There be dragons!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Natural

Perhaps its just my current idea fixee but I'm beginning to see the Amun Ra story in everything of Western Culture. How deeply this myth influenced us even down to our understanding of what a dragon is. In the East the dragon was a force of nature, sometimes wild and dangerous, sometimes beneficent. For us the dragon is that many headed, coiling terror that threatens to devour all that is good in man - despair - darkness - the horror that we have to face at some point in our lives. It is Smaug and Leviathan, it is Python and Jörmungandr around the world tree, Ygdrassil. And it is Apep, the dragon met at the end of the journey through the underworld, or Duat, by the sun god, Amun Ra.
Egyptians believed that the sun ran its living course during the day, died at sunset, and during the night sailed through the treacherous waters of the underworld accompanied by his sargeants and generals. At the end of this journey they meet Apep who threatens to devour Amun as Jörmungandr threatens to devour the world tree in Ragnarok. The battle is joined, Apep is destroyed, even as Apollo destroys Python, and the sun god rises again to glorious newbirth or resurrection with the sunrise.

Watching again the Natural I'm seeing just that. It is an underdog story about a man, Roy Hobbs, who has suffered a crippling defeat that takes him away from his dream of baseball. Yet he returns to the game and triumphs over the forces of darkness that threaten to consume him. I don't think that Redford consciously meant to mimic the Amun-Ra story, but the use of colors, shadows, name imagery, all indicate a retelling of that sun story. When Roy blasts the lights into fireworks and they fall past the window of the defeated judge we see again the triumph over those forces that seek to assert the inevitable and hopeless success of greed, power, and mediocrity over glory and nobility. Even the last scene that shifts from darkness to light and Roy playing ball in the field of wheat with his son while Iris stands watching with the blue sky behind her, is itself a resurrection scene - a sign that hope exists and we can triumph over our own darkness and demons.

I'm amazed that at the persistence of this story: more than 6000 years if my history is correct. Why would it last so very long in Western culture? Even the Christ story, regardless of historical accuracy, is itself a retelling wherein the mob and Caiaphas are the Apep and Christ rises with the sun on the third day (rather than the full count of baseball). What then are we saying? Does man have spem in alium? Is there hope in things unseen? Is it just a pretty fairy tale we repeat to each other in order to overcome the dark? I don't know - but the fruit of this story has had remarkable yield in all that the West has accomplished; freedom, government, art, courtesy, belief in the importance of the individual, sense of greatness and dignity, and the perpetual positivism even in the grim jaw of defeat.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
- Hebrews 12:1

No comments:

Post a Comment