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Author Topic: Call to Adventure
babooher
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I was reading Matt Nix's article linked on the front of Hatrack and his comment about how General Graff was going to come along and make him live up to his potential struck a nerve in me. Then I was looking over a video about The Matrix, and the nebulous idea crystallized into a question: Why do so many stories have someone who pulls the protagonist into his or her potential? Ender has the Battle School calling, Shea Ohmsford has Allanon, Bilbo has Gandalf, Neo has Morpheus. Chris Vogler and Joseph Campbell wrote how on the Hero's Journey the hero will often refuse the call to adventure before being dragged in, but having someone come knocking sure would be awesome...but as Matt Nix writes, no one is coming for us. Opportunity rarely knocks. It might be difficult, but hunting opportunity seems better than waiting for it to show up. So why do we put this situation in so much of our literature? Is it escapism? By having someone drag the protagonist to his destiny the protagonist is no longer responsible for the change that will ensue? Is that the appeal? I guess this is something of a literature question more than a writing question, but I'd like to understand what I'd like to create.
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redux
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I've always seen that character archetype as a parental surrogate. In fiction it's doesn't come across as heroic if mom or dad told the protagonist they should do something so a wise mentor is used in their place.
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MAP
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I have two theories for this.

1. It balances the over-the-top heroics with a little humility which makes a larger than life character more likeable. The hero is a little afraid of the adventure and doesn't believe he could possible be the one to save the world. He needs someone to push him to reach his potential because he doesn't believe enough in himself to reach it on his own.

2. Maybe this is somewhat related to one, but I think refusing the call or being prodded into the adventure makes the hero an everyman. If the call hadn't come, he would be living a normal life like the rest of us, and that is actually what he would prefer. But the call did come, so he became a hero. It kind of makes us feel like there is a hero in each of us, maybe?

Anyway, that is my opinion of why this particular trope is so popular.

[ April 24, 2013, 09:49 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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redux
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I forgot to add, that I don't think it's a coincidence that so many protagonists are orphaned or might as well be due to absentee or bad parents. So a parental surrogate to point the protagonist in the right direction is needed.

Essentially, protagonists are like children, about to discover a new world, start a new adventure or phase in their lives, so a parent-like figure is needed to guide them and show them their potential.

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Grumpy old guy
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To my mind, the hero's journey is based around the character of an 'everyman' (or everyperson, to be PC). I think that's its drawing power, the idea that "that could be me" is a powerful way to draw a reader into the character and the story. And, for others, the thought that "I couldn't do anything like that" serves to make the hero that much more heroic.

As for the notion that no one is coming for us, that opportunity never knocks, it may be true enough for you and me, but we're not in a fictional story. Or perhaps opportunity has knocked and we just haven't recognised it; making us the story that was never written 'cos we didn't get up off the couch and go 'adventuring'.


I don't think that the protagonist in such stories is stripped of responsibility for the changes within them, after all, they agreed to go on the journey. And, that the characters are changed implies they have accepted that change and hence have grown into their potential. To my mind, no one ever reaches their potential until they are tested in the crucible; where they come face to face with their own worst fears about themselves.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Forging of a hero begins with change. Pulled into, coerced, decided, persuaded, singled out, cast out, exiled, set apart, abandoned or lost by happenstance design, left with no alternative, change causes change. Change processes are otherwise known as plots. Openings and middles and endings and outcomes are change. Resistance to change is an opposing force.

Looking closer, another force underlies forging a hero and an incting change: isolation. Isolation causes change, usually a first cause. Take away a person's society, externally inflicted or self-imposed, and find a budding heroine or hero who rights the cause of the isolation. However, a hero or heroine must also self-sacrifce in order to be a hero. Purely self-serving journeys don't excite populist audiences and come across as more like evil anti-heroes and wicked villains. This is poetic justice subtly packaged.

[ April 26, 2013, 10:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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It ties in with mythic tradition. Prophets and holy warriors are called by their god, or gods, to go forth and preach, or do battle in a holy cause. The works of Homer/Sophocles/et al have multiple heroes who are drawn into their roles by divine intervention. In that sense, the Gandalf figure becomes a messenger of the gods, sent to inform the hero of their predetermined destiny. As it turned out, Gandalf really *was* sent by the gods.
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Robert Nowall
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quote:
As it turned out, Gandalf really *was* sent by the gods.
Only "as it turned out." There's no hint of that in The Hobbit when Gandalf is introduced, only that a lot of things have been said about him.

*****

Don't forget the hero's "moral compass." Putting a hero in a situation where the hero has to "right a wrong" or "save the world" or somesuch. If the Quest is embarked on, the hero must find some way to grow into the role. Bilbo had to put himself on an equal footage with the Dwarves, to become more than baggage carried along the way. Though along the way he has to learn to kill, to steal, to deceive...then to make the effort to "make things right" at the end.

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SASpencer
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In YA, what could be scarier than losing parents, even though teens are rebelling, learning to separate themselves from parents in order to become adults. And since they are separating, they don't listen to their parents and therefore must have a mentor to guide them, help them with their self-confidence issues, etc.
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babooher
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I get what the mentor does for the protagonist. What does it do for the reader? Most readers don't get a mentor. We have to go out and make it happen on our own. If we wait around for our Gandalf or Graff or Allanon then we'd never succeed. We can't wait for the tornado to take us to Oz.
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extrinsic
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An emerging hero's mentors are like oracles and their omens and auguries and omens in their own right too. They are messengers and they deliver their messages in messenger scenes. Messengers and messages come along all the time in real life. Messages are constant but easily tuned out. One might respond to one if one is ready to hear a calling.

Frodo was ready. He wanted an adventure with which he could regale the Shire the way Bilbo had. A simple want but it's a beginning.

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AndrewR
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Why do so many stories have someone who pulls the protagonist into his or her potential?

Because it is a ready-made conflict for the beginning of the story. Simple as that.

Otherwise you'd have a hero saying "I want an adventure," and doing so (which sometimes happens). Not much conflict there.

Or worse, the outsider comes to bring the protagonist into adventure, and the protagonist says, "Sure, why not? I'm in." Again, not much conflict there.

While Campbell may talk about hero's journeys and the mystical bonds between stories and self-dscovery that spans all cultures, ultimately he may just be describing good story techniques. [Smile]

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LDWriter2
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I was waiting for extrinsic's comments I thought he would have some good ones.

But it seems to me that everyone has a good point. And I'm ready to say All Of The Above.

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Grumpy old guy
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In thinking about this a little more, some hero's have a manifest destiny that only they can complete. Neo in Matrix and Luke in Star Wars both have abilities peculiar to themselves, and only they can 'save the day'. The mentor is there to guide the hero along the path to self-understanding and then self actualisation.

This begs the question, of course: was Frodo the only person who could take the One Ring to Mount Doom, or could anyone with enough motivation do it, say Sam?

Phil.

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Robert Nowall
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Take in mind Sam's meditation on stories, that he thought adventures were something the heroes went out and got into because they were bored. Boy, he found out the hard way that wasn't so.

*****

I'd say Frodo was the only one who could. Elrond said if Frodo couldn't find a way, no one could. All the "great" were ruled out because they'd be corrupted before they got far with it...and, remember, too, Frodo got the Ring to Mount Doom and failed---couldn't throw it in---if Gollum hadn't taken the Ring and providentially fallen in the Quest would have failed.

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extrinsic
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Folklorists hold Joseph Campbell's Monomyth theory in low regard. Many of Campbell's theories and premises appear borrowed directly from his more outspoken critics. Vladimir Propp, an early Formalist and Structuralist who espoused many similar folklore qualities priorly, dismisses Campbell because Campbell merely asserts claims without substantive ethnographic context to support them.

Alan Dundes, another folklorist, one who established folkloristics' standards and practices for the modern Western age and the study as a social science, dismisses Campbell because Campbell makes universal generalizations that overlook the rich tapestry of local geneses and variants.

These folklorists and others, Antti Aarne, Stith Thompson, Lesley Northrup, Donald Consetino, Marta Weigle, Muriel Crespi, criticize each others' theories like they debate in the Attic forums of Sophocles' time, denouncing each others' theories in favor of their own ideas. Yet they borrow liberally from each other and build upon one another's theories and premises. It's a conversation begun in the late nineteenth century by Propp and carried through for half a century. The conversation continues, nevertheless, taken up by others.

One point I take away from the conversation is that folklore may be categorizable in broad strokes, say the polygenesis motif of undiscovered royalty, figuratively or literally orphaned, sojourning hero or heroine; however, the motif enjoys near-infinite many variants from other creative elements' influences, differing settings, characters, and events, and blended motifs. Frodo, for one example of a character variant. Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Paul Atriedes, Oliver Twist.

Campbell's Monomyth is a structural template. Artful and fresh if not original application of the model relies on variation and other prose elements' uniquenesses and not a little contemporary representation of current and relevant social and cultural contexts and textures.

Though a singled awareness may perceive fiction as entertainment, a doubled or more awareness also recognizes fiction's folkloristic functions and roles and, perhaps, challenges and questions fiction's dual cautioning, instructing, correcting, and controlling qualities and prosaic reassignment of irresponsibilty for actions and consequences from creator to fictional characters.

Regardless, from studying folklore and folkloristics, I've learned recently who my audience is and what they desire most that suits my creative sensibilities and sentiments. A new leg of my Poet's Journey is before me, beyond the abyss I've journeyed through.

[ April 26, 2013, 10:26 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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Your journey this morning began with a similar call to adventure. Whether it was the alarm, bladder concerns, or your brain just decided it was time, you were pulled from a state of sleepful bliss into this harsh world of adventure.
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babooher
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So far, we've discussed what the protagonist gets out of the mentor/messenger (a kick in the pants and a parent figure) and a little about what the writer gets (an easy way to kick the story in gear), but what does the reader get? Is the appeal simply that we wish someone would just tell us what to do? Are we still looking for mom and dad? Do we wish opportunity would be more obvious or insistent?

I know that the mentor/messenger isn't universal and any appeal derived from them isn't universal, but there is an appeal. The better I can understand what that appeal is, the better I can manipulate it.

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
I get what the mentor does for the protagonist. What does it do for the reader? Most readers don't get a mentor. We have to go out and make it happen on our own. If we wait around for our Gandalf or Graff or Allanon then we'd never succeed. We can't wait for the tornado to take us to Oz.

Well most of us don't go on an adventure to save the world either. [Smile]

But I think we have a lot of mentor like people in our lives as we are growing up. No one gets through this life alone. There are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, older siblings, friends, etc. All these people can be a mentor in some way for us. I know I've had some teachers who have really inspired me through high school and college. And my Ph.D advisor was very much a mentor to me. I am sure if we all think about the people who have been apart of our lives, we all have had at least one person who has been like mentor to them.

We aren't naturally born with all the knowledge and skills we need to get through this life. People do help us along the way, or at least for most of us. [Smile]

[ April 28, 2013, 05:31 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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extrinsic
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Readers get from mentor personas what they get from exotic adventure settings; that is, intimate glimpses into the unique and exotic to them lives of others in exotic to them places. Propp and Campbell's three refusals in that scenario might be resistance toward authority figures. A call to adventure can be as equally a divine calling as an earthly want or problem. Refusals then are reluctance to act proactively, until the complusions become too strong to resist. Refusals in that regard are reversals, complusions are discoveries, and acting is reversal too.

The principle of threes, or "rule of threes" is an "epic law" of folklore espoused by Danish folklorist Axel Olrik. Threes are funnier, more satisfying, more dramatic emphasis. Or in my lexicon, once might be a coincidence; it takes two to tango; three's a party!

Three different messages, three different messengers bearing the same but variant message, three refusals, three different compulsions to act.

For example, a messenger scene might not even include a mentor-messenger persona. A flat tire on the way home is a coincidence that makes the operator late. The tango might be the spare is flat too. The party might be the jack is missing as well. What's the message? Car not maintained and implied that the undoing is the operator's fault. As a call to adventure, the setting and milieu are paramount. The operator might have to cross a dark swamp or barren desert to get back to normalcy. But for the flat tire's message the adventure would have been missed.

[ April 28, 2013, 03:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
So far, we've discussed what the protagonist gets out of the mentor/messenger (a kick in the pants and a parent figure) and a little about what the writer gets (an easy way to kick the story in gear), but what does the reader get? Is the appeal simply that we wish someone would just tell us what to do? Are we still looking for mom and dad? Do we wish opportunity would be more obvious or insistent?

Well, I think your characterization of what a mentor does is somewhat skewed. What a mentor does is give advice, e.g. "When in faery-land, be careful not to eat anything, not even a morsel." But in the classic quest this advice is more than just a list of helpful instructions, *it is a test for the protagonist*, one that a protagonist often fails. Failure can either be final (e.g. ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE) or set him up for further trials (e.g. in Cupid and Psyche).

This test aspect is (in my opinion) why the mentor is often grotesque -- a hideous dwarf for example. Take the classic three son fairy tale setup. The two elder sons, who are superficially well prepared for the challenge, ignore the mentor because he is little, ugly, and villainous (in the sense of "low-class"). But the youngest son stops to help the mentor and is rewarded with the secrets to success.

The encounter with the mentor is usually a test of of the hero's open-mindedness and good-heartedness.

Speaking of Professors Aarne and Thompson, I find the whole Aarne-Thompson classification scheme fairly useless from a practical standpoint. I understand the appeal of establishing a neat label on a story (Oh, this is an Aarne-Thompson Type 551), but unsurprisingly there's quite a bit of arbitrariness about where you choose to put a story. Aarne-Thompson classifications often miss the heart of a story, the thing that makes it work.

That's OK, because understanding the artistry of a story isn't what the classification system is for. Folklorists are more concerned with possible common ancestry between stories than a writer would be. A writer is interested in what makes a story tick. That's why I think Vladmir Propp's approach to the fairytale is worth a look. You can actually take his list of 31 motifs (he calls them "functions") and by a process of random selection have an outline for a story.

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extrinsic
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Dundes said much the same about Aaarne and Thompson's classification systems. They found cause to dismiss Dundes. Propp had strong and controversial opinions too. Theirs and others' theories mostly only demonstrated cultural commonality and diffusion processes. Folklorists don't interpret and analyze method and message and intent and meaning, the way one canon of literary criticism does. They analyze cultural processes and functions. Propp though he began modern folkloristics was more narratologist, thus Formalist and later Structuralist, than folkloristician.

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French Structuralist who dismissed Propp for overlooking the contexts and textures of language's influence on folklore dissemination. Yet, again, Propp's theses are largely narrowly focused on structural storytelling topics: craft. Lingustics, semiotics, and semantics are different topics that Propp left to theoriticians of those disciplines: voice. Claude Lévi-Strauss himself didn't develop theories of those matters either, narrowly focusing on anthropolgy and language's structuralism as applies to anthropology.

I've found treasure troves of methods and motifs in all their works. One most useful method is how fiction as make believe fits into a cultural role and fulfills audiences' needs for beliefs in mystical forces larger than life's routine alpha world existence, beliefs that society is inherently safe to a tolerable degree, beliefs that folk groups share of whatever mundane and metaphysical and blended systems that help us cope with the trials and fears and joys of everyday life.

One of the more profound lessons I've learned again and again in my studies is that anyone who raises their head above the common fray will draw criticism from anyone who finds fault, or cause to ride a coattail, or cause to express little more than professional jealousy over the head raiser's claims. Tel est la vie.

[ April 29, 2013, 02:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
But I think we have a lot of mentor like people in our lives as we are growing up. No one gets through this life alone. There are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, older siblings, friends, etc. All these people can be a mentor in some way for us. I know I've had some teachers who have really inspired me through high school and college. And my Ph.D advisor was very much a mentor to me. I am sure if we all think about the people who have been apart of our lives, we all have had at least one person who has been like mentor to them.
I agree with this more so than the original premise of the thread.

What I will say, though, is that you probably don't find the type of overt "mentor character" outside of scifi and fantasy. I think it's part of the genre, mainly because scifi and fantasy aren't primarily character driven. I mean, imagine how long it would take to write a character change in Bilbo, from the hobbit who prefers to stay away from adventures, to a hobbit that wants to go on one. Tolkien, honestly, cheats his way there by A) throwing in Gandalf, B) talking about Biblo's 'Tookish side'. This is obviously not an author whose primary concern is character. Imagine if you wanted a character to change som how and just said, "Ah yes, it's his genes".

This is why, in literary fiction, you don't see that writing technique as often. That initial scene of getting Bilbo out of hole would take chapters to write if you really wanted to do it only through character transformation. You'd have to first show the type of person Bilbo is, entrenched in his ways, then you'd have to show all of the things that eventually changes him.

Plot driven novels tend to sacrifice character development for, well, plot.

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Crystal Stevens
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I'm getting into this discussion somewhat late, but here are my thoughts on some of the things said:

Map: One thing about being forced into being a hero is that the protagonist must believe it’s the only way to set his world right again or save the people he loves. Some kind of drive must be there that only he can make happen and no one else. Otherwise why should he even try? Most people want a peaceful existence within humanity for all their days. It takes something truly earth shaking to push anyone out of this type of lifestyle. Otherwise most of humanity would be standing up and fighting to preserve that way of life or save the people they love.

Redux: If to save what matters most, many time the hero must leave all he knows behind and grasp the new life he must accept if everything is to turn out right.

A parent-like figure (mentor) is also needed, sometimes, to explain the new world to the reader—how it works and what kind of society controls that world—through explaining it to the hero and thus informing us.

Phil: In some ways the common man being pushed into change does happen in the real world. A man loses his job and is forced to move him and his family somewhere else to get another job. Then the new job turns out better than the old one, and the man is able to live a better life for his family. Or: Some kind of recreational club changes its original goals so drastically that the man goes looking elsewhere for what he had originally. Which, in turn, puts him in connection with people in the new club he would never have met otherwise and where the man can make a difference.

Change does happen all the time in the real world. We just have to recognize it when it happens... or maybe not depending on the individual. I should add that a person’s ideals don’t change from circumstances like this, and in some cases are actually strengthened through new associations with new people.

Andrew: People like to be comfortable with what they are most familiar with. And that’s everyday life. Adventure isn’t all fun and games and could end up killing you. The odds have to be very extreme to make anyone in today’s world take up that kind of challenge. Most of us wouldn’t even bother unless no other course is left open to us. It’s just human nature and common sense.

Phil: I don’t know about the Matrix, but in Star Wars I doubt that Luke would’ve moved on so easily if not for the deaths of his aunt and uncle. Like he said to Ben: “There’s nothing left for me here.” Yes, he probably would’ve moved on in time, but it happened much more quickly due to his aunt and uncle’s deaths.

I doubt very much if Sam could’ve carried the Ring. He had tremendous courage, yes, but I feel his soft heart would’ve been his downfall and let the Ring corrupt him.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Crystal: Sam in fact did carry the ring, for the short time Frodo was "dead". He was the only one besides Bilbo to have carried it and willingly give it up; the only one who knew it's true power and still let it go. I think you're confusing a kind heart with a soft one. Yes, in time it would have corrupted him but it didn't. Sam was the strongest character of them all because he didn't have to go at all.

babooher: I think you've got it right that the guardian serves a sort of parent archetype re-creation. The readers do want to metaphorically go home again. This makes it heartbreaking all over again, though, because for a guardian to work as a literary device they have to fail. If they were truly there to protect the hero then the hero wouldn't face the danger necessary to complete the journey. It serves the reader as a sort of ceremony of leaving the parent to go be their own person. (I use ceremony because it can both be predictive and reflective.)

Personally I see all myth derived stories like this as a ceremony. That's why I decided that this was the sort of story I wanted to write.

Sometimes I wonder what the field of Folklore would be if it weren't like a box of chicks who need to have their beaks trimmed so they won't eat each other's toes. The answer I usually come up with is "probably a lot less entertaining." I guess that's true of all academia, so I'll let them have their fun.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:
Sometimes I wonder what the field of Folklore would be if it weren't like a box of chicks who need to have their beaks trimmed so they won't eat each other's toes. The answer I usually come up with is "probably a lot less entertaining." I guess that's true of all academia, so I'll let them have their fun.

This is valid for all culture groups: part of in-group behaviors is pecking order rivalry. Whether this force is centripetal, inward flux, or centrifugal, outward flux, depends on greater good for the group or self-serving weights. Whether this force causes esoteric inclusion or exoteric exclusion depends on strengthening or weakening the group. Whether this force is alienating or mutually supportive depends on niche conformance to a group dynamic.
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:
Crystal: Sam in fact did carry the ring, for the short time Frodo was "dead". He was the only one besides Bilbo to have carried it and willingly give it up; the only one who knew it's true power and still let it go. I think you're confusing a kind heart with a soft one. Yes, in time it would have corrupted him but it didn't. Sam was the strongest character of them all because he didn't have to go at all.

Never thought about it that way, and you're right. Thanks for setting me straight.
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MattLeo
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I'd go further and say that it's hard-heartedness that equates to spiritual weakness in Tolkien's world. In Middle Earth it is cold, unyielding pride that leads to damnation. Truly brave characters are also without exception caring, and therefore more resistant to sin and more redeemable when they do sin. ("Sin" is an unavoidable word when discussing a writer like Tolkien.)

Tolkien makes the point in several places that even Orcs engage in moral reasoning. When they argue over what to do they appeal to right and wrong. But they are cruel and self-serving, so their arguments are hypocritical.

And in case we miss the point we get the elaborately parallel examples of Theoden and Denethor -- both rulers who have lost a beloved son. Theoden is redeemable because his central character trait is kindliness. While he is proud in his measure, Theoden's kindliness gives him a kind of humility which opens him to grace and wins him a heroic death. Denethor's central character trait is pride. Both characters succumb to the sin of despair, but Denethor isn't broken, although it would have been better for him if he had been. He was *twisted* by despair into something corrupt, and his pride renders him irredeemable.

Boromir too is an example of a man in whom hard pride and kindness are mixed evenly. He falls from grace in a psychologically insightful scene that is worthy of close study; but then redeems himself in an act of bravery and charity. This, in Tolkien's view, fulfills God's plan for Boromir. In Middle Earth, great men are without exception warriors.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
("Sin" is an unavoidable word when discussing a writer like Tolkien.)

Or poetic justice. A reasonably comprehensive article on the topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetic_justice

Might poetic justice be a cause for a call to adventure? I believe it might. To punish vice; to reward virtue; to adjust character traits, journey quests for all their hardships and trials are forges of heroes. A seminal example from early Western Romance literature, though of earlier origins, and the template for much of European Renaissance descendant legends is St. George and the Dragon.

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Grumpy old guy
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Speaking from personal experience (a survival course that lasted 30 days with practically no food, but enough water) the physical/psychological crucible makes profound demands on the psyche of the person so blighted. The actual result in my case was that I ended up tearing apart my own self-view and then rebuilt it with the self-knowledge gained through physical and mental hardship.

I now know myself, and my foibles and frailties, far more deeply than I really like, or want to. Now, I have no excuses when I stuff up or do something I know I shouldn't.

On the brighter side, I leaned that protein is protein, no matter the form it takes; spiders, flies, worms, beetles, you name it.

Phil.

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