Sharing the Light of Myths: Beauty and the Beast

In the spirit of the approaching festive season, I asked my colleagues to send me information about discoveries they’ve made this year, while working on the Our Mythical Childhood project.  I’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks–short snippets of scholarship that I think of as Saturnalian Surprises (Saturnalia being the feast of Saturn that ran roughly from 17-24 December).  Our Saturnalian Surprises will appear over the next few weeks. 

Our first snippet comes from Katarzyna Marciniak, of the Faculty of Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw.  Katarzyna is the brains behind the whole Our Mythical Childhood project, so who better to start us off.  She’s created a world of mythical scholarship, finding inspiration in unexpected places, and here, she shines a light on an iconic tv show from the 1980s, the CBS romantic drama, Beauty and the Beast, showing how it draws on myths as old as time…

— Liz Hale

 

Sharing the Light of Myths

 

My Favourite Mythical Discovery in 2017 was in fact a re-discovery from my childhood: mainly, the series “Beauty and the Beast” of 1987–1990. While working on my paper for the Our Mythical Hope stage of the ERC project, I came across a remake of the series and the enchanting live-action version of Disney’s famous animation. Both productions brought me back in memory to the tale as old as time, rooted in the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche.

 

The series of 1987–1990 is truly unique because it contains numerous literary quotes, thus acquainting young people with classical culture – in the broadest me aning of the term – namely, with such authors as Virgil, Ovid, Milton, Shelley, Kipling, Rilke, Tolkien, etc. The richness of this intertextual web of references is not surprising once we note that among the writers for the series was George R.R. Martin, today world-famous for his “Game of Thrones”.

Classical Antiquity manifests itself also through mythological motifs. For example, the Beauty of the series, a lawyer named Catherine Chandler, is brought to the Underworld in New York by a lion-like creature Vincent in the role of Orpheus à rebours, for he saves her life when she falls the chance victim of an assault. There is also an episode entitled explicitly “The Song of Orpheus”. Moreover, the series’ authors seem to be aware of the ancient Orphean relationship between the Word and the Music and they make ample use of masterpieces by such composers as Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi, etc., offering us total immersion into the mythical experience of art.

The myth and the fairy tale work together so that we can retell the classical story that is an everlasting source of the rays of hope – exactly as the series’ protagonists repeat at the ceremony called Winterfest: “Even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light”.

In one of the episodes Vincent reads from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” about “those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples…” And he assures us: “We must not be frightened”. Indeed, Classical Antiquity will not let us fall. We only need to remember and to share the light of myths.

 

Vincent reading from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” on YouTube:

–Katarzyna Marciniak

P.S. If you wish to read more on the series and other Antiquity-inspired works of culture, look for our ERC volume “Our Mythical Hope”, ed. Katarzyna Marciniak, in preparation for publication.

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Report from the Bushland: Research Findings from the University of Newcastle

Marguerite Johnson, who is collaborating with me on a Guide to Classical Antiquity in Children’s  Literature, has built a wonderful community of folklore scholars at the University of Newcastle.  It was my privilege to participate in a day of presentations and thought on the broad topics of fear and myth, to meet her terrific students, and to see their work.  I didn’t see any of the wildlife Marguerite identifies in her blog, but the human inhabitants of the university were very impressive! 

— Liz Hale

 

Springtime at The University of Newcastle is a magical season. It’s warm and the bushland campus is waking up from winter slumber. This includes all the reptiles as well as the buds on native trees and shrubs. Walking through parts of 140 hectares of natural bushland during spring, staff and students are often surprised by snakes making their way across paths; ducklings waddling across roads (often with a line of cars behind them); and, at twilight, baby possums and wallabies making their first outings. We are always advised not to approach the wildlife, but they are regularly photographed. Sunny the Snake can be seen each year basking in the sun on one of the bridges over a small creek, and even has his own Facebook page.

Amid a time of awakening and looking forward to the long summer break, my postgraduates, honours students and a few enthusiastic undergraduates known collectively as Folklore @ UoN welcomed Dr Elizabeth Hale to our bushland campus.

Liz, Marguerite, Excalibur, and the wonderful students of Folklore@UON
Marguerite, Liz, Excalibur, and the wonderful students of Folklore@UON

It was a rainy, slightly humid day that was one of presentations, sharing of ideas, feedback and food. Liz had made her odyssey to discuss Our Mythical Childhood with my students, many of whom are working on folklore, myth and reception projects. Liz began by inviting students to bring along a childhood memento to explain their early interest in the ancient Mediterranean. We were treated with childhood photographs of honours student, Gabrielle Brash dressed as Xena. We even had a modern-day Excalibur wielded by honours student, Matthew Howe. And PhD student, Natalia Polikarpova, shared a truly frightening image of Medusa from a Russian television cartoon.

 

Following this, Liz participated in discussions stemming from a series of student presentations, complete with lavishly illustrated PowerPoints and terrific ideas. The presentations began with our two Classical Studies honours students, Gabrielle and Matthew. Gabrielle presented on ‘Metamorphosis of the Russian Vampire: Folkloric and Ancient Origins’, which examined the comparisons between Greco-Roman folkloric beings and early examples of Russian vampires.

Matthew Howe, in ‘Transformations as a Game Mechanic’, considered the theme of shapeshifting and how it translates in games such as World of Warcraft.

Postgraduate students presented papers on their theses. Of the four presentations, three were based on aspects of myth, folk tale and fairy tale from Greco-Roman traditions and their reception in various post-antiquity environments – from the early modern European age, to the contemporary west.

Tanika Koosmen discussed ‘Why Werewolves Eat People: The Origins of Cannibalism in Werewolf Narratives’. Nicole Kimball talked about ‘What is a Witch? Images of Witchcraft in the Malleus Maleficarum’. Adam Turner asked: ‘Does She Scare You?’ (on female monsters in gaming culture).

Natalia Polikarpova, presented on ‘Gender and Death in Seneca’ as part of her PhD research in Classics. We are thrilled to have Natalia (Natasha) with us all the way from Rybinsk. Gabrielle is particularly pleased to have her in Newcastle to discuss Baba Yaga (the topic of Gabrielle’s honours thesis).

We were also joined by three of my most engaged and talented undergraduates. Erica Wright, studying Ancient History and English, chaired one of our sessions, and is already known to Our Mythical Childhood and Antipodean Odyssey through her blog-essay on the character, Mercy in Overwatch. Natasha Schroder and Jennifer Murray have been key members of Folklore @ UoN, participating in the honours / postgraduate research days, which we have held each Friday during the second semester of our 2017 academic year.

A Day of Fear and Mystery . . .

Folklore @ UoN is the result of a teaching experiment I began a few years ago. Owing to  the small number of honours students enrolling in the non-compulsory fourth year program following the awarding of their Bachelor of Arts, I began to invite postgraduate students as well as interested undergraduates to the honours classes. This proved to be a worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable teaching experience. What has gradually resulted is a collective of students from three levels of study, with different research experience, and shared scholarly interests. The students support and mentor each other. Now we have enough momentum to begin inviting visiting academics to share their research with us.

 

Liz is the first of many wonderful colleagues to visit a Folklore @ UoN event, and we thoroughly enjoyed her time with us and for sharing the joy that is Our Mythical Childhood.

 

— Marguerite Johnson