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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I recently reread one of my 2009 posts, AGON IN SIXTY SECONDS, and found I no longer agreed with this statement, made when comparing Rider Haggard's SHE to his KING SOLOMON'S MINES:

though there is no definitive battle in SHE, the efforts of the protagonists to survive in her world, as well as to avoid becoming the chattel of Ayesha, still mark SHE as belonging to the mythos of adventure, albeit in a subcombative mode.

The term "subcombative" is one I tossed aside a while back, as mentioned elsewhere. But as I reflect back upon the writing of that essay, I recall thinking that it made good sense to rate both SHE and KSM as belonging to the adventure-mythos, since in many ways SHE recapitulates many of the story-motifs of the earlier novel, even to the nature of the viewpoint character. For instance, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill to the contrary, in Haggard's novel Allen Quatermain is not a strapping square-jawed type, but a dinky, homely fellow very much like the viewpoint character of SHE.

By making that statement, though, I was allowing myself to focus on the events of the respective novels' plots rather than how those plots articulated one of the four Fryean mythoi. It was somewhat later that I would reread Theodor Gaster's THESPIS, which work was immensely helpful in remembering that each of the *mythoi* is not simply a concatenation of plot-motifs, but is aimed at (at least in my adaptation of Gaster and Frye together) at putting across a distinct emotional tenor. Rehearsing these once again:

ADVENTURE conveys the INVIGORATIVE mood, and does so by centering upon how protagonists who defend life and/or goodness from whatever forces are inimical to them. The protagonists' power of action is at its highest here.

COMEDY conveys the JUBILATIVE mood, and does so by centering upon how the heroes seek happiness/contentment in a world that has some element of craziness to it (what I've termed the "incognitive" myth-radical), yet does not deny the heroes some power of action.

IRONY conveys the MORTIFICATIVE mood, and does so by centering upon characters in a world where the "power of action" is fundamentally lacking.

DRAMA conveys the PURGATIVE mood, and does so by centering upon "individuals who find themselves in some way cast out from the main society." Power of action here is more ambivalent than that of the adventure-mythos but seems more crucial to the individual's problem than it does for that of the comic hero.

Although in KSM Allen Quatermain is not quite the superman that later adaptions have made him, he is both the viewpoint character and what I have termed "the focal presence." That is, his battles with death channel the invigorative mood crucial to the adventure-mythos; the opponents he encounters, principally the lost African tribe he and his allies come across, are distinctly secondary.

In AGON I was playing with the notion that SHE was in the adventure-mythos even though it clearly did not end with a combat in which Horace Holly and his allies proved triumphant. The novel was merely an "irregular" example of adventure because the heroes got out of their predicament by dumb luck-- which seems closer to the comedic mythos than anything else.

However, one reason that SHE does not offer readers a triumph of its viewpoint charactes is because the viewpoint characters are not the stars. Clearly the star is She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and the arc of her story is that of purgation, of the dramatic mythos. Admittedly SHE's viewpoint characters are much more developed than many of the non-focal viewpoint characters seen in such works as ODD JOHN, cited in this essay as an example where a barely characterized narrator tells the reader about the astounding focal presence-character.

Not all dramas (or melodramas) must end with complete purgation, even though both SHE and ODD JOHN do. It's just as possible to bring the focal presence close to total purgation, and then to pull him back from the brink of destruction, as in, to cite a couple of random examples, Shakespeare's PERICLES and noir films like the 1945 LOST WEEKEND.

The drama and the adventure, often perceived as two "serious" types of entertainment, are easy to confound, even as are the two types of "unserious" entertainment, comedy and irony. Since as I see it even Northrop Frye, who conceived the four mythoi, made what I deem a few misassignments, such classificatory problems seem almost inevitable.

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