Friday, 20 June 2008

Finished! OUT2 and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Hurray! OUT2 is completed!!! I finished A Midsummer's Night Dream just before midnight. Yes, it is now after midnight! I did it, my very first challenge completed! This is such a relief - I do sign up for the challenges intending to read all the books, and I want to read them all! So to finish a challenge means something to me.

It was a fun one too. I enjoyed so much reading fantasy, fantasy, and more fantasy. And not just any fantasy, but fairy tales and novels about fairies, magic, about the quest of the heroic self in literature and myth, and finally ending on sweet William Shakespeare. This is a wonderful challenge and I fully intend to do it again next year.

So, two reviews and I've reviewed everything in the challenge:
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. I have put off reviewing this book because I don't have the words to describe how powerful it is to read. My copy (which is from 1954 and now falling apart) is bookmarked all the way through. I found so much that was rich with ideas about the myth of the heroic journey that was interesting and powerful. Campbell has taken a great many of the world's religions and myths from different cultures and analyzed them for the source and description of the heroic journey. He has mined fairy tales, folklore, primitive ( how I hate this word! 'first peoples', maybe?) people's myths - Native Indians, polynesians, Australian aborigines, Norse, Celtic, Indian, African, Chinese, Japanese. It is really an amazing book. And out of all these stories of transformation, because that is what is at the heart of the heroic quest (Campbell says), he has found the cycle of the heroic quest. The Call to Adventure begins the journey, Initiation is undergone, then the return to the world. The book takes this basic journey and divides the images it examines into two great cycles into which all fairy tales,myths, folktales and world religions - which he examines for the stories, the heroic quests embedded within the religions, not as a debate or question of the authenticity of the religion itself - but why we respond to it - into two main cycles, the monomyth cycle, which is the society the individual comes from and brings back the key of transformation back to, and the cosmogonic cycle, which the universal story of creation that world religions are created from. Many of the great stories of how the world was created are examined in this section, and it is fascinating to see how different some are to my western perspective, and how similar others are.

This is a fascinating compendium of myths. There are illustrations, poems, dotting the pages, so we have a visual context. It is not a dry book by any means: "But if we are to grasp the full value of the materials, we must note that myths are not exactly comparable to dream. Their figures originate from the same sources - the unconscious wells of fantasy......And their understood function is to serve as a powerful picture language for the communication of traditional wisdom." Or: "The helpful crone and fairy godmother is a familiar feature of European fairy lore.....What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny."

This book has so full of myth and symbol that it will take several readings to absorb it all fully. It has helped me to understand myths and the role they play and why we need them, better. And that is the crux of this book: we need myths. We need fairy tales. this book explains why, what we get from them, and the dangers for a society when their myths lose meaning, as he says that our western society has been in for most of the 20th century. I think it explains why we need fantasy books and images now; some of our old myths that were cultural no longer resonate the same way because of cultural changes since the Industrial revolution, so we have to go back to the heroic quest and invent - if we can, or reclaim - myths and stories that come from deep in our souls. We need those stories to be told, or we die as a society.

I think this explains why the best fantasy is popular the world over, and why my fairy tales post (where i asked what everyones favorite fairy tale was) remains the most popular post (or the one with the most answers) so far: fairy tales live inside us, and they resonate long after we think we leave such things behind. Because, of course, we never do. The Hero With a Thousand Faces takes a look at why. I think it is a fascinating book, and i highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand what makes fairy tales and myths work, and why we need them. So when someone scoffs at a dinner party, "why do you read fantasy?" our inner fantasy bookworm can reply coolly: "Tell me your dreams and I'll tell you where you are on your life's journey." At least after reading this book, you will have a good guess at where they fall on their heroic journey!

Now for A Midsummer's Night Dream. I had forgotten I'd read this for university until I began reading it. It suddenly flooded back to me, though I can't remember anything that we discussed back then, I recalled the story. It was a change to read this and not have to worry about taking notes, thinking about papers to discuss on Shakespeare's use of alliteration, verse, or the various couples, etc! It was so enjoyable to just read the play and let my imagination show me the forest scenes,which are so fun. Here is a quote that has some folklore in it (for the challenge):
Act 2, Scene 1:
line 33: Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call'd Robin Goodfellow. Are you not he
That frights the maidens of the villagery,
Skim milk, and sometimes labor in the quern,
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn,
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm,
MIslead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck."

This is the play that is the source of the immortal line : "The course of true love never did run smooth"(Act 1, scene 1, line 134)

Shakespeare also equates the fight between Tatiana and Oberon (the King and Queen of the fairy court) as the reason the spring has become wet and rainy and is ruining the crops: this links the fairy world with nature, with the countryside, and with the weather. Fairies are part of the world that we don't control, but which we are at the mercy at, and this play shows how easily people succumb to fairies: a little flower dust from certain plants is dusted on eyes, and suddenly characters are falling in love madly when they hated each other before! And the Queen of Fairies loves a man who is playing a donkey and becomes half a real one.....there is alot of sly humour in this play, digs at marriage, fidelity, the court, the law, and of course, true love. All the way through it, though there is Duke in the human world, it is the King and Queen of the fairies who have the real power, and the wisdom to recognize love that the Duke at first does not see.

Fun, and magical, and just the right way to end this challenge on the summer solstice. Happy longest day of the year, everyone! May a little good magic come into your life!

And, thank you, Carl for hosting this challenge.


Ana S. said...

I can't believe I still haven't read any Joseph Campbell! I really really need to. Thanks for pointing out lots of reasons why.

Congratulations on completing the challenge!

Emily Barton said...

Oh, I couldn't agree more that we so badly need myth and fairy tales in our lives, and that we are on a dangerous path these days in which we've all-but abandoned them. And you reminded me, yet again, that I want to write that post on my favorite fairy tales. Congratulations on completing a challenge! Hope I can say the same about at least one of three challenges I've got going by the end of the year.

Susan said...

nymeth: He is a lot more accessible than I thought he would be. But he's not writing a text, he's writing about something he is passionate about, and it shows. And since we are all passionate about fairy tales and myths too....

emily: you sound like me, 'gotta write this post....that post....' in fact I have a list started now about posts I want to write about! I know they make jokes about middle-aged women and their lists, I never thought I'd need lists like I do now!!

Patricia said...

Mathew had to read "Midsummer Night's Dream" as the final story in grade 9. He didn't like it and thought it was stupid. He also watched both movies about it and I bought the "cheater" notebook to help out with his exam. I watched the movie a few years back and enjoyed it once I realized what was going on.

Shakespeare was a man for the ages, wasn't he? His stories still undercut what is going in society.

Gentle Reader said...

Congratulations on finishing your challenge! I've finished precious few myself--I always sign up, but I have trouble sticking to my schedules. Your post makes me want to reread A Midsummer Night's Dream, since it's been years since I read it and I'm certain to get more out of it now :)

Eva said...

Yay for Susan! And I'm a big fan of Joseph Campbell too. :) Have you read Myths to Live By? It's based on a TV series he did for PBS, and I reread it in January and loved it!

Bybee said...

I can't believe I haven't read any Joseph Campbell! Now I want to, thanks to your review. I think I once saw a documentary about him. On PBS.

Laurie said...

Hi, sorry about disappearing again, lousy bastard editor....
But I'm nearly done, 1st draft is off to Ransom Publishing on Monday. YAY!!

Have you thought of entering the NaNoWriMo (national November writing month?) You sign up to write a novel in 30 days, and get a certificate to display if you finish on time.
I entered last year, but promptly got busy with paying stuff. Of course.

We'll have to try to find time to get together this summer. I can try to be in town when it's convenient to you.

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