Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you –Bob Dylan
We who write are tambourine men, poets, liars, con men, dreamers, pied pipers, spinners of yarn, spinners of mirages, tinkerers with reality, profane disciples of all that’s engraved in the sand on a beach, creators and destroyers of worlds, demons and tricksters and gods, snakes in the grass, and golden eagles flying high above the divides between night, day, worlds, sleep and consciousness.
We who write intend to lead you astray for that is where you will find yourself, your salvation, your journey’s beginning, your lover, your treasure and everything that matters and gives substance to life.
If you read our words, if you follow the jingle jangle of our stories, we promise you that whatever you thought was engraved in stone was in fact fluid and that whatever you thought was fluid was your imagination and that reality is always a deck of cards that you can choose to play face down or face up depending upon your penchant for fate and destiny.
We who write cannot be trusted to give you a straight answer for we only know dark and crooked roads and the stories that live alongside them. But do not take care or look behind you for the prize comes with the unexpected, the epiphany hidden amongst devils and the light that shines on the darkest night for those who walk with their eyes wide open.
Believe what you will, but when you follow tambourine men, poets, and liars there is no turning back though you may believe some dream or illusion that you have turned back as we all go deeper into the labyrinth toward Minotaurs that will–if the gods be kind–tell us the secrets of life if we survive the journey.
We who write are always en route to the center of the labyrinth where all stories lead us, and where they will lead you, too, if you dare to say, “Tell me a story.”
Kate Mosse’s engaging and well-researched novel Labyrinth (2006) brings readers another version of the Holy Grail and those who would protect it, seek it, destroy it and use it. Labyrinth joins Khoury’s The Last Templar (2006) and The Templar Salvation (2010) and Neville’s The Eight (1997) and The Fire (2008) in its presentation of a religious secrets story that switches back and forth between time periods and characters.
Set in thirteenth-century Languedoc and twenty-first century southern France, Labyrinth presents readers with medieval and modern characters who are searching for the Grail with good and bad motives. Alaïs du Mas, the daughter of the steward of historical character Raymond-Roger Trencavel in Carcassona, resides in a world where Cathars and Catholics live in harmony with each other. Alice Tanner, a professor of English literature in Sussex, is a volunteer in an archeological dig in the Sabarthès mountains in France in 2005.
The lives of these dual protagonists—and the characters around them—become intertwined across history when Alice inadvertently discovers some of the Grail secrets Alaïs dedicated her life to protect. Alaïs’ world is under attack by a Crusade and subsequent inquisition ordered by Pope Innocent III in 1208 against the Cathars who were viewed by Rome as a heretical sect. Alice’s world is that of a modern police investigation into deaths and thefts linking a mainstream archeological dig with a shadowy world of those who follow or oppose the Grail.
The mirror aspects of the characters’ lives across the centuries serves Mosse and her plot well. Unlike Dan Brown, who viewed the Grail as Mary Magdalene and Arthurian literature that viewed the Grail as a sacred chalice, Mosse presents instead the secret artifacts which are intended to lead true seekers through both a real and a figurative labyrinth to the Grail as a transcendent experience.
With the exception of a slow beginning and a few sections where the detail in both the modern and medieval worlds becomes more history and travelogue than a novel, Labyrinth is a well-told story. The novel’s discussion guide notes that the book begins with short glimpses of the leading characters without any narrative to tie them together or explain their motives, and then asks “what effect does this have on you, as a reader?” It’s a good question. Some readers will find it slow and unnecessarily obscuring of the story, while others will find that it heightens the intrigue and suspense.
For readers who want to know more about the life and times of the Cathars, Mosse includes a historical note, a selected bibliography, information about the langue d’Oc spoken in Alaïs’ world as well as a glossary of Occitan words.
In the classic Greek myth, Theseus enters King Minos’ labyrinth at Crete, finds and slays the dangerous Minotaur at its center, and finds his way back out by following a linen thread he laid down to mark his path on his way in.
They also represent the unconscious and an individual’s self. Until one knows himself, part of it is unconscious and filled with fears, demons and the basic energies of primal needs. The Minotaur is an apt symbol for these and slaying it is an apt symbol for facing one’s fears and subsequently becoming more whole and more aware.
The silken thread, a gift of King Minos’ daughter Ariadne in the original myth, represents the hero’s intuition, his present (though possibly faint) connection to his higher self, a self the Greeks personified as one god or another.
The hero’s journey, as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces has been used as a template for understanding classic myths, exploring the depths of oneself, and creating compelling novels and screen plays.
In fiction, as in myth, the purpose of the story is always the hero’s transformation or his failure to achieve it. He undertakes a dangerous physical or psychological journey and in the process of doing that finds and slays his inner demons. The physical journey, complete with friends, enemies, demons, angels, trials, and tribulations is–in fiction and myth–the catalyst for the hero’s growth.
While the hero’s journey as a template is often the most obvious in epic films such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, it also serves as a structure for stories involving characters we might consider to be “every day people.” These stories always contain conflict, a conflict that typically cannot be successfully resolved until the main character comes to grips with his or her own failings, fears, phobias, blind spots and prejudices. If one can’t personally identify with the journey and the minotaurs in Titanic and Spiderman, then Dirty Dancing and Annie Hall may be easier to vicariously experience.
The twists and turns of the action-packed physical trek, battle or other conflict mirror the main character’s inner journey through the labyrinth of self. At the conclusion of the novel or film, we not only expect to see that the battle has been won or the crime has been solved, but that the protagonist has changed in the process.
Without facing a Minotaur of one kind or another, the hero cannot grow. None of us can. Most heroes don’t set out to consciously change themselves. Harry Potter, for example, didn’t vow to confront his worst fears. Instead, he went to school to learn magic, he ended up fighting the evil Lord Voldemort, encountered his worst fears in the process and triumphed over them, ending up as quite a different person.
Whether he’s overtly conscious of his inner journey or not, no hero in fiction or myth asks for whom the Minotaur waits because he knows it waits for him. Every good story has one and perhaps every good life has one as well.
As a personal note, when I watch Hollywood films, read novels, or consider stories I might want to write, I don’t envision the storyline and ask “Where’s Waldo?” I ask “Where’s the Minotaur?”
Then, at the conclusion of the novel or feature film, I don’t just want to see that the Luke Skywalker has destroyed the death star, that Indiana Jones has gotten the lost ark away from the Nazis, or that Erin Brockovich has defeated a corporation that’s been dumping hazardous materials into the groundwater. I want to see that Luke, Indiana and Erin have personally changed, for that change is they axis on which the ultimate story ultimately turns.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hero’s journey novels (complete with figurative labyrinths and minotaurs), Garden of Heaven and The Sun Singer.
For the Florida connection in this novel, see my post Tate’s Hell about a wild swamp in the panhandle near where I grew up that made a perfect counterpart in the novel to Glacier’s Garden of Heaven valley.
“A labyrinth, of course, is a scrambled mandala, in which you don’t know where you are. That’s the way the world is for people who don’t have a mythology. It’s a labyrinth. They are battling their way through as if no one had ever been there before.” – Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss
My clinical depression is a scrambled mandala.
The formerly clear road has twisted itself into a labyrinth. The air has become more dense than water. I can’t breathe, nor do I want to.
I once believed I was either too smart or too stupid to become clinically depressed. My journey (way, pilgrimage, path) appeared so clear to me that the next step was always apparent whether it came to me out of logic or intuition. Where I was going didn’t matter, for I was en route. Perhaps these was a certain arrogance to such certainty in spite of the fact that—Kabbalistically speaking—certainty is what each of us requires to manifest our highest dreams.
But logically, we’re easily addicted to trends, small, but negative ripples in the force, so to speak, that when they follow upon one another cause us to doubt our certainties, our passions, and even the road itself. Experience has taught me, though, that when the mandala becomes scrambled, it only becomes more scrambled if I fight it. And, depression itself is the same in this respect. What one resists, persists, we are told. When I fight those moments when the air has become more dense than water, I find myself sinking deeper into the ocean of hopelessness where the pressure and the darkness are greater.
The more scrambled the mandala becomes, the more difficult it is to find Ariadne’s linen thread that will lead me away from the dreaded Minotaur to the light-hearted safety of the world outside the labyrinth. When depression is deep, I have neither the willpower nor the energy to search for that thread, much less build wings like Daedalus, the labyrinth’s designer, and fly out of the maze of twisted roads.
Getting Above the Fray
I like the title of Kris Jackson’s 2009 novel about the Civil War era balloonist Thaddeus Lowe, “Above the Fray.” It was so apt, for it described exactly the service Professor Lowe was offering Union commanders. He showed them what they couldn’t see on the ground from what—in my perspective—might also be called the labyrinth of the battlefield.
Like both Lowe and Daedalus, there are times when I want to rise above the fray and get my bearings. Lowe was an advocate of tethered balloons, and shortly after reading Kris Jackson’s novel, I had an opportunity for a brief ride in a tethered balloon. How light the air was and how fine the view of the fields and woodlands below. What might have appeared scrambled from within, now was clear, even orderly.
Like Daedalus, I am the creator of my own labyrinth and—on days when the air is denser than water—my own scrambled mandala. I have been there many times because, I suppose, it meets a need I do not consciously know. I’m lost into the clutches of deep lunar mysteries and the dark worlds of the underworld that my subconscious mind has led me to experience. Truth be told, I’m embarrassed to be there, to have to admit that my apparent certainty about the clear road ahead as led me into the forest primeval where I wander blindly as though there is no road at all.
Once my shame passes, I see that there is much of value here in the scrambled mandala I have built and the hopelessly dense air I have placed with its clutches. I know better than to fight it. Fighting it makes me too heavy to fly above the fray and too sleepy to see Ariadne’s thread.
I have escaped from my labyrinths many times. Though there should be a fair amount of certainty in that, I never remember it while I’m staring into the Minotaur’s eyes. My goal is the goal I gave protagonist Robert Adams in my novel “The Sun Singer,” and that is to survive the journey and to return to the known world with something of value for myself and others.
The scrambled mandalas are my nightmares, the places where the road has become twisted, the places where I think I’m awake even though I’m asleep. But when I wake and see the morning sunlight, and it’s “whew, that’s over,” and for now I’m not depressed and I see my reasons again for wanting to be on the journey I have chosen to take.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer,” a mandala masquerading as a novel.