THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2002)
In times of stress and amidst life’s struggles we can often look within to our dreams for a unique or illuminating perspective on our situation. On a collective level the myths of a people help put their experiences of life into perspective. Stories can help illuminate circumstances or at least offer a fresh outlook on them. Thus following the enormous tragedy of September, in a meaningful and timely way, two mythological/fantasy films came to theatres in November and December as if to help speak symbolically to the events that had assaulted us at summer’s end.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring both drew blockbuster audiences by displaying imaginative dramas that originally came to us in written form. At the core of both stories we find the heroic struggle and encounter with an essentially unimaginable evil that would take over the world, and that many people would prefer to deny and avoid. These stories offer mythic images portraying the power of such demonic energies to possess, the enormous human effort required not to be overcome by them, and the search for ways to diminish their power and influence.
What we see in these stories is that the truest hero is also an unlikely one--unassuming, and even innocent. Harry Potter has no clue as to his truest identity or self, and not until his eleventh birthday does he begin to enter a world completely different from the one he has known, but one in which he is far more at home. Nor is he at all aware that within this magical and imaginative world he is already famous, for at age one he survived a direct attack of the dark wizard who had just killed his parents. Harry thus can be seen as the ultimate “survivor,” and his story that of a youth growing through the turbulence of adolescence into maturity.
Like Harry, Frodo Baggins of the Shire in Middle Earth is naïve and innocent. Unlike Harry who suffered at the hands of the Dursley’s during his early years following the deaths of his parents, Frodo’s life in the pastoral setting of the Shire was peaceful and serene. Only later does he come to feel the enormous burden of being the “ring bearer,” a responsibility inadvertently passed onto him through the early adventures of a beloved uncle. Frodo’s destiny has a more far-reaching significance for the fate of Middle Earth than anyone could have imagined, even the most intuitive members of this world. When Frodo comes to lament the burden he carries and wishes the ring had never come to him, the wizard Gandalf offers words that speak to him, to Harry Potter, and to all of us: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Both Harry and Frodo are destined to learn to attain the right relationship to an object—the Sorcerer’s Stone and the one Ring—which in the wrong hands can be used for power and destruction. In both stories such an object is best destroyed rather than possessed. The most unique quality of each of these characters is that they are both far less likely to try to possess this mysterious and powerful object than most others. It is a responsibility best given to them than even the wise, for it seems they are most likely to be who they truly are; not more, but not less. They answer the call to individuation and their own uniqueness, and are not thrown off by the forces of darkness.
Editor: Steve Galipeau