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Puck as Trickster Archetype in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

MidsummerNightsDream

I’ve read this play several times and have seen it performed more times than I can recount, but I still enjoy it every time. And reading it again this time was no exception. It’s fun, witty, and never gets old. Anyway, I figured for this post I would take a look at Puck as a manifestation of the trickster archetype.

Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as a “boundary-crosser”. The Trickster crosses both physical and often breaks societal rules. Tricksters “…violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

When Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow) first appears in Act II, one of the fairies immediately recognizes him as the trickster.

Fairy

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

Puck

Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And ‘tailor’ cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.
But, room, fairy! here comes Oberon.

(Act II: Scene i)

One of the powers of the trickster is the ability to change form. When Puck encounters the troupe of unskilled actors gathered in the woods, he decides to use his shape-shifting ability to taunt the actors.

Puck

I’ll follow you, I’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

(Act III: Scene i)

It is important to point out that the trickster, although sometimes playful, is also something to be feared. The trickster’s pranks can often lead a person into a dangerous situation.

Puck

Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear’d in field and town:
Goblin, lead them up and down.
Here comes one.

(Act III: Scene ii)

The trickster is definitely one of my favorite archetypal characters, and I find myself connecting to manifestations of the trickster whenever he appears in a book. And Puck is such a great incarnation of the trickster. He is, without question, my favorite character in this play.

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“Hollow City” by Ransom Riggs: Myth and the Subconscious

HollowCity

Hollow City is the second book in Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” series (see my review of the first book: Symbolism in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs). This novel picks up where the first on left off and follows the adventures of the peculiar children as they race through World War II London in an attempt to save their ymbryne, Miss Peregrine (an ymbryne is a person who can shape-shift into a bird and has the ability to create and maintain time loops). They are hunted by wights and hollows. Wights are amoral beings who seek to exploit peculiars to gain their strengths, while hollows are Lovecraftian creatures who feed on peculiars.

As with the first book, this novel’s greatest strength is the inclusion of abundant photographs. These photos drive the story and augment the mental imagery that the writing evokes. They are all black-and-white photos and could easily be included in a surrealist art exhibit. While I appreciate vivid colors in art and photography, there is something eerily evocative about black-and-white pictures. Maybe it’s the shadowy texture or the dreamlike quality. It’s also very likely that they tap into memories of watching old black-and-white sci-fi and horror films on Saturday mornings as a kid. Regardless, the illustrations in this book work really well for me and I think the story would suffer if it did not have the pictures.

There are two other topics that are explored in this book which I found interesting: myth and the subconscious. They are both subjects that fascinate me and are incorporated into the story in a creative and engaging manner.

“Do you realize what this means?” Millard squealed. He was splashing around, turning in circles, out of breathe with excitement. “It means there’s secret knowledge embedded in the Tales!”

(p. 64)

Great art and literature often seeks to express things that cannot be conveyed through traditional communication, hence the use of symbols and metaphor to express the ineffable. The use of symbolism is also a way to mask ideas that may be dangerous to either the writer or the reader. Hence, our literary history is filled with works that contain knowledge which is not visible on the surface, but requires decoding on the part of the reader. In fact, as one of the characters in the book points out, there are some things that can only be expressed through myth and symbolism.

“Yes,” said Addison. “Some truths are expressed best in the form of myth.”

(p. 98)

The book also explores the subconscious in some creative ways. One part that stood out for me is when Jacob was having a dream, which in and of itself draws on the symbolism associated with Jacob’s dream in the Bible, where he ascends to Heaven and wrestles with God. In this story, Jacob also wrestles in his dream, but with his personal fears. What I found most intriguing, though, was that while Jacob is dreaming, he is talking in his sleep. His words are incomprehensible to his friends, because the language of dreams is all symbol and taps directly into the subconscious. There is no way to adequately express in words the realm of dreams.

I bolted upright, suddenly awake, my mouth dry as paper. Emma was next to me, hands on my shoulders. “Jacob! Thank God—you gave us a scare!”

“I did?”

“You were having a nightmare,” said Millard. He was seated across from us, looking like an empty suit of clothes starched into position. “Talking in your sleep, too.”

“I was?”

Emma dabbed the sweat from my forehead with one of the first-class napkins. (Real cloth!) “You were,” she said. “But it sounded like gobbledygook. I couldn’t understand a word.”

(p. 189)

A shift into the subconscious, or any altered state of consciousness, is often symbolized by a descent into a dark place. In this book, the characters descend into a crypt using a ladder, which again ties in to the biblical myth of Jacob. This entry into a dark and subterranean space represents a shift to the shadowy realm of one’s consciousness.

The ladder descended into a tunnel. The tunnel dead-ended to one side, and in the other direction disappeared into blackness. The air was cold and suffused with a strange odor, like clothes left to rot in a flooded basement. The rough stone walls beaded and dripped with moisture of mysterious origin.

(p. 240)

Overall, I liked this book a lot. It was exciting, fun, and it also contains “secret knowledge” that one can discover if one reads carefully. I look forward to the third book. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long.

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The X-Files: Year Zero – Issue #2

XFiles_YearZero_02

It had been a little while since I read the first issue in this series, so I had to go back and reread it to refresh myself. Basically, Mulder and Scully are investigating a case regarding a possible shape-shifter which has similarities to the unsolved first X-Files case from 1946. Both involve a mysterious Mr. Zero (or Mr. Xero from 1946).

This issue continues the parallel storyline with Mulder and Scully in the present day and Special Agent Bing Ellinson and Special Employee Millie Ohio in 1946. The dual storyline was what caused me to have to go back and reread, because I couldn’t recall what was what, but after I got my bearings, it worked well for me.

The most interesting part for me was at the end and is part of the 1946 string. Ellinson and Ohio track down a Native American youth named Ish in Glacier National Park. He informs the agents that the “person” they are searching for is a manitou, “An evil spirit with a bloodlust greater than that of the fiercest beast.” The issue ends with the manitou bursting up out of the floorboards of the cabin where the three are hiding.

So far, I am enjoying this comic. The story is interesting and I like the “film noir” style of artwork used in the panels. I’m also curious how the two stories will eventually connect, or if they end up taking divergent paths. I’ll review the next issue when it comes out in about a month.

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The X-Files Mystery Magazine #1: “Year Zero”

XFiles_MysteryMag_01

I have a cool thing set up at my local comic store. I provide the owner with a list of comics that I am reading and each time a new issue comes out, he drops one in a folder for me. Then I can just pick them up at my convenience. On my last trip, I found a copy of a new X-Files offshoot, which the purveyor of graphic literature thankfully figured I’d be interested in.

In this issue, Mulder and Scully are investigating a case regarding a large black leopard that is loose. Mulder is convinced it is a cat person, someone who can shape-shift between human and feline form. Mulder points out that there are similarities between this case and the first x-file from 1946. The comic then flashes back to 1946 and begins the tale of two outcast agents, one male and one female, investigating a case involving a mysterious Mr. Xero.

The comic is really well done and draws on the style of film noir detective stories. I really love the old detective stories. As a kid, I read detective magazines and would watch old mysteries. I imagined myself being a detective one day. I confess that I read every single Hardy Boys mystery before I reached junior high school.

I’m very excited about this new series. I love the X-Files and I love 1940’s detective stories, so a combination of the two bodes well. Anyway, the plot is set, and now I wait for the next issue to see how the mystery unfolds. I’ll be reviewing the next issue as soon as it comes out. Cheers!

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