Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Joining Frazer, Frye and Campbell’s Systems of Archetypes

Summary: Today it occurred to me that some of the fundamental archetypal models of literary and mythological scholars Sir James George Frazier, Northrop Frye, and Joseph Campbell seem like they can be appropriately united into a pretty tight whole. Some of Frye is derived from Frazer, but the way I see their work fit with Campbell is very interesting to me. I include a few elements I feel are relevant from Greg Stafford and Carl Jung.

This is a kind of map of how I see them fitting together. I know that normally the "seasons" of the styles aren't rolled together sequentially in a story but it seems appropriate in this context; it seems to fit in logically. I also know that there is rarely an intentional strict shift in mimetic level inside of a story, but it seems to happen naturally over the course of a story or series that the level of mimesis steadily rises or declines. Following this image is a description of the terms involved.

Frye’s Concepts

Mimesis: One of the things Frye does is divide works into at roughly what level of reality they or their characters operate at. Stories may have bleed-through to different levels but are only rarely all over the board.

Mythic: The Gods. Greek/Celtic/Norse/Indian myth. The Bible

Romantic: Superhumans. Harry Potter. Marvel.

High Mimetic: Maximally-excellent humans. Mission: Impossible. Horatius at the Gate.

Low Mimetic: Humans as we know them. Children of Men. High Fidelity.

Ironic: Humans that are actually worse than we know them. Dumb and Dumber. The Twits.

Frye divides each state of Mimesis into two modes, Comedy and Tragedy.

He defines Comedic works as involving the integration of the hero with society (or social principles), and Tragic works as involving the separation of the hero from society.

Works are often either basically tragic or basically comedic, but it's also common to cycle between them. His use of “Comedy” includes both humor and heroism, while “Tragedy” encompasses sad stories of loss and failure, bitter satire, and the sacrifices of heroes and gods. He associates stories of Comedy with stories that involve societal integration (leading your people to victory, finding your true love and getting married, breaking the bonds of tyranny to create a new way, a flawed but funny world navigated by a plucky child), and Tragedy with stories that involve separation from society or the principle of society (the journey to the underworld, a loss of faith, the death of the hero, descent into madness, divorce, the collapse of civilization, A Series of Unfortunate Events).

You can find a good description of the Comedic, Tragic and mimetic modes from the Wikipedia article on Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, a book which I've been reading.

Seasons as representing modes

This is derived from Frazer.

Spring: Comedy and the birth of the Hero

Summer: Romance and the life of the Hero

Fall: Tragedy and the death of the Hero

WInter: Irony and the absence of the Hero

Frazer’s Concepts

God-King: Heroic incarnation of the Dying and Resurrecting God. Marries a feminine earth goddess (the love interest).

Dying and Resurrecting God: Dies at the harvest (Autumn, the belly), resurrected at the Spring (the Climax/Final Battle). I associate the God’s death with the journey into the Abyss, and the resurrection in the Climax with the Elixir. Oftentimes in stories, heroes “die” temporarily when they are making their greatest discovery, or are in their most important moment. I also associate such a death with an increase in the level of mimesis of a story (not necessarily the case, but that’s my association); often death associated with the increase of a character with superpowers into being a divine figure (Gandalf [Romantic->Mythic], Obi-Wan [Romantic->Mythic], Neo [Low Mimetic before he joins the Nebuchadnezzar, then High Mimetic->Romantic with his first death, and Romantic->Mythic with his final death. These are deaths that Frye would call Comedic because they involve the integration of a hero with his cause or society; Tony Stark’s death would be Tragic, by comparison, because he makes a sacrifice but doesn’t return).

Jung’s Concepts

There’s an idea, I can’t remember if it was from Jung or Neumann but whatever, that in mythology the Trickster as a heroic mode precedes the Hero; the scamp, the fool/jester, the picaresque, the hobbit, the thief. In point of fact the Trickster is often a selfish character who gets what he wants, hoodwinking people and impregnating women in impossible ways, but only begrudgingly acting for the benefit of others; hence once the hero evolves, the trickster may become a villain (Loki’s betrayal during Ragnarok; Gollum’s ultimate betrayal), or the trickster may become a hero or at least integrate with the social order (Simplicius Simplicissimus, Odysseus, Merry and Pippin, maybe Doctor Who, maybe Aladdin).

Stories often begin with the hero not having a lot of striking/staying power, having to rely on hiding, setting little traps and running away. Along the way they get some steel in their fists and backbones. That may be associated with this trope.

Campbell’s Concepts

The Hero's Journey

An abbreviated sequence of events:

Walled Garden: The Known place that the Hero has to leave to have an adventure. The Shire, the Moisture Farm, the Dursleys’. 

Call to Adventure: Gandalf arrives, moisture farm massacre, owl post. The unknown intrudes, or tyranny becomes apparent. It becomes apparent that something must be done, or that the hero will have to leave.

Crossing of the Threshold: The Prancing Pony, entering Mos Eisley, Diagon Alley/Platform 9¾. The hero leaves the world of the known. He is guided by a wise ally.

The Road of Challenges: Gonna stick to Star Wars so I don’t have to read wikis. Escape from Mos Eisley. There are many dangers, and Companions may be acquired.

The Belly of the Whale: The Death Star. The hero is now fully plunged into the unknown, making harsh but revelatory discoveries.

The Approach to the Innermost Cave: Prison block shootout. The hero prepares (willingly or not, wittingly or not) to enter the darkest, and harshest point in his journey; also, where he will find what he most needs.

The Abyss: Trash compactor. This is the hero’s greatest challenge; a bleak moment when all hangs in the balance, and all may seem to be lost.

The Elixir Theft: Death Star plans. From the jaws of defeat, from the most difficult, dangerous, disheartening and disgusting situation possible, the hero gets what he’s after (or what he needs; perhaps he wasn’t seeking it).

The Flight: Running gunbattle to the Falcon while Obi-Wan fights Vader, escape. A mad dash to escape the enemy, or a journey to the surface.

The Climax: Battle of Yavin. A final struggle or setpiece before the Elixir can be returned to society.

The Return and Reintegration: The Throne Room. The hero benefits himself and society with whatever he’s found, and is reintegrated.

The Prince: The main character; the explorer, the knight, the spy, the Buddha. The one who enters the unknown, transforms (himself and it), and then returns to society with a precious gift.

The Father: A divine principle; something more powerful than the main character, whom the main character achieves some kind of unity or atonement with. Can be a unification/acceptance with your actual father, or society, or God, or some kind of value structure. 

The Goddess: Can be a lover, an Athena figure like Queen Amidala or Princess Leia, or a divine Lady of the Lake/Galadriel figure. A challenger and nurturer; the hero can find wholeness or understanding with her in a union or sacred marriage. It is very common for heroes and heroines to save one another by having complementary qualities or abilities.

Apotheosis: The point at which the hero has learned and struggled enough, and either discovers or is granted special powers as a result of his efforts or destiny.

Stafford’s Concepts

Sacred Time. This is a really cool idea about the point in the year where winter breaks and there are still snowdrifts and storms, but spring is dawning. In Glorantha, this is a time for worshiping the gods, refreshing the world, and replenishing your tribe’s magic; war and other earthly activities are suspended. This characterization agrees with me on a psychological level, and I associate it with the breaking of the Abyss and the Elixir Theft, and with Christmas.

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