The origins of Robin Hood (or, “Robin Wood”) are buried in the imaginal of the medieval ancestors’ dreams. His colors are green and gold, the heraldry of the forest. Some have said that he is a collective memory of the The Green Man, or Pan, returning to the people in the midnight of the middle ages when they needed him most. His role was to be a Trickster for the beaten soul of England. Trickster is the archetype who mocks the King and gets away laughing. It’s a serious and necessary power in every culture that shows itself in various ways.
I’m especially fond of Robin Hood in T. H White’s The Sword in the Stone, the first volume of The Once and Future King. Young King Arthur, before he knows he is a king, goes pouncing out on adventures with Merlin, getting turned into the animal people, the better to get himself “eddicated” about humane lordship, by Merlin’s benevolent devising. One day he goes into the forest. He meets Little John, who is a giant, and Little John tells a tale about the Lord of the Forest…
“Aye, Robin ‘ood. What else should un be, seein’ as he rules ’em. They’m free pleaces, the ‘oods, and fine pleaces. Let thee sleep in ’em, come summer, come winter, and hunt in ’em for thy commons lest thee starve; and smell to ’em as they brings forward their comely bright leaves, according to order, or loses of ’em by the same order back’ards: let thee stand in ’em that thou be’st not seen, and move in “em that thou be’st not heard, and warm thee with ’em as thou fall’st on sleep—ah, they’m proper fine pleaces, the ‘oods, for a free man of hands and heart.”
Robin Hood was probably not a singular man, but a conglomeration of many medieval bandits, dissenters, peasants and folk at the age of society assuming the collective name in their adventures against authority. T.H White’s words ally Sir Robin with the soul of the forest itself, an embodied face of an older, unconquerable wildness. Regardless of whether Robin Hood ever literally existed, what matters is that the English-speaking world has so passionately claimed this figure as a deep mythological symbol of the untamed soul still present in the heart of Western art and mythology. That is what makes him emotionally and enduringly relevant.
White, T. H. The Once and Future King. New York: Putnam, 1958. Print.
Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday wrote The Way to Rainy Mountain in 1969 as an offering of love to his ancestors and living relations, the Kiowa people. The Kiowa live in what is now Oklahoma, though their ancient origins are in the Montana region. Momaday’s relationship with his land, the land of North America as he intimately experiences it, is rooted in the human being’s instinctual identity in place and peoplehood, a vital experience now forgotten among many contemporary Americans.
Rainy Mountain is located northwest of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. The Kiowa people came to this region after encountering conflict with the United States Cavalry, who eventually forced the Kiowa into Oklahoma during the tumultuous 1860s, though migration began as early as the latter 18th century (the 1700s).
Momaday returns to Rainy Mountain as one returns to a home that is longed for, searching to understand his and his community’s storied places with maturing devotion to people and place in a new era for Indigenous communities. It is a journey that is a pilgrimage to his honored grandmother, now an ancestor who sleeps in the earth. Through finding her grave, his visitation here is also a way back to his people, the Kiowa, searching for their sacred story as told through their own lives in the language of landscape.
The next morning I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain. It was already hot, and the grasshoppers began to fill the air. Still, it was early in the morning, and the birds sang out of the shadows. The long yellow grass on the mountain shone in the bright light, and a scissortail hied above the land. There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother’s grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.
This piece was originally posted online as an answer I wrote in response to a student question on enotes.com
“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“And where are the fancy ideas about Western vanity now, the arrogance of persons and the limits of individualism?
Be careful how fast you dispose of the individual self and its pretensions. If the self is no longer inviolable, evil will violate it. And who will there be to judge that this is wrong?
I remain a child of the West, and a grateful one…. This small self is the gift, and burden, I have, and am. It is the self who goes out into the world to see how the others live. It is the same self who calls murder, murder.”
–Todd Gitlin, A Skull In Varanasi, A Head in Baghdad
“Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth, and I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own, and I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own, and that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers, and that a kelson of the creation is love, and limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields, and brown ants in the little wells beneath them…”
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
There are several interesting topics about math in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.“The Tesseract” is about space-time travel, and is often represented as a cube inside a cube that can twist and rotate upon itself. Another way of envisioning it is as a wormhole, perhaps not unlike the one so beautifully and imaginatively seen in the movie Contact. In the book, L’Engle uses illustrations of an ant walking on a piece of string from Point A to Point B. When the hands holding the string bring the ends together, the ant is able to walk immediately across from A to B without traveling the whole length of the string. This is representative of the warping of space itself.
“The black thing” is L’Engle’s personification of moral evil in the universe, also called “IT”. There is a curious overlap with the idea of dark matter. While dark matter is not a moral evil itself, we wonder if it’s mystery and immense power could be manipulated for such should humans ever come to have such control over the cosmos.
The book’s old witches, archangels in disguise, are Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which. They teach the children, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, about the 5th dimension and how it is the best way for incorporeal spirits to travel. This is related to the Tesseract. The children get to feel what it is like to be briefly squashed into a two-dimensional world; this is how they can comprehend what it is like to be a 5th (or more) dimensional creature trying to interact with 3rd dimensional creatures like us.
Weare, Jessica. “A Wrinkle in Time.” A Wrinkle in Time. Brown University Mathematics, 4 Dec. 1998. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
Weisstein, Eric W. “Tesseract.” Wolfram MathWorld. Wolfram Research, Inc., 1999-2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
The differences amongst genres are mainly about what we are trying to say or do with our writing. I have always felt that what one actually writes about is more important than any particular style, or the much-lauded fact that we are being writers by putting words together. Among the creative genres of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting, I perceive a kindred design: these are the genres of the tale which longs to be told.
Poetry is the primal language, the firstborn of these. It is the language that comes from below human words. It is the language of the heart, of the back of the mind where the grip of logic does not rule, nor fully comprehend. If the human mind was not so emotionally inclined, we might not see the fruition of all other forms of writing which, at the root, flow from here. For by the sheer force of will you may conjure up the words of a factual article, a rational thesis, a streamlined argument, but you cannot fake a poem. Undomesticated feeling comes first, from which everything else draws it’s source. I once heard it was said by C. S. Lewis that a thing is not what it is made of: the sun may be made of a spherical conglomeration of burning gas, but that does not define what the sun innately is in it’s ultimate purpose or essence. Poetry is much the same way. Poetry “is”, according to dictionary.com, “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”. Poetry is a flashing string of wild words shot through the woods of the unsuspecting heart. It’s very definition defies the stricture of definition -by definition! Poetry is first and fundamental to language and life.
Fiction is a fair child of poetry. As organization flourishes, the very best works of fiction emerge from the convergence of feeling and thought into a longer and more clearly expository entity which we call “story”. Fiction’s teasing links with dreams and fables on one hand, and this “real” world on another, create an important link between here and there, mundane and enchanted, lost and found. Fiction may use for it’s setting the tempestuous night of your dreamland or the tepid, daily hum of your suburban neighborhood to tell the tale. Through this organized yet unpredictably infinite source of material from which is draws, fiction is a vital link between the literary canon and the human need to chronicle.
Then comes nonfiction, the younger but more worldly progeny of language. Nonfiction’s wide-ranging versatility, enabling it to go far beyond the tender bosk of narrative and into the wind-battered plains of spear-sharp facts and weary conflict makes this beast a testy warrior. Strong and capable, respected, upheld by the powers of men in grey halls yet called upon by all for the light of proof in times of great debate, nonfiction is our more battered, yet not alien, friend. Still handsome, but with lines about his well-rubbed eyes by so many assemblies of armies calling on his abilities. He knows about the work of his sister, Fiction, who steps between worlds, though he can only speak of such. He may nod in loving reverence to his mother, Poetry, but is constantly warned to never become her, for he was destined to a different fate in the alphabet soup: one of explanation, and to be satisfied by it.
Screenwriting, taken what we know about the aforementioned genres, is then something of a metamorphosis arising from the characteristic pieces of the herd. A wholly different and radically contemporary body of work arises out of the ancient elements and floods its way into the land of vision. A film contains multitudes. Though the genre of screenwriting is radically new, appearing so recently in the 20th century with only the play preceding it, it is yet in another way very old. The best screenwriting takes us full circle, back to the original oral tradition at the root of all storytelling. But, you say, just how is film in any way similar to the oral tradition?! I hear you protest. It is similar because nobody needs to be taught how to watch a movie, like nobody needs to be taught how to listen to a very good story, provided you can understand the language. Whereas the written word relies on a complex cryptology of assembled visual symbols which only the trained eye can decipher, both movies and oral storytelling enthrall their audience through the immediacy and intimacy of sound and sight.
I have become interested in point-of-view when storytelling, the various voices and eyes an author may use. The aboriginal Poetry and the undulating Fiction genres lend themselves to first, second and third-person perspective with great versatility, but Nonfiction and Screenwriting are almost exclusively of the more discipled, more removed third-person omnipresent. When an author finds her voice she must see into and through the interlocking eyes of a story.
Image © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.
Two nights ago, Grandma and I read together Ursula K. Le Guin’s, “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” and last night we saw Life of Pi. I like both these stories!
Buffalo Gals was read to us in Anake, and I was so tired that week that I fell asleep in the middle of it. But what I did hear slipped into my dreams, and I wanted to go back and hear it again. The next day, Marcus said to not worry if we did not hear all of it, because maybe you weren’t ready to hear the whole thing.
Animal spirits are more clear to me now. I understand how completely alive animals are in their own right, whether wild or domestic. They feel love in their own way of being that isn’t dependent on our recognition of it.
“Eco” means “house”, and to animals, their habitat is their bedroom of life and dreams. Now there is a similar comfort of being at home in these wild places as I feel in my bedroom sanctuary, or my camping tent. And I understand now the human-animal way of true belonging in the world, safety in storms, the world itself the one great comforting tent. I wonder if the people of the Tanakh felt their desert tents were a traveling world-home, at home wherever they go with the wild God of the Original World.
Don Juan – death is over your shoulder in war & spirituality, be in the present moment.
Loss of ego and awareness of death. “Psycho-spiritual”. Kali- Hindu Dark Goddess who eats things (Sam’s tattoo).
Buddhism – demons guard the gates of heaven.
“Troparian” – a kind of Orthodox song
Zenia of Petersburg was a Holy Fool: she dressed in her dead husband’s clothes, a religious jester.
In modern war, you hardly ever see the enemy. 19-year olds are the best warriors because they lack self-awareness. Asking 19-year-olds to kill is asking them to play God. Ecstasy in war and in killing. Young soldiers struggle to integrate back because of what they have been through, like asking St John of the Cross to work at McDonald’s.
“Solipsistic” – writing gets us out of our isolated lives. We see through other peoples’ eyes. We can identify with characters that are unconscious within ourselves.
from Jung: “That which is unconscious is doomed to act in reality.”
Writing as spiritual discipline. Literature is how we move through this. Through writing we turn ghosts into ancestors. America’s media sex & violence comes from our repressed puritanical cultures.
There is a natural aggression given by God, and words will not save us from our attacker. Literature heals this.
We turn ghosts into ancestors through taking the ghost out of our hidden inner worlds and looking objectively at the fear. We externalize into the light. This is “the great work”. Be in this, the work of the spirit. This is the truest writing.
Commercial fiction is not about turning ghosts into ancestors. It is about entertainment. And that’s ok! But it is a totally different game than literature.
Good writing is one of the hardest things any human could undertake.
Karl’s Capuchin friend put on a mass for all Karl’s dead people he knew. It was literally a dark & stormy night. Karl saw the ghosts come into the church, even his grandparents. This is how he became Catholic.
Books: Matterhorn. What it is Like to Go to War.
image: Creative Commons CC0