Tag Archives: Wizard of Oz

Was Barry Taylor Just a Bush (Gourd? Calabash?) in the Desert? A Whale of a Tale (about Jail) and The Delphi Method at All Saints Church….

Jonah’s bush or gourd was a gift from God to which Jonah had no right—he had not labored for it, it just appeared and was gone.  Just like Barry Taylor in the lives of the AS2 Congregation… Are human relations in Church of no more value than that bush or gourd? Must we really accept the arbitrary and capricious sudden appearance and departure of others in our lives as a given? Should the Church promote such acceptance of the shallowness of the social order, especially a small Church like All Saints, Beverly Hills?

The Bible has some curious small corners, hard to interpret and harder to relate to real life, and one of them is the book of Jonah. Last Sunday in Church, the first reading (before the Psalm and Gospel) at All Saints in Beverly Hills was from that curious corner.  As of September 21, the last Sunday of Summertime…  many at all Saints were still reeling from the sudden resignation of the Reverend Barry Taylor.   The 11:30 AS2 time slot was organized into a “Delphi Style” organization of small study groups… with “group leaders” handling 4-6 people in small groups to make sure that individual views were isolated and prevented from forming a coalition.  Yes, I know all about Delphi as a strategy for “creating the appearance of consensus” by preventing communication under the guise of facilitating it, and I was totally shocked to see this at All Saints in Beverly Hills, so I walked out rather than be part of the charade…..  I hate all “NWO” patterns of social manipulation, and this is just one of the most transparent classics. Churches faced with a crisis should meet as a Congregation….and like-minded folk that way can seek each other out.  This was something else entirely.

Anyhow, at the 10:00 (traditional) service, one of the junior associate rectors delivered a sermon on a theme that I can only call the fragility of social obligation and the acceptance of arbitrary fairness.  This is a problem in Christianity, and law and religion generally I think.

Nothing could be more arbitrary and capricious than God’s command to Jonah and Jonah’s unwilling acceptance and compliance and total frustration at the end.  

The famous part of this book’s story is that Jonah spends three days of incarceration (for “contempt of God?”) in “the belly of a fish”.  Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the Whale… even if you’ve just heard the song from George Gershwin’s jazz opera “Porgy and Bess” about it: “The Things that your liable to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so.”  

Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale,
Fo’ he made his home in
Dat fish’s abdomen.
Oh Jonah, he lived in de whale.

Attorney Clarence Darrow also famously cross-examined William Jennings Bryan on this point and other Biblical oddities like Joshua making the sun stand still while he besieged Jericho….at the infamous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Tennessee in the 1920s, when a school teacher was prosecuted for the truly outrageous crime of teaching the theory of evolution.  If you haven’t read about the Scopes Trial, you should at least find the movie “Inherit the Wind” (with Spencer Tracy as Darrow equivalent “Henry Drummond”—the names have been changed to protect the guilty) or else Henry Fonda’s monologue on the life of Clarence Darrow of Chicago…. [[[as for the founder of modern evolutionary theory… Charles Darwin’s father Robert, grandfather Erasmus, and in-laws (the family of the fine china artisan and manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood) were solid Church of England supporters…. and I myself have always wanted to reconcile Evolution and Theology….and in Barry Taylor I had found an ally in reconciling these seemingly far divergent lines of collateral evidence….]]]

Jonah 2:10 was, to my mind, solely included in the Bible as a test of anyone’s and everyone’s faith int he literal truth of the Bible….

“And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”  

I want to talk to the Reverend Barry Taylor about this….. whale business…..But few (if any) critics of the plausibility of a human remaining alive for three days in the digestive tract of a Whale, Killer Whale, or Shark… focus on the worse (but far more plausible) aspects of the story:  The Book of Jonah, like the story of the “Sacrifice by Holocaust” of Jephthah’s daughter in the Book of Judges, supports the notion that we must obey God’s express command’s unquestioningly, and without hope for Justice….  Jonah ultimately survives digestion by Whale and goes to Ninevah in compliance with the Lord God’s command… and preaches to the people and they repent… but Jonah is still not really satisfied…. he thinks it was a pointless exercise….which it may well have been.

Jonah was even worse than a Doubting Thomas—Jonah actually got ANGRY at God for making him go on this pointless, fruitless preaching expedition to Ninevah…  Jonah decided he wanted to die (and for all we know, he did, but the Book of Jonah as it has come down to us only has four chapters).  

In the King James Version, the Fourth Chapter of Jonah runs and the whole book ends as follows:

4      But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

2         And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

3           Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

4         Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?

5        So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

6        And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

7          But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

8        And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

9        And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

10        Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

11     And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

Apparently the cattle had the last word.  And this is apparently directly relevant to the fate of Barry Taylor and his AS2 Congregation.  Because the accompanying Gospel last Sunday was the almost equally arbitrary tale about “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”—when workers who come in late in the day, close to sunset in fact, get paid exactly as much as those who worked all day. The lesson of this parable, of course, is that there is only one salvation, and “good for one is good for all.”  You don’t automatically make “archangel” or anything else just because you are a cradle to grave Episcopalian, for instance….much to my eternal chagrin….and perhaps yours also, right?

So the bottom line on Sunday September 21, 2014, the Clergy at All Saints told us that Barry Taylor was just like the KJV Gourd or NRS Bush that God gave to Jonah outside of Ninevah.  We did not work for Barry Taylor so we were not entitled to him.  We have to accept God’s (and the Church’s) decisions about the fragility and uncertainty of life and social relations, and when people just disappear from our lives overnight—that’s par for the course and we should just be thankful, I guess, that we ever knew them at all.  

I remain unsatisfied both with the “Whale of a Tale” in the Book of Jonah (God Basically Put this VERY Minor Prophet Jonah in Jail for Three Days for Contempt…. but dressed the jail up as a merely Metaphoric Whale—that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it)….

I do not accept as legitimate the modern (or ancient) fragility of social relations, or that it is proper for the Church to contribute to the fragility of social relations and reliance on individuals.  Christ supposedly values us all as individuals, not just as a collection of nameless souls….. We, like Dorothy as played by Judy Garland in the 1939 movie version of the Wizard of Oz, have [in the larger society to which we belong] no choice but to accept that, “people come and go so quickly here.”   But in a Church like All Saints, a very small community in a very small corner of the very large City and County of Los Angeles, I think we are entitled to expect more stability and more accountability than we have gotten here….  

I think I will take time this weekend to reread Charles Darwin’s possibly least famous work, “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits.”  It seems the proper antidote for plant eating worm in Chapter Four the Book of Jonah (as the Junior Associate Rector said last summer, it must have been a very large worm…. parallel to the extremely large and extraordinary fish/shark/whale in Chapters 1-2).

Today Let us Give thanks: (1) for People with Bad Manners who Insult us for No Reason (closely related to 1A: for our own ability to insult them right back JUST because they insulted us first), (2) People who Do NOT Respect Authority of ANY kind, (3) Hate Speech and Subversive Speech, the most Valuable Kinds of Speech of All

Thanksgiving is not REALLY my favorite Holiday—more than anything else it celebrates the victory of Massachusetts Puritans over Virginia Cavaliers as the mythically historical “founders” of America.  Virginia was the first and greatest of all the British Colonies, but its formative role in the American Union was symbolically forfeited by its joining and ultimate leadership in “the Second American Revolution” of 1861….. which led to the imposition of Marxist Ideology from Illinois and Massachusetts…. and I myself joined in the ritual reification of those places through my own education (at Harvard GSAS and the University of Chicago Law School).  

Today, more than anything else, I want to give general thanks and honor for and to Politically Incorrect Hate Speech, and to give private thanks and honor to my sister-in-law Alexandra Kourembana whose gracious invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner in Austin I was unable to accept because I’m on my way to Hawaii…. 

I have often written on this blog about the importance of Hate Speech and of “Compassing the Death of the King” (which was a crime of subversion and sedition bordering on treason in Jolly Old England).    In essence, I have ONLY this to say: HATE SPEECH, SUBVERSIVE SPEECH, SEDITIOUS SPEECH AGAINST OUR FELLOW AMERICANS AND FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND ESPECIALLY AGAINST THE POWERS THAT BE—these are the most important kinds of speech, and the kinds of speech most needing in First Amendment Protection.   If a speech or written text doesn’t upset someone, it is not in need of any protection.  And any set of thoughts or images that doesn’t upset someone isn’t going to lead to any change in human behavior: social, cultural, political, religious or economic.

One of the lesser known Citizens of L. Frank Baum’s “Land of Oz” was a character, “The Patchwork Girl of Oz,” introduced long after the Wizard and Dorothy in a later book composed after 1900.  Her key line was “I HATE Dignity.”  She was a rebel and a model for all of us: she had no manners, and she NEVER would have respected the norms of Political Correctness.

In 1990 in Greece, I married a young lady for the second time, one Elena Kourembana, in Athens, Greece.  The whole summer was a bit of an ongoing wedding party and celebration, coordinate with a tour through only recently post-Communist Eastern Europe and a fellowship I held, and a related conference on Northern Maya (Yucatec) archaeology and history, at the University of Bonn in West Germany, all sponsored by Volkswagenwerk A.G., just after finishing my Ph.D. at Harvard.

One of the members of this ongoing wedding party was my wife’s beautiful sister-in-law Alexandra, then still a teenager, who was in her own way a bit of a “patchwork girl” and quite a rebel, really, with absolutely no respect for anybody at all.  

One of our expeditions that summer was to visit some cousins of my wife’s family in Greece, one of whom was the Mother Superior of the (Eastern [Greek] Orthodox] Convent of Saint Irene, which had been commissioned to burn some gigantic candles, of varying heights matched with my height and Elena’s, and to keep these candles burning throughout our lives (I have no idea what may have happened to these candles over the past 10 years since Elena and I effectively parted company for the last time).  

That experience, visiting the Greek Orthodox Convent of Saint Irene, was one of those memories for which I am not exactly “thankful”, although I will carry it to my grave, or actually, a series of memories I will carry to my grave.   For one thing, my wife’s cousin the mother superior was a rather unusual shape and size, in that her vows including abstaining from the consumption of meat, and she had been (I presume involuntarily) pledged to these vows from her childhood as a VERY little girl, and so she had spent her life eating sweets, which were all over the priory.   Needless to say, she was under 4 feet tall and exactly the same in circumference as height, but as the Mother Superior no one in her presence could ever have his or her head higher than the Mother Superior’s head.  This led to a series of thrones and daises, and a lot of bowing, genuflecting, and scraping.

So far as I could tell, no woman who ever entered the priory ever got out.  The sisters prided themselves that all the sisters stayed with the living throughout eternity, and they had a phenomenal collection of thousands of deceased sisters’ skulls pilled up or shelved row-on-row in various sacred precincts of the priory as proof of that point.   When we talk mortification of the flesh, we’re talking MORTIFICATION here with an emphasis on MORT (i.e. death….)

Clearly the mortification of the flesh was an important aspect and element of the “life” of the Sisters of the Convent of Saint Irene, and man was I mortified….. especially when my delightful sister-in-law was denied admission at the gate….

It seems that the high spirited Sister-in-Law Alex, an American born although bilingual Greek-American teenager who rather normally prided herself on her exceptional beauty and extraordinarily sexy appearance, could only be admitted if she covered herself up, more or less consistent with Sharia law….. and as it happened Alex was simply NOT in the mood to cover up her summer sundress-wearing self, (loose sundress with plunging neckline and exceeding short, i.e., high hem-lines), in any way that would have made her acceptable to the nuns of the Orthodox Convent of Saint Irene, never mind to her own blood cousin the Mother Superior.

Now, historically, Saint Irene was a rather dull gal, not one of the more heroic or inspiring of “All the Saints”, at least not in my opinion.  Irene was the sister of Pope Saint Damasus I (c. 304-384). She and her devout mother Laurentia are said to have often spent whole nights in the catacombs of Rome, keeping vigil in prayer beside the tombs of the martyrs. At the age of twenty, Irene consecrated her virginity by vow to Christ. When in 366 her brother was elected to the pontificate, one faction of the Roman clergy refused to recognize him, schismatically electing their own rival candidate and violently seizing the papal throne for their antipope, Ursinus. Irene ardently prayed for an end to the schism. A year later, the imposter Ursinus was expelled from Rome by the emperor Valentinian I. Pope Damasus wrote for his sister a book on consecrated virginity.  Following Irene’s death in 379, he buried her in a small church where he had interred their mother, and where he was later to be buried. The pope composed a loving epitaph for his sister, in which he testifies to her holiness and purity.

For some reason, perhaps because I just didn’t think much of the holiness of purity of Saint Irene as a reason for as much repression and suffering as I saw in this convent, I felt moved to spontaneously erupt in the middle of all this ghoulishly archaic pageantry and mortification of the flesh to advocate for Alex’s Freedom of Expression through Teenage Style.  I claimed a level of seniority and status in American law and society to which I was essentially not entitled, and lectured them about the freedom of the body and exposure of the flesh as the essence of our national heritage…..  

I have been told that arguing with me is not one of the most pleasant experiences in life, especially when it all has to be translated into Archaic Church Greek by the living who speak modern Greek….. but the Sisters ultimately gave up and I won the argument…. but as of today November 22, 2012, I give thanks that I dared to defy the traditions and authority of one of the creepiest places I have ever been to in the planet, and I praise all who defy tradition and engage in bad manners in similar situations to maintain their “Freedom of Choice” as to lifestyle and general choices of “style.”

In all my days as an archaeologist I have never seen more preserved skulls than were displayed at that convent….  My argument on that hot day in the summer (July of 1990) was entirely ad hoc and disrespectful in the extreme, I’m sure, but I neither regret it nor apologize for it, any more than I expected my sister-in-law Alex to apologize for or cover up her perfectly reasonable choice of dresses for touring through the Greek Countryside.

The choice of dress style is an expressive aspect of speech, philosophy, and thought which is fundamental to Western European and American Society.

The confrontation between the Western European and Islamic traditions is fundamentally a confrontation between individual freedom of expression and suppression, uniformity.  Sharia law is antithetical to the American Way, to the culture of Western Europe, and although its adherents may be entitled to freedom of Religion, as are the Sisters of Saint Irene entitled to behave and think in exactly the same way as the sisters did in the days of the Emperor Justinian.  Mediaeval women covered their bodies in this way even in Western Europe, as can be seen in tapestries, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts of the period, but time and styles change.

Confessions of a Lifelong-Heroine Addict….(oh well, since I was 6 or 8 I guess, probably not so much before that…)…from Dorothy Gale to Katniss Everdeen

The California Secretary of State having quite literally locked the doors to my running for Senate this year (at least in Tulare and Fresno Counties)—and the California Courts not seeming to offer a sufficient or accessible remedy—I now have time to indulge other (if related) obsessions my life, such as my sufferings from a lifetime of heroine addiction….  

Like almost every other aspect of my life, I blame my mother Alice and grandmother Helen almost equally….

It was my mother and father who, when I was very small, used to take me down by the Thames in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament and show me the statue of Boadicea (aka “Budica”), the last independent Iceni Queen of East Anglia who rebelled and died trying to evict the Roman Conquerors, in whose memory it was said and sung that “Britons never shall be slaves.”  We also took one trip out to Norwich to visit one of the woods where the Iceni supposedly worshipped their own goddess of Victory….called “Budika” in the Ancient British language of the Druids….(my parents were both heavily into historical and comparative linguistics).  Budika/Boadicea in A.D. 60-61 apparently burned Roman Londinium to the ground along with several other cities before being defeated and poisoning herself by the long Roman Road called “Watling Street” which we also visited…. She was a heroine and supposedly a great archer….  

Of course my parents also tried, as heart as their own agitated and addled lives would permit them, to make me aware of a very different heroine, regarding whom they required me to memorize “the Magnificat” from a very early age….”My soul doth magnify the Lord….Abraham and his seed forever…” And yes, the Virgin Mary was indeed a rebellious heroine… and she has remained a heroine to hundreds of millions of people up to the present time….  Later on, I learned to sing the Magnificat and other pieces of Anglo-Catholic “Maryolatry” as a choirboy in the junior Choir at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, under the tutelage of the late, Great Russell J. Brydon (who died just a few months after this post was originally written, in September 2012 at the age of 88:

http://www.dallasnews.com/obituary-headlines/20120906-russell-j.-brydon-jr.-longtime-dallas-church-and-temple-organist-dies-at-88.ece

But it was my grandmother Helen who was something of a heroine in my young eyes herself, and it was Helen who introduced me to the very first literary  (as distinct from Historical or Biblical) heroines of whose stories I ever learned in detail: namely Dorothy Gale, Scarlett O’Hara, and the Roman Goddess Diana and her Sacred Temple by Lake Nemi  near Ariccia (Diana was also an archer…)

The path of fictional heroines from Dorothy Gale’s grey home in Kansas to Katniss* Everdeen’s equally grey home in District 12 of Panem took 108 years….from the first publication of the Wizard of Oz in 1900 through the appearance of archer Katniss Everdeen  Hunger Games in 2008**….is really the history of the idealistic dreams and ultimate failure of the 20th century (idealist dreams in Baum’s time giving way to a more cynical realism by 1939, passing through the somewhat confused “liberation” of the 1960s, sinking into the dark, pessimistic world of Buffy and Angel and finally coming to rest in the despair of District 12 in Panem in 2008—the year Barack Hussein Obama took over from George W. Bush…two different faces for the heartless, soulless, President Snow….)

But the difference in spirit between those two places traces indeed the tragic story of the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization (and of the American Dream) in the 20th Century. Major stopping points along the way (for me at least) include 1939 with the Dorothy Gale’s transformation in the person of Judy Garland and Scarlett O’Hara’s complete redefinition of the concept of “progress” in the late 19th century, Jane Fonda’s comic Cat Ballou and Barbarella in the 1960s, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in movie and television from 1992-2003.  

At each of these intervals, the world is more cynical and darker, and the heroines more complex.  Many critics have observed that the “head injury/dream sequence” aspects of the 1939 Movie Wizard of Oz and the metathesis of real individuals to “dreamtime” residents of the Land of Oz (which was COMPLETELY absent from L. Frank Baum’s book) resulted directly from Freudian psychoanalysis and the early popularity of psychology.  The general effect is to radically weaken the power of Oz as metaphor or lesson—but the movie was a wonderful hit—a lightly comic Wagnerian gesammtkunstwerk of acting, visual art, and music, so nobody really cared.  

A lot of the verbal banter and humor in the movie likewise showed a certain “worldly” sophistication with which I think Frank Baum would only have been somewhat congenial. E.G. the Cowardly Lion’s song “there’s just no use denyin’, I’m just a DANDYlion…” and the Wizard’s closing comment to the Scarecrow:

Back where I come from we have universities, 
seats of great learning 
-- where men go to become great thinkers. 
And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- 
and with no more brains than you have .... 
But! They have one thing you haven't got! 
A diploma!

As a former denizen of the great academic halls of Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 and Chicago, Illinois 60637 (from various halls of which august institutions I did, for all the good that it’s done me or the world, get diplomas), and a regular visitor to many other such places, I can tell you that the Wizard here is absolutely right: 

And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- 
and with no more  brains than you have.... 

But such cynicism simply was not part of the original vision of Oz, and although Baum occasionally did occasionally turn such comments to ridicule life back in North America in later books, he did not at all in his first installment in which he remade European folk mythology and archetypes and reshaped them in a very idealized panorama of a world where death was rare if non-existent and even the most evil of men and creatures did not kill for sport or pleasure.

For all of L. Frank Baum’s futuristic visions, I do not think he could have foreseen the transition from the naïve and hardworking life of Kansas to the nightmarish dreamworld of Suzanne Collins’ grim opera—neither a soap opera nor a very lyric, although even in the written version (which I finally got around to reading), music plays an immensely important part in the methathesis of metaphor and character, from Katniss’ Father to Peeta, from Prim to Rue… as between the unnatural National Anthem of the Conquering Capitol and the free world of nature and the poor of the “outlying districts.”

L. Frank Baum’s Oz books in so many was shaped and defined the culture of early-to-mid 20th Century of a predominantly White Christian America, especially after the release of Judy Garland’s movie….***  The spirit of Dorothy Gale’s Kansas was stiflingly dull and harsh—the American dream had already, at that point, apparently kind of run aground and needed new life— The spirit of Dorothy Gale’s Oz was half atavistic throwback to the Middle Ages, half filled with futuristic wonders (such as Glinda the Good’s Magic Picture, which permitted her what we would now call “live video access” to whatever was going on in Oz or elsewhere earth she was interested.

Dorothy Gale was a simple, pre-teenage girl (Judy Garland was at least ten years older than the original character was portrayed as being in the First Oz Book, but Dorothy Gale remained essentially a-sexual throughout the series, never had a boyfriend or a beau…. perhaps recapitulating some archaic notion of “the Virgin Goddess”,  e.g. Diana Nemorensis or the Virgin Mary or the “Virgin Queen”, Mary again or Queen Elizabeth I) whose strength derived from common sense, great courage, love, and determination.  Dorothy Gale was a generalist who never specialized in anything or focused on any particular trade, profession, or way of earning a living (all throughout the long series of Oz books, in fact).  She was just flexible, imaginative, and practical—kind of a “Renaissance girl” in a very low tech way.

Being a non-specialized generalist seems to be the primary role of all feminine heroes.  Of the earliest three I knew (Dorothy Gale, Scarlett O’Hara, and Diana Nemorensis), if Dorothy Gale had the purest and most asexual identity, Scarlett O’Hara surely had the most impure and sexual.  

It was perhaps for that reason that I was never really taken with her until I was a teenager, even though with my grandparents I religiously had watched Gone with the Wind at every possible opportunity and my grandmother compared the mythic South with the real South over and over again.   Scarlett O’Hara was beautiful, flirtations, and OWNED men in a way that is both fairly realistic and quite cynical.  But the book and movie Gone with the Wind were brilliantly timed between the First and Second World Wars to show that the American War Between the States of 1861-1865 was the first really and truly modern war of total destruction.  

Throughout history, up until Abraham Lincoln loosed Sherman on Georgia and Grant on Virginia, the goal of Conquest Warfare had been to preserve as much of a conquered land’s wealth as possible—so that it could be stolen and appropriated for the victors.  There might have been a lot of talk in Ancient Rome about how “Carthage must be destroyed” and about Salting the Earth once it was vanquished, but Carthage was not only not burnt to the ground and left to rot by the Roman Conquest, it became one of the Great Cities of the Roman Empire, as 20-30 years of Harvard Archaeological excavations in Tunisia have so clearly shown.  Gone with the Wind showed something else when Sherman’s “wind blew through Georgia.”  The purpose was indeed, as the opening lines of both the movie and the book suggested, to wipe out an entire civilization, a way of life—to replace what Marxists call one “mode of production” with another.   NONE of Baum’s villains in Oz were as bad as that, although the movie version of the Wicked Witch of the West was pretty murderous in her general attitude….

One major innovation of Jane Fonda’s heroines Cat Ballou and especially Barbarella in the 1960s was the advent of “free love”, which never appeared even once in any of Baum’s pre-1920 writings, which was only very obliquely alluded to in Gone with the Wind, but which by the 1960s was all anyone really cared about.  

Like Dorothy Gale and Scarlett O’Hara before her, Cat Ballou and Barbarella were unspecialized generalists who could adapt to almost any situation.  They were strong, intelligent, sexy, deadly in a good cause, and then Jane Fonda went to Hanoi….  In retrospect she may have been right to do it because the Vietnam War was totally wrong, a seriously failed experiment in 1984-type “perpetual war”….but Jane Fonda’s actions did not seem positive at the time.  

In this defiance of the outward semblance of world order sense, Jane Fonda’s characters of both Cat Ballou and Barbarella somehow came to life as defiant outlaws….crossing boundaries that no one else would cross, and doing so with both impunity and (what seemed most shocking at the time) complete immunity from real official sanction.  Like the righteous killer Catherine Ballou who avenged her father’s death in the Wild West—Jane Fonda first enacted herself as a mythic reality and then, by going to Hanoi, remade herself as a historic metaphor—walking through the image of a treacherous act, unscathed, in essence to show that Vietnam was all a staged event….. a dramatic diversion to keep the masses simultaneously afraid, amused and absorbed….  

Fast forward 24 years from Jane Fonda as Barbarella and you arrive the first incarnation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a completely modern LA County San Fernando Valley girl with no hints of modesty or virginity about her…. followed by the much more intriguing evolution of Buffy Summers in the TV Series from virginal high school freshman to intensely sexual college freshman, in a world which is increasingly dark and where reality is increasingly concealed….. Buffy’s Sunnydale was a mythic place, a lot like Los Angeles, while her first boyfriend and lover Angel eventually goes to the real Los Angeles and sets up shop as first as a private detective and then director of a large law firm—two professions which, in Los Angeles at least, possibly in the movies generally, have almost acquired the status of modern Jungian archetypes….  

The increasingly dark and brooding, sad and depressed Buffy Summers never lost her general adaptability—she could never specialize in any profession or line of work any more than Dorothy Gale or Scarlett O’Hara or Catherine Ballou… but the realization that the dark forces of the world were effectively unbeatable and had pre-existed anything good in the world—these were major transformations of the American Dream from the Early 20th Century.  And it was during the 7 televised seasons of Buffy that the 20th Century, which came in with a little girl magically transported by a tornado from dull grey Kansas to a bright and beautiful alternative universe which knew no death, went out during Buffy’s Freshman year at UCLA with a young adult barely out of her teens who was alone in the world, with her small circle of more specialized friends, fighting vampires and the forces of darkness.

And five years after Buffy ended, Katniss Everdeen picked up the bow from her archetypal ancestors the Goddesses Inanna and Diana and Queen Boadicea, and began to hunt for meagre food in the desperately hunger fringes of District 12 (in what was once called Appalachia in what was once called North America).  

The gruesomeness of the Hunger Games apparently shocks some people—I would have thought that Americans had long since forgotten how to be shocked about or by anything.  Children murdering children for sport isn’t the most pleasant of ideas, to be sure. But in that 17-19 year olds have gone off to fight in every war America has ever seen….along with a few 16 year olds here and there, and since the History Channel periodically shows authentic news clips of 15-16 year old resistance “werewolves” in 1945 Post-World War II Germany being shot by firing squads of American Troops, and countless tens of thousands of teenagers have been silently snuffed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam, it is hard to believe that the idea of children fighting and dying is really such a big deal to our ever hypocritically squeamish population.

The Hunger Games resonate with so much in our history and culture—with the original Victor Hugo version of Les Miserables (hopelessly buried and lost in the Broadway Musical of the same name), and in Suzanne Collins’ own account with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.  

But above all the Hunger Games resonates with the year 2012 in which America has taken so many steps towards being a brutal, repressive dictatorship like Panem, already—with idiot fake and fraudulent “Conservatives” like Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich competing with idiot truly fraudulent “Liberals” like Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama competing with one another to see who can shred the Constitution fastest.  

Interesting to me, given that I based my own doctoral dissertation at Harvard in large part on revisiting Frazer’s the Golden Bough and with it Diana’s Temple by Lake Nemi near Ariccia, are the parallels between the Hunger Games and the myths and rituals of Divine Kingship.  There is nothing in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, however, about games or about Tributes being well-fed and allowed every luxury leading up to their deaths.  But precisely this treatment is common in the rites of Divine Kingship, where sacrificial victims, like the individual selected for sacrifice during the rites of Toxcatl among the Aztec, are equated with the God Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”) during the last year of their lives, given wonderful food and drink, and then sacrificed.  Similar paradigms of sacrifice are found throughout the world—

And the sacrifice of children, likewise, is extremely common: to the rain gods in Mesoamerica, relic traces of this existed even among the modern Yucatec Maya who tie small children to the legs of the altar during the cha-chaac or rain ceremony—although the children have to do nothing more that happily chirp like rainy season frogs (but woe to the boy who croaks like a dry season Toad—he will be beaten, not sacrificed, but beaten).  The Hebrew Bible itself is filled with child sacrifice (all through the Books of Kings and Chronicles, in particular, are Kings who make their children “walk through the fire”—perhaps most famously the daughter of Jeptha…), and by way of archaeological parallel—the excavations at Carthage have revealed hundreds and thousands of child sacrifices…. Among the Natchez of Mississippi, families sacrificed their children in order to rise in social status from commoners (“Stinkards”) to “Honored” Nobility according to the French records by Dupratz and recounted by John R. Swanton….

And in this sense it is perplexing: sacrifice almost always lead either to elevation in status or to outright deification: why the elite of Panem would not have recognized the risk embodied in Golden Bough-Divine Kingship type of analysis: the sacrificial victim—like the Rex Nemorensis at Ariccia who becomes King by killing the old one in combat, will always become the next king.  

At the end of the first book of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, Katniss Everdeen is poised to become (with Peeta), Queen and King of Panem.  This was not only foreseeable, it was in comparative mythological terms inevitable—and yet Suzanne Collins’ trilogy does not allow this drama to evolve that way.  In part, this may be because technology and traditions of oppression have obliterated the natural succession of Divine Kingship….

But Sir James G. Frazer’s point in writing the Golden Bough was to show that Divine Kingship involving the deification of sacrificial victims and their elevation as Kings is a nearly world-wide phenomenon.  I sit here puzzling at the significance of all the trappings of Divine Kingship and the Golden Bough in the Hunger Games.  

Frank Baum had either borrowed or unconsciously recreated so many motifs from ancient mythology—the Four World Quarters with colors Winkie-yellow Quadlin-red Munchkin-blue and Gillikin-purple with Green for the Center of the Emerald City are like nothing so much as the mythological and symbolic organization of (1) Ancient Mesopotamia, “Land of the Four Quarters” centered on Uruk, (2) Celtic Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Connaught, Leinster, and centered on Midhe (Meath) at Tara, and (3) pre-Hispanic Yucatan which, at several Classic sites, is divided into quarters dominated (as recorded on Stelae A & H at Copan) by Tikal, Calakmul, Palenque, and Copan and which even now is divided into four quarters (Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Petén, with Belize claimed by Guatemala and Geographically appearing to be a southern extension of Quintana Roo).

But in Frank Baum’s Oz, kingship is never strong and is always frowned upon, as are all attempts at centralization or standardization of culture, customs, or laws among the four/five regions of Oz.  For that reason, I would assume, there are no hints or traces of divine kingship in Oz—it is a Federal egalitarian Democracy of sorts (even though no one ever votes).  

But by the time of Buffy, as the 20th century closes, the need for a leader has brought forward the Slayer—“one girl in all the world” who fights the Demons.  Now Joss Whedon optimistically ended his series with a devolution of power and prowess from Buffy through the magic of Willow to Millions of “potential” slayers—-but it didn’t quite ring true, in a Television series where even the most outrageous vampiric and magic witchcraft was somehow made to feel “emotionally authentic.”

In the Hunger Games, Dictatorship is the reality and the two victors of the Hunger Games, Katniss & Peeta, are set to become the Divine Kings and possibly the real sovereigns of their land.  Perhaps the need for leadership, the need for someone to save the population, is not yet great enough, but in terms of the political and emotional significance of our story-telling, I think that the journey from Dorothy Gale’s Grey Kansas to Katniss Everdeen’s Grey District 12 tells us the story of the loss of hope and impending doom and despair which was the 20th Century.

*  Katniss is named after a plant called Sagittaria, and my grandmother was born under the sign of Sagittarius—it could be that Katniss reminds me a great deal of my grandmother Helen—similar complexions and faces…. Actress Jennifer Lawrence certainly fits very precisely the image in Suzanne Collins’ book…. and the younger pictures I’ve seen of my grandmother with long hair as a teenager in the time before the U.S. entered WWI….growing up in a place very much like the defeated districts of Panem in the Southern USA.

** In some New Age texts, 108 years is said to be a Venus Cycle, the more ordinary astrological cycle is one of 104 years.  108 is used, but oddly enough, is four years longer than longest calendrical cycle and planetary identity of the Ancient Goddess of Love, namely Inanna/ Ishtar/Aphrodite/Venus.  The calendrical cycles of Venus and the sun are said to “bind” (i.e coincide) every 2920 days, but the ultimate binding of 5 Heliacal Cycles of Venus with 8 Calendar years …. (365 x 8 = 5 x 584 = 2920 x 13 = 37,960 = 2 x 52 years (my current age) = 104 calendar years/105 “tuns” or 360 day periods—the root of the Maya and Aztec Calendars).  Like her Roman Counterpart Diana, Aphrodite and Inanna were both archers—it seems to be the feminine weapon of choice, possibly for purely sexual Freudian reasons, possibly for some mixture of Freudian sexual and Jungian archetypal causation.

*** In the 1970s, Broadway Musical and 1978 movie “the Wiz” the just recently departed Diana Ross and the late Michael Jackson did their best to reframe and appropriate the Baum story for African-America in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement (or Fraudulent Civil Rights Fiasco) of the 1950s-60s…. I have never been comfortable Easing on Down the Road with them in that direction…. although my grandfather was a great supporter of alternative all black productions (now almost extinct) because they upheld and even developed, really and truly, the old segregationist’s doctrine of Separate but Equal (we actually attended the Wiz at the Majestic Theater on Broadway as well as an all black revival of Guys & Dolls in my one major summer with him (ever in my life) in 1976.

Somewhere over the Rainbow….

A is for Asgard, B is for Branagh, C is for Completely Cool Multipurpose Modern Myth-remaking Movie!

[and WS is for “Warning—this essay may contain mild-to-serious Spoilers for those who have not yet seen the movie….read at your own risk!”]

Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Portman, and Anthony Hopkins are names I have frankly never associated with Richard Wagner, Dorothy Gale, and James Morris, much less with Snorri Sturluson, Isolde, and Wotan or Odin, but the movie “Thor” brings them all together in my mind and life experience at least.  I confess I had read some bad pre-release critiques of “Thor” based on charges of infidelity to myth, but they were all wrong, ALL totally wrong, and I haven’t been so completely taken by any other movie this year.  In fact, this may well be the best myth-recasting movie in a very long time, although I was a great fan of Tim Burton’s “Alice” last year.   I can hardly express my enthusiasm, having just returned from the 10:10 AMC showing on Third & Arizona in Santa Monica, 90401, except to say that I was just as pleased, satisfied, and generally exhilerated by this production as I was maddened and infuriated by “Red Riding Hood” when it was released on March 11 of this year.  THAT movie was a poorly acted, poorly scripted modernistic pseudo-psychobabbling disgrace and insult to Die Bruder Grimm and Charles Perrault as anything could possibly be.

It is actually just possible that Kenneth Branagh’s movie will in fact endure alongside Sturluson and Wagner in preserving the eternal memory of the Old Norse and High Germanic Pagan religious iconic traditions, ihrer Gotter und Gesetz, but there are many more comparisons to be made.

Natalie Portman’s character (Jane Foster) is quite a unique young lady: a brave sexy scientist who really does get it all pretty much right, but doesn’t get her man. (Reviewers have already compared “Thor” to “Spiderman“.)   Perhaps Jane’s a bit of projection of Natalie’s own self-image—crossed with her Dad maybe?—but I see a much more important comparison to be made between Jane Foster and Dorothy Gale—in that they both dreamt of crossing over the rainbow.  Dorothy Gale made the trip for the first time by accident in The Wizard of Oz though in later books by L. Frank Baum she managed to make the trip pretty directly and intentionally.  Jane Foster doesn’t make the trip at all although the man of her dreams does, in the form of Thor (Chris Hemsworth—whose character is comparable to no other superhero so much as Superman—especially since he can magically fly without gadgetry of any kind—and the Asgard scenes all have a certain Planet Krypton feel to them).   But Jane Foster, like Dorothy Gale, is brave, honorable, loyal and unafraid, and her job is to bridge worlds which otherwise have but scant awareness of each other’s existence.

Dorothy Gale herself was not, of course, the first heroic female transdimensional traveler—appearing for her first edition in 1900, she came 35 years after her British Counterpart Alice made her debut in London on July 4, 1865, otherwise for the most part a sad ex-Colonial Independence day for British sympathizers of the Confederacy including HM Queen Victoria and the then Lord Chancellor & Later PM Benjamin Disraeli.

The degree to which science fiction presaged physics in speculations about inter-dimensional travel is to me one of the extraordinary features of 19th century writing and imagination.   Even in Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Niebelungen” the portrayal of jouneys between the middle of the Rhein and Niebelheim, Valhalla and Niebelheim in Das Rheingold and Brunhilde’s appearance to Siegmund in Die Walkure are eerily like wormholes in the space-time continuum of 20th century (and current) science fiction.  In fact, once in Seattle and on another occasion in Bayreuth, stage construction provided that Brunhilde actually peered at Siegmund through a portal and obviously shimmers from another dimension as she grimly but solemnly announces to him, “Nur Todgeweihten taugt mein angblick. Wer mich erchaut scheidet von Lebens-Licht. ”  The use of the Rainbow Bridge as Thor’s primary means of interdimensional travel is celebrated in Wagner’s Das Rheingold when Donner (“Thunder”—the Old High Germanic name for Norse Thor/Anglo-Saxon Thur) calls forth the Rainbow Bridge so that the Gods can enter Valhalla at last.  This in turn rests largely on the description of the Bifrost/Rainbow Bridge in Sturluson (12th-13th Century Lawspeaker and historian of the Icelandic Althing/Parliament), but the connection with Donner/Thor appears to be Wagner’s invention and Branagh’s conscious continuation, because the only ancient connection between the Bridge and the God of Thunder appears in the Grimnismal (Poetic Edda), where it is specified that Thor specifically wades through the river waters because he cannot take the dryer path.  (One of the historical quibbles widely circulated pre-release was that Heimdall in the movie is played by an elegant British-born fellow of African descent, Idris Elba, while in all Norse and Germanic illustrations Heimdall or Heidallr is pictured as typical blonde of identical ethnicity to Thor in the movie—while I thought it sounded like amusing modernist “affirmative action” type tokenism before I saw Branagh’s production—in the context of this movie it works out perfectly, because Heimdall, as a guardian, belongs neither to the race of the Gods nor to the Frost Giants, but is a gatekeepr between worlds—I can only applaud the dramatic effect of “Schwarz Heimdall”.  Truthfully—black and white color symbolism play a major role in Norse Sagas—“black”, “swarz” or “kol” all being slave names—reminding me always of the inverse irony that the Gods of Subsaharan Africa are always White-skinned—possibly more like “Ghostly White” than Caucasian White, but the parallel structural use of terms is nonetheless significant in comparative mythological terms—and, quite as a legal and jurisprudential side-bar, totally discredits and disproves the Kenneth B. & Mamie Clark “black-white” doll preferences ignorantly cited by Supreme Court Justices in Brown v. Board of Education  (1954) as a reason for forcing school desegregation—a policy which arguably did more to destroy the legitimate ways, means, and purposes of education in the United States than any other single policy in history, and in the process probably destroyed the self-esteem of millions of children, black-and-white, as schools used for a quarter century as political footballs and little else rather than, well, for example, education.*

But to return to Thor, the plainest reason Heimdall can be dramatically effective because rather than in spite of the fact that he is played by a stern and very well-spoken Anglo-African actor is because Branagh has taken Ancient Myth and recast it—and done so brilliantly, even down to the level of selecting Galisteo New Mexico as the site for some of the wonderful desert scenes—just a half an hour south of Santa Fe and an hour east of Algodones where I had some fairly mystical experiences of my own just month before last as noted elsewhere on this blog.  New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment”, U.S. home address for D.H. Lawrence, legends of Roswell, the birthplace of the Atom Bomb, home of the Spanish Penitentes as well as large populations of Pueblo, Apache, and Navaho nations of Native Americans, and many of the finest Ancient Ruins north of Mexico, is just an inherently magical, mystical place, which just naturally attracts women like Jane Foster.  These**** are people who, as much as Aldous Huxley (New Mexico was a “Savage Preserve” in Brave New World where people still worshipped both Jesus and Buddha and read both the Bible and Shakespeare) Fox William Mulder, Dana Katherine Scully, and myself are intrigued by the borderlines and gradations between science, religion, science-fiction, and mythology.   There is in fact no setting in the United States better for such cross-fertilization—New Orleans may be great for primitive culture, religion, magic, and romance, while Berkeley, Cambridge, and Chicago may be better for the science-magic interface, but nowhere in the world combines all three together with multiculturalism with a 400-1000 year pedigree (a thousand years ago the “Athabaskan Bastards caused the Great Pueblo Fall” introducing New Mexico’s first level of multicultural complexity with the arrival of the Apache and Navaho, then came the Spanish, isolated even from Mexico by distance, then the Americans from St. Louis on the Santa Fe Trail, John C. Fremont, Stephen W. Kearny, then Jean-Baptiste Lamy, Willa Cather, Mabel Dodge, D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe….and now pretty much everybody from everywhere….there is even a school in Las Vegas, New Mexico, with the [to me quite totally horrifying] name “Armand Hammar-Global World College, USA” which my son Charlie visited in 2008 and narrowly avoided attending—it had posters of communist heroes all over the walls of every room and I got the feeling school song was the Internationale).

I keep digressing, but to return again to Thor, as a recasting, restatement of myth, I have come to think that such recasting in modern culture is the principal importance of my own education in Anthropology—Anthropology is a large part of modern mythology and religion—and oddly enough it has been ever since the mid-19th century.  Evolution and Darwinism started reshaping socio-cultrual thinking even before evolution or Darwinism were common words, because Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote of the moral superiority of Noble Savages (nearly two hundred years before Margaret Meade even visited Samoa) and Thomas Hobbes of Malmsbury wrote about the “state of nature” and other stages of what we would now call cultural or political evolution over a hundred and twenty years before Thomas Malthus wrote his Essay on Population in 1798 (although the “State of Nature” as a phrase relating to legal evolution can be traced even another five hundred years back to St. Thomas Aquinas De Veritate in 1256-59).

I first became fascinated with the modern process of recasting ancient mythology in connection with the Disney movie The Lion King and then with several Television series the X-Files and Buffy-the-Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly/Serenity and Charmed, all of which were 1990s phenemona spilling over past Y2K…and now the direct antecedents and ancestors of Lost, True Blood among other TV series and now, I think it is safe to say, Thor.  The X-Files had several episodes which drew on recent archaeological discoveries about cannibalism at Chaco Canyon, and others which drew on Nazi-racial “scientific” mythology***, but there was little if any plot continuity between the paranormal phenomena covered in the X-Files, whereas Thor really only drew on two strands: Ancient Norse/Germanic Myth and Modern Science (with a few marvelous hat tips to “Men-in-Black” and other partly comical sci-fi movies).

In 2004 I gave a paper at the First Slayage Conference on Buffy-the-Vampire Slayer in Nashville entitled, “Buffy’s Golden Bough.”  In that lecture/essay I focused on the use of anthropological sources in each series, Buffy, Angel and the X-Files.  At later Slayage and related conferences I compared Whedon’s use, rearrangement, and restructuring of mythological elements and motifs with Richard Wagner’s.   The tradition of reinventing Classical or Ancient mythology with quasi-modern mystery and musical theatre really develops in a continuous line from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte to Wagnerian operas to the (movie) Wizard of Oz  on to Buffy and especially “Once More with Feeling” (the musical episode from BtVS season six).  In common with Oz and Buffy, The Magic Flute has a “lite” storyline and script with fairly hilarious and unique characters—I played Papageno, Der Vogelfänger, more than once in College—mixed with some pop-culture appreciation of mystery in the service of a good and ethically wholesome life—wonderfully memorable music.  By mere coincidence I have been relistening to Mozart’s Zauberflöte on my card CD recently, and at each first appearance of Die Königin der Nacht, I picture Glenda the Good Witch of the North, played by Mary William “Billie” Burke in the 1939 production.  Glenda and the Queen of the Night are in fact almost entirely interchangeable, structurally identical roles and parts—they are essentially free radicals or “catalysts” for other action on the part of the main characters.   Thor’s Goddess Fricka (or Frigga) is quite as beautiful as Bille Burke, but nowhere nearly as well developed as Wagner’s Fricka in Rheingold and Die Walkure, nor is her relationship with the King of the Gods anywhere nearly so complex or important in the story line—this is too bad… but

Wagnerian operas are by no means “lite” by storyline or mood, and the “moral” or ethical points are sufficiently complex as to have been the subject of continuous popular and academic debate and scholarly writings from W. Friedrich Nietzsche to George Bernard Shaw to Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler to the dozens of modern authors including dilettantes and university specialists up through present time.  Wagnerian Opera and the movie Thor have in common focus on Wotan/Odin and those deities most closely associated with him in the Nordic/Germanic Pagan oikumene—“uns ist in alten mären, wunders viel gezeit….“.  Thor lacks any memorable or particularly unique music, but as a journey of exploration and discovery by moderns in a mysterious world, it is much closer to Magic Flute, the Wizard of Oz, and Buffy/Angel than it is to Wagner.  Oddly enough—the Wagnerian Ring des Niebelungen, Buffy/Angel, and the Lion King can be grouped together as creating entirely new mythological universes, as could Clive Staples’ Narnia.  But the Oz story underwent one major and radical transformation between Frank Baum’s 1900 book and the 1939 movie with Judy Garland: In the book, and all of Frank Baum’s later Oz books—the reader was demanded to suspend disbelief completely and enter into the Magical Land of Oz as a real universe parallel to our own—but in the movie—fearing (in 1939) the cultural threat and geopolitical consequences of  “sermons from mystical Germans who preach from ten til four”, all mystery was cut out by the Kansas framing story: Dorothy Gale just dreamt it all owing to a head injury based on her own life.   Joss Whedon experimented with this “world of illusion” trope in one episode only, Buffy sixth season “Normal Again.”  The movie Thor handles the problem by allowing Thor himself to sever the ties between earth and Asgard when he destroys the Rainbow Bridge to prevent Loki from initiating Ragnarok, but Jane Foster keeps on with her research, searching for her man….

But unlike Richard Wagner and Kenneth Branagh in Thor, Joss Whedon was culturally ecclectic.  Much in the manner of Sir James G. Frazer’s original 12 volume Golden Bough, Joss Whedon, the creator/director/producer/ sometime writer of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly/Serenity goes around the world collecting stories which fit into a single pattern.  For Frazer, it was the pattern of the dying king, murdered in his full youthful vigor to preserve or “save” the life of the whole world.  In other words, Frazer set out to show, and he fairly effectively showed, that the story of Jesus of Nazareth was just the most developed and successfully “marketed” story of its kind in the world, and by no means a unique revelation.  (Whether universal recurrence in different guises makes a religion more or less valid is a different story).

As weekly settings for his universe filled with “AntiChrist” Vampires, Joss Whedon was a master of incorporating and restating whole traditions of myth and religious symbolism/ethical thought into his work.   Almost totally contrary to Frazer’s somewhat anti-Christian emphasis on ritual and mythic elements of narrative, however, Whedon’s effort is to compare ancient or “non-Western” religions to Christianity favorably on grounds of ethics and morality.

The nature of the “Vampire” mythology as a kind of inverse Christianity has been apparent since the 18th century—Vampires are inverse Christians (a Los Angeles Jewish Monthly Magazine for December of 2009 included a cover article “Why Jews aren’t Vampires” even though they shun the cross and have been libeled as child-murderers and practitioners of sacrifice generally).  The core “Maundy Thursday” ritual of Christianity is the Great Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist by which Christians drink the blood and eat the flesh of Jesus Christ—albeit most modern believers would say this is a memorial, rather than an actual magical transubstantiation.  According to Christ’s words at the last supper, this ritual is part of keeping Jesus himself alive in all his followers.  Vampirism is exactly the opposite—Vampire suck on human blood and flesh to destroy human life and make themselves (the vampires) more Godlike—they are “antiChrists” in the truest senses of the word—they do the opposite of give their own life and flesh to save the rest of the world.   Some writers, such as Elizabeth Miller, have posited that Vampiristic mythology became popular contemporaneously with Darwinism in the 19th century.   The feasting in Thor is all quite normal (lol!) if the Gods are sometimes portrayed as rather voracious and insatiable.   But there are no direct traces of Christian ritual in Thor, while there were many in both Buffy and Angel.  (Not so much in Firefly/Serenity where salvation is mostly a matter of self-help, preferably with guns and knives skillfully used by both men and women—which is another common theme with Thor to be sure).

Whedon’s works focus on the importance of the clear-thinking conscience, redemption generally, the redemptive power of family and love in particular, the salvation of sinners, the need for forgiveness of all sins and crimes, no matter how grave, and the definition of the soul as the key to all life and immortality, and he does all this despite his self-proclaimed status as an atheist.  There are many strong sub-themes including the soul-endangering evils of mind-altering drugs and social engineering, the importance of individual freedom, and the oppressive corruption of government and the complicity of the all-but-blind middle class in its maintenance.**

Whedon has through all these themes made his productions among the most deeply Christian/spiritual productions ever to appear on television—albeit his Christianity was about as orthodox as Richard Wagner’s, and similarly mixed with Buddhism and Pagan animism.  Like the Golden Bough, to learn and dissect Whedon’s corpus of sources is to learn comparative mythology from specific references to the Prophecies of Isaiah concerning the coming of Christ (“the annointed one”) as a child to lead to the peaceable kingdom, this starting in BtVS Season One along with a multifaceted and series-long treatment of modern and ancient witchcraft, to Grimms’ Hansel & Gretel, back to the Biblical Demon Moloch, and then to the Egyptian resurrection cult of Osiris and even then to Temple Prostitution in Mesopotamia (Inanna = Inara Serra, a beautiful companion/courtesan played by Morena Bacarin in the Firefly Serenity Series—Inara is portrayed as significantly more honorable, educated, and dignified than ALMOST anyone else in the series), and even then to the more recent mythology of Dracula and Vampires (Vrykolakia) in Eastern Europe.  While earlier series such as Dr. Who made occasional use of mythology, Whedon’s series used more anthropological sources than any other single corpus except the X-Files.  What unites Whedon’s work with, for example, The Lion King more than the X-Files is the internal continuity of the storyline and the presence of very strong structural organizing principles (e.g. Dumezilian trifunctionalism and Levi-Straussian dualism).  X-Files was more ecclectic, much less focused on developing season-long story lines, and utterly untroubled by structural consistency between episodes and series (except that Mulder always “wanted to believe”, more mystical, and basically right, while Scully was always skeptical, more cautiously scientific, and more often than not, dead wrong—but she never learned her lessons from episode to episode…some sort of short or long term memory loss or stubborn willfulness was utterly inconsistent with her vast store of medical and scientific knowledge….).  Jane Foster in Thor is more of an “I want to believe” fusion of Mulder and Scully, pretty much unparalleled in the Buffyverse or “Whedonian World.”

Much like the Whedonian World, especially as analyzed Rhonda Wilcox’ masterful treatment of Whedon’s productions in her book Why Buffy Matters: the art of BtVS  (October 13, 2005), Thor has a strong undertone of Christian values—self-sacrifice and forgiveness, fatherly redemption, even as it revitalizes the Gods of the Norse who, frankly, had few or none of these values (at least Thor didn’t—Wotan/Odin in fact once “hanged himself for nine days on a windy tree, a sacrifice of himself to himself”…..but it’s not clear that he did so to save the rest of the world from sin or anything like that).   Anthony Hopkins was in fact utterly unrecognizable as Anthony Hopkins with his beard and eye patch—he looked more like the Metropolitan Opera’s perennial Wotan James Morris than anyone else, but his performance and delivery were flawless (no actual Wagnerian music was used in the movie—I think this is slightly unfortunate, but possibly essential to sell to a mass culture audience, sadly, these days).

When discussing the interface between Christianity and science-fiction, especially interdimensional travel, it is necessary at least to mention C.S. Lewis’ Seven Book Narnia collection—“doors to the world of men, I have heard of such things”, said Jadis, the White Queen of Narnia, on hearing about the Pevensie boys and girls coming in through the wardrobe made of the tree that grew from the Sorcerers’ rings that led once Molly and Digory past the world between worlds through one particularly ill-fated puddle to the dead world of Charn…..from which Jadis came with Digory to Narnia….in the beginning.  The Christian metaphors in Lewis’ Narnia seem clunky and heavy-handed to me, not that they aren’t sometimes wonderful—like Aslan’s self-sacrifice to save Edmund and his subsequent resurrection by way of “a deeper magic than even the White witch knows”—but in Whedon, and in Thor, the subtlety and personal connections inherent in the various self-sacrificial decisions make the episodes of redemption or forgiveness and reconciliation meaningful—Thor is about a prodigal son who comes back to his father (cf. Gospel of Luke)…..and loses the mortal love of his life in the process…. but there is nothing forced or strained about it—it’s woven deftly into the plot and seems only right and good—except for the treatment of the Thunder God’s darker brother Loki….. and in fact

If I were to have any gripe with the movie at all it would be the character and treatment of Loki—never ever before identified as one of Wotan’s children in any source, adoptive or otherwise (but generally known as the son of the Giant Farbauti and Giantess Laufe, even to the point of being called Loki Laufeyarson in some sources).   Wagner portrayed Loki/Loge as a close and necessary companion and ally of Odin/Wotan and the Old English three-part incantation about offerings recorded in rural East Anglia as late as the early 19th century, “One for God and One for Wod’ and One for Lok‘” (quoted by Sir James G. Frazer, Georges Dumezil, Alfred Hocart, and so many others) also shows a special association between these divine names.  The movie shows nothing of Loki’s identity as Altdeutsche Feuergott Agnisbruder (the German Fire God and brother of [Hindu] Agni = [Italic/Latin] Ignis), and only very briefly makes reference to his identity as a master of magic.

In suggesting that there is something odd about Loki’s “giant” ancestry, the movie ignores the direct parallel between the heritage of the Germanic Gods as children of Giants and the Greek God’s status as children of the Titans.  This makes the racially significant emphasis of Loki’s identity in the movie Thor all the more critical to analyze.  Because Thor is Odin’s blonde true son—and boy do they EVER look alike (right down to their beards and hair style), while Loki turns out to be an “adopted” brown haired son.  It is not that the Frost Giants are uniformly portrayed as brunette so much as Green*****.  No, it is more because the two “children” of Odin are paired and opposed both as children and adults on the basis of their hair color and complexion—Light and Dark.  The movie’s pairing of “Fair Haired” Jane Foster and Dark Darcy (my longest-term college girlfriend was a “Black Irish” brunette named D’Arcy)  in New Mexico cannot be coincidental to the opposed pairing of Dark Loki and Blond Thor.  Joss Whedon’s series Buffy the Vampire Slayer also featured a “light dark” pair of slayers in the form of Buffy Summers, the eponymous heroine, who first (in a couple of episodes in Season II) faces a Creole Jamaican slayer named Kendra (called a “Tragic Mulatta” by at least one reviewer, namely Lynne Edwards, who also presented this concept at the First Slayage Conference in Nashville, 2004).   After Kendra’s truly tragic and untimely death, Whedon brought forth the unforgettable character Faith Lahane, a simply smolderingly sexy brunette who was “bad girl” to all of Buffy’s somewhat priggish/prudish traits of inherited “Middle Class Morality.”  Faith hailed from (one assumes) some lower class Irish sector of South Boston—but the correlation between class and color is utterly unmistakable in both Thor and BtVS: Blondes don’t just have more fun (Jane Foster and Thor fell in love—Darcy and Loki remain single), they are actually better, indeed substantially people or Gods—I should not that so much of my hair as has neither fallen out nor turned grey, which isn’t all that much—is and has been since I was 7- or 8 moderate mousy brown—neither distinctively light nor dark)….

If there were ever any objections to the character of Heimdall because he was a black and Anglo-African of subsaharan negroid origins, there could be even more serious objections to the character-identity and story of Loki as a warning about the failure of interracial adoptions.  Loki is the only character in this movie with self-esteem problems and they all relate to his origins, and relatively dark complexion compared to the majority of the Asgard deities.  He is maladjusted and insecure but not nearly so sympathetic as, for example, Othello the Moor.  It doesn’t ruin the plot by a long shot, but it’s the weakest link in the whole scheme I would say.  The original Norse God Loki, and even Richard Wagner’s Loki, as God of Fire, was a trickster, a shape-shifter, a transexual (no, not a trannie, just a shape shifter who could even give birth to eight legged horses while shape-shifting as a mare) and on the whole much more interesting than Thor‘s Loki—who’s a bit one dimensional—or at least I didn’t pick up more than one dimension, but I’ve already determined I’ll go see the movie several times.

I think it was a marvelous touch that several Norse Icons like the World Tree Yigdrassil and I believe even (originally) Loki’s offspring the eight legged horse Sleipnir who was to bring on Ragnarok (Armageddon, the last battle, aka Gotterdaemerung), as well as Thor’s hammar and Wotan/Odin’s law spear, were all very subtly slipped in.

Overall, like Buffy, Angel, Firefly/Serenity and Charmed (and even like Dr. Who, the Wizard of Oz and Alice), Thor mixes fairly outstanding verbal humor with intense and fast-paced action and a well-edited script (unlike this totally unedited stream-of-consciousness review essay).

*Black Children, White Preference: Brown v. Board, the Doll Tests, and the Politics of Self-Esteem American Quarterly – Volume 61, Number 2, June 2009, pp. 299-332  The Johns Hopkins University Press ABSTRACT: In Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court cited psychologist Kenneth B. Clark for evidence that segregation damaged black children’s self-esteem and hampered their ability to learn. Clark and his wife Mamie had tested black children’s “racial preference” by asking them to choose between black dolls and white dolls, interpreting the choice of white dolls as evidence of damaged self-esteem. After Brown, the Clarks’ studies set the parameters for research on racial identity, self-esteem, and child development—even though they were discredited on methodological and statistical grounds in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Subsequent research showed that the doll tests do not measure self-esteem and, further, that African American children do not have low self-esteem. Nonetheless, social science remains invested in the conception of proper racial identification. The doll tests’ contested history suggests that we need to replace this conception with a model of adaptive, negotiated, and hybrid racial identification.

**: Interestingly, in ancient Norse Mythology, as an aside—Heimdall was said to be the creator of social classes—but in Whedon, it is all a matter of freedom of thought and the dangers of selling one’s soul in exchange therefor)

***: Despite several potential racial themes, there were no overt or even covert or indirect references to Naziism in Thor at all, except for possibly two “twisted crosses”—these were soft-s-shaped serpents crossing and so perhaps not even intended as such, but the architectural layout of the SHIELD (SHIELD = “Men in Black”) field laboratory built around Thor’s hammer (misidentified by SHIELD scientists as a satellite but sent to earth by All Father Odin/Wotan as an afterthought to banishing his son Thor Odinsson).  The compound looked to me from a brief side aerial view to have the elements of a two intertwined s-shaped snakes, possibly a circumscribed twisted cross.  But then at the very end, in a plug for some of Thor’s coming reappearance in the Avengers, there was a box which contained what was described as a place of confluence of myth, legend, and history—an great power source—in fact a source of “UNLIMITED POWER”, and it clearly appears to be electricity charging in a very distinctly double interlocking S-shaped hackenkreuz.  I really don’t think there’s any mistaking the serpentine Swastika as this source of “Unlimited Power”—and apparently Loki is going to play a major role in the next movie in trying to exploit this source.  Infinite, unlimited power described by or emanating from a Twisted Cross—what a concept!  I had had doubts when I first saw this last scene on opening night but sure to my prediction/threat in the first edition of this review essay, I did in fact follow up on all of this by seeing this movie four times on its first four days in Santa Monica.

**** exemplum gratia: Shelley Sue Thomson (see e.g. elsewhere on this blog: https://charleslincoln3.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/for-jon-roland-you-hypocrite-lecteur-mon-semblable-mon-frere-and-for-shelley-sue-thomson-for-whom-i-won-a-fast-and-speedy-victory-taking-her-from-near-homeless-slums-to-a-nearly-palatial/#comments.   But this is just to name a one out of thousands of New Age/NeoPagan types, who congregate all over North Central New Mexico especially around Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Galisteo, Roswell, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Pecos).

{*****For whatever mysterious reason, the Frost Giants in fact look rather like Greenskinned Lorne/Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan in Joss Whedon’s “Angel” (Loki’s Green-skinned “Father” Laufe (a purposeful sexual misidentification?) even resembles the late Andy Hallett (1975-2009) in facial features and speech.}