It is recommended that you listen to the story first. To listen to the story, go here.
Part 2: Psyche meets her fate, and so does Eros
“You will see a young woman atop Mount Aetna. Kill her,” Aphrodite tells her son, Eros. He flies off, obeying his mother without thought.
Is this a case of blind obedience?
For the younger child, the parent is as a god, protecting and providing for the helpless little one until the little one grows up. The process of growing up is difficult but made easier if the god slips into human mode, as he is supposed to do over time. The healthy parent learns to let go. For Eros, mama is a god. She has no human role to slip into. It will be Eros who will have to make the break from her. It will be Eros who will have to learn to say no to her demands.
At this point in the story, Eros can be looked at as a young man with a job who still lives at home. Meaning, he’s immature, not yet a man. He will have to develop a firm resolve if he’s ever to “leave home.” To do so, he will need to broaden his experiences in life, to get out of Olympus to see how the humans live. He will need to suffer if he’s to experience the depth of humanity.
Aphrodite is a stand in for an extreme type of parent. There are those human parents that will ask their child to kill in their name. Think Mafia dons or political tyrants and you get the picture. Besides the material killings, inner or spiritual killings can do great harm. Psyche does represent the soul, therefore, Aphrodite is at war with the soul. She is asking Eros, the male god of love, to kill the soul.
What does it mean when he refuses? When Eros releases his bow and then returns the poisoned arrow to the quiver, he commits an act of independence. After he sees Psyche for the first time, it takes only a few moments for him to decide what he wants and how he will get it. He makes a plan. It’s his first human act. Due to circumstances, he must implement his plan immediately. He’s growing up fast, going from obedient child to a young man in love in a matter of minutes. Before the day is out, Eros will provide for his wife, make love to her and set in motion a plan to keep his mother from knowing about his marriage. It may seem that he’s not entirely grown up since he doesn’t want to tell his mother about his wife. Not so. Aphrodite wanted Psyche dead. If Eros refuses to kill her, there are other gods and humans who will do the job.
Psyche, expecting to be devoured by a monster, instead hears a very human like voice speak to her. This voice asks her to trust him. He doesn’t sound ominous, so Psyche continues to follow her destiny. This part of the story illustrates how the soul can become an active guide. We refer to it as intuition when we listen and follow our deepest selves. Psyche is rewarded for her trust. Eros provides everything: house, food and sexual pleasure. What more does a girl want?
Companionship. Psyche’s marriage is lopsided. The pair are like many young couples who have not matured into full relationships. Eros is gone all day working. Psyche doesn’t have enough to do. She doesn’t even know what her husband looks like. He’s a voice in the darkness. Their pleasure is purely tactile for her because she has not seen him. For the sake of Psyche’s protection, or so he thinks, Eros doesn’t allow her to fully participate in their marriage. Like many a wealthy husband, he doesn’t think beyond taking very good care of his wife. That fills his needs, not hers.
Naturally, Psyche gets bored. She wants to go home to see her family, to let them know that she has not been eaten by some horrible monster. Eros agrees. When she arrives home, her family is overjoyed. Her parents do the wise thing; they don’t ask her too many questions. Her sisters, however, are curiosity unleashed. They ask every question and make every comment they can about this unseen husband. They get it, that while Psyche may be well cared for, until she knows and understands who her husband is, it’s not a real marriage. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, Psyche’s sisters encourage her to discover the truth, to break out of her state of ignorance.
Psyche, by maintaining her ignorance, hangs on to her childhood. If she is to flourish, however, she must gain knowledge. She must bite into the apple.
Her apple is a lamp. Once she returns home, she hides a lamp in her bedroom. Instead of falling asleep after her pleasure with Eros, Psyche opts to learn the truth. She wants to know exactly who she is married to, who she is sleeping with.
Shouldn’t we always know who we are sleeping with?
When Psyche looks at Eros, he awakes. He is disappointed that Psyche would no longer agree to stay in the dark. Here he betrays his own immaturity by leaving her immediately after she has seen him. He wants to keep things hidden, to not reveal himself. Eros is not quite ready for prime time.
What is Eros afraid of? Of giving himself totally to Psyche. Eros was stuck in the “give” mode, he didn’t know how to receive graciously. Like the Godfather, who gave favors so that he could get what he needed later, Eros didn’t want to owe Psyche anything. He wanted her to be grateful. He didn’t want gratitude applied to him. But the soul needs fullness. It needs to give as well as take in. It needs trust. Eros did not trust Psyche with his secret. His love was for love, not for Psyche. What Eros didn’t understand is that he needed soul in his relationship. He needed to look this woman in her eyes in the midst of his passion so that she could return his adoration.
Eros may be able to fly away, but he cannot leave the effects of a lopsided marriage behind him. He will suffer for his timidity. Psyche’s boldness turns to distress. Nothing here is unusual, for everyone stumbles on their way to providence. No one is exempt. Not even the gods.
In our next analysis we will look at Psyche’s quest and Eros’ suffering.
Note: to hear the story of Psyche and Eros, go here. This essay covers Part 1 of the story.
Psyche is a dream that is born on the material plain. She is what we desire, yet fear keeps us from her. Psyche, the Soul, is our most deepest, most beautiful self. It is that part of us that remains guilty of innocence if we don’t test it or allow it to suffer. If Psyche doesn’t fall from her grace, we never experience the fullness of life.
Aphrodite is the goddess of love and procreation, making her a material god. When this goddess is dreamed up in the minds of man way back when, she is a necessary ingredient to keep humanity alive and growing in numbers. She is, I suggest, a part of the nature worship of the time since she is all about sex and procreation.
That’s the important point here. We 21st century moderns think of her as the goddess of love only. She is not. Before the Greeks became civilized, small, crude statues of fertility goddesses graced the hearths of several primitive societies. As humanity developed itself, they improved their gods. Aphrodite morphed, from that chunky hearth goddess into the elegant lady of the Classical world. She becomes the love goddess. This aspect of her is important if civilization is to be refined.
Aphrodite gives birth to a son, Eros, which is a Greek word for sexual or erotic love. Thus sex too evolves; the caveman with his club gives way to the urbane lover seeking passion and pleasure; procreation is hidden away in the heat of a moment of love.
With Eros, human beings now have an excuse for sex divorced from procreation. Civilized human beings fall in love. This adds a dimension to their married life. While children are still the bedrock of marriages, they take a backseat to the pleasure principle. An example of this is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachael. Jacob was tricked into Leah so that he could get Rachael. It doesn’t matter if Rachael is barren for many years. Her lack of fecundity doesn’t stop Jacob from loving her. When she does give birth, her children are very favored by their father because they are the product of loving sex.
Psyche first appears in a story that takes place in ancient Sicily. We are introduced to her as a child of extraordinary beauty. She is so gorgeous that she stops people in the streets. The gossip of just how beautiful the young Psyche is spreads throughout the region until others come to stare at her. There is an unpleasant side to this and it’s twofold: Psyche is so beautiful no one will marry her, and people begin to worship her as they would a goddess, thus neglecting the real deity.
What does it mean to be so beautiful yet so untouchable? In my telling of the story, I have the Oracle or Sage say that no one will marry Psyche because they think she is perfection. No one wants to disturb perfection. Perfection is downright scary. Who can live up to it? What human being can attain perfection? What human can marry it?
No one. Thus no one will unite with it for it is impossible. Psyche cannot be married to any human being.
While her parents attempt to find Psyche a husband, the people continue their neglect of Aphrodite. When the goddess discovers she is being ignored, she returns to her primitive and natural roots. She withholds procreation on Sicily. All erotica ceases among humans, and all mating ceases among animals, insects and plants. The island begins to die. Humanity may now have beauty, but it is useless without life. The world is out of balance.
Psyche, aware that she, without trying, has unbalanced nature, seeks to remedy the situation. The Sage has already predicted that a husband awaits Psyche on top of Mount Aetna, but the mountain has a reputation for monsters roaming its peak. Nonetheless, Psyche decides to please the goddess who has said she must go meet her fate up on the mountain.
Unlike other heroes of mythology, Psyche has been too protected, too adored without commitment. While it may seem silly to say so, she has been neglected by those who think they are in love with her. Psyche lived the life of a woman who is forever dated yet never purposed to. Her sisters marry. They will live ordinary lives. Not Psyche. Is it risky to suggest she might be a little hurt or bored with her circumstances? Add into that mix that through no fault of her own, yet because of her, Sicily is dying. For the blameless girl, this could be a crisis worth exploiting. What others see as a condemnation by the goddess she sees as a release. Regular life is not for her. Why not embrace that?
Here is where Psyche’s life becomes the typical mythological hero story. She takes up the challenge, she will go up that mountain. A modern analogy is the young person leaving home to go into the army during a war. She hasn’t been drafted. She volunteers. Her parents are beside themselves with worry and sorrow but they don’t stop her. Her country needs her. So does she. Psyche leaves her life and everyone and everything behind her. It is the first step of fulfillment
In part 1, the process of stripping away Psyche’s innocence begins. The first layer was removed when no one would marry her, thus allowing her to see how little and petty people could be. She lost another layer of innocence when she learned of the vindictiveness of the goddess, who reverted to type when threatened. A third layer came away when no one would take up her cause, no one would lead the people to reestablish the worship of Aphrodite thereby relieving Psyche.
It was left to Psyche to become the leader, to become her own hero. Her trek up Mount Aetna, then, is the beginning of her hero’s journey.
In spite of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, in spite of the troubles here and there around the earth, Americans live in relative peace. Of course the twenty-first century is young. There could be, and probably will be, more violence on a large scale. It would not surprise me to see us, along with the rest of the nations, engage in a repeat of the bloody twentieth century, which saw two world wars, plus wars in Korea and Viet Nam. We also witnessed governments (Soviet Union, China and Cambodia) that slaughtered their own citizens by the millions. I won’t mention all the little civil wars, like Serbia, Croatia or civil unrest, like Rwanda’s. There is also the terror wars, like the taking of the Israeli athletes in Munich, the many hijackings of airplanes and ships, the buildings that were blown up, and so on, so forth, ad nauseam. Indeed, as I write this, Israel and her neighbors, the so-called Palestinians, are at it again.
It’s obvious, isn’t it, we humans are no strangers to blood lust. Murder and mayhem is a way of life for many. The more righteous among us like to say war is inhuman. Nonsense. War is only too human. It’s what we do: organize ourselves into political gangs that love to pick a fight with other political gangs. For whatever reason, from religion to politics, dying large scale is a way of life. I think many of us love it.
I don’t accuse the entire human race of being war mongers, but enough of them are. Enough fathers are proud of their warrior sons, and enough mothers give us their children to make war profitable. Many kids grow up to be warriors because something inside of them draws them to the thin edgy line that separates a mundane one from the extreme, adrenalin pumping existence that is war. You have to admit I’m right.
Besides the actual evidence offered by the twentieth century, and the saber rattling now going on (Iran, anyone?) I find war is deeply settled in our consciousness because the literature that is currently produced is full of metaphors that illustrate our tenuous hold on civilization. Look at The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. Both novels present a world of mass and personal violence dished up with moral ambiguity.
Now here comes another novel, epic in scale, set in a mythological no place and full of individuals who we love to hate and hate to love.
The action in Miguel Conner’s The Executioner’s Daughter (the first of a series) takes place on the Misty Continent. This pretend place is broken up into a vast Kingdom of Keloveria and a Wastelands. The kingdom is the civilized portion of the continent. The Wastelands is where the nomadic tribes dwell.
Keloveria is divided up into several subkingdoms. The vast kingdom along with its subkingdoms operate in the usual way. There is a King of Keloveria who lords it over several subkings, much like a king and barons setup. As the story begins, the King of Keloveria, Tendrik Partaghast, has just claimed the throne from his deceased father. To secure his place on it, he makes the usual political marriage arrangement and marries a daughter of one of the subkings. His mistress is dumped, along with the two bastards she produced for Tendrik when he was a prince.
Beside the king, there is an executioner, titled The Deadspeaker, who has a role in the kingdom as a check on the king’s power. The Deadspeaker must also abide by tradition and its rules. He carries a weapon, Afterglow, that seemingly has a life of its own. The king wears a crown, called Forethought, that thinks, or I should say, has a consciousness that influences the king. Keloveria has two conflicting religious bodies: the Vein, which represents the orthodox view, and the Necromancers.
The Wastelands, which may seem a place of anarchy, functions under a loose federation of tribes that chooses its supreme leader every 20 years. He is chosen through physical combat. It’s a last man standing process that gives the tribes a grand leader who is physically fit and shrewd as a fighter. He is given the title of Champion of Mekidow, yet he has no proper name. The Champion must also be fit sexually, able to produce heirs that will not inherit his title, but are meant to foster a unity among the tribes. Therefore this leader must sleep around, mating with women chosen for him by the leaders of the various tribes. Their religion is centered on a druid like priestess establishment that can offer advice and foretell the future.
Naturally, the two political entities, Keloveria and the Wastelands, are at odds with one another. The civilized world thinks its better than the uncivilized one, no surprise there, so it guards against it. Yet in this story, the Wastelands thinks it’s better than Keloveria. That’s juicy, and portends to interesting plot twists in the stories to come. Connor certainly hints at it, but, let’s focus on this first tale of Keloveria’s people.
We begin our descent into the Misty Continent with a mystery, a dialogue that takes place between a Fool and a Thief, in a setting that is a gory mess. Something very violent has taken place.How this massacre of an entire community by persons or person came about Connor only hints. As we listen in on this dialogue between the Fool and the Thief, we learn, through the Fool’s storytelling, that a Deadspeaker defied the laws. This executioner’s name is Mateoz. His defiance was two fold: executioners are not supposed to have females as a first born, and any child that causes the death of their mother is to be killed. Mateoz’ daughter, who is named Tempest, is allowed to live. Therefore this Deadspeaker has sinned greatly. Big sins set off big stories.
As the Fool speaks, the story is pieced together through the flashback method, each section beginning with a dialogue between this Fool and Thief that moves forward by moving the past forward. Conner paces the two time frames well as he leads us from the present predicament to the past. We are enticed further into the story because we have to know what happened in that past that gives us the gory mess.
What is most engaging about The Executioner’s Daughter is the fine line that Conner has drawn between protagonists and antagonists. The “good guys” kill as well as the “bad guys.” Everyone has his reasons for doing so! The “nobility” behaves like, well, the nobility: No one minds his or her manners. They don’t have to. They are above such behavior. Like any aristocrat, they are armed to the teeth, and what constrains them is that war is only an insult away. Even the sympathetic Prince Aron of West Atlans, spouts off at the mouth so much that I found I was willing to punch his lights out. That he makes enemies comes as no surprise. His gorgeous sister, Allana, also has trouble keeping her own counsel. She has been married off to a thug, Lothar of Thoz, the crown prince of the East Atlans, who loves beating his princess bride for every derogatory word she utters.
The Executioner’s Daughter, like the genre of literature it lives in, gives us a mythology ever as rich as any Greek or German could dream up. The metaphors are all over the landscape, shining a light on the bits and pieces of earthly life that we don’t want to look at. Like the proclivity to break our own traditions. The results are always unforeseen. Conner’s story uses women as the catalysts. Not only does Mateoz keep his daughter alive, the Necromancers bring a young female into their group, which is so unacceptable in Keloverai that the leader of the religious sect, Zeratol, passes the young Andora off as a boy. The other female that portends to changes on the Misty Continent is the head strong Princess Allana.
I see The Executioner’s Daughter as a morality tale. The parallel with our own world is twofold; first, we too, in our present day, are excessively male centered. We are dizzy with maleness even as we think we promote femaleness. However we may dress up the female in men’s clothing or behavior, at some point the female must be dealt with. Boiling “women’s rights” down to her productive apparatus, that thinking abortions and contraceptives will set her free truly misses the point.
The second parallel is our own precarious position. We may have the most fabulous technology in the world, nonetheless we are only a generation away from a New Dark Age. Our irony is this: as we attempt to bring our own version of Wastelands into modernity, we may destroy ourselves doing it. Like so many characters in Daughter, we fail to see that the rules apply to us as much as they applied to all the large civilizations that came before us. We are not too big to fail.
In this first book, Conner does not take us to where the breakdown of the traditional roles of the two women, Tempest and Andora, will lead their culture. It’s suggested, and with those suggestions I am eager to continue reading the story in the subsequent volumes.
My one criticism of this book is that Conner tends to tell us when he needs to show us. A first book in a series does have much information to impart. We would, however, enjoy it even more if we could “see” the Misty Continent and its people instead of reading long passages of description.
The characters are engaging and they will lead you along into this pretend place, the Misty Continent. They will make you think about life in our own century. It won’t be easy to draw some conclusions, because it can make you uncomfortable to do so. For this mythology doesn’t have a cranky systems of gods and goddesses who are all too human to blame. It’s the humans who are the problem as well as the solution.
The book will be available on Amazon. The Kindle version is now ready to download.
Why was Becket murdered?
Because four knights who were close to Henry the Second decided to rid their king of this thorn in the king’s side. Supposedly Henry said, in the presence of these knights, “Can no one rid me of this bothersome priest?” Did Henry say that? Who knows? The knights who murdered Becket didn’t say exactly what Henry said to them to inspire them to take matters into their own hands.
The four men of arms did not set out to murder Thomas Becket. They set out to bring the guy in for questioning. To arrest him. No one asked them to do that either. Things got out of hand as Thomas refused to go with the knights. One thing led to another, and then Thomas was dead, laying in a pool of his blood with his brains dashed out on the floor of his cathedral.
In the first part of this Becket series of two, I wrote about history and writers of historical fiction, and how it is important to keep to the facts. In this part, we will look at the one fact Anouilh got right; the argument between Henry and Thomas. What was it? It was, put simply, a power tug-of-war. Who would have jurisdiction over priests when they ran afoul the law. The Church or the government?
One can’t help but be struck by the similar argument we have today between our own American government under President Obama and the Catholic Church. When it comes to certain health issues, who will control the distribution of specific goods and services: private entities, including the Church or the government? For Thomas and Henry, the conflict evolved around a specific case of a priest charged with murder. The Church wanted to try the priest for his crime. In our age, we are taken aback at such an idea. Of course a capital crime should be tried by secular courts. Why, we might ask, would a religious body want to sully their hands with such a thing like murder?
Becket, who had until then been Henry’s man, turned against him. He decided that he would uphold the Church’s right to try one of its own. The Catholic Church, during that era, was no stranger to hard nosed policies of punishment for sins. Ever since Constantine converted to the Roman Christian dogmas, the Catholic Church had carte blanche in all things pertaining to it. Now, 800 years later, it was time to put the church wholly in its place. The spiritual realm would be separated from the secular.
That, however, was not the reality. The Church had not been separate from the secular at all. State religions never are. State religions do have little tussles over power with the secular ruling class, but these sorts of arguments are to be expected. Therefore, Thomas Becket’s little war would go nowhere fast because the Church’s leadership was no stranger to the political realities of its day. Becket left town not too long after he butted heads with Henry. The King of France, Louis VII, gave him sanctuary, for his own political reasons. From France, Henry went on to Rome to discuss his policy with the Pope. The Pope gave him moral support, but nothing else. Popes have a tendency to be political animals themselves. How does one think they become pope to begin with?
For years Becket remained an exile residing in France. Finally, he was allowed to come home. Arriving in Canterbury, Becket understood that his days were probably numbered as he still would not back down. Becket knew just how much he had disappointed Henry.
The Catholic Church of the twenty-first century is far from it’s ancestor of the twelfth. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is only one of many churches in the United States. We have no state religion, so it cannot place pressure on a president. Instead, our president wants to dictate to the church. Obamacare is telling the Roman Catholic Church that it must provide birth control in all its forms to individuals who work for the Church. There is protest over this issue, however, there is no Thomas Becket to push the agenda, to inspire with his unwavering leadership.
That was really Becket’s big trouble, is that when he was thrust into a leadership position, he proved to be every bit as much the leader as Henry. In those days of near absolute kingship, there could be only one top dog leader in Henry’s empire. Becket challenged him. If one challenges a dictator, for that is what Henry was, one has to expect that one will, eventually, have to either topple the dictator, back down or loose one’s life. If Becket could have played his game longer, he may have been able to topple Henry and replace him with one of Henry’s sons. Don’t snicker, for Henry was challenged just a few years later by his sons and wife, Eleonor.
In 1174, Henry did penance for the death of Becket. The Church did have some clout left. State religions do, they can bring a monarch to his knees to be whipped. The United States would laugh at the Church if it tried it today. Indeed, under Obama’s forced health care package, the Church is the entity brought to its knees. It remains to be seen if they are whipped or not.
No religious body should be singled out or brought to its knees. If Muslims are exempt from Obamacare, then so too should the Catholic Church be. If the Church doesn’t fight this, they will only lose their members and their moral clout.
When we attend our holy services, we go for specific reasons. If a denomination won’t live up to its spiritual path, then why go? Spiritual paths are not meant to be easy. Christianity is certainly a difficult road to travel on. If the leaders can’t hack it, then they are no longer the leaders. Being without spiritual leadership is worse than being without the secular kind. I can, really, live without government. I cannot live without the men and women who have dedicated themselves to spiritual enlightenment.
Come on Thomas. Make a comeback.
The other night I watched an old favorite of mine. The film Becket.
Becket, starring that dynamic drinking duo, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, is trash. Oh, on certain levels it’s good trash, but for the most part, it’s bunkum. Here’s why.
As someone who makes her living from history, you can bet I study the past. Constantly. It’s been this way for nearly 30 years now. Therefore, I’ve learned a thing or two. When Becket was released as a film, in 1964, I went to see it because it starred my favorite actor, O’Toole, who I had recently seen in Lawrence of Arabia.
The film Becket, is an adaptation of Jean Anouilh play of the same title. M. Anouilh also wrote the screenplay, along with two other writers. The plot is based on an actual incident in twelfth century England and France, in which the title character, Becket, is murdered. Richard Burton plays Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Peter O’Toole is Henry Plantagenet, King of England and Duke of Normandy.
When Anouilh wrote Becket, acting for the stage and movies was quite different from what it is today. The play, written in 1959, required the more emotional style of acting referred to as melodrama. I call it the bombastic style of theater as the scene set ups lead to those super meaningful dialogues between characters. The bombastic style also has the Big Monolog scenes. Often times, the Big Monolog is delivered during a courtroom scene.
In the theater, such acting works. Actors can be heard in such plays! Nowadays, actors are so puny with their voices that they have to be miked to be audible. Even in many movies they cannot be heard. Part of the reason for this boring state of affairs (an actor who cannot be understood is a big bore) is the newer naturalistic style of acting. My opinion on this is that natural styles work well in the movies and TV, but not on the stage.
The point here is that the movie Becket gets into the bombastic thing and one is jarred by it. That makes the film “out of date” stylistically. As a film, however, it has its place in history for that very reason. Apart from that, there are the historical inaccuracies that are really bothersome. I say that because I am one of those individuals who thinks movies and TV series are a way to instruct while entertaining. Much like the Adams series was able to do. History doesn’t need to be fooled around with. It’s too interesting all by itself. As I watched Becket, I kept thinking about how this would translate into a wonderful series. There are so many complex characters waiting to be explored, so many human issues to be highlighted.
When I say explored and highlighted, here’s what I mean. The lives of both men, Henry and Thomas , were well chronicled. We have descriptions of both men. While I loved Peter O’Toole as Henry, I could not help but think it would be wonderful to see an actor play him who had a physique similar to Henry’s. Henry was short, stocky, with a too large head and freckled. He sounds more like Huckleberry Fin than one of the most powerful men in his time. The question, and theme, is how could such an odd looking man obtain and retain the power that he did?
Anouilh, who was a very prolific playwright, wrote dramas that dealt with the theme of individuals taking on the evils they were faced with. That means he wrote about heroes. In Becket, Thomas Becket becomes the hero because he takes on the very powerful, all bullying King Henry. That part of the story as laid out by Anouilh is true. After that, there’s nothing much to the story that resembles the facts. What Anouilh is giving us is historical fiction. In his day, there was not the attention to historical details that we are becoming more accustomed to. Yet most Hollywood producers fail miserably when it comes to the story lines and characters of the past. The Brits do it better, but they tell lies as well. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the movie industry thinks audiences can’t take the realities of the past.
To me, one of the truly important aspects in historical fiction is to get the relationships right. Because it’s in fiction that the writer can explore the reasons why human beings do the things that we do. Becket does delve into the friendship between Henry and Thomas, also true, but the background of that friendship is nothing but a lie. That, dear reader, ticks me off.
For some reason that I have never heard about, Anouilh decided to lie about Thomas Becket, to turn him into something he wasn’t. In Becket he is portrayed as an Anglo-Saxon with a chip on his shoulder toward the Normans. The fact is Thomas was as Norman as Henry. He was born in Normandy, he was from the minor nobility, or, as we would say now, he was good middle class stock. He was well connected so was given opportunities. That is how he came to be introduced to the young King Henry in 1154.
This is an important point that folks need to know and understand. There are rules in life that never change, never have changed, never will for they are immortal realities. One of those realities is the above, that who you know will get you to at least the front doors of people who can advance your career. Building a reputation for yourself is another ancient rule. If anything, Thomas Becket is a good example of how to succeed in life. Of course luck plays into these things, like Becket’s introduction taking place as the new king is searching for “new men” to help him govern his kingdom. Being at the right place at the right time is only a part of the equation. First, however, one has to be ambitious and capable. Thomas was both.
The story of this man’s fantastic rise to power ends badly. Thomas decided to bite the hand that fed him. The ending of this story takes us on to a new subject that I will cover in my next piece. Viewing the film stirred my little gray matter quite a bit so I am not done with the twelfth century. Henry and Thomas and company have much to say to us folks dwelling here in the 21st century. Well, what’s 900 years among friends?
Who was Robin Hood and why is he important to us today?
That question surfaced during another one of my heated discussions with a libertarian over the issue of Robin Hood and the phrase “robe the rich to give to the poor.” I think it’s time I wrote about it, since I specialize in writing and telling historical and mythological stories.
Here’s my thesis: Robin Hood is misunderstood. The extremes, libertarians and progressives, think he is something he is not. Libertarians think him a scoundrel and progressives a hero on the side of poor. The in between folks, I will argue, have a sweet spot in their hearts for this man. He’s a hero for them as well. They like him because it’s natural to love a man who protects the unprotected. That is one of the primary functions of a hero. Mr. Romney, with his remarks about the 47%, disappointed people from his own party.
We’re not here to talk about Mr. Romney, his remarks or what needs to be done about taxes. Today we are addressing a specific Anglo-Norman myth and what its meaning is to present day Americans.
Myths are complex stories that address what it means to be a human being. Hollywood nowadays mucks up mythological tales because it doesn’t understand the purpose of myths and fairy tales, which are just myths. Folklore is myth. Indeed, I will argue that any piece of fiction can attain the status of myth as long as it has a good mix of plot and theme. Hollywood goes for plot while it ignores the themes, the layers, of the story. Hollywood doesn’t think a hero in an action film needs an interior life. That’s why the many mythological films that have come out usually fall flat. How do we relate to a hero that we cannot identify with or as someone we could use in our lives?
The story of Robin Hood is a mythological tale. He is not based on any historical character. Ballads and references to the name have been around for around 700 years. The present day version is one created in the 19th century. It is that myth that we are most familiar with because it is that portrayal of Robin Hood that has been used in the films. This Robin is based in 1190 England, when Richard sits captured in a castle in Austria. Richard’s brother, Prince John, lords it over England. He is, and this is historically true, a jerk.
The best film of Robin Hood is the 1937 version starring Errol Flynn. There is much humor in that version, making it a delightful film to watch. The later versions don’t have that lighthearted feel at all. Contemporary filmmakers just don’t have a clue about good storytelling. They tend to go for serious, and nothing but the serious. Such films are heavy handed and, well, dull.
When I tell my mythological tales I take them up into the 21st century. No, I don’t change the context. By what I choose to tell and how I tell it the listener gets the connection. I have an understanding of the myth’s context so that allows me to find what I refer to as a representative element in the story that the 21st century listener can grab onto. For example, my telling of the Iliad gives it an antiwar theme.
In the Robin Hood movie, the story tellers of 1937 couched much of that story in terms the people of that era could understand. For example, when Robin tells Prince John about how the peasants tried to take the stag he carried out of his arms because they were so hungry, he advised John that he should “feed them, they’ll work better.” Quite the line for a Depression era film.
What I dislike about discussions held with libertarians is that they grab onto the line about “taking from the rich to give to the poor” without thinking it through in contextual terms. England in the 12th century would be a challenge to live in. For all the hype that surrounds him, I would not say Richard was a model king. He was a model warrior, but as an administrator, no. He was, like many of his class, most especially Normans, full of his own importance.
On his way back from the Third Crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold, Duke of Austria. The ransom was hefty, around $2.5 billion in today’s dollars. John, along with his mother, Eleanor, had to raise the money as the nobles of that day didn’t have ready cash available. They raised taxes to pay the ransom. Those taxes came from land owners and the church. That’s where the Robin Hood story begins.
In the myth, John raises the taxes, including confiscating gold and silver goods from the churches (historically accurate). He has no intention, however, of sending that money to Austria. He has other plans, one of which is to let his brother rot in Austria so that he can take over. That gives us, then, money raised under false pretenses and a prince willing to commit treason.
With all these shenanigans going on, why do libertarians complain about Robin Hood?
Because they are ignorant. The “rich” in 1190 are the landowners, most of whom are part of the nobility or minor nobility. They keep serfs, making them essentially slave holders. The other “rich” are the knights who pay a fee to get out of military service. The really rich are the royal family who own lands all over England and in France. In the plot line of the movie, when Robin hears about John’s plan to take and keep the tax money, he has a plan to rob the prince of it so that they can then send it on to Austria. During the movie there is a scene where Robin asks the people he protects if they want the money or should it be sent to Austria. They say send it to Austria. That, then, cannot be the part where Robin robs the rich to give to the poor.
Robin does tax the rich to give to the poor. He doesn’t take all that they have, just enough. He also hunts the game in the royal forest, which is another way of “stealing from the rich.” Except the rich have gained the land through conquest or marriage, in a time when a man or woman could be owned by another man or woman. Why is this never alluded to when discussing Robin Hood with libertarians?
Before the industrial revolution, it was difficult for a man who wasn’t freeborn to make much of anything of his life. He needed a protector, someone who could stand up for him. He needed a Robin Hood.
Every generation needs its heroes for the same reason. Someone who makes it his or her business to not take from the rich, but take back what’s been stolen. In today’s terms, how about if those banks give back to the tax payers the billions that were given to them? How about if GM pays us back? How about the failed companies that have been given money by the United States taxpayers by a government that really has no business doing so? What about the small business person who has had his business raided because he sells something the FDA doesn’t approve of? Do you get it now why we need a Robin Hood?
Or, do you think that once government and their too big to fail buddies steal from you it should stay stolen?
Ayn Rand, in Atlas Shrugged has a character very much in the Robin Hood mold. His name is Ragnar Danneskjöld. He is a pirate who takes back the taxes extracted from the producers. Well, Robin Hood does the same thing. He terms it differently because in his context the producers are in that forest with him. Rand didn’t see it that way, and, when I read Atlas Shrugged, I disagreed with her on that point. Indeed, I find it rather hypocritical to say that what Danneskjöld does is okay in his context, but not Hood in his.
I don’t blindly follow anyone, not Rand, not Ron Paul, no one. I follow my own thinking which is informed by my heart and the subjects I study. Rand and the libertarians have it wrong about Robin Hood. He would fit in quite nicely in today’s world with the government class looking down their nose at us while their friends make billions off our money. For it is our money. Every dime government has. If they give it to the rich, then those rich need to give it back. Or we steal it back.
I am Laura Crockett and I approve of this message.