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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » searching for Messiah archetypes

   
Author Topic: searching for Messiah archetypes
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I've been thinking about Messiah archetypes, meaning, basically, characters who are required to save the world, and I've begun to wonder if such characters are only found in speculative fiction.

Examples in speculative fiction include Ender Wiggin, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Harry Potter (I don't think I'm spoiling anything to include him because he's been expected to save the world from the very first book).

I'd like to submit that Messiah archetypes can include characters who have other aspects besides world-saving, such as the returning king (which makes Aragorn even more of one), and the resurrected hero (which makes Gandalf even more of one).

So, I'm wondering if anyone can think of other characters who would fit any kind of Messiah archetype.

I'm especially interested in characters that are not found in speculative fiction.

Anyone have any ideas?


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oliverhouse
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King Arthur, the Once and Future King.

I'm trying to remember Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, which includes Will Stanton and the Welsh boy Bran, both of whom are messiahs in their way. Merriman Lyon is almost-sorta a messiah, but he really ends up being more of an enabler for the other two.


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franc li
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I remember folks arguing over who was the Christ figure in Catch 22. I think they tend to be more defined in speculative fiction. The power to save the whole world is going to be inherently speculative.

Abraham Lincoln.

P.S. We were talking about Neo over in the Books, Film etc. forum. I think in that case they went too far, and there was argument over whether Rowling went too far. For me it was a kind of "You're not Jack Kennedy" thing. Oh, yeah, Jack Kennedy.

I think when someone dies, there is a tendency to coalesce a Messianic myth around them, so there are actually going to appear to be more in History than in Literature, I think. That is, the non-speculative litarature.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited July 23, 2007).]


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Robert Nowall
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The discussion is missing the religious overtones of the word "Messiah." The Anointed One, the deliverer and savior of the Jews. It may or may not have been Jesus Christ, depending on who you talk to. ("Christ" and "Messiah" both mean "anointed.")
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dee_boncci
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The problem is, the world ending at a forseeable time by preventable means is by nature speculative. You'd have to scope it way down to a savior, deliverer of a much smaller group/setting. Someone like Moses, maybe? William Wallace? Crazy Horse? Tecumseh? (Hmm, 3 of those 4 failed). Shane? The Magnificent Seven?

That's a tough one.


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J
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I think the old man from The Old Man and the Sea is a failed messianic figure.

He's not just trying to catch a monster fish; he's trying to "save" himself from bad luck, hunger, misery, even old age, frailty. But, in the end, the ocean takes the fish (salvation) from him before he can return home with it. Hemingway's message: there is no salvation.


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luapc
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I think that there is a definite difference between what a "hero" is in speculative fiction and other kinds of fiction and in the real world. For speculative fiction, we almost expect for there to be great kings and emperors leading gigantic armies as in The Lord of the Rings, or space admirals leading armadas of space ships against terrible odds, but the same is not true for other types of fiction. Most other types of fiction focus in on a much smaller universe, as in one small part of the world or one situation.

In the real world, it gets even harder than with fiction, because it is difficult for a single individual to make that kind of difference through their own individual acts. The one case I know of that came close was JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October in 1962 where a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union was averted. There, JFK could have been argued to be a man who had saved the world. Perhaps the only one in reality to have a good argument for the statement.

So other than that, it seems that the "heros" of reality and other kinds of fiction will be those people that have an impact on a group or individuals through their actions.

For fiction, I would think this would include characters like Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy), James Bond (Ian Flemming), and Rudy Baylor (John Grishom - The Rainmaker). I'm sure there's lots more, but those come to mind. Each one of these characters found themselves making decisions that influenced large amounts of people.

For reality, Oskar Schindler (the man who saved Jewish people in WWII in Germany), Mother Theressa, and Mahatma Gahndi are examples. As with the fiction examples, these are all people who have shaped the world by what they personally did or taught. I'm sure there are more of these types of people as well throughout history, but just can't think of them.

I am editing this just to make it clear I didn't misread the post. I know we are discussing Messiahs, not just ordinary heroes, but to me, a Messiah is just a hero thought of as a savior, so I don't think there's a lot of difference. Just my opinion.

[This message has been edited by luapc (edited July 23, 2007).]


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HuntGod
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Paul Atreides - Dune
Johnny Good Boy Tyler - Battlefield Earth
Jon Stark - A Game of Thrones etc.
Rand al'Thor - Wheel of Time
Eragon - Eragon (blech)
Garion/BelGarion - Belgariad
Alvin Maker - Seventh Son, etc.

These are the ones that pop to mind as I look over my bookshelves.


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InarticulateBabbler
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I think it's arguable that by having a Messiah archetype that the story is thereby MADE into a speculative fiction piece -- if that includes religious-horror and horror stories as spec-fic. The Bible being the exception to the rule.
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arriki
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How about the pope -- or was it a Roman general -- who turned Attila back from Rome?

Hannibal trying to save Carthage from Rome?

Then there are the legendary ones. Can't remember the details -- the moslem Mahdi who is supposed to return any day now.

Questzalcoatl?

Buddha?

The real world has more failed messianic figures than successful ones until you add in religious figures where success is not of this world or something.


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JeanneT
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But you're missing an important part of the Christ or Messiah archetype. They are required to actually die (and generally be reborn) to save the world. This let's out Mr. Potter. Gandalf was a beautifully rendered Christ archetype.

Aragon was not a Christ figure. I don't believe that Ender was. I would say were hero archetypes but not Christ figure archetypes. Often Christ figures in literature aren't even saviors. I would consider the MC (whose name escapes me at the moment) of Dead Man Walking to be a Christ Figure in many ways in spite of his evil past and that he saves no one. Obviously, Neo in The Matrix is a Christ Figure.

Let me label this personal opinion, of course.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 23, 2007).]


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lehollis
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JeanneT, I really hope that wasn't a spoiler. I'll trust it wasn't, at any rate.

But please, could we just avoid talking about Harry Potter in this thread until everyone's had a chance to finish the book? It makes me nervous to even see the name, right now.

[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited July 23, 2007).]


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JeanneT
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Ah, right. Sorry about that. I don't think it was a spoiler and wasn't intended to be. Whatever happens I don't think anyone expects his rebirth. But, I won't mention the young'un again.

Edit: I suppose my only question is, at what point does it become save once again to discuss this series? Not that I want to. *sighs*

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 23, 2007).]


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oliverhouse
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Does "messiah" entail certain characteristics of Christ, or vice versa? It's worth noting that Jesus wasn't the messiah that the Jews expected -- they expected a warrior king to save the nation of Israel.

Some people talk about two messiahs, which may or may not be two separate people. By the Christian view, Jesus is the non-warrior savior in His first coming, and on His second coming He will be the warrior that was originally prophesied by the Jews.

Kathleen, you gave us an initial notion using the words, "basically, characters who are required to save the world". What do you think a messiah figure is?


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JeanneT
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Interesting point -- while I think of a messiah figure as a Christ figure, they could very possibly be also thought of as different things.
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hoptoad
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Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption

Though, his 'world' existed within the walls of the prison, he brought hope and dignity and a promise of a better world, especially to Red.


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Rick Norwood
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The strangest messiah archetype I can think of is Baloo the Bear in the Disney version of The Jungle Book. Dies for Mowgli's sins, returns from the dead. Actually, a lot of Disney cartoons have messiah archetypes -- the dog who can't smell in Lady and the Tramp, Wart in The Once and Future King, Pinocchio, Bambi's Father, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, even Tarzan has some of the characteristics of a White Messiah.
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franc li
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quote:
The one case I know of that came close was JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October in 1962 where a nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union was averted.

Actually, what I believe happened is that USSR was placing missiles in Cuba, and Kennedy indicated he was willing to start a nuclear war rather than tolerate that. What I'm less aware of is whether we had missiles just as close to their populated areas. But lest we get political...

How about Gandhi? Oh, yeah, that one is taken.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited July 23, 2007).]


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arriki
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What about the archetypal dying vegetation god? Common to many cultures. I think "he" was an adjunct to the Mother goddess cults of the Mediterranean. The Great Mother's consort who provided the seed and then died to come to life again the next spring or winter. Time varied, It think.
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JeanneT
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That is frequently held to be the precursor to the Christ figure.

I agree that Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption is a Christ figure and his escape from prison a metaphorical rebirth.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 23, 2007).]


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Matt Lust
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Using any one Religious cultural context complicates the universality of the messiah figure in human history. As there have been many a great leaders of people who have done many great things a Messiah need not be Christ-like(ie modeled after Jesus).

The Hebrew word is transliterated as Mashiyach and most literally means anointed which in turn means one set apart for a specific duty.

I realize anointed carries very strong religious connotations but cultures from times long long past have traditionally done things that "set apart" those who are intended for special duties.

I don't want to discuss religion but I do believe that you don't have to borrow from the story of Jesus to make a Messianic character.


Prometheus is a messianic archetype, a man suffering punishment for a great gift.

The Buddha is a messianic archetype, a man giving up the cares of this world for those things that do not fade away.


I would say the stereotypical cowboy hero is also a messianic archetype, in that the cowboy is always the anointed one who needs to save the day.


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debhoag
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Michael Valentine Smith
the pilot in "Tales of a Reluctant Messiah" by the Jonathon Livingston Seagull guy.
Lion in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Prophet in Gibran's "The Prophet"
The Little Prince (I can never remember that guy's name)
Harry Stanton in Armageddon
The MC in Watership Down
Winnie the Pooh
The Last Mohican
The Red Prophet
Lestat
the Postman character from The Postman

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KaliAngelKat
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I actually have a book from Writer's Digest that deals with different archtypes. It's called 45 Master Characters.

It uses Gods and Goddesses from mythology to illistrate each archtype. The Maessish archtype for the females is Isis and for the males, Osiris.

It is mentioned that this archtype brings change and knowledge to the world. This archtype is feard because of the change that is brought to mankind, and those with closed minds may wish harm upon this being and may label him/her as being unholy.

Some of the modern day fictional archtypes listed in the book for both sexes are:

Trinity from The Matrix
Morgaine from The Mists of Avalon
Monica from Touched by an Angel
Wonder Woman
Joan of Arc
Galadriel
Paul Atreides from Dune
Neo from The Matrix
Luke Skywalker
Superman
Gandhi


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debhoag
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frodo? he died metaphorically, accepted a painful experience in order to serve good, died metaphorically with Shelob, never was involved with a woman. Rather like Bilbo, too, if you look at his being trapped under the misty mountains a type of death.

There are a lot of action figures who carry a great burden, undergo a transformative experience, and are willing to risk their own lives to help others. Rambo, for instance.

the pilot in independence day also has a metaphorical death in alcoholism, and through his sacrificing his life obtains a retroactive messiah status - remember him foreshadowing the aliens being real? nobody listened to his prophecies.

Did anyone mention Harry Stamper?

And, regarding the matrix movies, both orpheus and the oracle made huge sacrifices to help others, orpheus gave up his relationship with . . . whats-her-name.

[This message has been edited by debhoag (edited July 28, 2007).]


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Inkwell
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Ludlum's Jason Bourne comes to mind, although his situation was more of a psychological thing...involving the 'death' and 'rebirth' of both memory and identity. I still think it fits, in a metaphorical sense.


Inkwell
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"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
-Anonymous


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JeanneT
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Giving up the opposite sex isn't necessarily required for a Christ figure. Many are chaste or celibate though.
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Antinomy
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Adicus Finch -- To Kill a Mockingbird
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Inkwell
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Hercules, as portrayed in the animated Disney film (one of a select few that I actually enjoyed). This was blindingly obvious, even to a bunch of kids.


Inkwell
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"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."
-Anonymous


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HuntGod
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Well in fairness Hercules was a messiah figure before Jesus came along.

Kind of fitting that millenia later they would reinterprate the Hercules mythos and base it on Christ...the circle if complete :-)


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franc li
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Jay Gatz in The Great Gatsby. (Spoilers, I guess)
.
.
.
dies because of the sins of others. Not that he was in any way sinless. I guess there's something very "immaculate conception" about the way in which Harry Potter is first protected by the love of his mother, and then protects his allies through his sacrifice. I mean, I didn't pick up on the ally protection the first time I was reading it. If I had, I probably wouldn't have liked it as well.

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Robert Nowall
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How about John F. Kennedy---the myth of Kennedy, not the reality? I've just been reading a new book, that argues that Kennedy's assassination, and the subsequent mythmaking, destroyed classical liberalism as a political philosophy.

You can take the politics of it as you may, but the myth---and the mythmaking---are well documented within the book. In short, Kennedy, in death, was linked to political movements that he had little-to-no connection with while alive. Camelot and King Arthur were invoked and linked to Kennedy, along with the notion that the True King had come and gone and would not come again. The assassin's politics and motives were disputed and often dropped in accounts that preferred to link Kennedy's death to other causes.

I suppose you could see Kennedy the legend as the Messiah, come, gone, sacrificed, what-have-you.


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ArachneWeave
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Deb, you just blew my mind.

Is this the book Winnie-the-Pooh? Oh, explain to me, I'm eager and waiting.
I've read those books a lot more I can explain, and I can't see it, but I'm willing to.

Robin McKinley's Aerin does somewhat
Nathaniel in the Bartimaeus Trilogy
(he dies for others, which is the essence of the Christ-figure analogy, I think--the resurrecting part just makes it moreso)
Merlin, as well as King Arthur, has had his share
Ransome, in C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy
Charles Wallace (with Meg) in the Wrinkle in Time series
In Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Stephen Black is certainly one, and there are hints of it elsewhere


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debhoag
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There is a book called "the Tao of Pooh" that interprets his character in terms of how he is a perfect example of the Tao life. I had it, lost it, and just found a copy at the thrift store, but I loaned it to my girlfriend, and haven't gotten it back yet. It's a really groovy book, though.And you'll never look at Pooh the same again, I promise!
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Elan
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If you enjoyed "The Tao of Pooh," you won't want to miss "The Te of Piglet." It's by the same author.

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debhoag
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I have never seen a copy of Te of Piglet, although I would love to read it. They promo it at the end of Pooh. you liked it?

[This message has been edited by debhoag (edited August 04, 2007).]


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aerten
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I think there are a lot of messiah figures in literature. However, those figures have been scaled down in standard fiction. Instead of changing the world, they change a few people's lives.

Randle Patrick McMurphy from One Flew over the Coo Coo's Nest is an example, and so is Jim Casy from the Grapes of Wrath. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is another person who does something extraordinary to improve the world (and suffers for it).

Movies have even more every-day messiahs. Westerns and war movies have tons (look at Willam Defoe in Platoon). There are messiah's in jail - Cool-Hand Luke and Andy Dufresne (Shawshank Redemption) both alter lives in quasi-miraculous ways.

I don't think messiahs are confined to epics, fantasy and sci fi. They're all over literature and movies.


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hoptoad
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Don't you think that maybe the archetype is being watered down with such a broad definition, in summary: Someone who makes changes in his environment for the benefit of others and who suffers as a consequence. That seems pretty generic.

A whistle-blower in a sweatshop fits that bill regardless of his motivations, or him being just one of a number of people who could achieve the required change.

Does the archetype have to contain the idea of altruistic intent or a sense of duty? Does it have to incorporate the idea that the messiah figure is undertaking the task in order to benefit the bad or ignorant as well as his friends? Does it have to include the idea that this one person is the only person who can make the change but has to choose to do so?

so many questions... so little capacity to fathom


Another question: I always feel better not having the 'messiah' archetype as the POV character. Anyone else feel that way?

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited August 06, 2007).]


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Robert Nowall
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Let's enhance that statement a little, if only to exclude the comparison of the Messiah to whistleblowers. If "for the benefit of others" is extended to a larger group, say for the benefit of "the people" or "the nation," it might be a better fit.

And one might exclude "suffers." Say, Aragorn of "The Lord of the Rings" actively sought his Messiahship, knowing what was coming. Subsequently he lived out a very full and long life and then passed it on to others. (Aragorn in the movie was a most reluctant Messiah. He didn't want to be King and did it because it was "him or nobody" (or maybe "him or Sauron,") one of those somewhat-alien-to-Tolkien ideas that crept into the film.)


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debhoag
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Aragorn did however, have to give up a life of comfort and the woman he loved (temporarily, at least) to go forth and struggle in solitude. Maybe a quest of some kind, or a great renunciation, would be appropo in considering what makes a messiah figure.
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