be construed as anti-feminist. If anything, it's anti-male, showing (again) the harm men can do to women.

A final point about Buffy's supposedly sexualised image. Why does femininity have to be seen as being in opposition to feminism? There is a certain extent to which women choose to and enjoy presenting themselves as attractive to men, just as men often choose to and enjoy presenting themselves as desirable to women. Such is the natural order of things, and evolutionarily this is not only natural but necessary. To berate female heroes (whether created by men or women - and these are all both because to create a character in a TV series requires a collaboration between the writer, director and actor) for wearing makeup or dressing in a sexually attractive manner is in fact to masculinise them - to say they can only be a hero if they do not present themselves as feminine. And again, male heroes (compare Hercules and Angel, as the direct counterparts of Xena and Buffy) are also presented in a conventionally attractive, sexualised manner in terms of their 'makeup' and attire, but they are not considered to be problematising their heroic nature in so doing. Incidentally, the sexuality, makeup and attire only ever seems to be considered the central focus by feminist critics who have a problem with it (and, interestingly, the only character within the show who has a problem with it is the misogynist acolyte of the First in season seven, Caleb). To the rest of us it is already incidental or celebratory, depending on context.

The question of plot and the necessity of violence is more complex. These are modern versions of traditional hero tales (as in Joseph Campbell), and such tales and heroes are traditionally male, as discussed by Ursula LeGuin in her essay 'Revisioning Earthsea'. There is therefore inevitably a certain extent to which these stories can be considered masculine and the portrayal of a lone warrior is necessarily masculine in origin and brings with it masculine assumptions and overtones. The second you tell a tale of this kind, you are in traditionally masculine territory. Hence the violence and inherited male power structure, and also perhaps the aggressive female sexuality as it tries to assert itself within the confines of a male defined world. The central character therefore cannot really eschew violence in order to build a better world in a more traditionally feminine way. Other characters however can and do - Willow, for example. If you want to have a story like that, you need to recreate the very structure of the hero myth. This is possible, as for example Diana Wynne Jones did in Fire and Hemlock, however if you choose to follow the conventional warrior for good versus the forces of evil power struggle structure you have to have the violence. So to be feminist with it, you have to do as Buffy does, and kick against the male power structure (rebelling against the Council, transforming her relationship with Giles into a father-daughter one rather than master-student, and ultimately rejecting his help and advice, refusing to accept the source of her power from its cruel male origins, and using her femle friend to share that power with other girls and women, thus throwing off the shackles imposed by the male creators). Buffy is therefore as feminist as she can be within her confines - she has to be pretty and sexualised to expose the cliche, she has to be violent because of the world and story she is a part of, but she subverts that all the time, even, it could be argued, feminising the men around her (Xander, who embodies a lot of things which could be considered the preserve of women, his wisdom and love, and Spike, whose love for Buffy enables him to redeem himself). Plus, it is significant that in the end, the only character who does not reject Buffy's leadership (masculine in style...) is the one she has 'feminised' through love - Spike. All the people she has 'masculinised', such as the potentials (teaching them how to fight and kill) reject her and her leadership of them. Spike's love and support show her how to win in a feminine way, by sharing the power, and his love is what actually succeeds in defeating the First, not the violence with which Buffy, the Scoobies and the Potentials use to fight the ubervamps - they would doubtless eventually have been overrun.

In conclusion, Magoulick's arguments about the failure of Buffy as a feminist text seem to have missed the point of what the writers and creators of the show were trying to do. Within the confines of their initial conceit (subverting a masculine horror cliche) and their inherited story structure (male hero myth), they have created a set of characters (because the show isn't just about Buffy) who assert the full potential of the feminine and use it to defeat the masculine world they have inherited. It is a perfect example of what Angel himself tries to do on his show, bring down the system from within. Buffy's feminism is, as I said above, modern and inclusive in that it understands the practicalities of gender relationships and manages to maintain and celebrate the differences (her relationships with men, her self-image) without being either inferior or (equally importantly) superior. Women and the feminine are shown as powerful for what they can achieve working with the masculine as well as against it, and this seems to me to be the true nature of feminism - not anti-male but pro-female. Buffy celebrates this and is justifiably seen as a feminist text - to argue against, like Magoulick, is to miss the point both of what the writers are doing and of what feminism is and should be.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Harry Potter 7: Still to come...

Now that the publication date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is getting closer, it seems like a good time to formulate my theories and speculations about what is to come into something coherent. Every aspect of the series so far has been pulled apart and examined minutely by so many people that I know I’m not really likely to add anything new, but on the other hand, the sheer quantity of theories bouncing around means that any attempt to make sense of what I actually think can’t be totally invalid.

So here, in no particular order, are my main musings…

The true motivation of Severus Snape is pretty universally accepted to be the burning question whose resolution will underpin the climax of the series itself. The first major Harry Potter conference in the UK, Accio 2005, held at the University of Reading, held a mock trial of Snape (link to: for delegates to debate, essentially, whether Snape was good or evil (interestingly, he was cleared of all charges, even the one about him being horrible to the pupils in his charge). The evidence for and against Snape being good or evil is summarised here (link to: in the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to:, and all the arguments, both ways, are solid and convincing, and Snape could quite easily and naturally turn out to be on either side, neither or both! However, I feel very strongly (along with many others) that the only satisfactory conclusion would be for Snape to be good, to be on Harry’s side and loyal to Dumbledore. Narratively, this is the only conclusion that would work for several reasons:
1. Harry’s overt hatred and distrust: This is so strong that the reader is pushed into believing the opposite – we are told so many times by our hero that Snape is evil, against what everyone else believes (others, such as Ron and Hermione, and even Sirius Black, dislike Snape, but trust in Dumbledore’s judgement of him) that we end up disagreeing with Harry in his stubbornness.
2. Dumbledore’s trust: Dumbledore is set up as the omniscient, almost godlike figure, and we are thus coerced into believing that he is infallible, even when in the later books we are shown signs of weakness and he himself tells us he isn’t always right. We are encouraged to question Dumbledore, but again, as with Harry’s hatred of Snape, this has the opposite effect. We need Dumbledore to be the all-knowing guide, the archetypal wise old man (link to: While displaying weakness and making mistakes is part of this archetypal character, in the big things we need him to be right. It would be too much of a shock, and overshadow the end of the Harry-Voldemort struggle, for Dumbledore to turn out to have been so badly mistaken. It is interesting though that Rowling seems to be trying to prepare us for this, having Dumbledore himself tell us that perhaps his judgement is not to be trusted as unquestioningly as we have assumed: “… as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” (HP6, p.187). Whether this is intended to point to a mistake as yet unknown by Dumbledore (Snape’s loyalty? The incident in the cave and his death?) or to something in his past we have yet to discover, is not clear. Whichever, despite authorial attempts to undermine it, Dumbledore’s wisdom is so ingrained and important to both Harry’s and the reader’s view of events, that to have him so wrong on so vital a point would just not ring true.
3. Snape’s actions: Without going over every piece of evidence of what Snape has said and done throughout the course of the series so far, it seems clear that most of his actions have been ‘good’, in that he has consistently protected Harry (even while protesting his hatred of him) and done what Dumbledore has asked of him. Of course, this impression could just be because we have only really seen Snape from the point of the view of the ‘good’ side – the only exception being his conversation with Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Black at the beginning of The Half-Blood Prince. However, his answers here are ones a politician would be proud of, giving the women the impression he wants to but not actually saying anything we wouldn’t expect him to if he was, as Dumbledore says, acting as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix.
4. And finally: The narrative pattern, as shown on a small-scale in The Philosopher’s Stone. Snape appears to be a bad guy, does bad things, but ultimately Harry’s suspicions are proved wrong – Snape is on Dumbledore’s side. Our expectations, from this and from our understanding of the patterns of story and narrative in general, lead us to believe that Snape is good. Of course, this could be a red herring, a way of tricking readers and subverting their expectations, a sort of double-bluff…
All in all, we won’t know for sure until the end – Snape’s character and motivations are too complex and cleverly drawn. I feel Snape is a good guy, everything leads me to believe that, and that Harry and he will have to come to some kind of understanding and resolution of their difficult relationship – this is too important a part of Harry’s story to be denied us.

The biggest question surrounding Snape though, is not who’s side is he on, but what is it that enables there to be any doubt? Why can he get away with being ambiguous, with both sides believing he is with them? No-one else is allowed this luxury (if it can be called such!) – this is after all a tale of good versus evil. You can be uninvolved, but if you are involved, you have to pick a side. But Snape has managed to convince both Dumbledore and Voldemort, the two greatest wizards alive, to trust him. This is what I really want to know – why? It can’t just be a case of him being good at occlumency – everyone knows he can do that and I can’t believe either Dumbledore or Voldemort would be foolish enough to trust his word alone. Dumbledore has been deliberately cagey about his reasons for trusting Snape, although everything we have heard so far has related to Snape’s turning away from the Death Eaters, and telling Dumbledore about the prophecy about Harry and Voldemort. But I don’t buy it, it’s too small a reason. There has to be something about Snape himself, his past and relationships with others, that Dumbledore is hiding. We have very little information about Snape’s relationship with Voldemort, and have never seen them together. Snape is referred to as Voldemort’s ‘favourite, his most trusted advisor’ (HP6, p.38). Why Snape, and especially why Snape in the light of the fact that Voldemort believed him to have left him forever (HP4, p.565 – this comment has to refer to Snape, as the other two living and unnamed Death Eaters he refers to must be Karkaroff and Barty Crouch Jr.). As you’d expect, there are numerous theories seeking to explain this mystery, postulating that Snape may have been in love with Lily Potter, or that it has something to do with his mother, possibly now concealed at Hogwarts as Irma Pince, the librarian (based on an anagram – Irma Pince = I’m a Prince – as well as a reflection of language used to describe both the librarian and Snape, and Dumbledore’s comment to Draco Malfoy about hiding his mother in their confrontation on the tower at the end of The Half-Blood Prince). My own, personal theory (which I am entirely prepared to be proved wrong!) is that it has something to do with the two major themes of the importance of love and blood. I have a nagging feeling that Voldemort may have a child, and if so, Snape is the prime candidate. It would explain why Voldemort has a blind spot where he’s concerned, and also why Dumbledore and Snape have something they are so keen to hide (which could include Eileen Prince quite feasibly here). A slightly wackier extension of this theory involves James Potter as another child-of-Voldemort, introducing a whole aspect of sibling rivalry and giving Harry a link to the lineage of Slytherin – it was stated quite clearly in Chamber of Secrets that only the heir of Slytherin, not just any parselmouth, could open the chamber, and Harry quite patently achieves this. But Rowling seems to have discredited this theory with her statement that she’s not going to do a Star Wars and also that the Potters aren’t actually that important. I don’t know. I like my theory, but I doubt it’s correct!

The identity and location of the remaining Horcruxes, and their destruction, is quite clearly the main thrust of the narrative of book seven. We know (or at least, Dumbledore is certain) that there are six Horcruxes in total, as follows:
1. The diary (destroyed)
2. The ring (destroyed)
3. Slytherin’s locket (stolen)
4. Hufflepuff’s cup
5. Nagini?
6. Something Ravenclaw or Gryffindor related? (But only one, based on the fact that Dumbledore is certain that the only remaining artefact of Gryffindor’s, the ruby-encrusted sword, is safely un-horcruxed)
It is unlikely to be as simple as this however, as this is relying on Dumbledore’s assumptions. It makes sense that Voldemort would have wanted to use artefacts of both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, so if we assume that he got hold of something from Ravenclaw but couldn’t finish the job with Gryffindor’s sword, then he either had to use something else, never got round to making the sixth Horcrux, or made one accidentally – we don’t really know how exactly Horcruxes are made so we don’t know if this is possible. I’m not convinced by the idea of Nagini – she doesn’t seem important enough, and I doubt Voldemort would have used something living as mortality is the very thing he is trying to escape. The theory I most like (and which occurred to me after I’d read The Half-Blood Prince) is that Harry himself (or at least his scar) is a Horcrux. This argument is summarised well by Haas on the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to:, particularly dealing with the obvious objection that if Harry is a Horcrux, why does Voldemort keep trying to kill him? Another response to this problem, in addition to the one set out by Haas, is that Voldemort does not realise Harry is a Horcrux – if it is possible for Horcruxes to be made accidentally, or if Voldemort’s defeat and disembodiment caused the spell to go awry and fall on another target in Godric’s Hollow. I think the wording of the prophecy supports this theory as well: Neither can live while the other survives – Voldemort can’t live while Harry lives because his Horcrux is out of his control, and Harry can’t live while Voldemort lives because his life and body is not his own, polluted by a fragment of Voldemort’s soul. It does pose a very real threat to Harry’s survival however – would he be able to survive the destruction of the Horcrux within him?

The Deathly Hallows
The release of each book’s title brings with it a flurry of questions as to what it refers to. My initial reaction to Deathly Hallows was that it echoed the heroic pass through death stage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, as set out in The hero with a thousand faces, and therefore was a place Harry would need to go and survive before completing his quest. Alternatively, it could just be a poetic way of referring to the Horcruxes – certainly things which would be venerated by Voldemort and the Death Eaters and most definitely deathly. However I recently saw a theory I really like by Bandersnatch on the Harry Potter Lexicon (link to: (and can’t believe I didn’t make the connection myself!), that it refers to the remaining artefacts of the four founders, in the tradition of Grail mythology. This would be very nice and neat, although the fact of Gryffindor’s sword not being a Horcrux in all probability could throw a spanner in the works, unless the sword comes into it’s own as something Harry can use against the Horcruxes. It also throws up all sorts of possibilities of Harry Potter as a Grail text, which I haven’t thought about in sufficient depth yet, but which are intriguing.

Dumbledore’s past and Grindelwald
Throughout book six we received lots of hints that Dumbledore’s past may prove to be important, and recently Rowling has admitted that looking into Dumbledore’s family would be ‘profitable’. It seems fairly obvious that Harry is going to have an encounter with Dumbledore’s wayward brother Aberforth (link to: at some point in book seven – he may well be the person who has Slytherin’s locket, after he was seen being sold some things from 12 Grimmauld Place by Mundungus Fletcher and then walking away ‘[drawing] his cloak more tightly around his neck’ (HP6, p.230). I’m hoping Aberforth will have plenty to reveal about Dumbledore’s past, as really we actually know very little about him. In particular, the burning question relates to the episode in the cave at the end of Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore drinks the potion in which the Horcrux is concealed. It’s not clear what the potion is forcing Dumbledore to experience, or re-experience, but whatever it is it must be important. The most plausible idea is a kind of ‘essence of dementor’, something that forces you to relive your worst memory and thus incapacitates you, either that or it just produces such extreme pain that you react as if under torture and your deepest secrets come spilling out. What Dumbledore says hints at an unpleasant experience in his past: ‘Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead…’ (HP6, p.535). The only thing we know about Dumbledore’s past is what is written on his Chocolate Frog card (link to: about him defeating the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945. Could this memory be related to Grindelwald? Who was Grindelwald anyway? One interesting theory links Dumbledore and Grindelwald via Beowulf, remarking on the similarities of Dumbledore’s middle name Wulfric and Grindelwald to Beowulf and Grendel. What implications this all has for the storyline of book seven seems a mystery however.

Final thought…
Aunt Petunia knows a lot more than she’s letting on…


Accio 2005 (2005) ‘Professor Severus Snape to face trial by Accio grand jury’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007.

Bandersnatch (2006) ‘The Grail Hallows and Harry Potter’, Harry Potter Lexicon [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Campbell, Joseph (1949) The hero with a thousand faces, Fontana, 1993.

Haas, Stephen (2006) ‘Is Harry a Horcrux?’, Harry Potter Lexicon [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007.

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Aberforth Dumbledore’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Albus Dumbledore’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Horcruxes’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Harry Potter Lexicon (2000-2007) ‘Severus Snape’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Rowling, J.K. (2000) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, London : Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. (2005) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, London : Bloomsbury

Wikipedia (2007) ‘Archetype’ [web page] Accessed 5th February 2007

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The use of myth, legend and folklore in modern children's literature

The full text of my dissertation is now up on the web at:

I may post some more extracts on here separately, but if anyone's interested in the thing in its entirety, that's where you can find it!

Recreating myth in Narnia

This approach adds a second filter, that of a fictional world, and sets the mythic at a remove from the everyday world of the reader, encouraging them to go to the myth rather than have the myth brought to them. The impulse to create secondary worlds is as deeply rooted in the human psyche as the impulse to myth itself, and many authors have chosen to create explicitly alternative worlds for their stories rather than the equally alternative but on the surface congruent world of a story set in familiar surroundings. J.R.R. Tolkien is the acknowledged master of what he termed ‘the sub-creative art’ (Tolkien, 1938, p.53), and has been much imitated since the publication of The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s, by some more successfully than by others. Tolkien established the parameters for modern fantasy with his creation (or sub-creation), and I would argue, put myth centre-stage for this genre. The world of The Lord of the Rings only achieves the reality it does by Tolkien’s creation of the mythic history behind it, as described in The Silmarillion and his many other writings expounding the history of Middle Earth. He created a world that lived and breathed, that can almost be believed to be true as it hangs together consistently and therefore stands up in a way that many of the imitative ‘fantasylands’ (Jones, 1997, [web page]) cannot. I make this point to stress the influence of Tolkien’s work on modern children’s fantasies which are set in other worlds. Successfully realised, approaching Tolkien’s achievement, such ‘sub-creative acts’ can be seen as recreating myths, legends and folklore for an alternative world, reflecting them as our own world is reflected in the new one, and casting a new light on them in this way. To explore this further, I would like to look in particular at the sub-creative act of Tolkien’s fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, and the way he recreated myth in his new world of Narnia.

The story of Narnia is a tale that grew as the series went on, from relatively simple beginnings in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where four children follow the pattern of the universal hero myth (see above) in travelling to another world, enduring a series of tests and trials, before helping to redeem it from the clutches of the evil White Witch and ruling it for many years, as prophesised. The five central (in chronological terms) books of the Chronicles fit nicely into the categories of reworkings or reusings as explored above, introducing such traditional motifs as the ‘once and future King’ (Prince Caspian) and the fairy-lover (The Silver Chair). However, with the last two books Lewis wrote, covering the beginning and the end of Narnia’s existence, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, the mythic nature of Narnia is brought into focus, and the horizons of the sequence expand accordingly.

Lewis’s Christianity informs his sub-creation as thoroughly as it did his life, so it is no surprise that when he recreated the creation and end of the world for Narnia he imbued them with Christian perceptions. As Wood (2001) puts it: ‘The Narnia series reinvents the narrative of Christian teleology while leaving the values untouched’ (p.256). The creation of Narnia, a magical sequence delayed until half way through the book, begins with light (the stars and then the sun), moves on to plants, then animals, then man, or at least, the Narnian equivalent of talking animals, selected two by two like Noah’s Ark. Man in the human sense is not overlooked in the creation of Narnia, but it is significant that this is the one thing Aslan does not create, at least, not literally. He does set the Cabby in the place of Adam, as the first man and King of Narnia, and brings his wife (reflecting Eve being created from Adam) from London to be the first woman and Queen, but they are transformed, not created:

But it was neither hair nor clothes that made them look so different from their
old selves. Their faces had a new expression, especially the
King’s. All the sharpness and cunning and quarrelsomeness which he
had picked up as a London cabby seemed to have been washed away, and the courage
and kindness which he had always had were easier to see. Perhaps it
was the air of the young world that had done it, or talking with Aslan, or both.

The Magician’s Nephew, p.154-155

Lewis also does not neglect the question of the Fall of Man, but, almost to preserve Narnia’s utopia, he has sin come into Narnia from outside, in the form of Jadis, later to become the White Witch. Her presence is necessary, both logically in terms of explaining the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and also theologically, in terms of sin being a necessary evil as the reverse side of good, the Jungian Shadow if you like. Narnia is utopian, at least in relation to our own world (standing in psychological terms as the ideal in the same way as Garner expressed the shadow with Elidor), but it is not, and cannot be, perfect. If Narnia were perfect, then there would be no need for the children to be brought there, and it would teach them, and all those who read it, nothing. Perfection is empty, two-dimensional. A fully realised sub-creation must reflect the original creation in both its good and bad aspects. Wood (2001) has discussed the implications of Lewis’s use of the Tree of Knowledge, and the motif of eating the forbidden fruit, in comparison with Philip Pullman’s treatment in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman casts this episode in a solidly positive light – for him, Lyra and Will have to eat of the fruit in order to gain the mature self-knowledge and love upon which the whole of creation depends. Lewis remains true to the Bible in showing eating the fruit as an act which can only be regretted: ‘That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after’ (The Magician’s Nephew, p.162). Having Jadis eat the fruit also allows Lewis to cast her very early on as the Serpent or Devil, as she tries to persuade Digory to eat the apple he picks and not take it back to Aslan. This establishes an allegory which will persist into The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where it is not just the White Witch who is defeated, but the Devil and sin itself (Aslan’s raid on the Witch’s house can be seen as Lewis’s version of the Harrowing of Hell). In the events of The Magician’s Nephew therefore, Lewis is creating a mythic history for Narnia which echoes and recreates a mythic history of our own world.

Having written a creation myth, Lewis then attempted an eschatological one in The Last Battle, which is the most overtly didactic of the Chronicles. Recreating the end of the world is unusual in children’s fiction, presumably because it is by its very nature an uncomfortable subject, and authors tend to prefer the process of creating a world to destroying it. I would argue that it is Lewis’s Christianity which allowed him to end his creation, as only a firm belief in a better life after the end of the world could enable an author to tackle this most difficult of topics and present it in an uplifting way for children. It is the epitome of Tolkien’s theory of the fantastic eucatastrophe, ‘a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.’ (Tolkien, 1938, p.69). This is precisely what Lewis achieves in the ending of Narnia – his characters face the possibility of defeat, but move beyond the world to the poignant joy of everlasting life in Aslan’s country. His intention is surely purely consolatory, as his final words indicate, to show his readers that death is not the end, that Narnia lives on even though he has destroyed it. His recreation has achieved its goal, reflecting and informing the Primary World through his use of the mythic in his sub-creation:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother
and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term
is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended, this is the morning.”

The Last Battle, p.171
Jones, Diana Wynne (1997) ‘Inventing the Middle Ages’ [web page] <> Accessed 20th October 2004

Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia:
--- (1950) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, London : Collins, 1987
--- (1951) Prince Caspian, London : Collins, 1987
--- (1952) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, London : Collins, 1987
--- (1953) The Silver Chair, London : Collins, 1980
--- (1954) The Horse and his Boy, London : Collins, 1980
--- (1955) The Magician’s Nephew, London : Penguin, 1963
--- (1956) The Last Battle, London : Collins, 1980
Pullman, Philip, His Dark Materials:
--- (1995) Northern Lights, London : Scholastic, 1998
--- (1997) The Subtle Knife, London : Scholastic, 1998
--- (2000) The Amber Spyglass, London : Scholastic, 2001
Tolkien, J.R.R. (1938) ‘On fairy stories’, in Tree and Leaf, London : HarperCollins, 2001
--- (1968) The Lord of the Rings, London : HarperCollins, 1995
--- (1977) The Silmarillion, London : HarperCollins, 1999
Wood, Naomi (2001) ‘Paradise lost and found: obedience, disobedience, and storytelling in C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman’, Children’s literature in education, v.32:no.4 (December 2001), pp.237-259

Friday, 18 May 2007

Reusing myths in children's literature

This could be viewed as the ‘pick and mix’ approach to rewriting traditional material for a modern audience, and refers to the way in which authors ‘borrow’ or introduce mythic story elements into their work. The list of authors who do this, to a greater or lesser extent, is extensive, and the ways in which they use the material is as varied as the material they borrow, but there are three main ways in which mythic elements are used by modern authors: transposed directly in their original form, translated to suit the story, or as archetypes. I would like to illustrate these three approaches by considering the ways in which modern authors have used mythic characters, before studying a work which makes use of all sorts of mythic elements in all three ways, namely Elidor by Alan Garner.

Characters from myth, legend and folktale can be used by modern authors as individuals, as stock characters or as archetypes. The first of these ways is least common as it can have a Verfremdungseffekt[1], introducing something alien into the story, and requiring an effort on the part of the author to assimilate this character into their world. This is what Diana Wynne Jones does in The Homeward Bounders, explaining the presence of legendary characters such as Prometheus, the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew by making them exiles (‘homeward bounders’) in the same way as her main characters, and by extension, re-explaining their roles in their own stories by recasting them in this new light:

Have you heard of the Flying Dutchman? No? Nor of the
Wandering Jew? Well, it doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you about them in
the right place; and about Helen and Joris, Adam and Konstam, and Vanessa, the
sister Adam wanted to sell as a slave. They were all Homeward
Bounders like me.

The effort required to assimilate mythic characters leads to them more usually being used as stock characters or archetypes, where the character can be altered as necessary to fit the modern story. So in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Cerberus becomes Fluffy, guarding the trapdoor to the ‘underworld’ where Dumbledore has hidden the stone to keep it from Voldemort. This gives an added resonance to Harry’s trip through the trapdoor, casting it in terms of the heroic pass through death (as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces). However, often characters are used merely to add colour to a narrative, to give it the flavour of a fantasy tale, as in The Chronicles of Narnia, where Lewis peopled his world with all the creatures of classical mythology, Dryads and Naiads, fauns, centaurs and satyrs. Most of these have no function in the narrative, much as their equivalents often don’t in the Harry Potter books, where in both for example the seer nature of centaurs is useful (Glenstorm and Roonwit in Prince Caspian and The Last Battle respectively and Firenze in Harry Potter), but hardly essential, and their function could arguably be fulfilled by some other means. It is interesting that this is one of the main criticisms levelled at the Harry Potter books by Pennington (2002):

Rowling also seems to purchase her marvellous assorted creatures from the Sears
catalogue of fantasy clichés: poltergeists, longing ghosts, dragons,
hippogriffs, giants, humongous spiders, vampires, werewolves, trolls, unicorns,
a sphinx, sirens, Pegasus horses (and I am certain that I have missed
some). With such a menagerie, Rowling is unable to develop any of
the fantastical creatures; in fact, she seems to expect the readers to bring
that magic to her creations, a dubious technique at best.
Pennington, 2002, p.82

I would dispute that this is a ‘dubious technique’ and argue instead that expecting readers to bring magic to such creations is a perfectly valid use of this sort of stock mythical character. That is precisely the reason they are there, to help readers experience the magic by the associative process of recognising them. From a very young age children are able to pick up on these stock characters and so the authorial use of them helps to create the parameters within which the story will be received and interpreted. A book chock-full of centaurs and dragons is asserting its identity as a mythic fantasy, much like wearing a badge or a uniform. This is not to say that it is necessary to create the desired ambience, merely that it is one way of doing so.

The use of archetypal characters is far more subtle, and not restricted to this kind of fiction, but as a function of the human psyche can be found in all literature. Archetypes underpin myth in the most fundamental way, due to their prevalence in human thought, and therefore are taken up most enthusiastically by mythic writers. A full discussion of the Jungian interpretations of children’s fantasy fiction is too wide a topic to explore here, and one which has been considered in some depth by many critics (see for example Mills (2003) and Cech (1992)). I wish merely to stress that as characters in myths are often as much archetypes as fully-fledged personalities, so too are their equivalents when used by modern authors attempting to harness the power of myth in their work. The adult fantasy author David Eddings referred to his conscious use of archetypes in writing The Belgariad as ‘mythic fishhooks’, designed to ‘catch’ the reader (Eddings, 1998, p.12). He may be unusual in using archetypes so deliberately, but most authors of modern mythic fiction, particularly that written for children or ‘genre fantasy’ for adults, do so to a more or less conscious extent. The use of archetypes lends psychological depth to a work, and the mythic and archetypal are inextricably entwined in any consideration of the role and value of literature which seeks to be built on such foundations. Authors often play with archetypes, twisting and subverting them, as for example Diana Wynne Jones having her heroine transformed into an old woman in Howl’s Moving Castle, undermining the received picture of the Old Woman as a threatening character in hundreds of fairy tales, but maintaining the archetype itself in the background.

Alan Garner’s Elidor is a very heavily mythic book, possibly the most weighted in this sense of any of his works. It is packed full of borrowings from myth, legend and folklore, assimilated to a greater or lesser extent. At its most basic level, it is an almost bare but very atmospheric story about four children who find themselves taken into a parallel world, dark and wasted, where they are prompted by a mysterious guide, Malebron, into retrieving four ‘treasures’ from a mound. They are then chased from Elidor by shadows and return to their own world, where they hide the treasures, but continue to be pursued by shadows until eventually a unicorn, which they’d been told by Malebron had to sing before Elidor could be redeemed, breaks through and is killed, at which point the children are able to get one last glimpse of the light returning to Elidor as they throw the treasures back. However, this surface story belies its inner complexity as it is deeply layered with mythic resonances that work on both a symbolic and an archetypal level.

On a symbolic level, Elidor can be read as a Grail story, with numerous references to Grail mythology. Malebron, the mysterious fiddler who calls the children into the other world, is Garner’s version of the Fisher King, the ‘maimed king’ (Elidor, p.38) of a wasted land, awaiting the arrival of a boy who will save him and his world. His name even echoes that of the Fisher King in Robert de Boron – Bron. Roland is Perceval, in the same way, the naïve boy who does not understand what he has to do the first time he comes to the ‘Grail Castle’, and has to leave and travel elsewhere for a long time before he understands and can return. The treasures, despite their more straightforward mythic correspondence with the treasures of the Celtic Tuatha Dé Danann[2], also equate with the ‘treasures’ of the Grail legend – the bleeding spear, the stone (the form the Grail takes in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version), and of course the cauldron, the most common form the Grail takes. The Biblical aspect of the Grail legend is reflected in the climax of the book where Findhorn, the unicorn (the unicorn being a medieval symbol for Christ) is stabbed in the side by the spear from Elidor (the bleeding spear associated with the Grail in medieval legend was said to be the spear of Longinus which pierced the side of Christ on the cross) and is comforted in his death by Helen, who carried the cauldron, remembering the Grail as the cup in which the blood of Christ was collected by Mary Magdalene. And of course, it is Findhorn’s death which saves Elidor and cleanses it of its ‘sin’. Such potent use of mythological symbols endows the story of Elidor’s redemption with much more meaning than it might otherwise have. When taken in conjunction with an archetypal reading, this depth of meaning increases yet further to transform Elidor into a universal tale of redemption.

There are many ways in which Elidor can be seen to reflect archetypes, but two of the archetypal readings are particularly pertinent, that is, Roland’s story as a hero myth, and Elidor’s relation to our own world as its dark shadow. Joseph Campbell, in his work The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), describes how the universal hero, as found in myths, legends and stories of all kinds the world over, shares fundamental characteristics and follows the same pattern in their quest, whatever their goal may be. As such, this can be applied to the heroes of all the books I am discussing, and David Colbert, for example, has described how Harry Potter fits the description of the universal hero (Colbert, 2001, p.155-166), but in the context of examining the universality of Elidor it is worth comparing Roland’s story to this fundamental blueprint.

Campbell summarises the heroic adventure as follows:

The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured,
carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of
adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the
passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive
into the kingdom of the dark […] or be slain by the opponent and descend in
death. Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world
of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him
(tests), some of which give him magical aid (helpers). When he
arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal
and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s
sexual union with the goddess mother of the world (sacred marriage), his
recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinisation
(apotheosis), or again – if the powers have remained unfriendly to him – his
theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is
an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination,
transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the
return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under
their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation
flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental
powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread
(return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world
Campbell, 1949, p.245-246

Roland is ‘called to adventure’ (Campbell, 1949, p.58) by the chance of finding Thursday Street and the abandoned church, and ‘crosses the threshold’ into Elidor, which is the ‘zone unknown, the fateful region of both treasure and danger’ (p.58). His journey through Elidor, for example the dead forest of Mondrum and his entry into a tumulus, equates to the heroic pass through death. Roland then faces the trials of the stone circle, entry into the Mound of Vandwy and the temptation of the branch of apple blossom, before he and his brothers and sister achieve the treasures. They are then able to return to their own world, having succeeded in the quest, or at least the first part of it. For Garner doubles the hero quest, in much the same way as medieval Arthurian romances did, by forcing his hero to pass through a dual cycle where at first he achieves what he initially set out to do but does not resolve the problem, and must continue to wander before finally gaining the knowledge to complete the quest in the second cycle. This is what Roland must do once he has returned to his own world. He has the treasures, now he must learn about them, and Elidor, so that when the moment comes, when Findhorn breaks through, he will know what must be done to save Elidor and fulfil his prophesised role.

Structurally therefore, Elidor follows the pattern of the universal hero myth. Garner’s use of this pattern (although to what extent this was or could have been a conscious decision is debatable – Campbell’s point is that in writing of heroes and the heroic, this is the pattern that the story will take) makes Roland’s story relevant to everyone, everywhere. Heroes are there ‘as scapegoat[s] […] [having] to do the suffering for everyone’, and reading about them ‘gives you this sense of something other and better, […] a sort of blueprint of how to manage’ (Jones, 1992). This is why both authors and readers are drawn to the idea of the universal hero, and why it is one of the most fundamental ways in which myth informs modern literature.

If Roland is a universal hero, undertaking a universal quest, then his goal must also be universal. And this is where a Jungian interpretation of the land of Elidor and its relationship to our world comes in. One of the interesting features about Elidor in Garner’s work is its non-presence. ‘Garner has been criticised for creating a new world and then abandoning it (only five of the twenty chapters are set in Elidor), but he is essentially interested in Elidor as an idea rather than as a reality. Elidor’s value is as a point of reference by which we may understand the emptiness and futility of our own world’ (Philip, 1981, p.45-46). I would go further and say that Elidor actually represents the Jungian Shadow, the dark obverse of our world. Cech (1992) has discussed Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea as a ‘dramatization of one young person’s discovery of and reconciliation with his own shadow’ (Cech, 1992, p.84), a reconciliation which, according to von Franz, ‘is the beginning of individuation, the lifelong process of coming to know our own unconscious and its “regulating center”, the Self. The shadow represents “those qualities and impulses [an individual] denies in himself but can plainly see in other people”’ (von Franz, The process of individuation, quoted in Cech, 1992, p.83). The childrens’ journey into Elidor and attempts to come to terms with this shadowy land that they were shown and which increasingly impinges on their own world can be seen as Garner’s attempt to achieve reconciliation with the shadow aspects of the modern world. The importance of attempting this reconciliation, of facing the shadow, was described by Le Guin in terms strikingly similar to the scenes in Elidor where the shadows break through:

The less you look at it […] the stronger it grows, until it can become a menace,
an intolerable load, a threat within the soul.
Le Guin, 1979, p.64

Again Roland felt the charge as abruptly as if it had been switched on, and he
arranged everybody in a tight group on the lawn facing the spot where the
shadows had appeared. […]
“Watch the rose bed. And keep
watching,” said Roland. […]
The two shadows stood on the rose bed. […]
this one of your hallucinations, eh?” said Roland, and tried to turn his head to
see how Nicholas was reacting. But his neck muscles were
locked. The shadows darkened.

Elidor, p.148-149

The children had to face the shadows in order to shift them from being a threat to being a physical presence and therefore able to play their part in the ultimate redemption of Elidor through Findhorn’s death. In Jungian terms then, through the children being made aware of Elidor, our world’s shadow, recognition and understanding is made possible for all those living in our world, and Elidor becomes a universal hero myth. Garner’s work shows therefore how the use of mythic elements, in various ways and to various extents, gives a modern story additional depth and resonance. Many of the authors of such mythically based stories which fall into this category, would I’m sure agree with Diana Wynne Jones’s aim ‘to write fantasy that might resonate on all levels, from the deep hidden ones, to the most mundane and everyday.’ (Jones,1992, [web page]). This multilevelled resonance might not always be completely achieved, but even an imperfect achievement is significantly more satisfying for the reader than one which ignores the deeper levels of the human psyche. The use of mythic elements in modern stories allows authors to come closer to achieving this than they would be able to on their own.
[1] Effect of distancing or alienation
[2] ‘Their former homes were four magical cities, Falias, Findias, Gorias, and Murias. From them they take their principle treasures: from Falias Fál or Lia Fáil, the stone of destiny, which cries out under a lawful king; from Findias the sword of Nuadu, which allows no one to escape; from Gorias Gáe Assail, the spear of Lug Lámfota, which guarantees victory; from Murias the cauldron of the Dagda, which leaves everyone satisfied.’ The Oxford dictionary of Celtic mythology, p.415. Garner also uses the names of the cities as the names of the four castles in Elidor.
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Cech, John (1992) ‘Shadows in the classroom: teaching children’s literature from a Jungian perspective’, in Sadler, Glenn (ed.) Teaching children’s literature: issues, pedagogy, resources, New York : Modern Language Association of America, pp.80-88
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