Last night I watched the third installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum, with Matt Damon playing the title role. I found myself laughing at most of the action because it is so implausible. The plot, the action, except for 13 year old boys or conspiracy theorists, is ridiculous. And then, I thought, what is an action-adventure movie but a piece of mythology.
In this case, American mythology.
Mythology is not about stories that no longer have meaning. Mythology explains our culture to us and illuminates who we are as a people. Modern fiction is able to reflect us inwardly as well as the stories of old did. Once I started watching Bourne as I would a movie of some ancient character, like an Odysseus, the story took on its real meaning.
Here is some background on the book series. There are 12 books in the Bourne series. The first three were written by Robert Ludlum. The remaining 9 were written by Eric van Lustbader.
The Bourne Identity, the first book, by Ludlum, was released in 1980. The background story included the crappy ending of the Viet Nam war, the Cold War and the assassin, Carlos the Fox. In 1988, a mini-series, starring Richard Chamberlain as Jason Bourne, aired. It was a 4 hour movie that followed the plot of the book very closely. There were no follow ups with The Bourne Supremacy or The Bourne Ultimatum.
Chamberlain, 54 at the time, was closer to the age range that a Jason Bourne would be as a world weary assassin who has forgotten who he is. That Bourne had an intellectual life. What his story has to say about the American consciousness at that time is this. We were embarrassed that the Viet Nam war had ended so badly, we were still involved in the Cold War and we were spooked by this assassin who could murder others without getting caught. Carlos made us feel like we were not in control of the world.
The world weary, middle aged Jason Bourne is like the hero Theseus in his middle age. The glory days are past. Now, like any middle aged man, he wakes up to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings at a loss as to how he got there and who is he anyway. Think about it. Aren’t the middle age crazies are a sort of amnesia? The middle aged man has questions about where his life went and what is he supposed to do with the rest of it? Ah yes, he must, once again, go on a hero’s journey because somewhere along the way of his life he misplaced himself.
This 1988 version is the one Boomers need to watch now.
The second rendition of the Bourne series has a background that is oh so post 9/11. The character is now played as a millennial, which is to say he’s a fast paced, automatically reactive character. He is all youth with no world weariness, no experience to draw on. He’s the young hero on his journey. This Bourne doesn’t wonder where time has gone, or who has he become. He wonders just who the hell he is, period.
Mythologically speaking, Bourne is the stand in for Americans. We wonder, who are we as a nation? We seem to have an amnesia about our past. Like the younger Bourne, we can’t see a future. Like the middle aged Bourne, we wonder how we lost our way. Have we become what we thought we would?
The younger Bourne will search for his “father” so that he can confront him. The older Bourne wants answers so that he can retire to safe waters. The younger Bourne, however, is a better model for us since we are a young nation. We are still in search of our identity.
The “father” figure in this movie is the CIA, in the person of Dr. Hirsch who trained Bourne. The CIA, then is the government stand in. It is out of control and drunk with its own power. The son, Bourne, is nothing more than a tool for this father. If need be, he can be eliminated. After all, the son himself eliminated in the name of the father. (Think Chris Kyle.)If he is willing to do unto others, then he must be willing to have it done to him. Or so the father rationalizes.
The “mother,” in the person of Pamela Landy, wants to save her son. The female CIA leader in this story, represents what is still good about America. That her power should not be used to destroy. She will tell her sons and daughters who they are because what she has borne (nice play on words, no?) she would have live.
Bourne does confront his evil father, and while he’s at it, he sets the stage for his mother to gain control of the evil players by shining a light on them.
We have only to look out at America to see we are a nation out of control. We are confused by our old mythology that told us we are a brave, generous and fair people. Yet, in our name, terrible things are done to other people, here and on the world’s platform. We are frightened as we watch the old myths shattered and replaced by this unpleasant reality, that we are not who we thought we were. Is it any wonder that this Bourne trilogy resonates with us? We want to know who the hell we are now? What was our original intent? What have we become? Who did this to us? How are we complicit? How did we lose our way?
Before things can get better we will have to confront our demons. Until then, our collective malaise will continue. We must go home to find out what we are, to tell the father he cannot destroy us, that we have a right to our own lives. Our lives, not someone else’s version of what that life should be. Not a European or Asian idea. The idea our Founders put forth.
At the end of Bourne #3, he jumps into the river as the wicked brother(Noah Vozen) shoots him. The imagery is perfect, for what happens next is rebirth.
Okay America. Time to jump into the cold water and shake off this fear. Move those arms and legs, swim to the top, and then destroy the destroyers. Just like Bourne, once you find yourself, you can do something about the situation.
Celestial Secrets is not a book I would recommend to just anyone. It is difficult to plow through it, however, plow through I do because I am after the ideas in this tome. Why?
Two years back I was asked to participate in a writing of a new screenplay on the early twentieth century events that took place in Fatima, Portugal. It was not the most defined project I have ever worked on, but it is one of the more interesting. My work is “history and mythology” so this project, which combines both, took my interest to the level of real research plus participating as the lead writer in this project.
I had not worked on a screenplay in twenty years, so this not only involved the historical research, it involved re-learning the format. Fortunately I discovered inexpensive software that formats it for me. Therefore I am able to spend my time writing instead of pulling out my hair.
Since the screenplay project lacked focus, it was a difficult endeavor in that without knowing the end, the story is hard to tell. The man who started me on this project liked the idea of exploring the “third secret”, but I always felt there was more to this story than what the Catholic Church made of it. I didn’t want to tell just a historical story either. That’s not my style. My stories are about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. My lead characters go on hero journeys.
The three shepherds in the Fatima story are most definitely ordinary people. Indeed, these are three kids, which is even more up my alley. They are rural kids at that, without education except that which they know about farm living and their religion. What happened to them sent them on a hero’s journey, with the two younger ones dying within two and three years of the event.
I relate to them because I spent my childhood in a rural setting. Religion was an important part of my upbringing. Unlike the three shepherds, I was sent to school.
I don’t know what’s to become of the screenplay. For my part, I am reading Celestial Secrets so that I expand my thinking on Fatima. I want to do a piece of historical fiction that explores the story in a full context. Target date for release will be the 100th anniversary of the first “visit” by a celestial being to Fatima; the Angel of Portugal in 1916. That’s where this story truly begins. That’s the take away thinking from Celestial Secrets. That and other ideas, that for now, will remain my secret.
Cities have been around for thousands of years. Waset, Egypt, once called Luxor or Thebes, has been continuously inhabited for 5500 years. Some ancient cities are dust, their populations moved on to, well, another city. Presently, there are eleven cities that have over 10 million inhabitants. The top two are Shanghai, which is nearing 18 million, and Istanbul, where there are over 13 million people. There are 45 cites with populations of 5 million or more, and 85 with over 3 million.
It is obvious, to me, that human beings like their lives to be lived in cities.
In the 21st century, more people live in cites than in the countryside. This is especially true of modern nations with the technology to support individuals who don’t grow their own food. Growing food is time consuming, and, in the age before the industrial revolution, back breaking. The wealthy of history paid others to grow their food for them. Now, most of us do. In our yards, very few of us have any vegetation that is eatable. Plants are for show, ornamenting or providing shade.
We’ve come a long way.
Since folks love cities, it is important to keep them running well. Many cities, however, are failing as they are heavily in debt and some face bankruptcy. Let’s state the obvious; in debt cities are not run well.
I have a home in a city that is in financial trouble. As yet, the City of Trenton is not declaring bankruptcy. Nonetheless, its citizens could face that awful prospect. We can look at the financial disaster, ad nauseam. That won’t help us if we don’t address the larger problem. Attitude. There are too many citizens in Trenton that have a failure to engage. Indeed, like many rotting municipalities, Trenton is losing its inhabitants as people vote with their feet.
Can we get those people back into this city? No. Can we save this city by engaging its unengaged? No. We cannot, nor should we, save a city with so many disinterested inhabitants. Therefore, to change Trenton, we must import a different type of citizen, one that takes an active interest in their surroundings.
Where to begin? We know we need a new mayor. Still, a mayor can do only so much. I suggest that we need a branding solution to go along with the political one. We the people need to engage in marketing this city to the outside world. To accomplish that, let’s ask and answer these two questions: What is right with this city? How do we get folks to come here to live?
To get us started, I’ve made a list of 9 items stating “what is right” with why Trenton is a good place to live.
- We know what realtors tell us about “location, location, location.” Let’s look at our location. Trenton is:
a. only 28 miles form Philadelphia, connected by freeway and train transportation. Think Trenton as bedroom city for Philadelphia and other places in Pennsylvania. See item 3 for the reasons why this idea is solid.
b. NYC is 66 miles, or 90 minutes away on the train. Though a longer commute, with exorbitant rents in NYC and in Northern New Jersey, living in Trenton to commute north can make dollar sense.
Trenton is a small city. There are approximately 86 thousand individuals here. Traffic jams? What’s a traffic jam?
For those with a fondness for historical architecture and old buildings that can be turned into captivating living spaces, this place is the place. The stock is abundant, waiting only for someone’s imagination to touch it. For what a body pays for a large closet in NYC, one can have a large home in Trenton.
Trenton’s got history. The city is 335 years old. No, not as old as Thebes, but for the USA, that’s getting up there. The founder’s house, Trent House (1710), is still there. So is the Old Barracks plus places where Washington won battles. One can find the history of capitalism here as well. The folks who built the Brooklyn Bridge lived and worked in Trenton.
Trenton has art. There’s a museum plus there is Artworks. Its yearly “Art All Night” draws in thousands of individuals. Artworks has programs running all of the time. For the starving artist, Trenton has reasonable spaces to live/work. Artists! Stop spending your money on overpriced spaces in NYC or Los Angeles. Come here instead, and put your money into your art, not a wealthy landlord’s pockets.
Trenton has art, part 2. Singers, dancers, musicians, actors, storytellers, and so forth, make Trenton your home. Everything you need is here. As with the reasons in item 5, money saved on rent can be put into recordings. Exit 7 A is a very well priced recording studio, audio and video. I repeat. Put money into creating art, not an overpriced living space.
The mix of people in this town will never bore you. Indeed, this town is peopled by individuals who march to the beat of their own drum. I see this as the biggest difference between Los Angeles, my family home, and Trenton, my spirit home. In L.A., too many people try too hard to be edgy. In Trenton, they just are.
Trenton is full of opportunity. All you anarcho-capitalists, here’s your laboratory. I dare you to take on this town.
In conclusion, Trenton is a good thing. However, once thousands of others discover it you can kiss those low prices on mansions goodbye. And then say hello to traffic jams. Yes, success will bring on its own set of issues. So bring them on.
To hear the story first, so that you will know what I write about, go here.
Psyche, the beautiful, the beloved of husband and parents, she who has been given everything that heaven and earth can offer, tosses it all away in the name of a curiosity that must be satisfied. When Psyche raises that lamp to gaze on her husband’s face, she takes the next step towards fulfilling the destiny she has carved out for herself. It is at this moment that she continues her journey up the mountain. Psyche is on her way to an elevation that she does not foresee.
How many of us, when we seemingly had everything, have lost it all to a disastrous decision? Did you begin life as a “golden child” only to find yourself caught up in “circumstances beyond control?” Worldly goods or innate talent, or being the favorite of your parents, to have it all and to not lose it at some point is a sure fire way to the life Thoreau described as one led in “quiet desperation.”
The way out of such a life is to take the hero’s journey.
Psyche isn’t tossed from her palatial home. She leaves it. Like every hero who takes their proverbial journey, it is taken up willingly. Deliberately, Psyche next seeks out her enemy, the goddess Aphrodite. We can say of Psyche, as the thug said of Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, “You take chances, mister.”
Psyche takes chances so that she may learn from the goddess how to overcome the shortcomings that got her into her fix. For every one who would take the journey, learning from one’s enemies is an important part of the process. An enemy may be out to kill you, Aphrodite wanted Psyche dead, but if you can survive their plans, you’ve won a great victory. Aphrodite, for her part, is in no mood to be understanding for Eros lies sick, indeed, he may die. His disappointment in Psyche nearly kills him. This state of affairs represents many things, including the idea that the male is sensitive. He’s not only about sex and macho pursuits. Men feel deeply, they just don’t show it. For it is usually men who are given to suicidal thoughts and actions when they are devastated by love gone bad.
Which means that Psyche has unleashed quite the storm on the material plain, for if Eros dies then erotic love dies. Male and female would copulate only for the physical pleasure of making babies. What a dreary world that would be! The soul, which longs to be satisfied as much as the body does, needs erotic love. Psyche, then, cannot survive if Eros doesn’t. Psyche has clarity here. Whatever Aphrodite commands, Psyche will obey.
The first three tasks given to Psyche, the temple grains, the golden wool and the magic water, Psyche accomplishes with the help of nature. The ants who organize the grain, the river who warns her of the deadly sheep and the eagle who retrieves the water for her, these elements of the land, water and air represent nature protecting Psyche from the harsh Aphrodite.
What does it mean that the ant, the river and the eagle take up Psyche’s cause? That nature cooperates with us, with humanity. Recall the beginning of the story when Aphrodite cursed all of nature when she found out about Psyche. All of nature was touched by her destructive edict. Human beings are a part of the natural world, therefore, I will suggest that the ant, the river and the eagle helped one of their own to overcome the goddess. The second meaning is that our natural selves help our souls to develop since our souls reside in this mortal, physical body. We feel this when we get that high from physical exertion. Even when our bodies deny us mobility through pain or disease, we feel that triumph when we overcome the effects to live a full life.
What does the fourth and final task mean? For one, we see how Aphrodite must now conspire with her counterpart in nature: death. The Queen of the Underworld, who gives Psyche the box of beauty, is the degeneration of Mother Nature. All is dark, all is waiting, there is nothing to achieve in the underworld, except the waiting. This is the “nothing” we learned of from The Never Ending Story.
It is at this point of the story that we know that Aphrodite has figured out the human soul is ever curious. The soul must know things if it is to grow, to expand, to rise up toward the stars. It is this understanding that places Psyche in mortal danger. For here is how our devils tempt us. Inwardly. Psyche, the curious one, cannot help but open the lid of the box to see what beauty looks like. Perhaps a little of that beauty will help the, by now fatigued, Psyche look a little better? Yes, the most beautiful woman in the world can have a moment of doubt! A fatal one.
Only a prince can wake Psyche from her “beauty sleep.” Now we see where those writers of such stories as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White got their material. We also get, from Eros’ determination to find his missing lover, where such lines as “Love conquers all,” and Shakespeare’s “The course of true love never did run smooth,” come from. From this couple, lovers eternal who will fight for their relationship.
The two important ideas to take away from this story is that one, we need to take the hero’s journey to fully develop our soul, and two, when human beings love, the soul must engage. Enlightened erotic love is soulful, and everlasting. Those who long for their “soulmate” are on the right path. This is, however, not a sentimental issue. For the soulmate, one must be prepared to risk all, even to the death. This is how a coupling is lifted out of the mundane world into the realm of the eternal. In marriage, Aphrodite, aka our natural instincts, is recognized and given her due. This balance with nature and the soul helps us lead the measured life, one with passion and reason engaged.
The ending of the story brings us to the issue of eternal life, where Psyche is taken to Olympus to live as a goddess in her own right. Mythology, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Pagan, et cetera, gives us the idea of eternal life. Myths, I will argue, speak to us beyond the word “belief” and address that which we term “inner knowledge.” Do you know that life goes on and on? Is this your gnosis? Then this myth, Psyche and Eros, is a guide for you to gain further insights on how to elevate your inner being, your soul. It is your physical self with your psyche firmly engaged that will take the hero’s journey. During this journey, when you love, you will engage the soul as well as the body. For to engage the soul in love, is to embrace the eternal.
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.