“My English Teacher is ruining Star Wars,” Jack moaned the other morning.
“What? How is that possible?” I was twirling my hair into Princess Leia rolls on either side of my head in the bathroom mirror.
“Archetypes. Only she says ‘arc-types.’ I think English class is nothing more than a conspiracy to ruin every good book ever written, and now it’s being extended to movies, too.” My 10th grade progeny was glum, very glum.
“Give me some examples of how Star Wars can be ruined just by talking about it,” I said reasonably. “I mean, we talk about Star Wars all the time and it’s never ruined it at all.”
“Yeah, but when we talk about it we don’t get the story wrong, and we don’t compare every character to Jesus.”
“Compare every character to Jesus!” I echoed. “I can see the similarity in Obi Wan…”
“No, Mom. According to a substitute teacher we had the other day, every character in Star Wars is like Jesus.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Really. She pointed out the ‘arc-type’ then she talked about it for awhile then she compared it to Jesus. I swear.”
“Fine. How is Han Solo like Jesus?” I demanded, imagining that roguish grin. I have always loved pirates. I have known pirates, and Jesus was no pirate.
“You know how when Luke is making the Death Star trench run? Han swoops in and saves him from evil, just like Jesus would do.”
“Darth Vader. Evil. The evil archetype. Han saves him, just like Jesus…”
“Oh. Ok. So, how is Darth Vader like Jesus?” I’m sending my kid to an Episcopal school so he can learn THIS? I thought. Mentally I shook myself.
“He dies to save Luke from the Emperor and from the Dark Side, just like Jesus died to save us from all of our sins.” Jack said the last part of that sentence in his best televangelist voice.
“Well, then, the Emperor. How is Palpatine like Jesus?”
“We’re just talking about Episode IV, A New Hope. Palpatine isn’t in that one. It’s Vader all the way.”
“He’s not?” I was surprised, and thought on it. “Who else is like Jesus?”
“Don’t even get me started on friggin’ Skywalker. Whiny bi…”
“Jack,” I cautioned him. “Don’t swear all the damn time.”
“Sorry.” Somehow he didn’t convince me.
“What archetype is Luke?” Aha, I thought to myself. Let’s see how much attention he’s paying in class.
“Luke is several archetypes. First, he’s the Hero. He’s The Young Man From the Provinces. The pupil in The Pupil-Mentor Relationship, the son in The Father-Son relationship”
“Wait a minute. Back up. The Young Man From the Provinces is an archetype?”
“I kid you not.”
“Why can’t you just say he’s the naive young person, or the initiate?”
“Oh, he’s also The Initiate.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The Young Man From the Provinces is the character who is taken away from home and raised by strangers, but returns triumphant to wrest the throne from the usurper. The Initiate is a young hero or heroine who has to go through training and ceremony, and usually wears white.”
“Hmmm. Both Luke and Leia wear white, although I think Leia is already initiated, seeing as how she’s already a Senator and all.”
“Yeah, but she’s also an Initiate, and she’s also in The Platonic Ideal, with, well, Guess Who.”
“Luke. Her brother.”
“But we don’t yet know they’re twins. It’s Mrs. Tyler jumping ahead again. We don’t know of any family relationship. And oddly enough, we’re reading Oedipus Rex in History.”
I laughed. “Jack, I am your mother.”
“Uh huh. And there’s an archetype relationship of Mentor and Pupil.”
“Luke and Obi Wan, as well as Vader and Obi Wan.”
“There’s The Devil Figure, or Jesus, if you will.”
“What? Jesus is the Devil? What is this?”
“Vader is the Devil figure, and as I explained earlier, Vader is also Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is the Devil.”
“I can see how Vader is maybe a Jesus figure once he appears after his death there at the end of Return of the Jedi, but how is he Jesus in A New Hope?”
“Oh, we’re talking at the end of Return of the Jedi. She totally ruined the movies for anyone who hasn’t seen it.”
“Someone hasn’t seen Star Wars? Inconceivable.”
“You’d be surprised. More than half my class has never seen the original trilogy.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. What other archetypes is Vader?”
“Well, in The Father-Son relationship archetype…”
“No! We had no idea about that relationship until the second movie! She really did ruin it.”
“She sure did. She said that Like Han, he’s The Apparently Evil Figure with an Ultimately Good Heart. Oh, and he’s also the wayward son in The Father-Son Relationship with Obi Wan Kenobi. And in a way, he’s The Scapegoat, because Emperor Palpatine is really the Evil One and Vader is just trying to please, or to save his love, or is hopeless until he finds hope in Luke, although Obi Wan is kind of a Scapegoat in that he lets Vader kill him so the others can get away.” Jack peered at me. “You do see the Jesus parallel there, don’t you?”
“Yes, I see.” I was taking it all in. My mind was racing.
“And Han is also the archetype of The Outcast, and he has the archetype of The Friendly Beast, Chewbacca, as his sidekick.”
“How is Chewie like Jesus?”
“He’s always willing to put himself in harm’s way for someone else he believes to be more important than he is.”
“That person being The Lovable Outcast.”
“Exactly. Which makes Han and Chewie the archetypal Hunting Group of Companions.”
“What, Like Beowulf and his men or something?”
“Yes. There are other Hunting Groups of Companions in Star Wars, too.”
“The Jawas. The Tusken Raiders.”
“Not the Tusken Raiders. They’re just the Evil Beasts. Grendels, if you want to use the Beowulf analogy. Luke, Leia, Han, the Droids, Chewie, and Obi Wan make a Hunting Group of Companions, too.”
“That makes sense. But how are they like Jesus?”
“Duh! The disciples!”
I grimaced. Dopey me.
“And then there are the Loyal Retainers.”
“Sort of. Really, though, R2-D2 and C3PO are the Loyal Retainers, especially R2. He’s the one who summons help, and who always comes to the rescue.”
“And he’s like Jesus because…?”
“He summons help and ultimately comes to the rescue. Like Jesus summoned help and ultimately came to the rescue in the sense that he provided a path to everlasting life. Do I have to spell this out for you, Mom?”
“No, no. Pray, continue.”
Then there is the Archetype of the Creatures of Nightmare. The Evil Beasts. Those are the patrons at the Mos Eisley Cantina, or the Tusken Raiders.”
“Creatures of Nightmare? At the cantina?”
“Yeah. Because they’re so bizarre, surreal. And then there is the archetype of The Star-Crossed Lovers. Han and Leia, obviously, Like Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And Greedo did too shoot first.”
“Not in the original movie, he didn’t. In the remake, sure, but not in the first version of the movie.”
“Whatever. Leia is the archetype of The Damsel in Distress. She even wears the flowing robes and has the long, virginal hair, like the Virgin Mary.”
“Not like Jesus?”
He rolled his eyes. “She’s a girl, Mom.”
I cleared my throat. “Right. How silly of me.”
“And there’s the archetype of the soft-spoken, sensible Earth Mother.”
“Princess Leia Organa is no Earth Mother! Well, maybe with the long flowing hair in the third movie, in the scene in the Ewok village.”
“Not Leia. Beru.”
“Yes. And no, she’s not like Jesus.” His eyes and his tone warned me not to go there, despite my temptation to do so.
“There are symbolic archetypes, too,” he informed me.
I waited. Jack was on a roll. I knew he’d go on without my prodding.
“Light versus Dark, Heaven versus Hell, Life Versus Death. You see these in the struggle between Jedi and Sith, the Empire and the Rebellion, the serene light blue of Obi Wan’s lightsaber against the angry dark red of Darth Vader’s lightsaber, the lush natural form of Yavin 4 against the mechanized construct of the Death Star.”
“Then there’s the symbolic archetype of Innate Wisdom that doesn’t speak much contrasted with the Educated Stupidity of constant chatter: again, in R2-D2 and C3PO.”
“I can see that one.”
“And there is Supernatural Intervention. That’s another archetype.”
“The Force, you mean?”
No, The Force is the archetype of The Magic Weapon. Supernatural Intervention is when Luke is in the channel on the Death Star and he hears Obi wan tell him to use The Force, and he hits the target using the Magic Weapon rather than more conventional means.”
“So how is Luke like Jesus?”
“He saves the galaxy. I really do have to spell it all out for you, don’t I?”
“I mean, Luke’s probably bigger than Jesus, who just saved one species on one planet.”
“Stop right there, kid. You have no idea of the flap John Lennon started with a similar statement.”
It’s almost August in Arkansas. That means it’s hot and the air is so heavy and stands so still I can lift a chunk of it in one hand and cut it with a knife.
How can someone who hates hot weather keep cool? She gets creative. In addition to tall glasses of sweet iced tea, sun dresses, and air conditioning cranked so low you could hang meat from my ceiling, I decided to pull out an old favorite: a book about dog sledding that I read a few years ago. There’s nothing like the thought of the Iditarod to put ice in one’s blood, now is there?
This isn’t a book review, although if you want to read more about the serum run the book I read is an excellent choice.
Pull up your chairs and settle in. Let me tell you a story about what really, truly happened one long wintry night in Alaska – where winter nights last for months.
Map of the January 1925 Serum Run along the Iditaraod Trail from The Cruelest Miles
Prior to reading The Cruelest Miles, a fabulous book by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury about the legendary inspiration for the annual Iditarod dog sled race, my own knowledge about the Serum Run came from the news reports of the Iditarod, most of which I ignored, and my son’s old videotape of the animated feature, Balto, which I watched and listened to ad nauseum when he was a little guy. Although I suspected that the children’s movie had taken liberties with the facts, I was compelled to buy the book because of it as much as by the chance to read another vignette from American history. And yes, the movie did take generous liberties with the facts. Apparently, so did the creators of the statue of Balto that sits at the Children’s Zoo in Central Park in New York City.
The 674 mile trek was endured by brave Alaskan dog-sledders to stop the Nome diphtheria outbreak in the dead of winter, 1925. The Salisburys’ book is altogether readable and informative not only about the desperate race against the disease, but also about dog-sledding, Alaskan topography and climate, the personalities and temperaments of the sled dogs themselves, and of the score of determined men who accepted the challenge to risk their own lives to save a town of dying children at the top of the world almost 100 years ago.
Suspense gripped the entire world during each leg of the desperate race to get the diphtheria anti-toxin to Nome in time to save the town. The book intersperses fascinating facts and asides which leave the reader hungry for more, but not impatient with the interruptions of the dramatic unfolding of events. The story has great flavor because of the fullness of its telling. As each team of dauntless dogs is hitched to their sled, the anti-toxin’s epic journey is punctuated with the unfolding crisis back in Nome.
When an Eskimo family brought one of their four children to him in the fall of 1925, Nome’s local doctor, Curtis Welch, did not immediately suspect diphtheria, nor did he realize that he was seeing an epidemic in its infancy. He believed at first that he was dealing with tonsillitis, inflammation of the tonsils and throat caused by a virus or bacteria. None of the other children in the family were ill, and the parents reported no other instances of sore throats back in their village. Since diphtheria is highly contagious, it was unlikely that only one child would be affected, and in the decades he had been practicing medicine in Alaska’s northwest, no cases of diphtheria had been diagnosed. The Eskimo child died the next morning, though. Although Welch first concluded the cause of death to be from tonsillitis, which was rare. After the cases of diphtheria began making themselves known, though, Welch changed the death certificate to reflect diphtheria as the child’s cause of death.
That fall and winter Welch noticed an unusually high frequency of tonsillitis and sore throats. On Christmas Eve, he saw a seven-year-old girl with a severely sore throat. Her Eskimo mother would not permit him to examine her fully without the child’s Norwegian father present, and the father had left the area on business. The little girl died four days later. This was now the second death from tonsillitis. Deaths from tonsillitis did occur, but even in days before antibiotics they were extremely rare. When news came that four other native children had died after suffering from sore throats, Welch began to suspect that something was amiss.
Diphtheria is an airborne bacteria that thrives in the moist membranes of the throat and nose and releases a powerful toxin that makes its victims tired and apathetic. In two to five days, other, more deadly symptoms would appear: a slight fever and red ulcers at the back of the throat and in the mouth. As the bacteria multiplied and more of the toxin was released, the ulcers thickened and expanded, forming a tough, crusty, almost leathery membrane made up of dead cells, blood clots, and dead skin. The membrane colonized ever larger portions of the mouth and the throat, until it had nowhere left to go and advanced down the windpipe, slowly suffocating the victim. [The Cruelest Miles, p. 36]
On January 20, a three year old boy, Billy Barnett, displayed the characteristic gray membrane of diphtheria. Dr. Welch was no longer just guessing. Since the diphtheria antitoxin his hospital had on hand had expired, and the fresh antitoxin he had ordered during the summer of 1924 did not arrive before the Bering Sea froze completely that fall, Dr. Welch had no choice but to watch the tiny boy die. Then the day after Billy Barnett’s death, an Eskimo girl with obvious diphtheria died.
Dr. Welch was aware of the significance of the problem. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, the native population had attempted to flee the disease and instead spread it further. If a panic occurred, the disease would not be limited just to Nome’s population of about 1500. Diphtheria is highly contagious and the bacteria was capable of living for weeks outside a human host. Panicked flight would guarantee the spread of the epidemic faster and farther, and containing it, especially during northwest Alaska’s brutal winter, would be impossible.
The town council met and were informed of the dire circumstances. Nome had been devastated by the flu pandemic six years before, losing more than half its population. Of 300 orphans created by the flu pandemic in Alaska, 90 of them were in Nome. The men were well aware of the seriousness of the situation.
The decision was made to quarantine the town and to prohibit any group gatherings. Children, the ones most likely to be affected by the disease, would not be permitted to leave their homes at all. Two urgent telegraphs were sent. One went to the US Public Health Service in Washington, DC. The other was an all-points bulletin for the entire of Alaska.
Nome’s medical care team was quickly overwhelmed by sick children exhibiting the same symptoms. Not only was a deadly epidemic spreading rapidly through the town and neighboring villages, but Dr. Welch’s medical facility, the best in the region, was cut off from the rest of the world by pack ice and the harsh arctic winter. While this might be good inasmuch as a quarantine was concerned, no one would survive the epidemic to tell about it unless a delivery of antitoxin got to Nome fast.
Keep in mind, now: it’s the dead of winter two degrees below the arctic circle. The sea is frozen. There was no rail service within 700 miles of Nome. Even today there are no roads in or out of Nome, and in 1925 truck transport over such a distance, without roads, was completely out of the question.The only available airplane was a World War I model with an open cockpit – this was 1925 – which would have been almost certain suicide for the pilot in the dead of the North Alaskan winter.
The only way to get the serum to Nome was by dog sled, if serum could even be found.
To be continued…
Jack, my 15 year old son, and I were watching Dogma the other day. You know, the Kevin Smith classic where George Carlin, as Cardinal Glick, rolls out a kinder, gentler Catholicism and its new front man, “Buddy Christ.” Naturally it made me think about other changes the Catholic Church has made recently. I initiated yet another theological conversation with my favorite Scion.
“Did you hear, Jack? Limbo’s gone.”
“What do you mean, gone? What happened to it?”
“The Vatican abolished it.”
“Abolished it? Just like that? How? I mean, I thought it was, like, dogma!”
“It says in this article that ‘Limbo has never been defined as church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states simply that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God’s mercy.’ So I guess Limbo was just policy.”
“So how does the Church have the authority to abolish Limbo? That would seem to be under the jurisdiction of God to do.”
“Well, according to the articles I read, it seems that the Church was really just wrong about Limbo existing in the first place. It never really was there.”
“I thought the Church was infallible.”
“The Pope is infallible. The Church, well, like the Muse and the Apostle say here in Dogma, there was the silent consent to the slave trade, and the Church’s platform of non-involvement during the Holocaust. Protestants were condemned to Hell until the 1960’s when the Church made an exception to heresy. And there’s the whole usury thing, too. Mistakes have been made.”
“Other than the unbaptized babies, who was in Limbo?”
“Um, I think anyone who would have gone to Heaven but wasn’t baptized. You know, the people who qualified except for the technicalities. Pre-Christian Jews. Pagans. Good Buddhists.”
“Does that mean that if I live a good life and do right, but don’t go to Church or anything, that I still go to Heaven?”
I rolled my eyes. “The notion was that only those who didn’t get the chance to know about Christianity would go to Limbo. It wasn’t fair to send them to Hell since they didn’t know, but they can’t get to Heaven except through Christian beliefs. So you have to toe the line.”
“Okay, so, now that Limbo doesn’t exist, and apparently never did, what happened to the souls the Chruch thought were warehoused there?”
I checked the article I had seen on the internet. “Hmmm. I’m not sure, and evidently the Church isn’t, either. It says here that ‘the carefully worded document from the Vatican’s International Theological Commission stops short of certainty in this regard, arguing only that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope,” rather than “sure knowledge.”‘ That really doesn’t say much, now does it?”
“So what about all the souls in Limbo?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they can go to Heaven now. And the good news is that from now on there’s no waiting. Unbaptized babies who die can go straight to heaven.”
“Man, I bet the people who had to spend all that time there are pissed about that.”
“It’s like doing time. Paying dues. They had to do their time in Limbo with no hope of ever getting out, and now the new guys get to go straight to Heaven. They get a free ride, without the Guantanamo-like experience the old guys had.”
“Yeah. You know, those guys in Guantanamo have no idea when or if they’ll ever get out. So if we have another war and suddenly they are freed and the new POWs we get are repatriated without the wait as soon as the President announces ‘Mission Accomplished’ – and are designated POWs without the ‘enemy combatant’ BS – the Guantanamo guys will be pissed off.”
“I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms.”
“And Mom, what if the Church is wrong about this, too? They abolish Limbo but God still won’t let the innocents into Heaven since they weren’t baptized? I mean, what if the policy really isn’t changed and the Church didn’t get the right memo?”
“Well, son, I guess those souls will have to go somewhere. I just don’t know where.”
“You know, the government still has a lot of empty FEMA trailers… I bet souls don’t take up too much room.”
“How many souls do you think would fit in a single trailer?”
“I don’t know. Is it anything like how many angels fit on the head of a pin? I mean, they aren’t, like, substantial or anything.”
“Hmmm. And I suppose they won’t exactly eat a lot, either. Jack, I think you’re on to something.”