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Posts tagged ‘Joseph Campbell’

Why We Rise – Joseph Campbell’s View

“Most attribute the foundations of Western story structure to Aristotle. His simple idea that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end has long served as the template for how narratives have been communicated. Joseph Campbell, by contrast, wisely popularized the idea that the narrative journey was actually a cycle — that every ending brought forth new beginnings, that every death brought forth resurrection and new life.”

Source: MythBlast | Why We Rise – JCF: Home

I like this Joseph Campbell Foundation essay about the cyclical nature of stories and how they interact with the nature of our lives. You’ll find this in Campbell’s writings about The Hero’s Journey, the idea–as the author puts it–that the beginnings we discover in the new year don’t arise from a blank slate. As Frank Herbert mentioned in his novel Dune, the intuitive can look backward in time and see–like footprints across the sand–the steps one has taken to arrive where they are in life at any given moment.

Put this in a novel, and you call those steps “the plot” or “foreshadowing.” Story helps us identify these kinds of patterns in “real life” just as “real life” suggests to us the stories we tell, both fiction and memoir.

–Malcolm

Grail myths, where they came from, and how they were changed

I suppose I was probably destroyed <g> at an early age by the originals of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Or maybe the vicissitudes of magic led me into a mythic approach to understanding “the big picture” and the storytelling surrounding it. Be that as it may, I enjoy deepening my understanding (or further brainwashing myself) about myths and legends by constantly looking for new resources and re-reading old resources.

This past weekend, it was King Arthur and the Holy Grail. I can’t count the number of variations of this story I’ve read since childhood. Early on, I liked T. H. White’s Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s trilogy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s alternative approach in The Mists of Avalon. The approach of these and other authors is as varied as the approach of those credited with the early versions of the stories. This weekend’s reading was Joseph Campbell’s The Romance of the Grail.

Campbell, best known for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, spent a lifetime studying the Grail stories. In reading his book, we see immediately that there are two major approaches. One comes from Celtic sources and is probably indigenous to Ireland. This approach sees the Grail stories as a pagan manifestation of tales about fertility gods. The other major approach shows the stories as Christianized, that is to say, in which the Grail was considered to be the chalice from the Last Supper and the lance was said to be the one brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. I see this second approach as a “cleaning up” of older stories so that they were acceptable to the church. Yet another theme, further “touches up” the stories with mythic stories and practices from mysteries out of ancient Greece.

Joseph Campbell died in 1987, a few years after Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) was published, advancing the theory that Mary Magdalene was, in fact, the Grail, had been Jesus’ wife, and carried his bloodline. I wonder if Campbell was aware of this theory before he died.

I tend to like the original sources of myths rather than the glosses painted over them by subsequent poets. So, I see the Christianized versions of the Grail stories as deviant. Yet, those are the versions most people know and accept as part of the entire King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table storyline. It’s too late to change that, I suppose. Yet, paradoxically, I do wonder about the realities of Mary Magdalene even though she’s outside the Grail romances.

One issue that arises when the myths are retold properly (Elliott’s The Waste Land) or badly (Tennyson’s “Balin and Balan” in Idylls of the King) is that modern authors may or may not understand the deeper meanings of the original myths. So, those stories become–to put it crudely–writing prompts that can be spun out into all kinds of fiction that–due to egotism or ignorance–distort the intent of the basic story.

Writers of local and regional myths and legends from their own countries face the same problem. We want to base our stories to one extent or another on the legends surrounding the place, but may not have the time or resources to fully explore where those legends came from or why they were passed down through the ages. As writers, we do the best we can because, unlike Joseph Campbell and the Grail stories, we don’t have a lifetime’s worth of scholarship with which to shore up our stories.

Malcolm

You can find more information about Joseph Campbell and his work on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for….what?

“You are on the verge of the new age, a whole new world.
Human consciousness, our mutual awareness, is going to
make a quantum leap.
Everything will change. You will never be the same.
All this will happen just as soon as you’re ready.”

– Paul Williams, “Das Energi

Clipart.com photo

People say they will follow their dreams when the trivial is cleared from their calendars. . .when they get out of school. . .when the children leave the nest. . .when Godot arrives. . .when the weather changes. . .when the Christmas rush is over. . .when the dog gets back from the vet. . .when the garden is put in. . .when all the junk is cleaned out of the attic. . .when time stops going by. . .when somebody they trust gives them permission. . .when they get things back together after the last funeral. . .when wishes become horses. . .when they find the magic book with all the answers. . .when they no longer need a fix or a drink. . .when somebody leaves the invisible gate open. . .when the hearse is on the way.

Seems a waste, doesn’t it, never getting started?

“A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.”

– Joseph Campbell

–Malcolm

And, for some shameless promotion, the Kindle edition of my new novel “Lena” is on sale for 99₵ this weekend.

 

 

Briefly noted: ‘A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake’

“They lived and laughed and loved and left.” 
― James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

James Joyce is my favorite author, most especially his novels Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. With a minor in English, it was only natural and expected that I would study both of these books in school. School didn’t assign Finnegans Wake; perhaps they saved it for English majors and those working on a masters or doctoral degree. Or, perhaps the faculty was scared of the book.

I love the book, possibly for the language and the historical and cultural references and its endless puns and other humor. I also love chaos, and because of this, I suggest that people reading it for the first time should just go with the flow, setting aside worries or concerns about what it all means for a subsequent journey through the masterpiece.

If you want help, there’s help out there. If you want industrial-strength help, one option is Roland McHugh’s Annotations to Finnegans Wake. If you want getting-started help, then the 1944 A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Joseph Campbell, Henry Morton Robinson, and editor Edmond Epstein will save most of your sanity. Before this book was published, I don’t think readers–or English department professors–thought it was possible for anyone to understand, much less explain Finnegans Wake.

Publisher’s Description: “Since its publication in 1939, countless would-be readers of Finnegans Wake — James Joyce’s masterwork that consumed a third of his life — have given up after a few pages and dismissed it as a ‘perverse triumph of the unintelligible.’ In 1944, a young professor of mythology and literature named Joseph Campbell, working with poet Henry Morton Robinson, wrote the first key or guide to entering the fascinating, disturbing, marvelously rich world of Finnegans Wake. The authors break down Joyce’s abstruse book page by page, stripping the text of much of its obscurity and serving up thoughtful interpretations via footnotes and bracketed commentary. A Skeleton Key was Campbell’s first book, published five years before he wrote his breakthrough Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

In her June 2018 MythBlast| Mythic Mavericks essay on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, Leigh Melander writes that “For years I have been intrigued with what I perceive as a particularly Celtic sensibility, an ability to dance on the knife’s edge between insight and nonsense, tragedy and comedy, sacred and profane. Not to say that only those of Celtic antecedents have this ability, of course, but there seems to be a profound and specific love for this dance in Celtic myth, story, and literature.”

An apt phrase as the foundation celebrates James Joyce this month, the man–whom I believe–knew how to dance on that knife’s edge. Skeleton Key, says Melander, “Has lasted as the bedrock unlocking of Joyce’s profanely sacred nonsensical insights for generations of scholars and readers.” To be sure, more intensive books have been written in the last 74 years to help readers decypher the the enigma people perceive in this novel, but Campbell’s and Robinson’s work is a sound first step to breaking the code.

Susan G. Hauser wrote in her her “‘Finnegans Wake’ Breakdown,” in Salon that “We had come to realize that reading Finnegans Wake without assistance was akin to crossing the Sahara without a camel.” That’s not a surprising assessment inasmuch as some of the purported best critics in the known universe proclaimed before the ink was drying on the novel’s first edition that it was unintelligible, and later, that it is “the greatest book that nobody’s ever read.”

Hauser says that the group of friends who came together to read, discuss, and understand Joyce’s novel “Began with the same resolute spirit displayed by Stephen Dedalus at the end of ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ We felt we were doing a noble and brave thing, though we never dared to compare ourselves to the Wake’s first readers. To our mind they were just as courageous as the first people who ever tried eating lobster.”

Perhaps you should read Hauser’s article before you try reading Finnegans Wake. If you are brave–and not one of these people who tends to ask “what’s the worst that could possibly happen?”–and decide to tackle the Wake, you’ll probably order a copy of Skeleton Key after reading the first several pages.

Blind luck might suffice, but I doubt it.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Campbell is the author of the magical realism Florida Folk Magic Series of novels that includes Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” Coming soon, the final novel in the trilogy, “Lena.”

 

 

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

– Joseph Campbell

nightsky2It’s easy to point to great inventors, world leaders, writers, preachers, and leaders of social and environmental initiatives and say those people probably know who they are and why they’re living in the world.

We may be wrong about that because we don’t know their stories inside an out. These people inspire us, though, showing us–among other things–what a person can do through perseverance,  a willingness to fight against their challenges, and to have the strength of will and strength of purpose to reach their goals.

The rest of us can get discouraged when we read biographies or news stories about famous people who accomplished great things that have made the world a better place. How, we wonder, can we live up to that? I don’t think we’re supposed to live up to that. As Joseph Campbell would say, they were following their own paths. We have our own paths and, more often than not, those paths don’t involve being famous and ending up in the history books.

Some people say they are here to live ethical lives, to be loving and compassionate spouses and friends, to do an honest day’s work while interacting with customers and colleagues out of kindness and fairness, to bring up their children with sound values, and to take part in a churches and/or secular groups that address important causes in the community and the world. Such people vitalize the world in ways they may never know when you think of the thousands of interactions and influences they have with others during the course of a lifetime.

What we’re drawn to

Perhaps many of us discover who we are and subsequently why we’re here by looking at the causes, books, issues, subjects, belief systems and people we’re continually drawn to. Others get a strong hint when they enter college and suddenly find a subject fascinating or when they get a job and inadvertently take a company training course that leads their career in ways they never suspected on the first day of work. We find ourselves drawn to certain parts of the country or the world, possibly for what may initially seem to be the most flippant of reasons, only to find new lives there that suddenly define who we are and why we’re here.

While many people can inspire us teach us and show us (by example) what a lifetime might look like, only we can ultimately answer the question “Who am I?” Discovering that answer is often a frustrating and a lonely journey. Sometimes negative experiences get in the way of our goals and then–in time–we learn that who we are is a person who can live with adversity without losing their faith in themselves while finding new ways to define why they are here.

Do we plan our lives before we’re born?

Personally, I believe that before we are born, we know who we want to be and why we want to be here. If that’s the case, then we’ll be drawn to the kinds of people, places and things that facilitate our needs. I don’t believe in coincidences or luck or fate, so even if we don’t have a “life plan” before we are born, I think that we will develop one while we’re here as one thing leads to another. Yes, that often looks like a twisting and haphazard path until one reaches old age, looks back on it, and sees that behind all the seeming chaos of it, there was a central focus toward being who they became.

Being open to spontaneity

People used to say “go with the flow.” I don’t think that applies to mob action, acting like sheep or lemmings, or taking the easy way out. I think it means, as Joseph Campbell put it, following our bliss and doing what enlivens us and enriches us and transforms us. One has to be open to that flow to jump into it and see where it leads; we can’t consciously plan upcoming “coincidences,” “chance meetings,” or “lucky encounters with other people” in advance. We can expect them and be open toward spontaneously embracing those moments when they occur.

“Who Am I and Why Am I Here?” is usually an evolving discovery. Most of us don’t necessarily know that in high school or college or our first full-time job. Life will, I think, help us figure it out.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.”

 

Briefly Noted: Joseph Campbell’s ‘Romance of the Grail’

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), Evans Lansing Smith, Editor, ( New World Library, December 15, 2015), 304pp

romanceofgrailJoseph Campbell scholars and Arthurian legends students have been waiting for this volume for a long time. Sponsored by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, this collection focuses on the myths that introduced and excited Campbell about the over-arching mythic theories he spent a lifetime developing.

The book’s editor, Evans Lansing Smith became interested in disseminating Campbell’s views of the quests after discovering a typewritten copy of Campbell’s masters thesis “A Study of the Dolorous Stroke” which exams the motif of the wound and wasteland in the stories.

In an interview about the book, Smith said he hopes readers “will be as deeply engaged — and, indeed, as mesmerized as I was — with the power, grace, and fun with which Campbell retells the stories of the knights so central to the Grail romances: Yvain, Lancelot, Parzival, Gawain, Tristan, and others. As an Irishman, Campbell came from a long lineage of oral tradition, so that he was able in a couple of hours to convey more of the complexity and spiritual depth of those stories than many have been able to in long books on the subject.”

From the Publisher

The Arthurian myths opened the world of comparative mythology to Campbell, turning his attention to the Near and Far Eastern roots of myth. Calling the Arthurian romances the world’s first “secular mythology,” Campbell found metaphors in them for human stages of growth, development, and psychology. The myths exemplify the kind of love Campbell called “amor,” in which individuals become more fully themselves through connection. Campbell’s infectious delight in his discoveries makes this volume essential for anyone intrigued by the stories we tell—and the stories behind them.

Library Journal: “Smith provides well-rounded and concise essential readings on Arthurian mythology by one of America’s leading mythologists and incredible storytellers. Highly recommended for readers interested in Campbell, mythology, or Arthurian studies.”

When Campbell talks and writes about mythology, he presents the material as though he were there when it happened. He makes complex themes accessible. The Grail stories certainly lend themselves to his expertise and insights.

–Malcolm

JCFfundraiser

 

Magical Realism: betwixt and between

MRbloghop2015In folklore, mythology and fantasy, and real or acted-out rites of passage, the boundaries where worlds meet are variously considered volatile, dangerous and rich in possibilities. Why is a bride carried over the threshold? Yes, it’s traditional, but it harkens back to the notion that a doorway was a dangerous boundary.

Myths and superstitions have flourished around the doorways, thresholds, crossroads, the littoral between ocean and beach, the lines where forests and meadows meet, dusk and dawn, and other dividing lines between realities.

You’ll find these “uncertain places”—as Lisa Goldstein calls them in her fantasy by that name—referred to as “neither here nor there” and “betwixt and between.”

herothousandfacesIn his groundbreaking The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes that in the hero’s journey, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Strategic points in this journey occur where worlds and realities meet.

Even in a contemporary fantasy such as the Harry Potter series, the magic of Hogwarts is distinguished from the unknown and potentially darker magic of the forest. However, as Luke in Star Wars and Harry in Rowling’s series learn, the hero doesn’t grow within, much less advance on the physical part of his/her journey without going into the swamp, the dark forest, or the unknown world outside the city gates.

Magical Realism

Magical realism usually focuses upon the boundaries between the worlds of the known and the unknown. The stories combine the natural and the supernatural in a straightforward manner and without commentary or judgement as equally real. Characters dance back and forth across the “uncertain places” as the stories progress.

In a fantasy novel, the characters approach and enter supernatural worlds while noting they’re stepping into realms that are acknowledged as magical, different or strange. In a magical realism novel, events or places that readers may consider supernatural are, by contrast, accepted by the characters as no more or less real than the everyday science and technology world in place at the time when the novel is set.

MamaDayGloria Naylor’s novel “Mama Day” is a perfect example of the juxtaposition of realms. Her first novels, The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills took a realistic approach. However, in writing Mama Day, Naylor said, “I needed to find a way structurally to have you walk a thin line between that which is real and that which is not real.”

New York City in this novel represents the real. The fictional Willow Springs, on an island near the Georgia and South Carolina border represents what—in our consensual everyday reality—is not real. Writing in Challenging Realities: Magical Realism in Contemporary American Women’s Fiction, Maria Ruth Noriega Sanchez says that Naylor’s novel is an “extraordinary exploration of the intangible and the power of belief that brings into question the limits or reality and truth.”

Naylor’s approach to magic in Mama Day can be seen in my favorite passage from the novel: “She could walk through a lightning storm without being touched; grab a bolt of lightning in the palm of her hand; use the heat of lightning to start the kindling going under her medicine pot. She turned the moon into salve, the stars into swaddling cloth, and healed the wounds of every creature walking up on two or down on four.”

If this were written in a realistic novel, Naylor would have produced something more like this: “She could purportedly walk through a lightning storm without being touched; imagine grabbing a bolt of lightning in the palm of her hand; or appear to use the heat of lightning to start the kindling going under her medicine pot. In her dreams, she turned the moon into salve, the stars into swaddling cloth, and healed the wounds of every creature walking up on two or down on four in her mind’s eye.”

waterforchocolateRealism demands the qualifying words and phrases. Magic realism omits them and keeps the reader guessing and unsettled about what is really happening in the uncertain realms that are betwixt and between.

In this passage from Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, “Her body was giving off so much heat that the wooden walls began to split and burst into flame,” the reader finds no “as if,” “as though,” or other qualifiers to indicate the event is figurative—because it isn’t. How you react to that as a reader depends on how you see the world and/or on how well the author has enchanted you to see things differently while reading the book.

In Mark Helprin’a Winter’s Tale, Peter Lake is riding Athansor, a guardian angel in the form of a horse: “They got up steam and proceeded calmly to the north – where there seemed to be no people, but only mountains, lakes, reedy winterstalecoversnow-filled steppes, and winter gods who played with storms and stars.” Here again, the winter gods are mentioned as matter of factly as the mountains and lakes.

When initiates go through a ritual, they begin with the everyday world and end up transformed in some way. The place where these two stages meet is often called “liminality.” Here the initiate is not quite who s/he was and not quite who s/he will become.

Early studies in this area were done by Arnold van Gennep, who coined the word, in his 1909 book Rites de Passage. Folklore, myth, fairytales and stories following the “hero’s journey” typically involve plots ritesofpassageand scenes that are similar to rites of passage. The protagonist is buffeted by storms, monsters, magic forces, conscious landscapes and other dangers during his/her physical and inner journey to the intended destination.

Magical realism lives at that liminal point, leaving the reader with one foot over the threshold and one foot in the comfortable world s/he knows. Unsettling as this can be, that’s the genre’s greatest strength—a cauldron of worlds where stories simmer and readers become part of the spell.

You may also like: Just starting out? Beware of Magical Realism

–Malcolm

This post is part of the Magical Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magical realism. Please take the time to click on the button above to visit sit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.The button should go live on or after 12:01 a.m. July 29th.

 

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a magical realism novella folk magic in the Jim Crow era of the Florida Panhandle where granny and her cat take on the Klan.

Briefly Noted: ‘Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey’ by Valerie Estelle Frankel

In February 20121, McFarland released a new book for authors and readers interested in the heroine’s journey in fiction and myth and for fans of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (1992) and the subsequent television series (1997 – 2003).  A well-researched book, Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey is a natural extension of Valerie Frankel’s work in From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth (McFarland, 2010).

On her website, Frankel writes that “Though scholars often place heroine tales on Campbell’s hero’s journey point by point, the girl has always had a notably different journey than the boy. She quests to rescue her loved ones, not destroy the tyrant as Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker does. The heroine’s friends augment her natural feminine insight with masculine rationality and order, while her lover is a shapeshifting monster of the magical world—a frog prince or beast-husband (or two-faced vampire!). The epic heroine wields a magic charm or prophetic mirror, not a sword. And she destroys murderers and their undead servants as the champion of life. As she struggles against the Patriarchy—the distant or unloving father—she grows into someone who creates her own destiny.”

A new era in film and fiction for three-dimensional female action characters?

Frankel’s new book appears at a time when readers, authors and reviewers are discussing whether or not Lisbeth Salander (in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series) and Katniss (in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series) represent a positive trend in the development of female protagonists that are more than male-gaze eye candy. That is, can authors and film makers step away from the patriarchal idea that women—whether they kick ass or not—are little more than sex objects?

Unfortunately, Frankel—along with author Maureen Murdock (The Heroine’s Journey)—appear to represent a minority view. Most film makers are still trotting out female characters in mini-skirts and bikinis fighting alongside male counterparts who are dressed in normal uniforms or SWAT team gear, while many authors and screenwriters are arguing that the heroine’s journey is no more than a female character following Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey sequence.

As the author of a contemporary fantasy novel featuring the hero’s journey (The Sun Singer) and another that features the heroine’s journey (Sarabande), I find it refreshing to find another author/researcher who sees a difference between solar and lunar journeys. While I think my heroine’s journey story would make a great film, I don’t want Hollywood to turn my title character into a male-gaze Lara Croft-style protagonist transported to the mountains and plains of Montana in a tight and/or skimpy outfit.

Publisher’s Description: The worlds of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and other modern epics feature the Chosen One–an adolescent boy who defeats the Dark Lord and battles the sorrows of the world. Television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer represents a different kind of epic–the heroine’s journey, not the hero’s. This provocative study explores how Buffy blends 1990s girl power and the path of the warrior woman with the oldest of mythic traditions. It chronicles her descent into death and subsequent return like the great goddesses of antiquity. As she sacrifices her life for the helpless, Buffy experiences the classic heroine’s quest, ascending to protector and queen in this timeless metaphor for growing into adulthood.

The paperback edition, for reasons that are not readily apparent, is priced considerably higher ($35.00) than other paperbacks of a similar length (226 pages ). However, at $9.99, the Kindle edition is more in line with today’s prices.

I bought the Kindle edition even though I didn’t see the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series or feature film. I liked From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and am finding Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to be another very readable and credible look at the heroine’s journey.

Malcolm

contemporary fantasy on Kindle at $4.99

A writer’s world view: effective rather than futile

Merlin advising Arthur

How do you see the world? Looking at the major issues we face—global warming, AIDS, terrorism, overpopulation, unemployment, renewable energy, the environment—do you view the world as “too broke to fix” or still within our capabilities to drastically improve and correct?

The books writers write are often impacted by their world views. Some agree with Jean-Paul Sartre’s statement that “Man is a futile passion.” In fact, looking at most of the fiction published during the last hundred years or so, I suggest that most authors either agree with Sartre or think the public agrees with Sartre and wants to read stories that corroborate this world view.

In my latest post on Sarabande’s Journey, World of Wonder finding ‘Life in Truth,’ I wrote that “a lot of mainstream fiction has fled from wonder, pulled by science, technologies and difficult-to-solve world issues into realism, powerlessness, despair and alienation.” Some of this fiction gives us happy endings, but they’re usually small endings in a sea of troubles. That is to say, the lovers who will live happily ever after will do so as long as the screwed-up world allows it.

The alternative proposition to readers and writers who agree with Sartre is neither naiveté nor the false believe that life will save warring factions from themselves if only the parties involved will sit down and sing “Kumbayah” together. While naiveté and “Kumbayah” bring their adherents many positive moments and, perhaps the illusion of positive action, they are—I believe—taking a bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach to the problems of the world and, worse yet, to their own personal development.

In my novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, my protagonist—who is trying to create a magical cloud inside his apartment—is advised to close his eyes. Why? Because as long as he sees that the cloud isn’t there yet, he’ll become more and more convinced he can’t create it. When he stops looking, he’s successful.

Now, I would never suggest that we stop being aware of the world’s problems and thereby give up on all the logical, science-and-techology-based approaches to solving them. Instead, I prefer the approach advocated by mythologist Joseph Campbell: “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.  But in doing that you save the world.  The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”  As long as we, as individuals, focus on the huge problems of the world for which we see no viable solutions, we not only feel more alone, but more powerless as well.

Whether or not you were around or not during the 1960s, you’re probably aware that Washington, D. C. and/or the Kennedy administration was often referred to as “Camelot.” Rightly or wrongly—and regardless of political viewpoint—the Camelot we hoped for was on a par with the heroic dreams of the legendary King Arthur and his noble knights. Perhaps our hope was based on all the wrong reasons and perhaps it had too much “Kumbayah” and “Make Love Not War” in it, but it was hope. Hope has, it seems to me, become a rare commodity in both our lives and our fiction.

Looking at the rhetoric, few people believe that America as either a dream or a hope or a goal will ever become the Camelot of our imagination. Variously, it’s too late, too broke to fix, or too besieged by problems no man or woman or group can solve. In the minds of many, America is rather like the tragic world of King Arthur in Tennyson’s epic poem Idylls of the King. Epic fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson summed up Camelot, as viewed by Tennyson like this:

Tennyson’s technique is to take a genuine, honest-to-God “epic” character (Arthur) and surround him with normal, believable, real human beings who lie and cheat and love and hate and can’t make decisions. So what happens? The normal, believable, real people destroy Arthur’s epic dream.

Donaldson suggests that many of us think we’re not capable of doing anything else because we believe that since “man is a futile passion” that we are powerless and incapable of creating a living, breathing real Camelot. He writes fantasy, in part, to demonstrate that man is capable of being an effective passion.

An Alternative to Sartre

I quoted storyteller Jane Yolen in my latest Sarabande’s Journey post, so those of you who read that will, I hope, forgive the repetition. In her book Touch Magic, she says that Life in Truth (as opposed to the world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.”

My philosophy of life does not include the viewpoint that men and women are powerless or that they don’t matter or that “evil” and “blame” are independent forces out there in the real world. As an individual, I believe in Life in Truth; that is, among other things, both a Joseph Campbell approach and a Jane Yolen approach. In my contemporary fantasies, The Sun Singer and Sarabande as well as in my magical realism adventure Garden of Heaven: Odyssey, I focus on stories with intense—and sometimes horrible—personal trials. And yet, my characters also find answers, answers that focus on themselves rather than on those who would destroy them or the world they believe in.

While I write contemporary fantasy rather than epic fantasy, I agree with Donaldson’s point of view about the value of fantasy fiction. His characters look within for answers, and this allows them to see the “real world” just the way it is while simultaneously seeing their dreams; that is to say, the world as it should be.

Paradox or not, I can reconcile Life Actual (the so-called real world) and Life in Truth, and understand clearly that while I don’t have what it takes to solve the large issues of the day, I am learning all that I need to know to solve the problems of myself. One day, as long as I don’t stare too intently at the problems themselves, the worlds of reality and of imagination will become one.

Malcolm

sharp-edged fiction without the futility

Hero’s Journey – Magical Helpers

“What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” –Joseph Campbell in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”

When a mythic hero begins his or her journey into the unknown, s/he often receives help from a magical helper or mentor in the form of advice or amulets to ward off or lessen the impact of the dragons and other horrific forces and entities along the hero’s path.

Crones, wise men, elves and other faerie folk, gods and goddesses, totem animals and spirit guides are among the forms of supernatural aid that providence (or the universe) provides.

Campbell writes that no matter how dangerous the evil forces are on the far side of the threshold or portal into the unknown (dark forest, wine-red sea, unconscious), that “protective power is always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world.”

Considering the journey as a spiritual undertaking, the hero–as we learn from mythology–is wise to trust himself and his guardians. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for example, young Harry is called to his journey via mysterious letters arriving from Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft; however the nasty Dursley family won’t allow him to read them, much less respond.

But the journey will not be denied. Hagrid, a half giant from the school appears, and rescues Harry via supernatural means. Likewise in “Star Wars,” Obi-Wan Kenobi uses supernatural means (paranormal skills) to extract Luke Skywalker from the planet where he’s been living and then serves as Luke’s mentor as the journey begins.

Friesian Horse – Walraven on Flickr

In my novel “The Sun Singer,” young Robert Adams encounters several magical helpers including a large, black horse named Sikimí. In everyday terms, the horse is a Friesian like the one in the picture. Yet, when Robert meets the horse for the first time, he–and the reader as well–are tipped off that Sikimí is somehow more than a horse:

The horse was excessively here in the present tense as though accentuated by the angle of the light into being more now than now and more visible than normally visible.

And then David Ward–a mentor character in the novel–tells Robert that Sikimí describes himself as “night in the shape of a horse.”

The journey, though, belongs to the hero alone. In “The Sun Singer,” neither Sikimí nor David Ward remain with Robert. He says goodbye to them and is on his way. He must trust that they–or whatever he has learned from them–will serve him well when the need arises.

Each mythic hero must merge the magical powers, amulets, advice of the magical helpers or mentors with his or her own willpower and faith to carry out the quest to its conclusion. The amulets cannot be all powerful nor the mentor always present, for then the “hero” would simply be along for the ride with no risks to face nor crucial decisions to make.

Hero’s path myths–and fiction based on the steps of the hero’s journey–are intended (in addition to their storytelling value) as catalysts for readers and their own life’s journeys. The translation of the mentors concept into daily life can be rather straightforward, for there are teachers everywhere as well as books, workshops and courses everyday heroes can use to their advantage.

Most of us do not expect a wide variety of gods to help us in the manner in which they directly helped (or hindered) Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” Depending on one’s belief system, prayer can serve as supernatural help; so, too, the messages of totem animals and spirit guides in dreams and meditation. For others, the magical helpers of myths transform into the positive synchronicity and “good luck” that seemingly appear out of nowhere as a result of one’s positive thinking, trust in himself or herself, and dedication to a course of action in harmony with the universe (or one’s spiritual views).

The prospective hero hears “the call to adventure” and makes the decision to undertake the journey without guarantees. He does not ask to see the mentor or the magical helpers in advance. He walks out the door of everyday life without a script that shows precisely what will happen and how s/he will survive the tasks ahead and make it safely home.

Writer’s Note

As Ted Andrews notes in his book “Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small,” horse symbolism is complex. His keynotes for the horse are travel, power and freedom. These fit my needs for the book since my protagonist is concerned with all of these things.

The black horse appears in my own dreams and meditations often enough to be considered a totem animal: my own magical helper, so to speak. This means that I “know” a lot more about this particular horse than I need for the book, always a plus for an author.

If horses, wise old men, or other magical helpers and guides appear in your dreams, then they are playing the same role as the supernatural powers of classic myths as well as novels and movies that are structured along the lines of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey theme.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer,” a hero’s journey novel.