Monday, August 28, 2006

The Knight After 10: Circle game

Robin has turned in his resignation. Superman claims he, too, is ready to switch sides. And Batman--yours truly--has willingly composed a loyalty oath to his former archenemy and hunts down his longtime allies with abandon.

As radical as the events of DC's latest Crisis and Marvel's Wars may be (and I still haven't read either one), I don't think they involve quite as fundamental a shakeup as this. In the nearly four months since my "enlightenment," everything has changed. The old divisions of my Yahoo buddy list--Heroes/Villains--no longer apply. Most of the men in those two categories have been redesignated Friends or Enemies (and most of the old "heroes" are now "enemies"), while the Monk, with whom my relationship is infinitely more complicated, gets a category of his own. I myself have been labelled a fool, a traitor, a puppet, and far worse--and I love it all.

My personal Extreme Makeover (which, admittedly, still probably looks a lot like classic Stockholm Syndrome to the naked eye) dovetails beautifully with the premise of a book I found in a used book sale at a local church around the same time I returned to the Monk's welcoming embrace. I picked up Carol Pearson's The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By for its title, of course, and was hooked by the brief explanation of its "six heroic archetypes" on the back cover:

the Innocent, who learns to trust; the Orphan, to mourn; the Wanderer, to find and name personal truth; the Warrior, to assert that truth in order to change the world; the Martyr, to love, to commit, to let go; and, finally, the Magician, who learns to recognize and receive the abundance of the universe.

Having read roughly half the book by now (it's only 176 pages, but it's been a very busy summer), I wouldn't say those are the clearest capsule descriptions of the six stages for my purposes here, but they give you a rough idea. And perhaps, like me, you can immediately sense how accurately they capture the trajectory of the comic book Batman (as well as many other mythic superheroes): from Innocent to trust-seeking Orphan to clarity-oriented Wanderer to power-ful Warrior. (That is, of course, the trajectory of Batman Begins, while Superman Returns focuses on role 5, the Martyr, which accounts for its much-discussed similarity to the Christ story.)

Pearson's book came out in 1986, and its opening chapters are a little heavy on New Age jibberjabber, but if you can look past that stuff, she's really on to something. If I quoted every passage that resonated for me, this entry would be at least ten times longer than it already is. Perhaps I'll devote another post to some key passages, but what I really want to call attention to for the time being is her insistence that life is not a linear progression from Innocent to Magician, and that the Magician phase is not meant to be the final or highest form of existence. Rather, we repeat the journey over and over throughout various dimensions of our lives, learning new lessons each time, and we can exist simultaneously at different points on "the Hero's Wheel." For example, one might be a Wanderer in one's career path while working out Martyr issues in a relationship and feeling like an Orphan on the spiritual front. And so on. You may find all of this a little too tidy, but Pearson does a convincing job of laying out the journey.

Parallels to my Bat-life are crystal clear to me: like many people my age, I first encountered the character as a pre-teen, enchanted by good-guy Adam West and his bad-guy adversaries on the tv show and in the relatively simple DC comics of the early-to-mid-1960s. My innocence was shattered in 1970 when my older brother (a clear father figure and the Batman to my Robin) died and various other awful things happened. leaving me to feel like an orphan for a good two decades or so, until I adopted the mantle of the Bat myself, embracing in adult life the central myth of my childhood. During this Wanderer phase (amply documented in this blog, along with the online conquests of my Warrior period), I came to see how immersing myself in superhero fantasy was not only sexually exciting but a valuable tool of spiritual exploration. Then I met the Monk--the villain that every myth requires, battled him, was defeated and caged by him (thus becoming a Martyr), then escaped his clutches and wandered a bit more, only to conclude that perhaps he was not a villain after all but a teacher, one I could gladly serve. Enter the Magician phase, in which, to use more of Pearson's handy oversimplifications, the hero "takes responsibility for his life" (ie, for the actions I performed as Ratman, when I was still a captive) and "confronts the Shadow." That pretty much sums up where I think I'm at these days, at least on the Bat-front. (My Bruce Wayne life is a whole 'nother story, believe me--but then, I've long been able to use the lessons I've learned in Bat-fantasy as a template for my work as a teacher, an artist, and a member of a longterm couple.)

There is much, much more I'd like to say about all this, and I know I promised plenty more links last time (because in addition to Pearson I've been encountering lots of other material that helps shed light on the saga, too), but this will have to do for now. Life has calmed down ever so slightly for a wee bit, so I will try to write here more often. The Monk saga doesn't move as quickly these days, now that I'm a willing student of magic rather than a captive warrior struggling to free myself, so I'd like to devote more time to the lessons I'm learning from all this rather than simply recapping plot developments.

Stay tuned for more thrilling adventures, dear reader--and best wishes on your own journeys around the Hero's Wheel.

PS. The "soul-stealing" tagline above comes from this bizarre 1973 Brave and the Bold story I came across at Dial B for Blog. Check it out!

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