Thursday, October 10, 2019

Jungian Archetypes in Rosemary Sutcliff’s Trilogy Essay

This paper will analyze Rosemary Sutcliff’s trilogy – The Sword and the Circle, The Light Beyond the Forest and The Road to Camlann – in light of the Jungian archetypes embedded in the text: the mother, the old wise man, the shadow, and the mandala archetypes. In her trilogy, Sutcliff employed the Jungian archetypes in order to provide a new configuration of the legend of King Arthur, interweaving myth and fantasy with psychological traits. From this perspective, the Arthurian legend appears in a new light, in which the story and the secondary narratives come to represent a particular mise-en-scene of figures of the subconscious. In Sutcliff’s trilogy, King Arthur and many characters achieve a symbolic significance. The author’s main interest is in King Arthur, around whom she constructs a whole series of archetypal motifs, which account for many of the peculiar and otherwise hard to explain characteristics of the story. Traditionally, all the fantastic motifs have been interpreted as subordinated to the fairy-tale logic and such motifs as witchcraft or transgression of taboos have been attributed to the pre-Christian Celtic subtext. However, this paper will argue that the overwhelming presence of archetypal images in Sutcliff’s texts brings a symbolic context to our interpretation of the legend. The Great Mother Archetype In Jung’s definitions, the mother archetype is ambivalent, in that it can both evoke a benign and benevolent figure, but also an evil, witch-like attribute: The qualities associated with it are maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual transformation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility. The place of magic transformation and rebirth, together with the underworld and its inhabitants, are presided over by the mother. On the negative side the mother archetype may connote anything secret, hidden, dark; the abyss, the world of the dead, anything that devours, seduces, and poisons, that is terrifying and inescapable like fate. The mother archetype can take the shape of a plethora of symbols and can become actualized either as an image of plenitude and abundance, or as a token of dark forces in man. Both meanings appear in Sutcliff’s trilogy. Significantly, Arthur is deprived of a real mother figure from the beginning. His father’s vow to Merlin, which had granted that the latter would be entrusted the child the night he would be born, set Arthur away of his real mother. Moreover, in his foster family, Sutcliff makes little to no reference to a mother figure, focusing on the male side, who was there to rear the future great king of Britain. In this context, the mother figures that appear in Arthur’s life also have the significance of a repressed longing for a mother but, most significantly, serve to inscribe the character in a supernatural lineage. The solar and benevolent mother figure appears in the guise of Nimue, Lady of the Ladies of the Lake, who marks crucial moments in Arthur’s life, endowing him with the symbol of his manhood an kingship – Excalibur – and also receiving him back in her â€Å"womb† ( the lake) upon his death. The circumstances of Arthur’s first encounter with Nimue hint to the protective aspect of the Lady of the Lake and also to her crucial influence on setting Arthur on the righteous path: And looking where he pointed, Arthur saw an arm rise from the midst of the lake, clad in a sleeve of white samite and holding in its hand a mighty sword. And even as he looked, he saw a maiden whose dark gown and hair seemed about her like the mists come walking towards him across the water, her feet leaving no ripple-track upon its brightness. â€Å"Who is that? † whispered Arthur. â€Å"This is the Lady among all the Ladies of the Lake. Speak to her courteously and she will give you the sword. † [†¦] â€Å"It is a sword that I have guarded for a long time. Do you wish to take it? † â€Å"Indeed I do,† looking out across the lake with longing eyes. â€Å"For I have no sword of my own. † â€Å"Then promise me never to foul the blade with an unjust cause, but keep it always as befits the Sword of Logres, and it is yours. † From this passage, we can notice that Lady Nimue acts as a true maternal initiator into Arthur’s symbolic coming into manhood. She has a positive influence on Arthur’s life and gives the ultimate recognition of Arthur as the true great king of Britain. Her mother figure attributes become apparent especially through the symbolism of the lake. According to Jung, the mother archetype can be translated through various motifs, which allude to the mother’s child-bearing and receiving features: â€Å"The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to various vessel-shaped flowers like the rose and the lotus. † As the Lady among the Ladies of the Lake, Nimue enacts the essential characteristic of the mother archetype as child-bearer and vessel for the child. The lake is a symbol of the womb. Through this lineage, Arthur is belated with an ancestral and supernatural origin. This idea has usually been interpreted as the inclusion in the story of pre-Christian lore of Celtic fairy-tales. However, the uncertain origin of Nimue, as well as her unquestionable attributes of a mother archetype could suggest that the predominant ancient subtext of the story could stand for archetypes of the collective unconscious. Just before arriving to the lake, Arthur and Merlin have to cross the forest, â€Å"following ways that no man might know but only the light-foot deer;† . The forest, as we have seen in the passage from Jung quoted above, can also be associated with the mother archetype. The final, symbolic welcoming of Arthur in Nimue’s womb at the moment of his death, is also very evocative of the mother figure that Nimue incarnates: â€Å"And the barge drifted on, into the white mist between the water and the moon. And the mist received it, and it was gone. Only for a little, Sir Bedivere, straining after it, seemed to catch a low desolate wailing as of women keening for their dead. † Finally Nimue represents the mother archetype par excellence as she weds and represses Arthur’s father-figure: Merlin. There are many other symbols in the text of the mother archetype. As Jung points out: Other symbols of the mother in the figurative sense appear in things representing the goal of our longing for redemption, such as Paradise, the Kingdom of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Many things arousing devotion or feelings of awe, as for instance the Church, the university, city or country, heaven or earth, the woods, the sea or any still waters, matter even, the underworld and the moon can be mother symbols. In this light, the quest for the Holy Grail could be interpreted as a mother archetype symbol. The double function of the Holy Grail – as vessel and as token of redemption – enacts in the story Arthur’s quest for a maternal figure. As was stated in the beginning of the analysis, the mother archetype is ambivalent in that it also displays a dark, hidden facet which finds its best expression in the witch figure. In Sutcliff’s trilogy, this aspect of the mother archetype is embodied by Queen Margawse . She is Arthur’s sister and they both originate from the â€Å"Little Dark People†, old lords of the land bearing many affinities with Celtic druidism, magic and witchcraft. This heritage is realized in Morgan in its dark, malefic aspect and she becomes an adversary for Arthur, bewitching him one night into bearing her a child. It is interesting that Morgan’s wicked actions are not motivated in the story, they are simply attributed to her witchcraft and to the fact that she abides by the â€Å"old rules†: Why she did it, there can never be any knowing; for she knew, though he did not, what kin they were to each other (but for her, she had never cared for any law, save the law of her own will). Maybe she thought to have a son to one day claim the High Kingship of Britain. Maybe it was just revenge; the revenge of the Dark People, the Old Ones, whose blood ran strong in her, upon the Lords of Bronze and Iron, and the people of Rome, who had dispossessed them. This could imply the fact that Morgan also has a symbolic function in the text, playing alternatively the role of the threatening mother figure and that of Arthur’s anima. The fact that Arthur and Morgan have the same mother is not coincidental: in a way, Morgan is a metonymic symbolization of the darker aspects of the mother archetype. The Old, Wise Man Archetype According to Jung, the old wise man figure. Can appear so plastically, not only in dreams, but also in visionary meditation (or what we call â€Å"active imagination†), that is, as is sometimes apparent in India, it takes over the role of a guru. The wise old man appears in dreams in the guise of a magician, doctor, priest, teacher, professor, grandfather, or any other person possessing authority. The archetype of spirit in the shape of a man, hobgoblin or animal appears in a situation where insight, understanding, good advice, determination, planning, etc. , are needed but cannot be mustered on one’s own resources. In Sutcliff’s trilogy, the wise old man archetype is embodied by Merlin, who acts as a spiritual counsellor and guide both for Arthur’s father and for Arthur himself. From the outset, Merlin is presented as a spiritual force: besides his belatedness with the Old People, from his mother’s side, and his having been raised by a druid, his father is purported to be an (ambivalent) angelic figure. In Arthur’s life, Merlin represents the wisdom and vision which will help Arthur to accomplish his destiny. Once Arthur becomes a true King, Merlin will fade, as his guidance is no longer necessary. In many respects, Merlin can be equated with the most adequate father figure in the text. Like Morgan and Nimue, Merlin is the embodiment of the â€Å"old ways† and laws, which heed no obedience to the Christian values and norms; he seems to embody the agency of fate (by definition, a pre-Christian theme) and represents, even more than a father figure, â€Å"the uncertainty of all moral valuation, the bewildering interplay of good and evil, and the remorseless concatenation of guilt, suffering and redemption. † According to Jung, this is actually the only path to redemption even if it is hard to recognize it. In his interventions, Merlin is never evil, but we cannot say that he is a wholly moral figure either: he is the one who helps Utha deceive Igraine. This is why Merlin is an ambiguous figure too. Merlin’s life is profoundly interwoven with that of Arthur’s: he appears in the story before Arthur’s birth in order to ensure that the child would be safe from internal feuds after his father’s early death, he guides Arthur in all the crucial moments in his life, withdraws when he realizes that Arthur has become a king in his own right, and will allegedly become resurrected the day Arthur and he will be called to save Britain. From this perspective, Arthur and Merlin reiterate the rebirth archetype: And the King opened his eyes and looked at him for the last time. â€Å"Comfort yourself, and do the best that you may, for I must be gone into the Vale of Avalon, for the healing of my grievous wound. One day I will return, in time of Britain’s sorest need, but not even I know when that day may be, save that it is afar off†¦But if you hear no more of me in the world of men, pray for my soul. † We can notice from this paragraph the similarities between Arthur’s vow to return and the Christian story. The Shadow/Anima Archetype. In Jung’s vision, the anima is â€Å"the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya – and not only into life’s reasonable and useful aspects, but also into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another. Because she is his greatest danger, she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him, she will receive it. † This archetype is symbolized in the story by the figure of Morgan La Fay, Arthur’s fiercest enemy, who demands of him to give the full measure of his authority and courage. Not coincidentally, she is a witch, she appears as the â€Å"veiled lady†, a true seductress. But for the end of the story, we would be inclined to interpret Morgan in a literal sense – simply as Arthur’s wicked enemy. However, the ending complicates this interpretation because Morgan is one of the three women receiving Arthur upon his death: And there, where before had seemed to be only lapping water and the reeds whispering in the moonlight, a narrow barge draped all in black lay as though it waited for them within the shadows of the alder trees. And in it were three ladies, black-robed, and their hair veiled in black beneath the queenly crown they wore. And their faces alone, and their outstretched hands, showed white as they sat looking up at the two on the bank and weeping. And one of them was the Queen of Northgalis, and one was Nimue, the Lady of all the Ladies of the Lake; and the third was Queen Morgan La Fay, freed at last from her own evil now that the dark fate-pattern was woven to it end. Clearly, Morgan La Fay is just as ambiguous as the other archetypes in the story. Her final communion with Arthur suggests the idea that she does indeed stand for his anima and that Arthur has succeeded in completing the challenge that she had set for him. In a way, Morgan is the receptacle of Arthur’s darker side which he had also inherited from the â€Å"dark people†. However, guided by Merlin’s mercurial light, Arthur succeeds in repressing these malign tendencies which surface with a vengeance in the character of Morgan. Mordred, the incarnation of Arthur’s mortal sin, and of his submission to the anima has be to vanquished in order for Arthur to find redemption. The final metamorphosis of Morgan and her reconciliation with Arthur suggest that redemption has been accomplished. The Mandala Archetype In his analysis of the mandala archetype, Jung stated that: [mandalas] †¦ are all based on the squaring of a circle. Their basic motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything isolated, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy. [†¦] This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self — the paired opposites that make up the total personality. This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind. In Sutcliff’s trilogy, the most obvious symbol of the mandala is the Round Table. It signifies Arthur’s destiny and enacts the circle of life that he has to complete. Quite significantly, the mandala, also associated with the feminine archetypes, is brought to Camelot as Guenever’s dowry and Merlin is the one who appears to have originated it. The Round Table is the archetype that reunites all the other archetypes, ii is the beginning and the end of Arthur’s quest. The â€Å"archetype of wholeness†, the mandala, or the Round Table reunites the supernatural aspects of Arthur’s life with his terrestrial existence. The overwhelming presence of such archetypes and the great mother, the wise old man, the anima, rebirth and mandala in Sutcliff’s trilogy gives a symbolical turn to the Arthurian legend. In this light we realize the importance of this legend not only for the enrichment of story-telling but also as a universal a expression of the collective unconscious. Works Cited: Jung, C. G. 1973. Mandala Symbolism. Transl. by C. F. Hull, Princeton University Press, NJ. — The Essential Jung, Princeton University Press, 1983. — Four Archetypes, Routledge, 2003. Sutcliff, Rosemary. 1981. The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Bodley Head Ltd. — The Light Beyond the Forest, The Bodley Head Ltd, 1981. — The Road to Camlann, The Bodley Head Ltd, 1981.

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