Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Converts to Mythopoeia

Kathryn Robenhymer
Prof. Sexton
ENGL 580
21 July 2017

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
-J. R. R. Tolkien

Haroun Khalifa, like C. S. Lewis, must be convinced of the truth and power that stories hold. The son of Rashid Khalifa, a famous storyteller, Haroun appreciated stories until the day that his mother ran away with the upstairs neighbor, accusing her husband of living a life of “make-believe.” The unfaithfulness of his wife put Rashid Khalifa in sad spirits and resulted in the loss of his storytelling abilities. This was extremely inconvenient, especially since a scoundrel of a politician, Mr. Snooty Buttoo has requested that Rashid give a public address that would encourage the public to vote Buttoo into office. This predicament sets Haroun on a wild adventure to the Kingdom of Gup where, with the help of some magical creature, he faces the task of defeating Khattam-Shud, an evil Cultmaster. Khattam-Shud has been releasing poison into the Sea of Stories, the very source of Rashid Khalifa’s (and all) story telling abilities. Haroun’s journey fits well into Campbell’s model. More importantly, however, the content comments on the nature of stories themselves.

Rushdie, like Tolkien, wrote in the midst of uncertain political and social times. Perhaps this is why these writers’ works reflect how myth does not distort the truth. Myths are not “lies breathed through silver” as Lewis had described, but on the contrary, myths are more real in that they allow us to exercise our ability to create. Language itself, as Tolkien points out in the first line of his poem, is an act of creation, “You look at trees and label them just so.” Language is essential to our deriving meaning and thus truth from the world around us. The creative act of language is not only a whimsical option, rather creative acts are what make us human. It is through language that human beings, “keeps the rags of lordship once he owned / his world-dominion by creative act.” Stories are a means by which we pass our collected reality from “mind to mind.” This is the lesson our hero, Haroun, learns through his own story. In the end, after all, after Haroun had defeated Khattam-Shud and restored his father’s story telling abilities, it is Haroun’s heroic journey that Rashid tells the public to inspire them not to give into the will of Snooty Buttoo. It is the truth of Haroun’s story that shines a light on lies of Buttoo and his bad intentions.

Jyn Erso: An American Hero in a Galaxy Long Ago

Renée E. Skidmore                                                                                                                Professor Sexton                                                                                                                        English 580-B02 (Heroes’ Journeys)                                                                                                21 July 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) tells the story of the Rebel Alliance’s desperate attempt to steal the Imperial Empire’s plans for the Death Star, a massive weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. Although it is the eighth movie in the Star Wars franchise, the story takes place between Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), which concludes with Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, and Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), which follows Luke Skywalker’s journey into becoming a Jedi many years later. While the story takes place within the Star Wars universe and timeline, Rogue One is distinctly different because of its focus on the Rebel Alliance’s efforts to prevent the Imperial Empire’s expansion in the absence of the Jedi—the few that survived the Evil Emperor’s rise to power have gone into hiding.

As Rogue One begins, the audience is introduced to the tragic origins of the female hero, Jyn Erso, which will (eventually) lead to her crucial role in the Rebel Alliance’s mission. In this opening scene, Jyn’s mother is killed and her father, a skilled engineer whose mastery is needed to construct a weapon of mass destruction, is captured by Orson Krennic, a Lieutenant Commander in the Imperial Empire’s army with aspirations for power. The scene ends with the orphaned young Jyn’s rescue by Saw Gerrera, who has agreed to be her guardian and protector—the audience learns later that he abandons her in an attempt to protect her from being captured by Imperial forces.

From there the story skips ahead fifteen years where the audience is shown a young woman, Jyn, first being held in an Imperial cell, and later as she is transported to a labor camp. In the meantime, the audience learns that an Imperial cargo pilot has defected from the Empire to bring a message to Saw Gerrera, a former member of the Rebel Alliance who has been cast out because of his extremism, about a destructive new weapon being built by the Empire—a “planet killer” (the Death Star). Having learned of the defected pilot and the message he carries, the Rebel Alliance rescues Jyn, who has been using a false identity, from her captivity and seduces her into helping them retrieve both the message and the location of her father from Gerrera in exchange for her freedom and a possible reunion with her father—the audience knows that Cassian Andor, the leader of the mission, has orders to kill her father on sight.

Of course, all of these initial pieces of the narrative make it easy to trace Jyn’s progression through the stages of Campbell’s monomyth throughout the rest of the film; however, her journey also follows the American monomyth outlined by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence. By looking at Jyn’s journey through the lens of Jewett and Lawrence’s American monomyth rather than through Campbell’s traditional monomyth, the importance of the film to the larger Star Wars narrative (beyond merely filling in an unaddressed plot development) and its alignment to American ideals become evident.

In order to better understand the importance of the film to the larger Star Wars narrative, one needs to take a step back from the opening scene that draws them in to Jyn’s Campbellian journey and consider the broader narrative that leads to her becoming an orphan in the first place. During the first three films in the full Star Wars narrative, the peace of the universe is disrupted by a series of attacks on planetary communities which eventually culminates in a universal war and the rise of Darth Sidious, an evil leader who takes control of the Galactic Senate, and nearly destroys the Jedi Order, in order to become the supreme leader of the galaxy. Although the disruption here occurs on a far greater scale than the “small community of hard-working farmers and townspeople living in harmony” (169) described in Jewett and Lawrence’s American monomyth, it does start in one (on the planet of Naboo) before it spreads to the universe. Furthermore, the alliance (aka the Rebellion Alliance) formed by the more peaceful leaders of the (Old) Galactic Republic in the hope of destroying the evil Empire and re-establishing order and democracy is undeniably American.

By understanding the important role this larger narrative plays in the film, one is able to realize Jyn’s function as an American hero, particularly the role of the “disinterested outsider” (Jewett & Lawrence 179) depicted in cowboy Westerns. After her rescue from Imperial captivity, Jyn is brought to Alliance headquarters where she is reminded of her criminal activity and her father’s significant role in the Empire. Jyn’s initial response to these statements is one of indifference. As the leaders explain that her help is needed to assist the Rebellion, which includes the possibility of reuniting with her father, she remains unmoved. Instead, it is the promise of freedom that convinces her to help the Alliance.

Jyn’s “otherness” continues as she embarks on the mission when she and her new companions, Captain Andor and K-2SO, openly express their distrust of one another despite the dangers ahead. Her disinterest in “the cause” of the Rebellion is further established when she successfully completes her mission to help Andor gain access to Gerrera. After revealing her intentions to Gerrera and stating, “I’m out now. The rest of you can do what you want.” Gerrera, whose belief in “the cause” has led him to extreme measures, is stunned by her apathy and asks, “You care not about the cause?” Jyn’s statements that the Alliance and its Rebellion cause have done nothing but “bring [her] pain” and that the possibility of an Imperial flag flying above her head is “not a problem, if you don’t look up” sadden Gerrera and seem to complete her role as the “disinterested outsider.”

However, when Gerrera plays the message that Jyn’s father sent, she learns that it was not merely intended for Gerrera or the Alliance, but for her. Her father’s message and the despair of some new companions who joined Jyn, Andor, and K-2SO as they fled the outskirts of Jedha during its destruction awaken Jyn’s interest in “the cause” (“the right”) and her sympathy for the people affected by the Empire’s destruction (“the underdog”).

As the group set off to Eadu, Andor sends a communication to the Rebel Commander about the destruction of Jedha and the location of the mission’s target, Jyn’s father. Unable to fathom a weapon powerful enough to destroy a city as large as Jedha, the Rebel commander instructs Andor to “stick to the plan” to kill Jyn’s father in the hope of preventing him from completing the Empire’s weapon. In the meantime, Jyn’s interest in “the cause” grows as she attempts to raise the hopes of her companions by sharing with them her father’s message. While the rest of the group believes her, Andor is reluctant to believe Jyn’s story that her father only helped the Empire build the Death Star so that he could plant a weakness in its structure. Furthermore, he refuses to relay a message to the Alliance about the supposed plans’ whereabouts without the actual message from her father to prove her statements.

Unfortunately, Jyn’s mission to rescue her father and bring him back to the Alliance fails, not because of Andor’s alternate plans (he actually decides not to take the fatal shot), but because Krennic has traced the leak of information back to the base. Additionally, the loss of communication between Andor and the Alliance causes the Rebel commander to send a fighter squadron to Eadu to wipe out the base. Ultimately, the success or failure of the opposing missions, Jyn’s to save her father and Andor’s to kill him, do not really matter because the Empire’s Death Star is already complete and operational. Still, the Rebel commander’s impulsive decision to blow-up the Imperial base is a failure for the Rebel cause as it will certainly result in retaliation.

By the time Jyn and the others return to Alliance headquarters, the strength of the Rebel Council is beginning to falter. Discouraged by the Rebel forces’ failed attempts to prevent the Empire from completing their weapon, the Rebellion commander’s impulsive act, and the Alliance’s lack of resources to withstand a long-term battle, many leaders in the Rebel Council are reluctant to engage in the inevitable war against the Empire. As a result, the discussion quickly turns to scattering the fleet and disbanding the Alliance. Still, the stronger leaders remain true to the cause. As the bickering continues, it becomes evident that the faltering government is not going to come to an agreement and the people are going to suffer as a result. Thus, the circumstances are set for Jyn to rise as the “unofficial redeemer […] whose zeal for the right and sympathy for the underdog [will] triumph over evil” (Jewett & Lawrence 179).

Having taken-up the Rebellion’s “cause” as her own after witnessing the destructive capabilities of the Death Star first-hand, including the loss of her father (both in the past and present), Jyn tries desperately to convince the council of the truth behind her father’s message. Worried about acting based on hearsay rather than proof, one leader reminds the group of Jyn’s “otherness” when he asks whether or not they should risk everything “based on […] the testimony of a criminal and the dying words of her father, an Imperial scientist.”

Another leader, who is more worried about the truth behind the message, asks, “If the Imperial Empire has this kind of power, what chance do we have?” To which Jyn passionately replies, “What chance do we have? The question is what choice? Run, hide, plead for mercy, scatter your forces… You give way to an enemy this evil, with this much power, and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission.” As the forces gathered around the room murmur in agreement, it appears as though Jyn has convinced them to take action. However, the room quickly quiets as one leader points out that Jyn is asking the Council to “invade a military installation based on nothing but hope” to which she retorts, “Rebellions are built on hope.” Despite the agreement of many in the room, the more cautious senators are not moved by Jyn statements and the Chief of State must conclude that “without the full support of the Council” they cannot send their forces on a mission to retrieve the plans. Still, hope remains.

While Jyn’s words have failed to convince the leaders of the Rebellion, they have empowered the Rebellion fighters who were listening but did not have a say. Because of this, a rebellion of its own forms, where “the unknown cowboy […] and those that follow […] provide the only viable defense” (Jewett & Lawrence 180). In this manner, Jyn’s place as an American hero is established. Her leadership and the band of rebels who willingly follow her are not only seen in the fictional stories of the Wild West, but also the real stories of American history. Her ability to encourage a few to stand for the interest of all in the face of a common enemy, even when the odds seem stacked against them, is reflective of the leaders who fought to establish this country.

Within the larger Star Wars narrative, Jyn’s leadership proves the real strength of the Rebellion forces and the common man/being, particularly in the absence of the Jedi (superheroes). Additionally, Jyn’s ability to successfully transmit the plans for the Death Star from the Imperial base on planet Scarif to a ship awaiting in space sets up the epic saga that follows. At the end of the film, Jyn and Andor are seen embracing (not kissing) as they are overtaken by a destructive blast from the Death Star; ironically, reminiscent of a sunset.

Journey of a Hobbit

Michael Mansaray

Professor Sexton

ENG 580

7/21/2017

Of the many novels within the fantasy genre, few capture the Campbellian hero’s journey more perfectly than Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, later made into films by Peter Jackson. While the entire story showcases the elements of departure, initiation and return, the first part of the series still displays numerous elements of the journey.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo lives a rather modest life with his uncle Bilbo. However, when a Ring of Power his uncle stole on his last journey begins to attract dark forces, Frodo must answer the call to adventure and leave his home with his hobbit companions, soon to be joined by other comrades. Throughout the first part of his journey, he receives supernatural aid from the wizard Gandalf, and must overcome a road of trials, such as the Nazgul, nine servants of the Master of the Ring he carries, the lesser servants orcs, and the Balrog, a demonic being that Gandalf defeats at the cost of his life.

Following the loss of the wizard, Frodo and his comrades meet with Galadriel, a elven sage who renews their motivation to continue their quest. The meeting with her serves not only as a meeting with the goddess, but also as a ‘woman as temptress’ moment, given that Frodo nearly surrenders the Ring to her. But both he and Galadriel overcome their temptation, and she sends the fellowship off with a number of magic gifts. Frodo receives the Light of Earendil, a flask of magic light, which is the ultimate boon bestowed on him.

While there are not many elements of the return in this first installment,  Frodo makes a clear refusal of return. In the final part of the film, after Frodo has escaped from a comrade who attempted to steal the Ring from him, he decides to make the rest of the journey by himself. He tells Aragorn of his desire to leave and even when his friend Sam begs him, he remains adamant. It is only because Sam to decides to leave the fellowship that Frodo does not have to travel alone. Even in only the beginning of the story, Tolkien weaves for the reader a poignant hero’s journey.

The Alchemist and the Hero’s Journey

Craig DeMelo
Professor Sexton
ENGL 580
Blog Post- Book

The Alchemist and the Hero’s Journey

Paulo Coelho’s famous novella about a shepherd boy’s adventure is an excellent example of the Hero’s journey as it entails many of the tropes laid out by Joseph Campbell’s book. It begins with Santiago having dreams about finding a treasure. These dreams constitute his call to adventure. An old woman tells him these dreams are prescient, which validates his feelings of premonition. But at first he refuses the call because he rather likes being a shepherd and fears how his flock would make it without him.

Next, he meets with Melchizedek, an old man who introduces himself as the King of Salem. He persuades Santiago that he must go on a journey because it is his duty to pursue his personal legend. He constitutes Santiago’s helper or supernatural aid.

After selling his flock, he crosses the threshold when he purchases tickets to go by boat to Tangiers in Africa. Almost immediately he is robbed by a thief and left penniless. This could be construed as the belly of the whale as he is in a strange environment and vulnerable on his new adventure. Or, if we omit the whale step, this could be his first trial. Nevertheless, his adventure is now less about treasure and more about survival and returning home.

He takes a job with a crystal merchant and works diligently for many months, eventually amassing a quite a bit of money. He is tempted to return home and resume his life as a shepherd, now able to purchase even more sheep. Instead he decides to continue with his adventure.

Soon he meets a man who wishes to be an alchemist—who could be considered another helper—and this fundamentally changes Santiago. He journeys with the alchemist and on his way he learns much about the world and eventually falls in love with an Arab girl named Fatima. On their travels they encounter the actual Alchemist. Following some adventures and tribal battles, he realizes that his true treasure is Fatima. This revelation combined with the wisdom of the alchemist comprise his boon.

As he returns home he is wiser now, the master of both worlds. He digs beneath the tree under which he had his prophetic dreams and finds treasure. Now he has the freedom of wealth and wisdom. His next journey will be to go and retrieve his love, Fatima.

“People do not give credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood…”: Degrees of heroism in Charles Portis’ “True Grit”

The words in the quotation above introduce the reader to both the premise, as well as the heroine, of Charles Portis’ novel True Grit, first published in 1968.  The girl’s name is Mattie Ross, and she goes on to succinctly relate the singular event that has set her upon her stated course of action, a course which beats as the motivating force at the heart of the book: “I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band” (11). The girl has now travelled to Fort Smith, to avenge the death of her father.

In order to avoid confusing prevarications and unconvincing attempts to force Mattie’s journey into an archetypal template, it is necessary to go out on a limb and declare that Mattie Ross does not conform to any pre-existing pattern or theory. From the outset, her character is admirable, puzzling, maddening; her unwavering sense of purpose and total commitment to her self-declared goal, at times even disturbing. What the reader encounters as “the story”, is ostensibly the writings of a much older Mattie Ross, relating the events in memoir form, a firsthand recounting of “the Wild West of the 1870s, as recollected in a spinster’s memory and filtered through the sedate sepia tones of the early 1900s” (Tartt 230). She ends her tale with the same stolidity with which she began: “This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross’s blood over the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground” (224). The poignancy of this last sentence may appear to hint at an uneasy circularity, but any similarities between the beginning and the end, are in fact attributable to the linearity of stasis: Mattie Ross has not changed. Surprising, however, is that, rather than undermine her role as heroine, this apparent lack of observable development serves to intensify her individuality, and serves as a perfect complement to the erratic natures of the two men who aid her in hunting down the killer: U.S. Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, and the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.

                          I said,  ‘They tell me you are a man with true grit.’

                          He said,  ‘What do want girl? Speak up.  It is suppertime.’

There is something in Mattie’s zealous, crusading nature, that, however cautiously, can evoke vague associations with Jean D’Arc, which may simply be an instinctive reaction to their age and gender. But, on a deeper level, both share an overwhelming sense of purpose, and a highly developed, almost immovable, concept of justice, of what is right, and what is wrong. But Mattie’s fate is not that of martyrdom. Her beliefs are firmly rooted in the Presbyterian tradition: they are not merely a part of her life, but part of her essence, a way of life guided by the protestant ethic which emphasizes hard work, discipline, and frugality.  And not only does Mattie Ross have these attributes in spades, but, taken a step further, her complete internalization of these principles suggests that they represent a pre-existing, inherent and innate boon, namely that of agency. Although generally aware of potentialities, Mattie Ross’s preoccupations are the problems at hand. Again and again, obstacles present themselves, loom up, threatening to impede her progress: she encounters resistance from the law in Fort Smith; Colonel Stonehill, a man who had had business with her father, is unconvinced that an outstanding debt still remains; the man she hopes to hire, Rooster Cogburn, doesn’t want to help her, then, after accepting, remains reluctant to yield to her terms; LaBoeuf, who is likewise on the trail of Tom Chaney, wants to help, but demands Chaney be brought back to Texas for two other murders. Yet Mattie insists, and ultimately, Mattie perseveres. But this steadfast determination is worlds apart from any whiny, childish sleeve-tugging. It is not erratic whim or fancy that guide her, but the calm assuredness of conviction. Mattie’s biggest life challenge lies not in the breaking out, but the necessity of dealing with what comes breaking in. Once underway with into the lawless territories with Rooster and LaBoeuf, she serves as the catalyst, in its truest sense, for the change in others: she accelerates and enables, but remains herself unchanged in the process.

Restless ghosts of the War Between the States still haunt the consciousness of many who fought, and establishing and defending their respective conduct and affiliation during the conflict becomes a major point of contention between her two companions, Cogburn and LaBoeuf. In a revealing moment, Mattie hears a drunken Cogburn, his defenses dulled by bourbon and incapable of keeping the many repressed emotions at bay, “talking to himself and one thing I heard him say was this: ‘Well we done the best we could with what we had. We was in a war. All we had was revolvers and horses” (172). Cogburn talks on, but his words and thoughts lose their focus, and wander off to where only personal mythology, inaccessible to outsiders,  provides meaning. Yet whether drunk or sober, “the vagueness of his past requires the reader to judge the man solely in the present” (Robert V. Hine, The American West: An Interpretative History 186). In her afterword to True Grit, Donna Tartt concludes that “it is the scoundrelly old Rooster who . . . rises unexpectedly to True Grit’s moments of justice and nobility” (234). An early example of Rooster’s potential “nobility” occurs when an exasperated LaBoeuf breaks off the limb of a willow bush to whip Mattie’s legs, hoping that this might drive her back to town. Rooster orders him to put the switch down, and when LaBoeuf motions to carry on, Rooster draws his guns, warning him “that it will be the biggest mistake you ever made, you Texas brush-popper” (111). This is an example of what Jewett and Lawrence call “redemptive prefiguration”: Rooster’s inclination towards the good and just will later come to fruition when needed most.

The fascinating concept of “redeemer animals”, ( Jewett and Lawrence use “Silver”, the horse of the masked Lone Ranger as an example) is evident in Mattie’s relationship with her pony, Little Blackie. The animal is further significant in that he belonged to the group of ponies for sale which had brought Frank Ross, Mattie’s father, to Fort Smith, and to his death. Unwanted by his owner, Mattie views him as “The stone which the builders rejected the same has become the head of corner”, a significant double- reference, to the Gospel of Mark in New Testament, as well as the Psalms in the Old Testament. And in the climactic, apocalyptically rendered, apotheosis, it is only with the additional help of Little Blackie, guided by LaBoeuf, that Rooster and Mattie, who has been bitten been a rattlesnake, can be lifted out of an almost literal medieval hell-mouth, to safety. In search of a doctor, and carrying both Mattie and Rooster, “Blackie fell to the ground and died, his brave heart burst and mine broken”, over the faultless creature. “There never lived a nobler pony” (216).

Tom Chaney dies in the pit of vipers, LaBoeuf retrieves his body “and from there he left for Texas with corpse of the man on whose trail he had camped form so long” (218). In a medicated daze and unaware of her surroundings, Mattie awakens at home, and  realizes that her arm had been amputated as a result of the toxic snake venom. She never sees Rooster, or Laboeuf, again, but upon hearing, almost 25 years after the events related, she hears of Rooster’s death, Mattie has him laid to rest in her own town of Dardanelle, Arkansas.

True Grit, in short, begins where chivalry meets the frontier-where the old Confederacy starts to merge and shade away in to the Wild West” (Tartt 234).

The Female Hero in “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Kayla Spagna
Professor Sexton
ENGL 580
07/21/17

Sophie’s journey in “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones, resembles Pearson and Pope’s heroic model.  Sophie lives in a world where magic and fairytales, and their tropes, are the norm.  Sophie therefore believes that as the oldest of three she is bound to fail if she seeks out her fortune or adventure.  She resigns herself to inherit her family’s hat shop.  Sophie’s “Exit from the Garden” begins on two fronts: one, “the escape,” where after her father’s death Sophie realizes that her step-mother is exploiting her (as Sophie is a great hat maker, but does not get paid, and her step-mother is always out with men); and two, “slaying the virgin,” when the Witch of the Waste curses Sophie out of jealously and turns her into a 90 year old woman.  Upon seeing herself, Sophie says, “Don’t worry, old thing… You look quite healthy.  Besides, this is much more like you really are” (Jones 36).  Although she accepts her fate rather calmly, she realizes she cannot stay in the hat shop and sets out to leave town on her own.

Sophie is now “the spiritual orphan” “having abandoned the role for which she has been trained” (Pearson and Pope Handout).  Her “threshold” moment comes when she decides to enter Wizard Howl’s moving castle.  Howl has a reputation for being evil, and of eating girl’s hearts, but Sophie decides that she is too old and ugly for him to bother her and that this may be the best way of breaking her curse.  Howl becomes the “seducer” figure in “The Awakening” stage of her journey.  Sophie learns that Howl, under false names, does help people, from the King to the poor, sometimes even giving out spells for free to those who desperately need help but have nothing to give.  As for women, he does not eat their hearts but rather seduces them until they fall in love with him- and then he gets bored and moves on to the next woman.  Sophie finds herself attracted to Howl, but eventually allows her disgust for his actions towards women to block that attraction out. (Plus, she is an old woman and figures things like sexuality are beyond her).

In “the World of Experience” Sophie has set herself up as Howl’s cleaning lady.  Sophie also strikes a bargain with Calcifer, a fire demon, with a body made of flames that is stuck in a hearth, who is under Howl’s control.  If Sophie can break Howl and Calcifer’s contract then Calcifer will break the curse placed upon Sophie.  This leads to “the Emperor’s New Clothes” in which Sophie no longer sees Howl as a sexual being: Howl is moody, he throws tantrums, he gets a cold and acts like he is dying, he spends hours bathing and primping before going out to seduce a lady, etc.  In one particular episode, Sophie accidentally messes with Howl’s hair potions and turns Howl ginger.  Howl, in despair, begins to ooze green slime that threatens to drown the entire castle.  Sophie takes charge of the situation, cleans Howl and the castle, and gets everyone back to where they should be.  This scene definitely slays the monster “of romantic love.”  As Sophie is now an old woman, her “claiming of independence” was not too difficult to achieve.  She no longer thinks as a young woman and feels like she does not need to worry about sex, adventure, or finding her place in the world.  It is in this stage that Sophie discovers she has her own magical ability: she can talk things to life.  She slowly begins to test her power and gain control over it, where before she realized she had caused a lot of accidents at her own lack of awareness.  She strives to control her power to better herself (rather than simply accepting that she is 90 and will die soon).

In the “return home” Sophie literally reconciles with her step-mother, who apologizes for mistreating Sophie and offers her a place in her new home, with her new, rich, husband.  However, at this moment, the Witch of the Waste, who had made several attempts through the journey to kill Howl, reappears.  Sophie then faces the “destructive mother” figure, the woman who literally made her who she is today (an old woman).  Sophie, who has gained control over her abilities, tells her magic walking stick to strike the Witch.  With her assistance, Howl is able to kill the Witch.  However, the Witch was under a fire demon’s control and this fire demon strikes Howl unconscious.  Sophie realizes the only way to defeat the fire demon is to break Howl and Calcifer’s contract.  By this time, Sophie has figured out that Calcifer was a falling star that Howl caught.  Rather than face death, Calcifer agrees to give Howl his power if Howl will give him his heart, thus binding themselves to one another.  Unfortunately, this process often leads the Wizard or Witch to go bad (see Witch of the Waste).  Sophie, knowing Calcifer will die when the contract is broken, tells Calcifer (with her magical ability) to live another thousand years.  She then plucks Howl’s heart from within Calcifer and returns the heart to Howl’s body.  Howl is restored and defeats the evil fire demon.  “The final treasure,” of course, is that Sophie’s own curse was broken and she is once again young and beautiful.  Howl instantly professes his love to her and suggests they live happily ever after.  Sophie agrees, but knows it will not be a happily ever after like most fairytales.

As Pearson and Pope suggest, Sophie’s journey very much emphasizes sexual maturity.  She begins the journey innocent, and then believing that sexuality is not a part of her person at all and that she does not need it to complete her quest.  Much of her journey is taken with no regard to her feminine self (as Sophie believe this was lost with her youth). Yet, towards the end of her journey, taking Howl for both the good and the bad, and working together to defeat the evil Witch, Sophie learns that she can have a sexual identity, but by her rules and standards.  She no longer believes in “happily ever after”, but does think that she and Howl can make a relationship work that is more in touch with reality.

 

The Odyssey and The Hero’s Journey

Melissa Burridge

Professor Sexton

ENGL 580

21 July 2017

The Odyssey and The Hero’s Journey

 

The Odyssey is a perfect example of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, though some of the elements may actually be interpreted differently, especially considering where you start the story. For example, Campbell argues that Odysseus’ departure happens when he is “driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god Poseidon” (Campbell 48). If we are just looking at The Odyssey this seems to be true, but The Odyssey starts when Odysseus is already on a journey. His leaving home from Ithaca for Troy to fight with Menaleus and Agamemnon would be a more literal interpretation of the departure. The fact that Odysseus does not go straight home after the battle at Troy complicates his hero’s journey a little. Does he have two entirely separate journeys, one the war and one the trip home, or is it all part of one journey, and the war is just a very long trial?

The “belly of the whale” element of Odysseus’ journey is also interesting, considering how Campbell explains this element: “The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died” (Campbell 74). In this sense, there are many elements of Odysseus’ journey that could be both trials and “the belly of the whale”. In fact, Odysseus whole journey home could be considered in the belly of the whale, since his son Telemachus believes “he’s died a wretched death./ No comfort’s left for us…not even if/ someone, somewhere, says he’s coming home./ The day of his return will never dawn” (Homer 83). He is believed to be dead by everyone, yet he miraculously escapes peril and returns.

His adventure with the Cyclops is more of a literal “belly of the whale” adventure. Although Odysseus is not literally eaten by the monster, several of his shipmates are, and he is trapped in a symbolic “belly”, the Cyclops’ cave, from which there seems to be no escape. However, instead of being reborn and annihilating ego as Campbell suggests (Campbell 77-78), Odysseus actually becomes proud and boastful after his escape, leading his shipmates to more danger.

Odysseus also meets with several female temptresses along the way: the Sirens, Circe, and Calypso. His encounters with the temptresses tell a lot about gender roles in Greek culture. While Penelope is at home, beset by suitors and thinking her husband dead, she is still expected (after twenty years) to remain faithful to her husband. Odysseus, on the other hand, is given a pass by the gods themselves. In fact, it is part of his heroic deed of saving his shipmates from Circe. As Hermes tells him: “…rush her fast as if to run her through!/ She’ll cower in fear and coax you to her bed-/ but don’t refuse the goddess’ bed, not then, not if/ she’s to release your friends and treat you well yourself” (Homer 300). Then Odysseus is tied to mast so that he can hear the Sirens’ song without being overpowered by it (metaphorically taking pleasure from the women without the normal consequences mortal men suffer). When Odysseus is marooned on Calypso’s island and shares her bed for the seven years he is there, once again it is excusable because she is a goddess and holds him there by force. Calypso also points out the double standard, complaining that Zeus can bed whatever mortal woman he wants, but when she takes a mortal man to her bed, the other gods are “scandalized, when goddesses sleep with mortals,/ openly, even when one has made the man her husband” (Homer 156).

Of course, Odysseus does eventually make it home, although it is arguable if he brings a boon. He does destroy the suitors that have taken over his house, but he already had a gift for warfare and strategy when he was in Troy, it was not a boon he gained on his journey. It is also interesting that Odysseus proves that he is “master of two worlds” in the middle of the story, when he journeys to the land of the dead for Tiresias’ prophecy, not at the end.

It is interesting that, despite Odysseus’ skill at warfare, strategy, and trickery, ultimately he relied on supernatural aid. Athena saved Odysseus from Poseidon’s initial fury, sent Hermes to save him from Circe, saved him from Calypso, saved him from the shipwreck caused by Helios (even though everyone else died), and helped him defeat the suitors. Without Athena, Odysseus might not be remembered, showing who the true power resided with in Greek culture.

 

Sources

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. New World Library, 2008.

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin Books, 2006.

 

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. Penguin Books, 2006.