Descent, Retrieval and Return: An Archetype for Writers

Many of you would be familiar with the Greek myth concerning Orpheus and his journey to the underworld to bring back his recently deceased wife, Eurydice. A similar journey is undertaken by Odysseus in an episode of the Odyssey. Instead of searching for a person, he is on a quest to find information about how he is going to get home to Ithica. In 14th cent. Ireland an anonymous author committed to paper a story about a ship that appears in the air over a church in Clonmacnoise. An anchor is lowered to the ground amidst a group of monks. Then a man leaps from the air ship and, swimming in the air as if it were water, he retrieves the anchor. In JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gandalf goes down into a chasm in the mines of Moria to fight the Balrog. He returns later in the book, transformed into a new, more powerful Gandalf: Gandalf the White.

Noticing a pattern?

Yes, all the stories are about descent, retrieval and return. They are all versions of the same archetypal idea. There is much we can learn from this archetype, especially us authors if we draw a correlation with the process of creative writing.

To write convincingly, writers must dig deep. We try to access the sub consciousness and retrieve something. What is this something? Of course, it is truth. The truth about ourselves. The truth about the universe. Whoever said that writers are liars was wrong. Or at least they were wrong about genuine writers who try to give their readers something real. The ego lies but the sub conscious id never does.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the stories I outlined earlier: the voyage of Odysseus to the underworld. Odysseus visits Hades as he is trying to get home and needs directions from the seer, Tiresias. Before he meets Tiresias, he must confront the ghosts of his past. Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical. This insight supports the analogy I am trying to make. When we write, what else are we doing but confronting our own past? But Odysseus’ quest is to find out how he will get home. He needs Tiresias’ prophecy to discover this knowledge. How does this fit into our analogy? We’ve made the point that the writer confronts his own past but there is a huge chunk of the creative process we haven’t mentioned yet: the imagination. To see into the future, we need imagination. To get home, we need imagination. And the writer is lost without it just as Odysseus is lost without the prophet Tiresias. The fact that Tiresias is blind is significant. As is the tradition that Homer, the author of the Odyssey, himself was blind.

So, the two major resources of the creative writer are memory and imagination, ghost and prophecy. And these things bring truth. I won’t force this analogy any more.

Again, we learn from the ancient Greeks. Mythology and archetypes are there to help us achieve self-awareness and self-knowledge. One of the guiding maxims of the ancients was to ‘know thyself’. This is also the goal of psychoanalysis – to make the sub-conscious conscious.

The next time you put pen to paper, remember Odysseus and the underworld or the crewman from the air ship or Gandalf fighting the Balrog. If you want to write powerfully and convincingly you must take a journey into the unknown. There is no way around it. No detours.

The Two Travellers

By David Jordan

Two tramps stopped on a country road,

Holding a conversation.

Shoulders back, chests proud,

Their heads adorned with caps,

Holding themselves like kings.

 

One has a bottle in his hand, paper bagged.

The weight of it: it keeps them grounded

And nonchalant.

For their bodies seem to merge

And they are animated and full

Of the joy of their art.

 

And all around them everything is animated

And singing: the sky, the mountains,

The flowers, the path.

Everything is numinous.

Everything is in concert.

Everything is alive for that one single ecstatic ‘Yes’!

 

Two tramps stopped on a country road,

Holding a conversation.

Both knowing the nobility of being free.

Watchmen

The first and most important thing to be said about Alan Moore’s Watchmen is that it’s a great read. If you’re looking for a dark, realistic and sophisticated adult comic then look no further. If you are new to comics yes, it is a good place to start as it is a compelling story with fascinating characters told in an ingenious way. However, it is not the ideal place to start.

Watchmen is a great story but there is so much more to it than this. If you want to appreciate the impact it had on mainstream comics you really should get your hands on a history of the medium and some comics that typify the way things were before Watchmen arrived. Ironically, Moore himself has written many ‘reconstructed’ super hero comics in order to repair the damage which he believed Watchmen caused: a flood of dark, pessimistic ‘adult’ comics which came in the late 80s and 90s. 1963 is one mini-series that Moore wrote with this intention in mind. So, the pleasure of reading Watchmen can be enhanced by knowing the historical context in which it was released back in 1987.

It should also be noted that Watchmen rewards serious study. There are so many different philosophical angles with which to approach the work. It is a very stimulating read. Notions of power, responsibility, morality and freewill are all explored. History is also a major preoccupation be it on a personal level or a remote impersonal level – the bigger picture, as it were. These are just a handful of approaches to this truly multi-faceted work.

Watchmen is also known for its connections. There are so many connections made between the narrative, dialogue and panel artwork that the work is like one great, self-contained watch.

Yes, studying the book is deeply rewarding but it is not essential. Watchmen works perfectly as a whodunnit with super heroes. It is the triumph of the book that it can be enjoyed in this way. That it is so accessible. Most of what I’ve written so far in this review has been said elsewhere, many times. To take a more personal approach, I really responded to the unique ambience of the book and its self-contained nature which is rare for a U.S. comic. For me, Rorshach is the hero of the book, for his moral integrity and insistence that the truth be told. Many people would argue that the book has no hero but I think most readers would have the same sympathies as me.

Watchmen is such a complex work that you will never tire of reading it. That is why everyone should own a copy. It is a true masterpiece of popular fiction in any medium. Of course, this doesn’t mean it has no flaws. Many people feel that the climax is a bit disappointing. Personally, I think the connections are over played. But there is no such thing as a flawless work of art and a work of art Watchmen certainly is.

Essential. Buy it now!

 

 

Writing A Bhikku’s Tale

A Bhikku’s Tale is steeped not just in mythology but story. Anyone who enjoys a good tale well told will find it satisfying, I hope.

Every day we encounter many stories: newspaper stories, TV and film stories, stories we hear from family and friends. We need stories to shape and understand both ourselves and the world in which we live. Stories take us on a journey, even if it is just a song heard on the car radio or a joke. Like all good journeys, the getting there is more important than the destination. Those are just some of the reasons why I am a fan of stories and mythology.

In writing A Bhikku’s Tale I wanted to play around with elements of Irish myth and ideas from my own imagination. The notion of play is often associated with the term Postmodernism but I wouldn’t hold it down to just this. In my book, all art comes from play. Always has and always will. There is plenty of work involved too but, essentially, it’s about play. I had such fun writing A Bhikku’s Tale! I hope that the reader will have just as much fun.

Two writers who have had a strong influence on my work are Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. Both are master fabulists and both are Brits. I wanted to write a book about fantastic and mythological creatures, putting them into a modern context. A modern Irish context. I am 100% honest when I say that I have never heard of such a book being written in mainstream Irish fiction. Irish mythology is an absolute treasure trove of stories, ideas and characters that appeal to the imagination. Some people might frown on the way I use Irish myth and legend. They might see Irish mythology as sacred and not to be touched in any way. I believe that, like all other mythologies, Irish myth and legends have survived and grown through people retelling and rewriting them. Mythology is something that should be shared by everyone and all artists and writers should be free to use them in any way they want, in order to say what they want to say.

As mentioned earlier, I put quite a few original ideas and characters into the book. I’m a big fan of imagination. I believe that it is important not just for art but also for solving social and environmental problems, amongst others. I strongly believe the imagination can change the world or, at least, change the way we see it. But, getting back to the book, although there is lots of Irish and other mythology in there, you really don’t need to know much about it to enjoy the work. All you need is imagination and a love of story, two things we are all blessed with, even if you don’t know it.

Comics: What’s So Great About Them?

Seen as I’m on a massive comics binge lately, I’m going to write about this fascinating artistic medium and what it means to me.

I’ve been reading comics since I was a pre-teen but I first got into ‘adult’ comics when I was about fifteen. I was into this amazing author named Clive Barker and I discovered that there were comics with his name on them as well. So, I bought all of his comics – both the Hellraiser and Nightbreed comics that were published by Epic, an imprint of Marvel, as well as the adaptations of stories from his Books of Blood collections which were published by Titan and Eclipse. I remember the tiny little shop within a shop where I bought them. It was called Ummagumma Rose and I believe it was the first ever comics shop in Cork. Basically, it was made up of some shelves with comics on them and a guy behind a cash register.

The next comics I got into were by Neil Gaiman. Unlike Clive Barker, this guy was writing the comics and not just being a consultant and coming up with ideas. I devoured his Sandman comics but there are other titles he wrote that have a special place in my heart including Miracleman, Black Orchid and the Books of Magic. For quite a long time I read only Neil Gaiman comics until I discovered Alan Moore and it was like ‘where have you been all my life?’. Another great discovery was Garth Ennis.

These days I’m not limited to British and Irish comics writers. Frank Miller, Jason Aaron and Geoff Johns are all comics writers I enjoy. I’ve read up on the history of comics and I’ve even ordered a trade paperback made up of Lee and Ditko’s run on Spiderman, to find out what all the fuss is about!

So, what’s so great about comics? Well, for me, the best thing is that you get two artforms in one: writing and illustration. This gives the comic book a special status as a work of fiction. If you really ‘read’ Alan Moore’s Watchmen there is so much going on in the illustrations which act on and interact with the narrative and dialogue. Everywhere there are visual clues as to what the author is trying to say to us. This is part of what makes Watchmen such a layered, complex and fascinating work and it is why Alan Moore’s panel descriptions in his scripts are so obsessively detailed.

Is that it? What else is so great about comics? Well, to take Watchmen as an example again, there is no other artform that can convey a sense of a unique world and ambience like the comic book. Part of what people love about Watchmen is the creation of a unique, self-contained world. Here the artist, Dave Gibbons, deserves as much praise as Alan Moore. Largely through artwork can the atmosphere and sensibility of a comic book be achieved.

Another, less artistic, reason for why I love comic books is that they are so damned collectable! I have an office filing cabinet in my room, half filled with my comics which are all bagged and boarded to keep them safe from harm. There is a satisfaction you get from completing a series or a particular writer’s or artist’s run on a title which is like no other. Finding rare comics is also a delight, especially if you paid a euro or so for it.

You might laugh but comics can also get you high! They are a stimulant that goes well with coffee and energy drinks. I must admit that sometimes I can’t resist smelling the ink of old comic books to get a little rush of nostalgia. I’m pretty sure this won’t get me into trouble with the law but, just in case, drink in moderation kiddies!

So, there you have it! Try comics. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what your taste is there is a comic book out there waiting to be loved and looked after by you. It’s addictive but it’s a healthy addiction, as comics are relatively cheap and, as the old folks always say, reading is good for the mind.

 

 

On Steve Harris

By David Jordan

Like Hendrix, you pushed your instrument

To the fore

And created a unique sound,

All your own.

 

Nobody plays like you.

 

Fast and melodious,

Full of sweet fills,

Your fingers tapping madly

Like a moth’s wings.

 

Slow and dulcet,

The calm exquisite hand

Only a real bass player

Can bring.

 

Fast or slow,

A true metal hero.

Proud:

You cut through like a sword.