A study of the motif of the “Hero’s Trials” in contemporary in contemporary literature: The examples of P. Coelho’s “The Alchemist” , J.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and O. Elytis “Axion Esti”
Christina Laski (Thessaloniki, Greece) Introduction: Are myths still valid today?
Philosophers, artists and tutors of all times have spoken of heroes by creating songs, images, stories, myths, in order to inspire people to follow paths leading to wisdom, freedom, potency and light. However, far away from those times and cultures where the heroic path would seem clearer, more approachable, more venerated, in this era of compromise, individualism and materialism, heroic stories would seem more of something that an aging academic would marvel on than a source of inspiration for the modern mind.
Is the mythical way of thinking forever lost? Are there no storytellers left, or new stories to be told, or ears to heed them? Could such a way of thinking no longer correspond to a world that has changed more radically in the past 100 years than in the last 1000? And is really the modern man?s mind so weaned from the mind of its ancestors that is no longer comprehends or needs myths, models and archetypes to orientate itself? Perhaps a closer look, a more minded auspicating of the signs of our times, our 20th and 21st century, would reveal once more that simple great truth: maybe they have not perished, only transformed. If one would look closely at contemporary popular fiction and art, whether it is music or literature, or naturally the most vibrant art form of our era, cinematography, one could actually establish it. The recent immense popularity of the epic and fantasy genre in literature and film, the folk, Celtic and Epic currents in music, the keen penchant towards medieval aesthetics as a means of escaping from our own industrialized habitat, all indicate that the modern individual is in need of a return, or better a reunion with some of the most profound aspects of the human psyche. One of them is the need for myths and heroes.
Maybe Yung, Nietzsche and Campbell would agree, if we presumed it is all due to the circles of time and the eternal return of archetypes or even if we declared that myths cannot be lost, for they are rooted deep in the human mentality. There is still, in any era, a perpetual inner struggle for self- knowledge and self master y to which people give form and speech, in order to materialize and capture it. So there still are myths and stories about heroes today, clad in armor or in ordinary clothes; even when expressed in different ways and media they can still have the same essence. They are the ones that overcome great obstacles and battle with obscurity until they reach their own destination.
In this essay, we will focus in our own most familiar area, literature, aiming to demonstrate the diachronic influence of mythical thought in 20th century writing and to accentuate a common structure that lies beneath its surface. Furthermore, we will attempt to applicate modern theories from the fields of narratology, comparative mythology and psychology on such texts to shed light to their underlying pattern.
The most pivotal element of mythical thought that will be sought is one that could be called the ?Trial motif?. It can be established that in a story about the adventures of a protagonist, there is a typical sequence of events, that is based in this motif of trials: no matter if it is Theseus, Arzuna, Inanna, King Arthur or Brunhilde, it is by entering a world of ordeals, difficulties and tests of either ethical, intellectual or physical nature that the hero progresses; not only in the story, but in the process of self-discovery, in the heroic journey of the disciple of Life. This pattern can be found not only in canonical mythical narratives but in practically any text telling a story of a protagonist in search of a goal. Material or immaterial, the object, the Opponents, the allies and the trials, the journey itself, they all exist, and such stories enlighten the way of each and every one that can call themselves a human being. The path of trials is the path of transcendence. It is this mental and narrative pattern that we will attempt to study.
An effective method of work can be based on some of the basic principles of semiotics and structuralism, as shaped by such intellects as Vladimir Propp, Claude Levi- Strauss and A.J. Greimas. It is also much influenced by the work of Joseph Campbell and mostly his theory of the monomyth (―The Hero‘s Journey‖) as presented in his pivotal work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces‖ (1949), along with Campbell‟s own important influence, the Jungian theory of Archetypes, the basic structures that perpetually appear both in the myths of mankind and in the subconscious of the individual.
A basic concept of the semiotic theory is “structure” Structuralism maintains that the nature of each element does have its own meaning, but it is defined by all the other elements involved in the situation. Therefore, it is through the interaction of different factors in the narrative universe that each individual is defined. Another important principle of this theory is that the deeper structure of narratives, stories and myths, regardless of their era or origin, can be found similar.
” It is possibly one of the many conclusions of anthropological research that, despite the cultural differences between distinct parts of the human species, the human mind is everywhere one and the same.“.( Cl. Levi-Strauss: Primitive Intellect and Civilized Mind, from the Massey Lectures (1977),?Cl. Levi-Strauss Myth and Meaning, p. 53.)
More specifically, the method draws its roots from the distinct work of various human studies theorists. In his work “Morphology of the Folktale”( V. Propp, Morfologija skazki (1928), the basic argument of V. Propp was that it is possible to formulate a method of analyzing narratives not based on their varying plots but on functions, on their deepest structure, which is homogeneous. On a similar path, during the 1950?s, Cl. Levi-Strauss also applied the principles of linguistics of F. de Saussure to the study of anthropology. In the coming decades, especially in France, various schools of semiotics developed the theory, such as A.J. Greimas, who, by combining Saussure and Hjelmslev, develops the idea of a “narrative grammar” and the composition of a general theory and methodology for human studies, based not on the surface but on the homogenous deep level of systems.
The method of Greimas, as developed in his book “Semantique Structurale” (1966), and more specifically the “actantial model” of the six “actants”(A.J. Greimas, ―Sémantique Structurale‖ (1966) pp. 172-191.) (“dramatis personae” for Propp), has been efficiently applied to the analysis of narratives. This model, elements of which will be used in this essay, uses the principle that there are basic “spheres of action”, in every story, that are necessary for its completion. Those actants are:
Subject: The hero, the central figure of the story is the one that undergoes all kinds of tests in order to achieve a certain quest.
Object: the aim of the hero, which can vary from an inanimate object (e.g. a treasure) to a person (a princess) or an abstract purpose (freedom, justice, wisdom).
Sender: this structural element is the one who initiates a quest. It can be for instance a deity, a king or a tutor that sets an ordeal. Sometimes the sender is the Subject itself.
Receiver: it is often the hero that receives the quest, but it can also be the general public or whoever benefits from the success of the hero, acquiring completion or natural order or general well-being.
Helper: this element is pivotal to the success of the Subject. It can be an abstract quality, a magical instrument or power, an Opponent that after their “taming” become beneficial, or characters that inspire and advise the hero: a tutor, a companion, or a consort, a “dame”.
Opponent: This is the most influential element of the story, as their actions produce the situation because of which the Subject is motivated. Their defeat marks the restoration of order and the completion of the hero’s journey. In canonical narratives, such as myths, the Opponent is often a nocent creature, such as a dragon, or a villainous personage- but it can also be the hero?s own ambivalence and weakness, an internal obstacle that must be overcome for the Subject to conquer their true nature. As such, we have the following structure:(Semantique Structurale: p. 180.)
These actants, combined with some elements of the Jungian theory of archetypal figures (Anima, Shadow, Wise Elder, Warrior, King), can be decisive leads for character study. Another basic theoretical instrument is that of the “semiotics of action” (according to which the action begins because of a negative situation of “deprivation” or imbalance”, injustice, which the Subject intends to reverse to a positive one. Thus, the “subject” develops a course to satisfy the want for a particular “object”. This quest consists of three stages that are usually designated by “trials” (“épreuves” for Greimas): In order to succeed in those trials and for the story to evolve, the Subject must acquire competence through knowledge and personal development (“Sémiotique des passions”). This sequence, though, is not guaranteed and can be unaccomplished, and it is often a literary feature for the actant to defy it or fail in it, acquiring therefore not an immediate result but the deeper and often tragic experience of the human condition:
“These functions of the hero within a procedure of trial are free. They have a character of choice and irreversibility. Those elements define the historical activity of humanity”. (E. Kapsomenos ?Narratology?, p. 124.)
The hero?s success is not predefined: It has to be won.
In particular, there are three basic trials in a canonical narrative pattern:(“Semantique Structurale”: p. 197.)
1. A “Qualifying Trial” (« épreuve qualifiante »), during which the Subject, through an extraordinary feature or action, is proven to others or to themselves to possess the competence (“being-able-to-do”) and the awakening of consciousness (“knowing-how- to-do”) necessary to restore the balance in the community or their own status.
2. A “Principal Trial” (« épreuve principale »), in which evolves the basic motif “Confrontation- Victory”, where the Subject faces and defeats the antagonist and restores the order or sates the initial deprivation.
3. A “Glorifying Trial” (« épreuve glorifiante »), that is sometimes absent and results in the vindication of the Subject, the restoration to their predestinate status, their completion.
In these terms, the role of the “Trial” or “Test” in the Subject”s course is pivotal. It is not only through those ordeals that the story is developed, but the Trial also transforms the protagonist into someone different, provides them with abilities and virtues they never had before, or did not think they had and enriches their being with further knowledge of the world and their own self. This structure is very similar to the universal ancient procedure of initiation, that was the center of the individuals spiritual development, present in the core of each civilization:
“Initiation is a process aiming to psychologically actualize the passing from an allegedly inferior state of existence to a superior one […] every initiation means the “death” of a previous personality and the adopting of a new, more congruous one.”.(F. Schwarz ?The New Anthropology?, p. 90.)
Another important theorist develops his method in a similar context. In his fundamental work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (1949), analyzing texts from various eras and regions, Joseph Campbell codifies this process of the “Hero‘s Journey”, or the “monomyth“, as the dominant structure for the plotline of protagonists of a definitive majority of narratives. Moreover, he uses the ideas of Jung’s theory of Archetypes to find the common underlying structure behind all religion and myth. In plain words, he suggests that no matter what culture one examines, the human mind will produce and narrate the same essential story, which is in fact the story of man himself, as they struggle through life toward a higher accomplishment and understanding of the Self and the Cosmos. In this model, “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 men.” ( Joseph Campbell, ?The Hero with a Thousand Faces?, p. 40.)
The “Hero‘s Journey” comprises 17 stages, divided into 3 main sections: Departure, Initiation, Return, that could be loosely correspondent to the three trials of Greimas. The Departure is the decisive moment of departure from the safe haven of home, towards the adventure ahead. The “Initiation” is when the hero defeats adversaries and even descents to the Underworld, ascending again to gain their full power. The “Return” is a reintegration to home, where the hero shares the benefits of his conquest and acquires their predestined place. Not all stories contain all stages, while others may have them in a different order.
For reasons of brevity, we present only the titles and an outline of the 17 stages, analyzing it later in our examples, as they appear:
I. Departure: 1. The Call to Adventure > 2. Refusal of the Call > 3. Supernatural Aid > 4. Crossing the Threshold > 5. Belly of the Whale > 6. The Road of Trials.
II. Initiation: 7. The Meeting with the Goddess > 8. Woman as Temptress > 9. Atonement with the Father > 10. Apotheosis 11. The Ultimate Boon
III. Return: 12. Refusal of the Return > 13. The Magic Flight > 14. Rescue from Without > 15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold 16. Master of Two Worlds > 17. Freedom to Live.
The texts: “The Alchemist”, “The Lord Of The Rings”, “It is Worthy”. Different territories, similar paths
The literary works that were chosen as samples are relatively recent, as it is also our intention to show the diachronic validity and popularity of the mythical mentality in all eras and most importantly in own time, when the dominance of technology and rationality and the globalization of values have radically influenced our own way of evaluating life. The works in question are all derived from 20th century writers of different cultural environments that share, however, this common element: they have all, in their own way, attempted to re-apply the mythical thought to their works, and pour, in a matter of speaking, “old wine into new wineskins”, create new myths for a new era.
Different minds, parallel tracks
Two of those works, “The Alchemist” (Paolo Coelho) and the “Lord of the Rings” (J.R.R. Tolkien), are novels, and the other, the “Axion Esti” (“It is Worthy”), by Odysseus Elytis, is a poem. The narrative structure though, is quite similar, for it is a structure of the human mind, the mind of a storyteller eager to tell a tale that will motivate and inspire the ones that it is transmitted to. Generally, due to the popularity of the specific works, it will be assumed that the reader is quite familiar with the material treated, so we will not spend a lot of time and space to present the plot and text of each work, except perhaps the “Axion Esti“, which might be less known to the reader.
“The Alchemist”, Paolo Coelho
Born in Brazil, Paolo Coelho (1947- ) showed from a young age his affiliation to the radical socio-political views of the hippie generation as well as his inclination to travelling, philosophical
thinking and the desire to become an author. The “Alchemist» (1988), written in only two weeks, is his second and most popular work, having sold 65 million copies in 67 different languages, setting a new Guinness record for most translated living author. In this book, we see the development of the basic principles and style of the author, which is a mystical atmosphere and the motif of the “Personal Legend“, the accomplishment, through the fight for freedom, love and wisdom, of one?s destiny, which greatly resemblesJoseph Campbell’s own motto “Follow your bliss”.
The “Alchemist” plotline follows Santiago, a Spanish shepherd in a hazardous journey to Egypt to find a treasure he has seen in a dream, explained by a Romani fortune-teller. He wavers before finally deciding to commence his venturous journey, inspired by the tutorship of Melchizedek, an old king. The book’s core theme comes from this section:
“The fulfillment of the Personal Legend, that is the only duty of man. Everything is one and the same. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.
When he is robbed, he works for a merchant to gather money for his journey. He travels with an Englishman through the Sahara Desert, where he meets Fatima, a beautiful woman with
whom he falls in love and asks her to marry him. She agrees, but only after urging him to first fulfill his Personal Legend and find his treasure. After many adventures, Santiago encounters
the Alchemist, a mysterious persona who becomes his tutor. The Alchemist travels with Santiago and instructs him on the Soul of the World and the true meaning of the Personal
Legend, which is not a physical treasure but the wisdom that comes from the journey. After being captured by tribesmen, the Alchemist indirectly sets Santiago to achieve a miracle that
awes the men, which release them. Soon after, Santiago continues his journey alone and encounters two thieves in a Coptic church, one of which reveals to have had a similar dream about a treasure in Spain, where Santiago commenced his journey. Santiago returns to his home and finds the treasure and plans to return to Fatima, who awaits him.
It can easily be established that “The Alchemist” adjusts the familiar hero archetype into a journey of self-awareness. Regarding the narrative’s actants, we clearly see the Subject in Santiago, a brave and open-minded protagonist that is utterly transformed through the trials of his journey. The Object of the quest is initially thought to be a treasure, which eventually becomes an allegory for self- accomplishment and the experience of life. As in most stories, the initial Sender of the quest can be traced in a mysterious wise persona, which is in this case centered less in the fortune-teller and more in the king Melchizedek. However, it is the dream itself, that symbolizes the call of destiny, that initiates the quest. Those two personas, the king and the fortune teller, can subsequently be viewed as “Helpers”, as people that assist with their advice the young protagonist, in his initial ignorance and ambivalence. Another, more complex
example of a “Helper” is Fatima, the hero?s beloved, that, however, can be initially seen as a symbolic form of an Opponent, a Campbellian “Woman as Temptress“, as Santiago is ready to
abandon his initial Object to settle for that conventional happiness. She becomes a source ofstimulation, transforming from an “Aphrodite Pandemos” to an “Aphrodite Ourania”, only
through the Alchemist’s tutorship, as Santiago sees that “love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”( As above, p. 202)
And this leads to the ultimate “Helper” of the story, which is the actual Alchemist, possessor of the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone, which becomes the young man’s tutor. He teaches Santiago through words and trials and, most importantly, initiates him to the Soul and the Language of the World, that helps him communicate not only with the elements but with his own heart, transforming him to a man capable of achieving his Personal Legend. As for the stages of the Campbellian monomyth, although some appear in an allegorical form, they are evidently present in the storyline:
“indirect or unclear, yet goal-oriented path; danger, loneliness, and temptation along the way; guides and friends for company; wisdom, maturity, and spiritual enlightenment as a reward; and in the end, what the hero seeks is usually no more than a symbol of what he finds.”( http://members.tripod.com/intotheunknown_void/id34.htm)
The protagonist first , “qualifying trial”, is his decision to follow his dream, his own “call to adventure”, regardless of his initial misfortunes and with divine aid, in the form of “Sender” Melchizedek, who is shown to be a deity:
“The gods cannot have wishes, because they do not have Personals Legends.”( The Alchemist? p. 75)
The story continues in developing element of the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages of the monomyth. Before Santiago’s “principal trial” comes a series of other, lesser ones, such as the fulfillment the premonition for the attack on the oasis, the continuation of the journey despite of Santiago’s falling in love, the miraculous sand storm, and others: they are however important trials during which he must overcome psychological adversaries such as defeat, loneliness, betrayal and doubt, and acquire important moral and cognitive qualities, such as perseverance, will, courage, intuition and magic and a deeper understanding of the “Language of the World” and the purpose of Life. These are his true “boons”, which facilitate hero in his apparent “principal trial”: the return to his homeland and the discovery of the treasure under the sycamore tree. The subsequent “glorifying trial“, is implied in the form of “the Crossing of the Return Threshold” and the gaining of the “Freedom to Live”: “I’m coming, Fatima”. (As above, p. 265.)
Conclusively, it is evident that in “The Alchemist” the hero’s journey is accomplished through multiple trials, that are only partly related to the true circumstances of the voyage itself; the hero goes through different obstacles and meets different people, but in a wider spectrum the most important battles take place inside his own self. The Opponents and the Helpers are all instruments in the understanding of his own identity, of the different and conflicting powers within himself. Santiago?s story is one that anyone can relate to, because it advances through the same quest that each individual has to undertake: the attainment, through a path full of trials, of self- awareness and self-fulfillment, the Personal Legend.
“The Lord of the Rings”, J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien, the Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Culture Oxford Professor and specialist in Celtic, Germanic and Greek language and lore is the one responsible for the creation of one of the most revered, until this day, original mythical universes of the 20th century: The one of “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “The Silmarillion”. The landscapes and creatures of Middle Earth, each with their own mythology and language, have rendered Tolkien the father of modern high fantasy literature and his books, according to recent surveys, “the most popular work of English fiction”(Edward James, “Tolkien, Lewis and the explosion of genre fantasy”, p. 62 of the “The Cambridge Companion Fantasy Litterature”) By enduing his story-telling with what he personally thought to be its very essence, Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation and setting the Middle Ages as the
“default cultural model for the fantasy world” ( As above, p.70) he set the standards for the forthcoming popular genre in literature as well as cinematography. As expected from an initiate in mythology, the very structure and style of his stories follows the familiar mythical pattern.
“In fact, he believed that he had not created and offered something new, however, he had managed to re-tell the ancient stories, in a new era.“( As cited from F. Mohammadi?s study “Mythic Frodo and his Predestinate Call to Adventure”)
“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
The basic plot of the “Lord of the Rings” is based on the story of the One Ring, that the evil Lord Sauron had treacherously forged in ancient times with the ultimate power to rule and destroy all other species in Middle Earth. In this Ring Sauron poured all his evil will and thirst for power and subsequently the Ring has the ability to evoke the deepest dark impulses to anyone that tries to carry it- it also has a will of its own, to unite to its master and complete his work of dominance and destruction. However, the Ring, through a series of events, remained long lost to Sauron, until it was discovered by the protagonist of “The Hobbit”, Bilbo Baggins, who later inherited it to his nephew, Frodo. As Sauron’s power rises again, Frodo is faced with the enormous task, along with a fellowship of companions, to travel trough Middle Earth, now ravaged by the war between Orcs and the armies of Men and Elves, and destroy the One Ring in the flames of Mount Doom, where it was created.
The immense and labyrinthine storyline of the whole trilogy is not possible to be unfolded in the limited space of this essay, so it will be supposed as known, in order to proceed to the analysis which is the main object. From an esoteric viewpoint, the story relates to theeverlasting conflict between Light and Darkness. In a psychological key, it is a story of selftranscendence and the fulfillment of one’s destiny. The motif of the Trial is once more dominant here as it is through a series of tremendous trials that the characters progress, not only by salvaging the world from Evil, but also by overmastering their own inner darkness, weakness and fear. The uniqueness of Tolkien’s storytelling is that it manages to formulate an immense variety of characters which, at their own level, follow the Hero?s Journey. Though the central Subject is Frodo, there is actually not a single character in the Lord of the Rings, that does not, through their own personal trials, receive either their apotheosis or their nemesis. As such, we find most of the characters developing by mastering their own Shadow, the one that the Ring evokes, and others that fail in this ordeal.
In Frodo we see the victory of will and purity over the weakness and wickedness that corrupted the Gollum; in Aragorn and Theoden, the prevalence of faith and courage over the designation and guilt and finally the lust for power that brought Boromir’s demise and the damnation of the Nazguls; in Gandalf and Galadriel the victory of wisdom and moral virtue over the Dark Path, a trial through which Saruman fell to his doom; in Arwen the power of love over abandonment; in Eowyn the passing from her state of frailty to the warrior’s path; in Sam, devotion over fear; in Merry and Pipin the initiation from childhood inanity to mature responsibility; in Legolas and Gimly the change of a lingering dissension to a mutual respect. And finally the victory in battle of Men and Elves over the Orcs and the wraith of Sauron that climaxes with the destruction of the Ring of Power. However, in this study we will concentrate to three main characters: the Hobbit, the Wizard and The Warrior, representing different “metamorphosis” of the Hero.
Frodo the Hobbit
“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.‘‘
Why hobbits’ In a world populated by various powerful creatures, such as wizards, elves, dwarves and men, why is there a need for another species that will carry the burden of the decisive trials in the struggle of Light against Darkness? From a historical point of view it can be suggested that the notion is derived from Tolkien’s own experience:
“Tolkien valued the courage of =little men‘; he once said that in the trenches of the First World War he saw far more courage from the ordinary soldiers than he did from the officers. In Lord of the Rings it is the courage of a little man- or rather, the hobbit that eventually saves the world.” (The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Litterature?, p. 68.)
In a narratological aspect, hobbits represent a known motif of the “unlikely hero”: the unwilling, seemingly incompetent character that eventually saves the day- or the world.
Like his initially anti- heroic ancestor, Bilbo, Frodo lives a carefree life in his home in Shire. His own “Call to adventure” comes by the revelation of the Ring’s identity by Gandalf and the subsequent entrusting by the “Sender”, Elrod’s council, of the quest to Frodo. This is the first, “qualifying trial.” The seemingly weak hobbit that self-forgetfully volunteers is proven to be, because of his purity and innocence, the one that is less likely to be tempted by the corruptive power of the Ring. However, Frodo does need and receive “Helpers” for his journey, initially in the form of eight companions from different races, each providing their own strength of wisdom, devotion and protection. When the Fellowship is broken, it is at this point that, after entering the “Belly of the Whale”, Frodo understands that the burden of the task is his own.
Frodo’s most important “Helpers” however, do accompany him throughout his whole path, either by their physical presence, or by their spiritual guidance. The most loyal of Frodo’s companions is, of course, Sam. He is the only one that goes all the way with his struggling friend, comforting and protecting him even through the times when he is shunned away. This is an interesting stage of the path, in “The Return of the King” when Frodo, deep into the darkness of Mordor becomes more susceptible to the Ring’s evil and begins to fend Sam and entrust in the treacherous Gollum. That wretched creature that had succumbed to the corruption of the Ring, is actually Frodo’s greatest fear: the outcome of his probable failure, his Jungian “Shadow” archetype (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine”); He dreads and pities it, but it the end not all shadows are bad. Once he tames Gollum, it becomes useful, leading the way through the dark labyrinths of Mordor, through their own Underworld of despair and perish; and in the “decisive Trial”, it is though Gollum’s death that Frodo finally reaches his salvation. Frodo”s greatest “Opponent“, though, is not a mere projection like Gollum; it is the Evil Lord Sauron himself, whom he encounters though his various agents, his Great Eye and, of course the Ring. It is a vivid allegory: the hero’s greatest adversary is the one he bears around his neck; the Ring is a symbol of all that is weak and corrupted and the decisive Trial of Frodo is to cast it to the flames; to cleanse himself of it. And through personal victory, to salvage the whole World of Middle Earth from darkness. In darkness though, there always lights that shine through. In book III, Frodo is entrapped and passes his own Trial of Death in the web of the spider Shelob. He is saved and brought back to life by Sam, but finally overcomes danger with a “magical gift”, the one that the Lady Galandriel gave him during his stay in Lothlorien. It is suggested that the Elf Queen Galadriel, who sees into the soul of everyone in the Fellowship and makes them see it for themselves, corresponds to a Jungian primary “Anima”( http://stottilien.com/2013/03/28/jungian-archetype-checklist-for-tolkiens-lord-of-the-rings/) and the archetype of the Mother. She is a protective force, especially to Frodo, the archetypal hero:
“ And you, Ring- bearer,‘ she said, turning to Frodo. =I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts.‘[…] =In this phial,‘ she said,‘ is caught the light of Edrendil‘s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”( The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring?, p. 490)
Galadriel, an ancient spiritual entity also corresponds to Campbell’s “Meeting with the Goddess“:
“The mythological image of the Universal Mother suffuses the world with the feminine qualities of the first, affectionate and protective presence.”( Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, p. 141.)
The journey does not end here, though. After the order to the world is restored, the rest of the hobbits are joyously ready to “Cross the Return Threshold” to Shire and to their Freedom to Live; but not Frodo. The immense ordeal has irreversibly transformed him, to the point when he cannot live amongst them anymore. Perhaps his own”glorifying trial” is exactly his “Refusal of Return”: He belongs where the boat leads him, as he passes, along with Bilbo, Elrod, Galadriel and Gandalf to the Other World: the one of deities and heroes.
Gandalf the Wizard Gandalf is an archetype of the Wizard, Trickster or Wise Man; this “Helper”, being also in his own particular story a “Subject”, like many other characters in the story, is the mediator of secret knowledge and magical power, the spiritual teacher of the hero that represents “supernatural aid.” Like many mythological advisors, Gandalf’s worn appearance conceals what he truly is, which is a “Maia”, Tolkien’s version of an archangel. Except from his role as Frodo’s mentor, he is evidently a decisive factor in the restoration of power and the victory of the realm of Men: in Aragorn’s words,
“he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished; and this is his victory.” ( The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, p. 1268) However, even he is not above “The road of Trials”: he too has “Opponents”, his own shadows to face, his own demons to conquer. The first major crisis is the betrayal of his own teacher, the leader of the order of wizards, Saruman. He has been corrupted by Sauron and is bound to serve as his ally in the war that comes- Saruman is the symbol of the lust for power that characterizes the Dark Path; he is also presented in a rather militaristic allegory as the creator and leader of Uruk Hai, the Orc mutant soldiers that devastate Middle Earth. Gandalf’s realization of Saruman’s turn leads him to defy and battle his own tutor,
leading to his incarceration by the now Dark Wizard, from which he escapes with the help of the Eagles. Saruman’s downfall is soon to come with Sauron’s defeat. But it canonly come after another takes his place as the White Wizard and Leader of the White Path: Gandalf the White. Gandalf’s “decisive trial” begins in book I and it is a characteristic process of initiation. In the dungeons of Khazad-dum the Fellowship stands up to many threats, but there is one that only Gandalf can face; in their path appearsa Barlog, a tremendous demonic Maia of shadow and flame.
In one of the most monumental confrontations in Tolkien’suniverse, Gandalf, along with his enemy, plunges to his death, seemingly abandoning the Fellowship and the Upper World. But it is not the end. After a long absence, Gandalf returns, after having defeated the demon, with a story of initiation:
“Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was
burned. […] We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched
me and ever I hued him […] I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke
the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me; and I strayed out of
thought and time and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. Naked I was sent back — for a
short time, until my task is done. […] There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over
and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth; Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour
of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting
groan of overburdened stone […] Healing I found, and I was clothed in white. Counsel I gave
and counsel took. Thence by strange roads I came and messages I bring…“( The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, p. 654, 656)
And so he is not the same: in “The Two Towers” he has come back as the herald of the Light and Leader of the
Order of Wizards, “Gandalf the White.”
Aragorn, the Warrior and the King
Aragorn is another important character in the “Lord of the Rings”, a hero from the world of men and a “Helper” to Frodo but also a “Subject” in his own storyline, as he is another
“Receiver” of a quest: He is the heir of Isildur, the last King of Men that gallantly destroyed Sauron in ancient times, but was then corrupted and doomed by the power of his Ring. Aragorn does not have a “qualifying trial”: his destiny and quest is predetermined by a prodigious heritage that lies not as honor but as burden on his shoulders. The shards of his ancestor’s sword, the Narsil are the shards of his own identity, as he has to emerge from the shadows to become King:
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken/
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the Blade that was Broken/
The crownless again shall be king.?
His journey is a long and hazardous one and it can barely suffice to say he is the protagonist in all the crucial battles against the forces of Sauron. Through those struggles he gradually gains his own faith in his destiny, but also the respect of his fellow men. However his most inner strength comes in the form of love. The most important “Helper” for Aragorn is his beloved, the elf princess Arwen. The bond between them resembles the one described by Campbell in “The Meeting with the Goddess”; it has the power and endurance of all encompassing, unconditional love. It is for him that Arwen chooses love over immortality. Her presence, not matter if it is physical or spiritual, is always the starlight that guides Aragorn’s through the darkness, his most profound inspiration to complete his quest. Still, Aragorn’s most defining trial passes though the Paths of the Dead, as, like in many mythological storylines, the hero has to defy death itself. In “The Return of the King”, at the most crucial point of the war, Aragorn “receives” a task and a “magical object” given to him by Lord Elrod, Arwen’s father, who reforges the Narsil into a new sword, Anduril and calls upon Aragorn to wield it and thus reforge the self-effacing warrior to a King. It is with this weapon that Aragorn finds faith in himself and who he is and first call upon the Rohirrim as allies to the fight for Middle Earth:
“Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Anduril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. “Elendil!” he cried. “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur, Elendil‘s son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me” Choose swiftly!”( The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers?, p. 563-4)
But it is only by believing in this power that Aragorn undertakes the crucial task to seek and summon those who dwell in Erech: the cursed, undead soldiers that betrayed his ancestor, to
fulfill their oath and be redeemed. And they do answer to him, and as he stands before them as the rightful heir of Isildur, he has the power to command the Dead “… and the Grey Company
passed on into the darkness of the storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight; but the Dead
followed them.”(The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King”, p. 1034) In the beginning of his “decisive trial”, by facing the Dead, Aragorn faces and conquers his own Shadow and becomes who he is destined to be, resuming the battle against Sauron until the final victory. Altogether, the storytelling of Tolkien is, after all these years, still breathtaking and still moving, echoing deep in the chords of this worl’?s soul, as it is the telling of a story of struggle, redemption and selftrancendence, not much different from our own. As Jody B. Bower fairly describes: “As stated by the pioneering psychiatrist Carl G. Jung:
” the essential function of the heroic myth is the development of the individual‘s egoconsciousness
— his awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses — in a manner that will
equip him for the arduous tasks with which life confronts him.” Or as Campbell puts it, “It has
always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the
human spirit forward.” This is why The Lord of the Rings speaks as deeply to people who share
neither Tolkien‘s faith nor his opinions as it does to those who do. It transcends the personal
and the particular to touch us all.?”( Jody B. Bower, ?”The Lord of the Rings” — An Archetypal Hero‘s Journey, as published in
Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996), widely considered as an innovator of Greek poetry, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979. Many of his poems have been set to music and have been translated into various foreign languages. His poetic universe is deeply rooted in idealism, merged with surrealism, as well as the idea that the artist is the intuitive mediator between the visible and the immaterial. He is also been named “the poet of Greece“, as through its sun, nature and landscapes, but also its myths and historical struggles he has sought to decrypt the mystery of existence and
celebrate life and the initiation to the center of the Self and the World. However, as the poet himself states the position of Greece in the center of the poetic universe is not in any way chauvinistic:
“For me, Greece symbolizes certain values and elements that can enrich the spirit everywhere in the world.”(Odysseus Elytis, “Eklogi”, 1979, p.137)
The central point of his mythology maintains that it is through the senses, the individual?s temporal existence and the participation in history and life that the shaping of identity and each mystical initiation can be accomplished. The physical corresponds to the metaphysical, natural experience to moral and intellectual entity.
“The cosmological structure of Elytis actualizes, through the royal road of the senses, the transformation of the metaphysical to the physical, giving to earthly life the =breath of eternity.”
The idea of self-discovery, through life?s grueling trials, also recurs in his essays, as in “Anoichta Chartia” (“Open Papers”):
“The most difficult thing in the world, truly, is for one to become who he is. I would actually say that the less vulnerable definition of poetry is that it is the path to self-contact. “ So, that mystic path of life is arduous, but not solitary “Let us go together even as they stone us, even as they call us daydreamers/ My friend, those who never felt with what iron, what rocks and blood and fire/ We build and dream and sing!” (=Sun the First‘)
Thus, only by individual transformation and common endeavor is the world transformed:
” In the heart‘s tormented land/ and from hope‘s struggle a new land prepares itself To walk there with eagles and banners/ one morning filled with iridescence The race that vivifies dreams/ the race that sings in the sun‘s embrace.” (=Ode to Santorini‘)
The Axion Esti (1959), widely held to be the poet’s “chef d’oeuvre” and contributor to his Nobel prize, was made immensely popular by its setting to music by Mikis Theodorakis. It is a poetic cycle of alternating prose and verse patterned after the ancient Byzantine liturgy and Biblical recitation. E. Keeley in “Elytis and the Greek Tradition” (1983), notes that
“Elytis’s strategy in this work […] is to present an image of the contemporary Greek consciousness through the developing of a persona that is at once the poet himself and the voice of his country.”
The “Subject” in “Axion Esti” in not named, thus it becomes a symbol of Man himself as a “poet”, which in the Greek language literally means “creator“. He journeys through the landscape and the history of 20th century Greece and it is through its great struggles that he too passes his trials. However, the metaphysical element is not absent; in the beginning section of the poem, entitled “Genesis”( All the poetic text that follows is derived from”?The Axion Esti” first part “Genesis” pp. 123-133 in the English translation of “Elytis work by Jeffrey Carson and Nikos Sarris, “The Collected Poems of Odysseus Elytis”, JHU Press, 2004., unless specified differently.), the hero is created by the Sun, as the Chosen One, to experience but also complete the Creation. He is a Solar Hero, at the same time being a creative principle of the world and the historical poet. So, in a way, he is both the “Sender” and the”Receiver” of the quest: both the “Helper”, as a teacher, and the disciple:
“My soul sought a Signalman and Herald […] It was the sun, whole and many-rayed with his axle in me that beckoned And he who I truly was He the many aeons ago He still green in the fire He uncut from the sky I felt him come and lean over my cradle like memory become present he took the voice of trees, of waves: Your commandment, he said “is this world, as it is written in your viscera, Read and try and fight” he said “Each with his own weapons” he said And he spread his arms like a young novice God to mold together pain and joy.”
In this stage, the hero is tutored by the Sun, in a relative “Atonement with the Father”:( J. Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 154-176.) “and this is the world you must see and receive“. He is shown his weapons: nature, memory, speech, balance, purity, love but also the “Opponents”, void, death and “the Others”:
” =See‘, he said =they are the Others, and there is no way for Them without You and there is no way for You without them‘[…] if you truly stand firm and confront them your life will acquire a point and you will lead‘ he said.”
So, the hero is sent to the world, descending into the “Belly of the Whale” and “the Road of Trials”. There, the initially paradisiacal landscape becomes the place of Trial and Tragic, as the historical drama of Hellenism is paralleled to the cosmic drama. Acquiring at times different personas, the “Subject”, along with the people, passes through different eras of the 20th century, World War II, Occupation, Civil War, and through many “principal trials“, outlined by large successively narrative and poetic sections in “The Passions”: war, hardship, injustice, poverty and loss, betrayal and desolation, the threat of physical and cultural obliteration. And always at the times that he bends under the weight of his trials, the Solar Hero converses with his master, in very opportune verses (Axion Esti, ?The Passions? p. 143- 144, p. 153, p. 155.) :
“You never gave wealth to me, the continually devastated by the races of the Continents and continually praised by their boasting” “I added up my days and never found you anywhere to hold my hand […] Some took Power and some took Knowledge […] I myself never fitted masks, I put joy and sorrow behind me, generously I put Power and Knowledge behind me I added up my days and remained alone.” “Oh Sun of Justice in the Mind and you Oh glorifying myrtle do not oh I implore you, do not forget my country!” “Oh Guide of lightbeams and Magician of bedchambers You vagabond you who knows the future, speak to me Where can I find my soul, the four- leaf teardrop!”
“God, you wanted me thus and look, I reciprocate […] like a pebble I endured the wilderness[…] What then, what else, what else, what new remains for me” Behold, you speak and I am proven true.”
Yet, the ” decisive trial” of the hero is yet to come: it is set in the future, in an apocalyptic vision of the destruction of the world when all oppressive powers are exterminated from the world, dragging with them the corrupted remains of civilization:
“Turmoil shall fall on Hades and the planking shall shag under the great pressure of the sun. Which first will hold back its beams, as a sign that it is time for dreams to take revenge. […] But before that, behold, generations shall move the plough upon the barren earth. And secretly the Rulers shall take stock of their human merchandise, declaring wars. […] But before that, behold, the young shall sigh and their blood will unduly age. And pale years shall come […] and each will have a few grams of happiness. And the things in him shall already be beautiful ruins. Then the poet, having no other exile where he can lament, pouring out the health of the storm from his open chest, shall return to stand amidst the beautiful ruins. And the last of men shall speak his first word, that the grass grow tall, and the woman emerge from his side like a sunbeam. And again he shall worship the woman and shall lay her on the grass, according to the order of things. And dreams shall take revenge, and they shall sow generations forever and ever!”
As such, the created One takes the role of the Creator, in a Campbellian”Apotheosis“. The hero becomes
“the conqueror of Hades and the savior of Eros”, establishes a new world, and then departs, ( In a pattern similar to the one presented in Campbell’s chapter “The Departure of the Hero” ) having completed his quest and being honored by nature and mankind alike. Henceforth, instead of a “glorifying trial”, follows the final part of the “Axion Esti”, called”The Gloria”, which glorifies not only the hero, but all of nature and all the values that lead to the final Victory of Light. Here are some of its characterically allusive verses: “It is Worthy, the light and the first wish of man incised in stone […] the leading Winds who officiate, who raise the sea like the Mother of God […] Consciousness all-bright as summer […] Hermeses with their pointed sunhats and with the caduceus of black smoke […] It is Worthy, celebrating the memory of Saints Chiricus and Julitta (The celebration day of those orthodox saints, whose names mean respectively ?Herald? and ?Lady July? is actually at the 15th of July.) […]the soil that raises a smell of thunder like sulfur/ the bottom of the mountain where the dead flourish as flowers of tomorrow[…]the scarab knocker[…] the girls Vessels of Mysteries/ filled to the brim yet bottomless […] It is Worthy, thou the bitter and alone, lost from the start/ the Poet working the knife in his third hand indelible […]It is Worthy, the turn of the wolf to the face of man and then to the angel/ the nine steps Plotinus climbed […] the burning poem and resonator of death/ the old doctrine that there is always the very near yet invisible[…] It is Worthy, the hand that returns from a horrible murder and now knows/ which is truly the world that excels / which is the =now‘ and which the =forever‘ of the world.”
In this poem, through Elytis “Solar Metaphysics“( See Andreas Manos, Luminosity and transparency pp. 40- 48.) Man becomes who he “truly is”, who he is meant to be, an heir of the Sun and an initiate in Life’s mysteries, the one who can distinguish light from darkness and the temporal from the infinite. But it is only by the transforming power of trials that the hero is made who he is. In the “Genesis”, we see the hero’s preparation, the powers and “Helpers” that will escort him, being at times natural elements or historical monuments that both represent ethical or intellectual qualities. It is by these qualities that the “Subject” will accomplish all the trials in “The Passions“, when he is incarnated in history and those qualities will be then lauded in the “Gloria“, during his ascent to the spiritual. The path of trials is however the one that will make the hero realize and utilize them, master all the qualities that he is entitled to as the son of the sun. The trial is, subsequently, not only the way to accomplish the external quest but also the means of self- discovery for the individual, the way to realize their identity and purpose. For Elytis, the path is evident:
“From us depends the final result. From us depends the heaven or the hell we will construct. Our fate lies in our hands.”
In the end, it seems that, in not so peculiar ways, some of the basic ideas of those three “story-tellings” are indeed quite similar. It has been only briefly outlined how both Greimas” and Campbell’s structural analysis and even Yungian archetypes could apply to them and this occurs for many reasons. The most important is that, no matter if they are written in the 20th century, they all follow a similar pattern in order to tell the story of an individual going through the hurdles of their own path; and that pattern is based on the very ancient idea of initiation, of transformation through trials. It is by surpassing all the difficulties of his journey without relinquishing his dream that Coelho’s Santiago find his treasure, which is not only the chest of
coins, but his Personal Legend’s bliss. It is by, even reluctantly, accepting their own part in the struggles on Middle Earth that Tolkien’s characters conquer their own Shadows and fulfill their
destiny. It is only by his temporal incarnation amongst people and their passions that the Elytis” Poet reaches his “Gloria“. The trial is, subsequently, not only the way to accomplish the
external quest which is the restoration of natural order or even the renaissance of civilization, but also the means of internal search, of self- discovery for the individual, the way to realize
their identity and purpose. The road of trials is only opened with a double axe: as one edge slays an opponent, the other edge tears the chest of its wielder; as one blow opens the way into
darkness, the other unleashes the hero’s full might. It is perhaps, this image, more exaggerated but not less truthful in its core, of each individual battling their way that appeals so much to the contemporary audience and has rendered these three works, in their own level and surroundings, so popular. Elytis’ songs of liberty, courage and faith still come to the lips of the 21st century youngster struggling with corruption, injustice and despondency. Coelho’s immense popularity, beginning during the 80’s and protracting to present day is most likely due to the fact that he reflects an era that New Age esoteric and the inclination for self-discovery and selfaccomplishment emerges as a new philosophy for the individual. As for Tolkien’s novels, they have regained
immense popularity by the Peter Jackson films during the 00’s and
“while one might imagine that =escapist‘ epic fantasies about Middle Earth couldn‘t be any more remote from reality […] is put to use in contemporary political culture, in particular, in relations to anxieties about global terrorism.“(Ken Gender, “Popular Fiction, the logics and practices of a literary field” p. 7 and more extensively in the chapter “J.R.R. Tolkien and global terrorism” pp. 143-157)
Middle Earth isn’t just another Kurukshetra, but our own veryEarth. The boundary of reality and fantasy can indeed be a vaporous one. An immersion into fiction may seem like an
attempt to escape reality, but in truth there is no chance that a work of art, and even more so, a story, will appeal to us and inspire us if they are not, in some way relevant to our own
experience of the self and the world. Is it perhaps suggestive that the story-telling that seems to appeal the most to 20th and even more so, 21st century audiences is so close to the mythical train of thought and even to medieval aesthetic ¿ And if so, could it suggest that in the regression of the myths of religion, new myths, or at least the need for them, is emerging? In a culture whose underlying systems of guidance are revealed inefficient to an ever-growing public conscience, is it adventive that the monomyth returns, the legend of a chosen one, a champion, a hero that will save the word? In this industrialized era that nevertheless shows so many affiliations to the political and cultural phenomena of the Middle Age,( As supported in the book Towards a new Middle Age by Jorge Alvarado Planas and variousspecialists in the Philosophy of History.) could it be a coincidence that in our minds and on our screens, knights and battles, wizards and alchemists, heroes and spirits are so often and vividly emprinted once more?
Perhaps it is that we need myths once more. Perhaps we never stopped needing them. Either through Campbell’s monomyth, Coelho’s personal legend, Tolkien’s sagas or Elytis’ heralds, the hero’s journey is still sought and followed. It is only through trials and quests, no matter if they belong to the material or the immaterial world- as it is truly one and the same- that one can evolve, understand and conquer one’s self and consequently become the hero, who will, in his or her own measure, save the world. It is the myth teaches us how, and no matter how it accomplishes it, through a story around the fire, the voice of a troubadour, the pages of a book or the screen of a cinema or a computer, it will always be there to do so. Not because its truth needs us, but because we ourselves need that truth, a treasure in the ground, a weapon in the battle and in the dark a guiding Light.
Bibliography and Internet sources
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Jungian Archetype Checklist for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
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