Time again for another graduate paper! This is one of my finals, so it’s pretty long and in-depth. That said, I hope you enjoy it, and as always, please cite if you use any of it. 🙂
Baby Heroes and Infant Goddesses
A Theoretical Study of Juvenile Heroes and Heroines in Classic and Contemporary Children’s Literature, as seen through the Works of Joseph Campbell and Valerie Estelle Frankel
“The radical knowledge and amazements found in stories ought to be every child’s daily inheritance.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Introduction to The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 2004 Edition.
In his famous work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell gives the reader a unilateral, step-by-step map of the mythos of the classic male hero. Likewise, in her work titled From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and Legend, Valerie Estelle Frankel takes the reader through a similar mapping for the feminine. In this paper, I will compare the two forms of hero(ine) in children’s literature using examples from both male and female-driven stories. For the sake of clarity and organization, I will follow their original mapping in this paper as well as I am able. For the duration of this paper, the terms “myth” and “mythology” will be used to denote all works of fiction herein.
The beginning of every myth is what both Campbell and Frankel term “the Call to Adventure”, or when the adventure truly begins.
For the hero, this call is defined by Campbell as, “a blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveal[ing] an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood.” (Campbell 57) One example of this masculine Call in children’s mythology is Percy Jackson’s accidental anger-powered reveal of his godhood in Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief:
I tried to stay cool. The school counselor had told me a billion times, “Count to ten, get control of your temper.” But I was so mad my mind went blank. A wave roared in my ears.
I don’t remember touching her, but the next thing I knew, Nancy was sitting on her butt in the fountain, screaming, “Percy pushed me!” (Riordan 9)
Directly after this scene, as a result of his use of power that only a demigod can wield and thus revealing himself to be more than an average child, Percy is attacked by a gorgon in her true form, though before this he only ever knew her as a disagreeable teacher. This is the pivotal moment for Percy, changing his life from that of an average kid to a demigod, stalked by monsters and villains, forced into a world that has him fulfilling the hero’s Call to save humanity. This Call to Adventure, as in Campbell’s theory, is entirely accidental on the hero’s part. Still it makes no difference. Because of it, Percy is forever changed.
According to Frankel, the heroine’s experience of this Call is much like the hero’s, with a small twist: “When goddesses embark upon heroic journeys, it is to restore what has been broken or injured.” (Frankel 234) Again, we see the theme of the accidental Call, but for Frankel this accident has already happened, and the heroine/goddess’ Call is to restore what the accident destroyed, not the accident itself. One example of this feminine Call in children’s mythology can be found in Sabriel’s delivery of her father’s necromancy tools In Garth Nix’ Sabriel:
… “Sabriel! My messenger! Take the sack!” The voice was Abhorsen’s.
… The sack in her hand was heavy, and there was a leaden feeling in her stomach. If the messenger was truly [her father] Abhorsen’s, then he himself was unable to return to the realm of the living. (Nix 17-18)
Up to this moment Sabriel has lived at a boarding school for girls, and has not often been visited — at least physically — by her father Abhorsen. While she is well aware of her father’s necromancy and, indeed, she herself has the same powers, she has been up to this point largely protected from the dangers those powers entail. Directly following Frankel’s pattern for the heroine, when Sabriel is Called to her Adventure it is not by her own accidental actions, but rather by the accident that has befallen her father: an accident that she must now fix by finding and rescuing him.
The next stage of the journey, called the Refusal of the Call by Campbell (61) and Frankel (324), is self-defining: the hero(ine), at this point, refuses to go on the adventure for one reason or another. While this refusal is not always a step of every myth-adventure, it is a potent one in those which it exists.
For the hero, Campbell states that this Refusal turns the myth to a negative bent (Campbell 62), and this negative turn can often become the very drive of the myth itself. One example of the Refusal for a hero in children’s myth is Edmund’s initial refusal to help his siblings against the White Queen in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
Edmund could see two small hills, and he was almost sure they were the two hills which the White Witch had pointed out to him… And he thought about Turkish Delight, and about being a King… and horrible ideas came into his head. (Lewis, Wardrobe 56)
This is the pivotal moment for Edmund — and for the story itself — wherein he chooses to refuse the Call of staying with his siblings to help save Narnia, instead allying himself with the evil White Witch and ultimately putting them all in danger. As Campbell outlined in his theory, this Refusal by Edmund twists the story into a negative path, and becomes a driving force therein for all the characters involved as Edmund switches sides, becoming a weakness against good and a power for evil.
Frankel’s view of the Refusal is different than Campbell’s in that the heroine’s Refusal often drives the story positively rather than negatively, though it is still most often done by the heroine for selfish reasons, as described by Frankel in the metaphor of sleep: “This sleep is a defensive maneuver, allowing the self to deal with the insurmountable stress of change.” (Frankel 377) This Refusal, Frankel goes on to explain, drives the story by forcing the hand of a hero to take up the call of rescue and break the heroine from her chains, freeing her to take up her own Adventure as heroine/goddess. An example of this Refusal for the heroine in children’s myth can be found in Meg’s initial refusal to trust Ms. Whatsit in Madeline L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time:
–For crying out loud, [Meg] thought,—this old woman comes barging in on us in the middle of the night and Mother makes it as though there weren’t anything peculiar about it at all. I’ll bet she is the Tramp. I’ll bet she did steal those sheets. And she’s certainly no one Charles Wallace ought to be friends with, especially when he won’t even talk to ordinary people. (L’Engle 15)
As the hero of the story, it is up to Charles Wallace to break Meg from this Refusal by insisting that she trust the “tramp”:
“… I thought we’d better go see Mrs. Whatsit.”
“Oh golly,” Meg said. “Why, Charles?”
“You’re still uneasy about her, aren’t you?” Charles asked.
“Don’t be. She’s alright. I promise you. She’s on our side.” (L’Engle 24)
However after he has freed her metaphorically, Charles Wallace becomes the one in need of saving physically, and in the end, it is Meg’s actions that save her brother, as she comes to her own as a true heroine:
Slowly his mouth closed. Slowly his eyes stopped their twirling. The tic in the forehead ceased its revolting twitch. Slowly he advanced toward her.
“I love you!” she cried. “I love you, Charles! I love you!”
The suddenly he was running, pelting, he was in her arms, he was shrieking with sobs. “Meg! Meg! Meg!” (L’Engle195)
Just as Frankel stated in her theory, Meg as the heroine must first be freed of her Refusal in order to find her inner goddess and save the world.
If the call is not refused (and sometimes even when it is), the next step in the hero(ine)’s journey is what Campbell calls Supernatural Aid, (65) and Frankel calls The Mentor (442). This is the emergence of the protector, the wise one, etc, who will guide and help the hero(ine) on the adventure. This person can be male or female, but they are always wise, and often possess both knowledge to bestow and magic and/or talismans of power that they use to help the hero(ine), for varying reasons.
Campbell defines this character as “… the benign, protecting power of destiny.” (Campbell 67) An example of this Supernatural Aid for the hero in children’s myth can be found in classic Arthurian mythology in the form of Merlyn, who guides and empowers the hero Arthur on his many quests, from the very beginning:
Then Merlyn said, “Sir Ector, I know very well who is this youth, for I have kept diligent watch over him for all this time. And I know that in him lieth the hope of Britain.” (Pyle 29)
Merlyn, as a very old magician, is literally “the protecting power of destiny” both by his magic and by his knowledge to raise Arthur up to be a great king and legend of old.
Likewise, Frankel defines the heroine’s Mentor as a “…wisewoman or elder of the tribe, this mentor teaches spinning, singing, or magic to prepare her pupil for her ordeal.” (Frankel 509-510) An example of this feminine Teacher-Mentor in children’s mythology can be found in Miss Honey in Roald Dahl’s Matilda:
There had not been time yet to find out exactly how brilliant [Matilda] was, but Miss Honey had learned enough to realize that something had to be done about it as soon as possible. It would be ridiculous to leave a child like that stuck in the bottom form. (Dahl, Matilda 82)
As is evident in both of these examples, the Mentor sees something special in the hero(ine) that compels their teaching, protection and help. As a teacher in the strictest sense of the word, Miss Honey defines Frankel’s Mentor role, seeing both Matilda’s promise, and her ordeal, and helping the young heroine along the way to fulfill the former in order to overcome the latter.
The next stage, both Campbell (69) and Frankel (749) call The Crossing of the First Threshold. This is when the hero(ine) makes the choice to set out on the adventure, having been prepared by the Mentor for the ordeals ahead.
According to Campbell, for the hero, “beyond [the First Threshold]… is darkness, the unknown, and danger…” (Campbell 69) This crossing over is highly symbolic of the human condition of fighting against the self-preservation instinct in order to grow and become more than we are. Crossing the threshold is the first real, conscious step towards becoming a true hero(ine) in every sense of the word. Where most people – and characters – are happy to stay where they are and live passive, safe lives, the hero(ine) feels a call they cannot fight any longer – the call of destiny. An example of this Crossing for the hero in children’s myth can be found in Will’s first adventure into the world of the deep past in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising:
There was total silence. As deep and timeless as the blanketing snow; the house and everyone in it lay in a sleep that would not be broken.
Will… went out of the backdoor, closing it quietly behind him, and stood looking out through the quick white vapor of his breath.
The strange white world lay stroked by silence… Will set off … without looking back over his shoulder, because he knew that when he looked, he would find that the house was gone. (Cooper 22)
Here, Will takes the initiative to leave his house — the only recognizable thing left in his world — to venture out into the unknown because he knows it is what he must do. Directly opposite of Edmund’s Refusal, Will’s Crossing is an acceptance of his place in the story as the hero. And though he knows he will lose everything he has held dear in the most literal way as his house and family disappear behind him, he chooses to take the necessary steps nonetheless, thus beginning his Adventure and, in the end, the salvation of all mankind.
Frankel describes the heroine’s Crossing as “… where the heroine grows into her hidden powers and discovers the mermaid or enchantress she is waiting to become.” (Frankel 784) An example of this powerful Crossing for the heroine in children’s myth can be found in Kat’s water-dive Morgan Marshall’s Song of Spirit:
Posiedon’s gaze had broken the rest of Kat’s already weak self-control. As her siblings watched in shock and confusion, the girl ran to the edge of the boat and dove into the ocean, fully clothed. She emerged within a moment and paddled hard to where the god bobbed, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his weedy cheek. (Marshall 63)
Not long after this scene, Kat literally turns into a mermaid, fulfilling her place as the Water-Born heroine who will go on to save the world. Quite literally, as she chooses to dive into the water and leave her family behind, Kat grows into her hidden powers, just as Frankel wrote in her theory.
The next step in the hero(ine)’s journey Campbell calls The Road of Trials (82), while Frankel names it Allies and Enemies (863). A conglomeration of this step for both hero and heroine would describe it as the place where the hero(ine) meets new friends, learns of his/her enemies, and adventures around the new World wherein he/she has found themselves, touching on small but significant quests and trials. In this step, the myth deepens for both hero(ine) and reader, as they get to know the adventure as it unfolds.
Campbell describes this Road of Trials for the hero as “…a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.” (Campbell 82) An example of this masculine Road can be found in the monsters and friends whom Prince Petit Jean encounters in Canada’s myth The Golden Phoenix by Marius Barbeau, as retold by Michael Hornyansky:
In the middle of the cavern stood a fierce beast… When it saw him it bellowed… “You may not pass!” (Hornyansky 281-282)
Along with this first fierce beast that calls itself a unicorn, Petit Jean also meets a Great Lion and a three-headed Serpent, all of whom he must defeat in order to pass into the Sultan’s country and fulfill his quest. With each successive trial, the hero must test his powers of stealth, swordfighting and intelligence in that order, proving himself as a hero. It is only when this is accomplished that he is finally given passage to fulfill his heroic duty.
In her description of Allies and Enemies for the heroine, Frankel states that Allies are, “…a part of the heroine, the unconscious voices that creep forward to help, to comfort, when the task is too hard” (Frankel 893), while Enemies are described as “…twisted voices of the unconscious” (Frankel 910). Though Campbell includes both characters and situations in his Road of Trials, Frankel’s Allies and Enemies are situation-and-character in one. To Frankel, both Allies and Enemies are unconscious voices for the heroine, metaphorical representations of her own powers and weaknesses. Thus, for this reason the characters are the situational trials for the heroine, as she must use her heroine powers and defeat her inner demons metaphorically and physically all at once. An example of this duality of trial and character for the heroine in children’s myth can be found in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz:
“What shall we do now?” said Dorothy sadly.
“There is only one thing we can do,” retuned the Lion, “and that is to go to the land of the Winkies, seek out the Wicked Witch, and destroy her.”
“But suppose we cannot?” said the girl.
“Then I shall never have courage,” declared the Lion.
“And I shall never have brains,” added the Scarecrow.
“And I shall never have a heart,” spoke the Tin Woodsman. (Baum 105-106)
This scene directly follows a much longer one in which the Wizard of Oz calls each character into his hall separately, appearing in a different guise each time. To each request that is made, the Wizard gives the same charge: destroy the Wicked Witch. The only difference is that, while the Wizard specifically charges Dorothy with the quest, he tells the others only to help her. Thus, the quest is, ultimately, Dorothy’s and Dorothy’s alone. As Frankel’s theory illuminates, Dorothy’s friends are metaphorical manifestations of her own heroic powers of heart, mind and courage, which she must take along with her to defeat the evil Witch. As for the Witch:
… the Wicked Witch laughed to herself, and thought, “I can still make her my slave, for she does not know how to use her power.” (Baum 118-119
As Frankel stated in her theory, the Wicked Witch represents Dorothy’s self-doubt. The doubt of her power — the innocence of who she truly is — is Dorothy’s weakness, and one that the Witch intends to use against her. But in the end, with the power she has found in her friends and thus in herself, Dorothy emerges the victorious heroine, defeating the Witch (her own self-doubt), by finding and using her courage, her brains, and her heart.
Here Campbell and Frankel part ways even more, with Campbell’s next steps titled The Meeting with the Goddess (Campbell 88), Woman as the Temptress (93), Atonement with the Father (96), and Apotheosis (climax) (107), while Frankel’s are Taming the Beast: The Shapechanger as Lover (981), Unholy Marriage: Confronting the Father (1166), The Deepest Crime: Abuse and Healing (1297), With This Ring: Sacred Marriage (1455), and Of Carpets and Slippers: Flight and Return (2051). For the sake of clarity and concision, I will discuss these steps together for each theory, first hero then heroine.
In his steps, Campbell concentrates on the culmination of the hero’s quest as a whole, starting with the goddess, working through the hero’s inner and outer rivalries, and ending with the epoch of the story, wherein the hero finds his inner power and defeats the evil he has sought throughout.
To Campbell, the goddess-image is “… mother, sister, mistress, bride… the bliss that once was known [that] will be known again; the comforting, the nourishing, the ‘good’…” (Campbell 88) To Campbell, the feminine is the prize that the hero wins, as well as the temptation of the ages. She stands for peace and war, prosperity and want, warmth and cold, life and death, often in-tandem. For a child’s myth, this feminine most often takes the literal form of the mother or, as in Roald Dahl’s The Witches, a grandmother:
“At half-passed seven,” [Grandma] said, “I shall go down to the Dining-Room for supper with you in my hand bag. I shall release you under the table together with the precious bottle [of mouse-maker poison] and from then you’ll be on your own. You will have to work your way unseen across the Dining-Room to the door that leads to the kitchens…” (Dahl, Witches 156 – 157)
While the young hero in Dahl’s tale of witches and mice does not technically rescue his grandmother from direct harm, she is the one who tells him of the evil witches in the first place, gives him the information that he needs to destroy them, and charges him with that very quest. It is by her and for her that he does what is needed to rid England of witches for good, accepting the price he pays in doing so, all for the love and acceptance of the grandmotherly goddess:
“My darling,” [Grandma] said at last, “are you sure you don’t mind being a mouse for the rest of your life?”
“I don’t mind at all,” I said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.” (Dahl, Witches 197)
Campbell goes on to explain the role of the masculine Other in the hero’s journey who represents the father — both protector and rival — with whom the hero must come to a peace in order to win the day: “The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being… He beholds the face of the father, understands —and the two are atoned.” (Campbell 105) To Campbell, the Father is a direct representation of God, who is father of all humanity. First the hero defies the Father – God – because he wants to be more powerful: the true hero without the need of any outside, powerful help, especially from his rival-father. But even as the hero learns to embrace his power, he also must embrace his humility, and come to the Father as a student instead of a rival, thus finally understanding the importance of humble acceptance of the Father’s teaching and help. This atonement most often results in the son-hero’s transcendence beyond the Father, which he has wished for all along, but only by using the Father’s wisdom and guidance can this transcendence take place. An example of this father-son rivalry in children’s myth can be found in Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain:
‘No. He was wounded in that first volley. He got it pretty bad.’
‘You mean very bad, don’t you?’
‘I see,” but Johnny saw nothing. The fresh spring world turned black before him, but even in this darkness he could still see Rab, chin up, shoulders squared – not afraid.
‘Where?…’ he asked.
… ‘Rab played a man’s part. Look that you do the same.’
‘I will.’ He knew the Doctor meant that he wasn’t to cry or take on. He’d got to take it quietly. (Forbes 248-249)
During the majority of Johnny Tremain, Johnny fights between respect for and jealousy of his friend Rab who is older, stronger and, most importantly to Johnny, not crippled as he himself is. When the Revolutionary War breaks out, Rab joins the army to fight for America, and Johnny is left to do what he can to help as a civilian, as his crippled hand makes it impossible for him to fire a weapon. Johnny must find his own courage and strength by learning from Rab’s experiences, what it means to be a true soldier, both physically and mentally:
Rab lay with his eyes shut for a little while, remembering other things – things perhaps Johnny did not share… ‘Colonel Nesbit… remember. And he told me, “Go buy a popgun, boy.” Well… a popgun would have done me just as well in the end.” This idea fretted him a little. Doctor Warren wet a cloth in a basin of water and wiped his bloody mouth. (Forbes 250)
It is in Rab’s literal death that Johnny finally understands the raw, serious terror of war. And it is not until this understanding that Doctor Warren realizes that he can fix Johnny’s hand so he, too, can serve in the war as he has always wanted. (Forbes 254-255) But when the time comes for Johnny to serve, he does not go into it as an excited youth as Rab did (Forbes 208). Rather, he learns from the Father what it means to be humble. He does not go to war expecting to be a hero, only expecting to do his part in fear and humility, which is what makes him a true hero in the end.
For the heroine’s part, Frankel sees being feminine — being the goddess — as a trial in and of itself. The heroine’s fight is similar to the hero’s, but her goal is often very different. The hero wants to restore peace to his world, and that peace is personified in the feminine, while the heroine wants peace within herself, and that peace is embodied not in the masculine, but in her own ability to control her life and her destiny. An example of this peace-finding within in children’s myth can be seen in Katniss’ many-tiered trials in the arena in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games:
The swelling. The pain. The ooze. Watching Glimmer twitching to death on the ground. It’s a lot to handle before the sun even clears the horizon. (Collins 191)
In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen finds herself entirely without power, forced to fight and kill by her far more dominant government just to survive another day. Directly paralleling Frankel’s theory, Katniss spends the trilogy of Collins’ books fighting for that power over herself and her life, not to give it to a man, but to have it for herself. Everything down to the choice of who she will marry is entirely in the hands of the Capitol, and it is Katniss’ quest to win the right to decide for herself what her life will be. In the end, she finds that power, making the decision for her whole world that neither of the current leaders is worthy of them, as well as deciding that she does not want to be that leader, either. Instead, she chooses to marry the man whom the Capitol would have chosen — not for their sake but in spite of them — and to settle down in her home, taking her prize — her own personal power over her life — and leaving the major power to those she has allowed to live who may want it.
For the hero, the Father and he are one, and he must embrace that fact or perish. For the heroine, according to Frankel, the Mother is all this and more, as she is, “… the shadow cast by the conscious mind of the individual contain[ing] the hidden, repressed, and unfavorable (or nefarious) aspects of the personality.” (Frankel 1798) Still, this unfavorable shadow must be accepted by the heroine and embraced, just as the Father must be embraced by the hero, because “…as the dark mother or witch-queen is the heroine’s shadow, the daughter also represents the shadow for the mother – her flaws and unfulfilled desires made manifest. In her battle to achieve a higher consciousness, the heroine pits herself against this shadow, and must integrate it into the self.” (Frankel 1799-1801)
Yet along with this need to accept and integrate her dark self, the heroine must also defy the temptation to become evil, and find a way to come out of this transformation not only powerful, but whole and good. In her description of this transformation, Frankel cites four steps which she calls Facing the Self, (Frankel 1606) which are deeply emotional and personal for the heroine. They are called, in order, The Endless Summons: Descent into Darkness, (1606) I’ll Get you, my Pretty: Confronting the Deadly Mother, (1752) Ceasefire with the Self: Healing the Wounded Shadow, (1872) and The Elixir of Life: Reward. (1995) Though Campbell does have a separate step for the Reward, this is an inner, emotional prize for Frankel, who also cites another final reward step for the physical, discussed later in this paper. By creating specific steps for the emotional, Frankel outlines how the heroine battles inwardly and outwardly often in two different arenas, while the hero, whom Campbell reflects in his meeting of the physical and emotional as one within his steps, battles all things, inside and outside, at the same time. One example in children’s myth of this dual struggle with the heroine’s mother-shadow self can be found in the central theme of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline:
“You’re sick,” said Coraline. “Sick and evil and weird.”
“Is that any way to talk to your mother?” her other mother asked, with her mouth full of blackbeetles.
“You aren’t my mother,” said Coraline. (Gaiman 78)
In the beginning of Coraline, the young heroine struggles against her real mother who seems at once overly controlling and neglectful to her daughter, who herself is willful and independent. Coraline sees in her real mother both a rival and a mentor, embracing the former even as she denies the latter:
“Coraline? Oh, there you are. Where on earth were you?”
“I was kidnapped by aliens,” said Coraline…
“Yes, dear. Now, I think you could do with some more hair clips, don’t you?”
“Well, let’s say half a dozen, to be on the safe side,” said her mother.
Coraline didn’t say anything. (Gaiman 24)
It is not until she must confront her personal shadow in the form of the Other Mother that Coraline learns to respect her real mother, and embrace her love and lessons. By defying the fake love and attention that the Other Mother bestows on her, Coraline learns what motherly love really means, while at the same time she embraces her own dark shadow within the Other Mother, fighting the witch-woman with her own weapons of guile, cunning, and gameplay:
… “You like games,” [Coraline] said. “That’s what I’ve been told.”
The other mother’s black eyes flashed. “Everybody likes games,” was all she said. (Gaiman 91)
In the end, Coraline comes out of her ordeal of Finding the Self to both embrace the imperfect but true love of her real mother, and find her own power to overcome the darkness within, thus emerging as a true heroine.
In the next step, Campbell and Frankel again merge, with Campbell’s step titled The Ultimate Boon, (117) and Frankel’s titled Forever Cycling: Rebirth. (2166) Both steps describe the ultimate success of the hero(ine), often taking the form of a kind of talisman or magic weapon.
For Cambell, the hero’s Ultimate Boon “…is simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case.” (Campbell 125) This symbol, Campbell goes on to explain, is most often not what the hero expected, but is always what the hero needs to save the day. The Boon can be a physical thing, and often is, but that physical thing always represents the deep resonance of the hero’s true victory, and accepting this unexpected — and often unwanted — Boon is the hero’s final test: “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth.” (Campbell 126) After fighting through all his obstacles, beating the odds and winning the day, can the hero accept the fact that all he has fought for might not be exactly what he expected? And in doing that, can he then find the way to use the Boon to restore the peace and prosperity of his world? This is the trial of the Ultimate Boon that Campbell describes. An example of the hero’s Ultimate Boon in children’s myth can be seen in Taran’s acceptance of the reality of war in Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron:
“It is strange”, [Taran] said at last. “I had longed to enter the world of men. Now I see it filled with sorrow, with cruelty and treachery, and with those who would destroy all around them.”
“Yet, enter it you must,” Gwydion answered, “for it is a destiny laid on each of us…
Taran nodded. “I see now the price I paid was the least of all, for the brooch was never truly mine. I wore it, but it was no part of me… [but] at least I knew, for a little while… what it must be like to be a hero.” (Alexander 228)
Taran begins his quest with a very specific goal in mind: to become a man and a hero. To Taran, his Ultimate Boon is glory and respect. Gifted a magic brooch by the bard-warrior Adaon upon his own death, Taran uses it to lead a group of great warriors towards defeating the evil Arwan, and soon he sees the brooch as a shining symbol of the Ultimate Boon he seeks. But in the end Taran must give the brooch up in order to gain the Black Cauldron of Arwan and destroy it, thus destroying Arwan’s ability to amass an unstoppable army of undead. In this way, Taran learns the true Boon of becoming a wise and humble hero, by giving up the very symbol of the glorious Boon he expected:
“… your sacrifice was all the more difficult,” Gwydion said. “You chose to be a hero not through enchantment but through your own manhood.” (Alexander 228)
As Campbell stated, the Boon is not what Taran expected, but it was what he needed most.
Frankel describes her Forever Cycling: Rebirth step thusly: “To achieve the greatest success, the heroine becomes a ‘goddess’ herself. In this way she achieves enormous power and becomes a guardian for the next generation.” (Frankel 2216) For the heroine, the Ultimate Boon is the ability to nurture, teach, and protect the next generation using what she has learned through her own trials. She becomes a goddess who has helped her before, forever transcending the boundaries that she has broken and paving the way for the next generation to do even more. One example of this Rebirth into goddess-hood in children’s myth can be found in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden:
On the grass near the tree Mary had dropped her trowel. Colin stretched out his hand and took it up. An odd expression came into his face and he began to scratch at the earth. His thin hand was weak enough but presently as they watched him—Mary with quite breathless interest—he drove the end of the trowel into the soil and turned it over.
“You can do it! You can do it!” said Mary… (Burnett 255)
Mary Lennox, having begun the story as a sour, selfish, and altogether disagreeable little girl who has just lost her parents to a plague, transforms through her adventures into a literal nurturer, helping the secret garden return from death, and Colin return from the brink of it, resulting in her uncle’s rebirth as well when he learns of his son’s miraculous recovery. In this transformation, Mary becomes Gaia, the goddess of nature, and thus finds her own magic Boon in the end:
“When Mary found this garden it looked quite dead,” the orator proceeded. “Then something began bushing things up out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren’t there and another they were… I don’t know its name so I call it Magic.” (Burnett 207)
Finally, there is the final step. Frankel calls hers Apotheosis: Mistress of Both Worlds. (Frankel 2274) Campbell, however, splits his into five final steps, under the simple title of “Return”. (Campbell 127) These steps are titled Refusal of the Return (127), The Magic Flight (133), Rescue from Without (138), The Crossing of the Return Threshold (142), Master of the Two Worlds (148), and Freedom to Live. (152) (It should be noted here that both Campbell and Frankel split all of their steps into chapters and sub-chapters throughout their theories. However, for the sake of clarity between their theories, I have taken special note of it, here.) In these chapters, both Frankel and Campbell stress the importance of the bringing of the Boon into the world for the greater good of all. There is also an emphasis on duality for both hero and heroine.
Campbell’s hero is the master of “…the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back…” (Campbell 212) A true hero, to Campbell, is one who can straddle both the secrets of the cosmos and the simplicity of mortal life. “The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is.” (Campbell 154) An example of Campbell’s “champion of all things becoming” in children’s mythology can be found in E. B White’s The Trumpet of the Swan:
“On the pond where the swans were, Louis put his trumpet away. The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings. Darkness settles on woods and fields and marsh. A loon called its wild night cry. As Louis relaxed and prepared for sleep, all his thoughts were of how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day. (White 251-252)
After all his adventures, Louis is now finally able to reap the rewards of a peaceful, happy life with his beautiful mate Serena, which is his mastery of “the casual deep”. But entwined within that mortal life is his newfound understanding of the deep importance of that peace. He has overcome great obstacles to win it, and he will never be the same, having won, as well, the wisdom of the cosmos in his deeper understanding of life than that of his fellow swans. He is the hero of things becoming… the life he is now building with his beloved.
Frankel’s heroine, too, straddles two worlds, that of her physical waking life, and that of the immortal goddess, holder of the keys to death and rebirth: “The Mistress of both worlds comprehends the delicate balance between innocence and experience, death and life.” (Frankel 2343-2344) As the new goddess-mother, the victorious heroine can never fully return to her mortal life, and thus will forever straddle who she was and who she is, at once handing guidance and strength to the innocents who come after her, and forever learning the wisdom of the ages from the universe to which she has given herself. An example of Frankel’s duality Mistress in children’s myth can be found in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:
“So,” said Peter, “night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”
“Don’t try to stop me, Peter,” said Lucy. “I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia.” (Lewis, Battle 198)
While everyone else is excited for the new, rebirthed Narnia, and all the adventures and wonder it promises, Lucy alone mourns for the old Narnia. She, too, is excited and happy for the future, but she also lives in the death of the past, forever straddling light and dark, innocence and understanding. As the rebirthed goddess, Lucy will always remember the wise yet dark lessons of her past, even as she basks in “… the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (Lewis, Battle 228)
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