Friday, September 24, 2010

12: The Return (IV)

IV: Venus

We usually pretend that words are neat little signs which point at things. The word "elephant" points at a great big thing with a trunk and floppy eats and a disconcerting tendency to hide in rooms where embarrassing subjects aren't being discussed. That's because we've agreed to use "elephant" to mean "big grey pachyderm". We might have agreed to use "elephant" to mean "skinny blueberry muffin" or "counter-reformation". The staff in Starbucks get confused if I ask for a tall Americano and an elephant, but "gay" means "joyful" whatever the confirmed bachelor lobby want to pretend it means.

If I say "the cat was lapping up the cream" you think of a little furry thing that likes sitting on mats. But if I say "the cat was laying down some hep riffs, man" you spot that I'm talking about a fashionable black American from the 1950s, and not a furry animal at all. But for some reason, if I say "Blackbeard punished the sailor with the cat" you don't imagine the pirate thumping someone over the head with a jazz saxophonist. Or maybe you do.

Suppose I write a story in which the main character sees a whale. You know what I mean by "whale". Big fish shaped chap, lives in the sea, squirts water out of its head. But when I say "whale" you don't only think of the big swimmy mammal: you also think of Jonah, who was swallowed by one; and Ahab, who chased one; and hippies, who want to save them. And you probably also think of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home which probably made you think of Moby Dick. And One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing and Pinochio – which were intended to make you think of Jonah, whatever intended means.

If I'm a clever author, I probably know that if a guy in my story goes hunting a whale, then you'll probably think of Captain Ahab. But Moby Dick is such a big famous story that it will spill over into my little story whether I intend it to or not.

A lot of perfectly sensible people thought that the title of the movie "The Passion of the Christ" meant "The Really Strong Feelings of the Christ", "How the Christ Got Really Really Angry" or even "The Love Affair of the Christ." Once upon a time "He loved her passionately" meant "He loved her so much it hurt". But we don't use the word "Passion" in that sense any more. And poor Mel couldn't stop the title meaning a thing he didn't want it to mean, however much he say at home in his room "intending" really, really hard.

It would be very nice if words and symbols all contained nice little nuggets of meaning, in the same way that Christmas puddings contained sixpences. But they don't. They mean lots of different things, and when you put them next to other words, which also mean lots of different things, they mean even more different things. Most of the time, the best we can do is pay attention to who is saying them, and to whom, and where and why and when and make a sort of guess as the kinds of things they probably mean this time.

This is scary and disconcerting and counter-intuitive. People with Aspergers, I'm told, find it particularly hard to deal with. Why, they ask, can't people just say what they damn well mean?

The totemic text during my English degree was not The Golden Bough or Hero With a Thousand Faces or The Interpretation of Dreams: it was Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory. I can't remember if I read that, either. 


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

12: The Return (III)

III: Mercury

I don't really think that Bob Dylan lyrics are impervious to analysis.

I think that Visions of Johanna works as a lyric because Dylan has chosen to put particular words next to other words. Those words – their sounds, their meanings, the way other writers have used them – affect the listener in particular ways. If he had chosen different words, the words would effect us differently.

I don't think that you can decode the songs and say what they mean. I don't think that Bob set out to tell a naturalistic story about how he was once in bed with a prostitute named Louise but was all the time thinking about a former girlfriend named Johanna, but decided, for some reason, to present the story in the form of a riddle. I don't think that Mr T.S Eliot wrote a story about a bank clerk who felt depressed after the First World War and / or the Quest for the Holy Grail and decided, for some reason, to present the story in the form of a cryptic crossword clue. (It is at least arguable that Mr Don Mclean did set out to write about the history of American pop music since 1959 but chose to present it under a series of oblique symbols, which is why Visions of Johanna is a work of genius and American Pie is a quite good pop song.)

I think that Dylan's poetry is driven by sound, not meaning; and by association of images; not logical or narrative structure.

I think that the only possible answer to the question "Why can't the jelly-faced woman find her knees?" is "Because freeze rhymes with knees."

I think that this is a very risky strategy for a lyricist to adopt. We can just about see why Bob's girlfriend Angelina made him want to listen to the music of the concertina and that she looks like a goddess with the head of a hyena, but when she turns out to be the most beautiful woman between here and Argentina and Judges start issuing subpoenas, we are inclined to think that a certain amount of the piss is being taken. (Which may have been why Dylan didn't release "Angelina", of course.)

I think that it is very hard to write convincing gibberish. Dylan comes up with lines like "The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face" which appear to make sense, but don't. If you or I tried it, we would write "Skin yourself alive, learn to speak Arapaho / Climb inside a dog, and behead an Eskimo" which makes the wrong kind of sense and is therefore funny, but not very

I do not think that any logical process connects "Outside the museum, infinity goes up on trial" with "Voices echo: this is what salvation must be like after a while" and "Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles". I do think that the strong rhymes make us look for, and therefore find, the non-existent connections. 

I think, but only tentatively, that the words ghost, electricity, howls, bones, face are best thought of as an unconnected series of images and sounds, and the words "the" "in" and "of" are there to lull us into thinking that they must make some kind of sense.

I don't think that if we attend to them in the right spirit, possibly under the influence of Freud or illegal substances, we will be able to discern the secret language of Dylan's imagery, in which "Johanna = Buddy Holly", "Louise = Your Mum" and "Country Music = The Oedipus Complex."

I think that as soon as our mind is confronted with a sequence of words, images or sentences, it starts to look for connections between them, tries to find a way for them to mean something, tries, as 'puter geeks would say, to "parse" them.

I think that lyrics of this kind drive a wedge between words and the meanings of words. 

I think that lyrics of this kind put us in a state of mind where we feel that words don't just mean one thing, but lots of things. When Bob tells us that "Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule" we find that we can't make the words attach themselves to anything so they flap around in our heads until they find something to latch on to. 

I think that this induces a state of mind in which all sorts of interesting idea and emotions which Bob himself didn't and couldn't know about, leap into our head. 

I think this is probably what Mr William Wordsworth meant about the vernal brook

I think that once we have spotted that this is how Visions of Johanna and I Am the Walrus Work, it becomes scarily possible that this is how Moby Dick and Rom: Spaceknight and The House at Pooh Corner work, as well. And Star Wars. Especially Star Wars. 

Mr C.S. Lewis thought that it was silly to pretend Hamlet was a real person, and then try to explain is behaviour realistically. He thought it made more sense to look at the actual words which Shakespeare gave the actor to speak, and to consider how those words generate a particular kind of ambiguity whereby everybody who reads Hamlet creates their own Hamlet in their heads but truly believes that he found that Hamlet, and only that Hamlet, in the poem.

If the doors of perception were opened every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

The question to ask about a poem is not "what does it mean" but "how does it mean"? I said that.


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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The New Warrior Training Adventure is a process of initiation and self-examination that is crucial to the development of a healthy and mature male self. It is the "hero's journey" of classical literature and myth - the process of moving away from the comforting embrace of the mother's feminine energy and safely into the masculine kingdom. It is a journey of the soul during which men confront their dependence on women, their mistrust of other men and their need to be special....The cost of the NWTA in the UK is £595. This covers all board, lodging and tuition for the weekend. A deposit of £125 is usually asked to secure your place.

The Mankind Project.

12: The Return

I: The Sun

have an aversion to combining sweet and savoury flavours and in particular an aversion to combining food from the sea with food from the land

before jesus came and put a stop to it the jews were not allowed to cook a lobster in its mothers milk which is proved by the reference to fish fingers and custard in doctor who roses are redd-ish violets are blu-eish

since babylonian times school children have been given milk puddings as a dessert which they have always hated what is the matter with mary jane shes perfectly well and she hasnt a pain what a shame mary jane had a pain at the party

shakespeare said that tinned fish represented sexuality fools are as like to husbands as pilchards are to herrings the husbands the bigger

if we trouble to learn the secret language of the school-yard we will easily discern that the semolina pilchard straddles the boundary between land and sea fish and cow first course and pudding male and female nice and nasty sensible and silly this is the same as the jungian archetype of the fool which i am almost sure is in the tarot deck somewhere

so when the semolina pilchard tries to ascend the phallic axis of the world we see that true wisdom can only be achieved through the path of stupidity the eiffle tower is in paris paris makes me think of the judgement of paris which is in greek mythology somewhere

also the penguins chant hindu mantras about the dancing child who taught arjun the bhagavad gita so the penguins represents the combination of south with east black with white chocolate with cream biscuit with little coloured bits of silver foil

expert textpert choking smoker don't you see the joker laughs at you

II: The Moon

Campbell begins Hero With a Thousand Faces with a spectacularly inane passage from Freud. When a child asks where the new baby came from, his parents will sometimes say "The stork brought her".  But this isn't, it seems, where babies really come from. "We are telling the truth in symbolic clothing" says Siggy "For we know what the large bird signifies. But the child does not know it."

This, for Freud, is a bit like religion. God doesn't exist, any more than the Stork exists, but babies certainly exist and they certainly come from somewhere. God, like the Stork, "stands for" some truth. But the symbols in practice "distort" and "conceal" whatever truths they once represented. In any case, it's a bad idea to lie to children: better to dispense with the Stork metaphor altogether and tell the little darlings about erections and ejaculation and spermatozoa as soon as they are old enough to ask.

Campbell obviously likes the idea that the story of Mr Stork disguises the facts of reproduction. The purpose of Hero With a Thousand Faces is to "uncover some of the truth disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology" – to get past the Stork of mythology and reveal the messy truth that lies behind it. But he doesn't seem to think that stork-type stories are lies that it would have been better never to have told in the first place; lies which can be thrown away once we are ready for the truth. He rather thinks that we ought to reverently and respectfully study the Stork so that eventually the big secret will reveal itself to us.

But it won't. There is no possible way that any amount of study of the Stork could possibly tell us what really happens in the maternity ward even if we swallow the idea that the Bird represents Mummy's Belly and that dropping the baby down the chimney represents the newborn's passage through the vagina which I assume we don't. Everyone but Freud – including the very small child who originally asked where his sister came from – understands that "The stork brought you" isn't a symbol, or a lie, or a myth or even a euphemism, but a polite refusal to answer the question, a form of words which means "I'm not going to tell you yet", like when you asked Granny how old she was and she replied "As old as my tongue, and a little bit older than my teeth."

The Stork is, in fact, a social construct in which a group of people in a particular society at a particular time agree that the bird will represent childbirth. Watch the opening minutes of Dumbo; look at the behaviour of storks in real life; do an art history analysis of twee Christening cards; compare stork-stories in America with stork-stories in the African basin. You will never discover the Truth about how babies are made. Because it just isn't there.

Your Sunday School teacher probably told you that Jesus preached in parables to enable his audience to understand him. In fact, he specifically said that he preached in parables to prevent his audience from understanding him.

In Mr William Wordsworth's poem Anecdote for Fathers, the narrator repeatedly asks a child why he prefers his new house to his old one. The child, who doesn't know, eventually claims that he likes the new house because it has a weather-cock and the old one didn't. In Mr Jim Henson's television show Sesame Street a character named Big Bird tried to understand why the old storekeeper (who has, in fact, died) will never come back, and is told by one of the adult characters "It has to be this way because."

Weather cocks, storks, giant yellow budgies: clearly large birds always represent unanswerable questions.


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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

11: Resurrection

Campbell was not the first person to think that if you read lots of different stories, you'd find that some of them had things in common. We've seen that that James Frazer and his fans thought that all stories came out as "we plant the seed, nature grows the seed, we harvest the seed" and Freud thought that all stories came down to "there once lived a man named Oedipus Rex who loved his mother". Other examples could be tracked down. Vladimir Propp proved to his own satisfaction that all Russian folktales (and presumably all folktales) could be expressed as a (rather complicated) set of equations and formulae. Lord Raglan noted that nearly all mythic heroes have a disconcerting tendency to be

a: the children of gods or other superheroes

b: orphans

c: survivors of a massacre

d: raised by common folk in ignorance of their true nature

e: obliged to fight the person who killed their parents

f: given a special weapon, connected with their parents in some way

g: a dab-hand at Quidditch. (I made that one up, as the fellow said.)

But Campbell and his followers are not content with the observation that stories which conform to "the monomyth" occur in many different cultures. They think that this really, really matters, because Mythology is telling us something that we really, really need to hear.

Vogler says of hero myths:

"They deal with the child-like but universal questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where will I go when I die? What is good and what is evil? What must I do about it? What will tomorrow be like? Where did yesterday go? Is there anybody else out there?"

I am not quite certain whether Vogler thinks that there is a special category of things called Hero Myths which will answer all these deep questions, or whether he thinks that this is true of stories in general (including comic strips and dirty jokes).

Campbell says that his purpose in writing Hero With a Thousand faces is to "uncover some of the truth disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology". He goes on:

The old teachers knew what they were saying. Once we have learned to read again their symbolic language it require no more than the talent of an anthologist to let their teaching be heard. But first we must learn the grammar of the symbols, and as a key to this mystery I know of no better tool than psychoanalysis.

For Campbell, it seems that hero-myths are really about – wait for it – Life. They are, in particular, about Growing Up and learning what it is to be a Man or, if you absolutely insist, a Woman. In Hero With a Thousand Faces, this is conceived of in classically Freudian terms.

One of the things which might occur during the heroic round is "Atonement with the Father." (Atonement with ther father: not "atonement with you father" or even "reconciliation with your father". Onement was the ordinary Middle English word for "unity" [BLUFF] but the word is now only used in a religious context: to refer to the Crucifixion of Jesus, or Yon Kippur.) Campbell begins his discussion with a lot of blood-curdling quotes from Christian preachers about how God is really very cross indeed and is going to make you sit on the naughty step for eternity if you don't come down and play nicely. He notes that, in most mythologies, there is some magic way of escaping from the wrath of the angry god (or God) whether we're talking the Blood of Christ or Sir Gawain's magic girdle of invulnerability.

For the ogre aspect of the father is a reflex of the victim's own ego – derived from the sensational nursery scene that has been lift behind, but projected before; and the fixating idolatry of that pedagogical non-thing is itself the fault that keeps one steeped in a sense of sin, sealing the potentially adult spirit from a better, balance more realistic view of the father, and therewith the world.

For Campbell, the idea that God is going to send us to Hell (or that the Green Knight is going to chop our head off) "really means" that we remember what it was like to be scared of Daddy. "Sinners will be sent to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth" means "We remember how horrid it was when Daddy gave us a smack on the bottom" or "We remember how desolate we felt when Daddy seemed to come between us and Mummy."

When you are a Baby, nothing exists but Mummy, and in particular, Mummy's breast. Ergo, the Garden of Eden and the Old Republic both "really mean "your memory of what it was like to be a baby, which was the only time in your life when your were perfectly content." This is why "Mummy" and "The Universe" are pretty much interchangeable in mythology: because we remember a time when there was nothing but Mummy. It's also why Paradises (and, indeed, Universes) often contain sucky things that provide endless, magical sources of nourishment. The Holy Grail and the Tree of Life are both equally symbols of Mummy's nipple.

The symbolism appears to work in the other direction as well: breast-feeding represents the mystery of the Holy Grail. I wish I had been in a punk band so I could have called it Pedagogical Non-Thing.

But then, of course, you also have memories of resenting and hating Mummy, because there were times when she wasn't feeding you; indeed, there were times when you lay in your cot and yelled but she didn't come and you hated her for not coming, until she came, and you loved her again. So you probably have an image of a Nasty Mummy in your head alongside your image of Nice Mummy, which is why mythologies are so full Wicked Stepmothers and Fairy Godmothers; of Virgins and Magdalenes, Eves and Liliths. And the only way for you to get back to Mummy, once she has stopped suckling you and gone off with Daddy is for you to become Daddy. And the only way you can become Daddy is by growing up. So life is all about leaving paradise (Mummy's booby) and turning from a child (who can't marry Mummy) into a man (who can). Of course you don't really marry Mummy: but a pretty lady who represents your Mummy; and you don't really become your own Daddy but someone else's Daddy, so the whole ghastly business can start again. Get out as quickly as you can, and don't have any kids yourself.

This hyper-Freudian bullshit is really is, it seems to me, what Campbell thinks lies behind all mythologies. Jesus dying on the Cross; Gawain surviving his encounter with the Green Knight; and Luke Skywalker taking off Darth Vader's mask all "really mean" "You can let go of those scary picture of Dad that you've been carrying around since you were baby. And until you've done that, you can't stop being a child and become a Daddy yourself."

This is why "the traditional idea of initiation combines an introduction of the candidate into the techniques, duties and prerogatives of his vocation with a radical adjustment of his emotional relationship to the parental images" : to be properly grown up, it isn't enough to know what's expected of you as a soldier, hunter or chartered accountant: you also have to cut the apron strings and stop thinking of yourself as Mummy's little boy. Campbell gives many blood-curdling examples of traditional "initiations", and gives Freudian explanations of the symbolism of the "cutting the apron strings" bit. Young native Australians had to play a a terrifying role-playing game in which the adult men pretended to be the "great father snake" who eats little boys and the adult women pretend to fight the snake and cry because their sons were going to be eaten. In the end the snake monster is satisfied with just eating the boy's foreskin: the ceremony ends with the boy really being circumcised. "The culminating instruction of the long series of rites is the release of the boys own hero-penis from the protections of its foreskin, through the frightening and painful attack upon it of the circumciser." Campbell thinks that the reason that these ceremonies are "mysteries" is that the child mustn't know what is going to happen: he really does believe he's going to be eaten by a snake, and that artificial trauma effects his personality and makes a man of him. No, I don't know at what point the "penis" turned into the hero of the story, rather than just metaphor for the sword that the hero was carrying, either.

It is not surprising that, given his essentialist view of symbolism, Campbell has an essentialist view of human nature. If cups and spears and shadows have one, and only one, correct and true meaning regardless of which mythology you find them in, so there is one, and only one, correct and true role which sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and old people ought to play, regardless of which culture they live in. The idea that there should be a rite of passage which sharply distinguishes childhood from adolescence – a moment where the childish part of you is literally (i.e metaphorically) put to death – is not, for Campbell, something which works in particular contexts for particular cultures, but a universally correct way of doing thinks in any culture. Horrid modern society has gone wrong because we've stopped making slits in boys willies and biting their foreskins off. We've gone wrong because we no longer think that boys are boys and girls are girls and Daddies hunt the tricerotops while Mummies stay home and weave the baskets. In the course of Mythos (the TV show) Campbell explicitly bemoans the fact that there are fewer and fewer all male clubs nowadays. I suppose there's no reason why you can't be a visionary and an old fogey at the same time.

The idea that modern males have infantilized themselves – that men in their thirties and forties still watch Doctor Who, listen to rock and roll (as I believe the young people call it) and generally fail to take proper responsibility for their lives – is one that even people with little or no interest in the genitalia of Aborigines would be prepared to contemplate. The idea that it is natural for the child-bearers to be the primary child-rearers -- that there comes a time when you should stop playing football and start winning bread; that families need fathers – is not self-evidently false. But how many of the script writers and games designers who sit and worship at the feet of Vogler believe that this rather reactionary message is what All Stories In the World are telling them?

There is something to be said for the the idea that the happy society is the one where the you have a role, regardless of what stage your life your are at. Maybe we could usefully treat the Hero story as a template for the good life. When you are old, you are not a has-been -- you are more like the hero who has finished his quest, learned The Thing, and must now share it with his Tribe. You've had your turn at playing Luke Skywalker and can now have a go being Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But let's suppose that this is right: let's suppose that modern man (and, if you insist, Woman) has been, and I use the term in its technical sense, fucked up because he hasn't had an initiation rite, hasn't left is childhood behind, is still yearning after Mummy's breast and is still terrified that Daddy will spank his bottom and chop off his willy. And let's suppose that this is what all hero myths (or if you follow Vogler, all stories of any kind) are telling us. What follows from this? What should we do about it?

Campbell's laughs at the idea that we could return to our old primitive religions; and is just plain irritated with anyone who thinks that they can carry on being a Jew or a Catholic in the modern world. (There is a rather distasteful scene in Mythos where he mocks a Christian member of the audience on the grounds that if the story of the Ascension is true and Jesus is limited to the speed of light then far from being in Heaven, He hasn't even reached the edge of the galaxy yet: a non sequitur of Dawkinsian proportions.) He doesn't seem to be advocating the invention of new religions with new ceremonies or even that the return of national service and corporal punishment would make men out these boys pretty damn quick. He seems to think that what Freudian psychoanalysis does is allow you to re-learn the roles that you should have been taught when you were growing up – learning how to be separate from Mummy, learning that you don't need to afraid of Daddy, learning that you are now a Man (or, if you insist, Woman) and can leave your parents behind.

At some points, he seems to be saying that Hero Myths are simply rather oblique and complicated ways of advising you to book a session with your local Freudian counselling practice. Reading Gilgamesh enables us to understand that we are not properly grown up, and that we need to spend a little time on the couch free associating and talking about our dreams. At other times, he seems to be saying that because these stories describe, in symbolic terms, the Journey from Childhood to Adulthood merely reading them will recapitulate the life stages that you would have gone through if you'd been a happy aborigine. You don't need prayer, meditation or psychoanalysis to heal your life. A sufficiently intense reading of Moby Dick will do the trick.

One can see why professional screen writers would be attracted to a theory that seems to say that some stories (or, if we go with Vogler, all stories) have an intrinsic, magical, life-saving power. But the end result is a massive paradox. My culture doesn't practice Bar Mitzvah, and I'm stuck as a kiddult. But the solution, it appears, is to go and watch Star Wars one more time.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

10: The Road Back

"The hero sets out on a journey. Stuff happens to him on the way. Then he comes home again." It wouldn't be very surprising if nearly every story on earth fitted into that pattern. The real challenge would be to come up with one that didn't.

Sam Gamgee spotted that it's a no-brainer that all stories begin with heroes setting out, because the people who stay at home don't get stories written about them. Dr Watson made a similar point: Sherlock Holmes always solves the case because the cases he couldn't solve don't get written up as case histories.

So, is anything not a monomyth?

Campbell's monomyth ends with the hero returning home and bringing something back with him. This "boon" is an object – the Holy Grail, the Golden Goose, the plans of the Death Star – but it represents something which has happened inside the Hero. He has been changed by his adventure. Travel broadens the mind. It follows, then, that any story in which the hero, after many struggles, reaches a destination and stays there is not a monomyth. This is not necessarily a problem for Campbell whose claim is that examples of the monomyth can be found in many cultures. But it is is huge problem for Vogler, who thinks that monomyths are the only show in town.

The Pilgrim's Progress comes instantly to mind. You can't have anything much less cyclical than a one-way journey from Earth to Heaven. And Pilgrim's Progress is a central text among, in particular, American protestant Christians, who are highly committed to a myth in which the Pilgrim Fathers left their corrupt, European homeland and travelled, through many dangers, to the New World, where they created a utopian society, albeit one with rather more talking-wires than the original inhabitants found to their taste. Some of their descendants told cowboy stories, in which the hero, or indeed, Hero, is engaged in an obstinately linear journey to the West. He comes into town, fixes everybody's troubles, and rides off into the sunset. No monomyth in sight.

If Vogler is right, then Pilgrim's Progress would be better – more magical, more universal, more psychologically true – if Christian had, after a brief stopover in the Heavenly City, retraced his steps and brought the good news back to Christiana. Similar, the legend of the Pilgrim Fathers would be more inspirational if it ended with them taking a cargo of turkeys and cranberries back to Old England. And, of course, the story which inspired both Bunyan and the Pilgrim Fathers would have been hugely improved if, after crossing the Jordan, the Chosen People had returned to Egypt with an infinite supply of milk and honey.

You could, I suppose, say that all these stories are really cyclical: that straight lines are symbols for circles, though not, presumably, vice versa. Staying in America is a metaphor for going back to England. Or you could say that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, but only because Joseph had taken them there in the first place: the Exodus is the "going home" bit of a monomyth with Israel as its hero. Or else the whole Bible is a gurt big monomyth about how Adam left the garden with an apple in his hand until one greater man restored him and regained the blissful seat. In any long story, you can find instances of people leaving places and going back again. But one wonders if Campbell's antipathy to the Jewish God is related to the lack of cyclical stories in the Old Testament?

When I did literary theory at college, it was a truism that stories in which someone set forth to achieve something – stories which rushed headlong to a dramatic conclusion – were Male (and therefore bad). Stories which reached no final conclusion, which described a state of being, which cycled back to the beginning and achieved multiple climaxes were Female (and therefore good). The cleverer students, the ones with berets, went so far as to claim that the whole idea of stories – in fact the whole idea of writing in sentences -- was dangerously "phallocentric". But one does take the point that boys' stories like Moby Dick have beginnings, middles and ends in a way that girls' stories like Middlemarch really don't. The soap opera, which is all middle, is the female narrative form par excellence. You would search in vein for a monomyth in Coronation Street.

And so we come back to that damn movie. Luke Skywalker certainly sets out from his homestead; certainly has a fight with a Sandperson, certainly meets an old man who certainly gives him a weapon. He certainly rescues Princess Leia from death row on the Death Star and you could say without sounding too silly that that had something to do with death – the nadir of the mythological round. (Threepio thinks that Luke has been crushed to death in the garbage crusher, and we could even say that the the thing with the eyestalk which almost eats him is sorta kinda like Jonah and the whale.) But although he wins all sorts of "boons" – a girlfriend, secret plans, knowledge of the Force – he doesn't return home with them. It's very much a one way journey from Tatooine to Yavin, from hopeless, whining teenaged Luke to grown-up hero Luke in his soldier suit. Would Star Wars have been greatly improved if the movie had ended with his triumphant return to Tatooine? Is Return of the Jedi a better movie because it includes a clear cyclical movement, from the Forest Moon, to the Death Star, and back to the Forest Moon having Atoned With the Father? (You might think that Return of the Jedi is, in fact, a better movie, but is that why?)

Here is Campbell describing the beginning of the hero's journey:

"Having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forces, where he must survive a succession of trials."

Now, it's a no-brainer that once the hero has set off on his adventures, Stuff is going to happen to him, and that in an heroic story, that Stuff is going to involve physical trials. But "dream landscape"? "Fluid"? "Ambiguous"? Are we to say that Star Wars is definitely not Campbellian because the trials which Luke undergoes are, let me see, a fight with some desert dwelling savages, an encounter with the local police, a brawl in a bar, an attack by some enemy space craft....all very concrete and unambigious. Or do we have to say that the Cantina scene would have been better if it had been more like that bit in Empire Strikes Back where Luke encounters an hallucinatory Darth Vader in Yoda's Cave? Sir Gawain's journey from Camelot to the Green Chapel takes him through landscape which is described in geographically specific terms, and his main trial is a comedy-of-manners in a castle built in an architectural style that people who know about these things can identify. Moby Dick is full of factual, concrete, un-ambigious data about fishing. Do we have to say that none of these are monomyths (and therefore, none of them speak to us with universal message type thingies) because the landscape the hero moves through isn't fluid, ambiguous or dreamlike?

I don't think that Campbell's structure, and even Vogler's, is devoid of value. A story in which a character is born with great personal talents and aptitudes and very willingly goes out to confront an enemy with weapons he already owns is, I concur, less appealing than one in which a character with few talents reluctantly sets out to confront an enemy, and is given a special weapon along the way. It is artistically satisfying for Luke Skywalker to get his lightsaber after he has had the fight with the Sandperson; it would have been vulgar if someone had thrust it into his hand when he first set out into the desert. But only if we claim that "up" is sometimes a symbol of "down" can we make every satisfying narrative fit into Campbell's structure.

But I submit that the people who see in Hero With a Thousand Faces the Secret Key To All Stories are responding (as I did) to the title and the diagram. And maybe not even to the actual diagram in the actual book but to the idea that such a diagram exists. And I submit that many of those who use the diagram, or the idea of the diagram, as an amulet which guarantees that Writers are most important people in the world would be rather shocked if they knew what Campbell thinks the Diagram really, really means.


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