Literature thrives on flawed characters. With the sinister Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, for example, Emily Bronte tapped into the shadowy aspect of masculinity.
C G Jung calls the latent masculine within women the Animus. Both in its light and dark aspects, this archetypal blueprint can put women under a spell.
I can see Jonny play the disparate twins in my novels 🙂
Equally, the latent feminine potential within men, the Anima, can evoke both, the guiding wisdom of Sophia or the dark erotic charge of Medusa, causing tremendous fear of nature and its awesome power.
Rather than using the image of a femme fatal, I choose to show what fear of the feminine inspires in some cultures.
Our irrational attractions can be sparked and coloured by the parent of the opposite sex. Like a woman with a brooding and unapproachable father may have to kiss many frogs before she discovers the prince inside, while an idealising father can trap his girl in vacuous fantasies. And the boy of a manipulative mother may develop resentment or idealisation for women, or both in a toxic mix. What we tend to project onto the opposite sex is however deeply sculpted by a collective archetypal storehouse of experiences with dual aspects. Paradoxically, this storehouse is also the source of our most powerful experiences and innovations. Whether in a life-giving shape or a dark and petrifying shape, either way, the Animus and Anima hold a numinous fascination until their autonomous grip on us emerges into awareness, becomes conscious, is redeemed, turns creative and makes us truly human.
In my first novel, Course of Mirrors, my protagonist, Ananda, is torn between two disparate men, twins. The theme continues into the sequel – Shapers – with higher stakes in another time zone. In the excerpt below, Gart is rescued from a dangerous impasse by a trickster and transported into the twentieth century, where he meets the story teller and myth-maker, Cara.
* * *
Short excerpt from chapter 12, Shapers
Back in Derrynane
Five hundred years back, at the Kerry peninsula, Gart pondered how he came to sit at this familiar coast, under a dull sky that matched his mood, the sea before him rolling and spitting at his soiled boots. It was the trickster’s doing, of course. He did not thank Zap for transporting him back here, where an old crone had hexed him and a group of weird artisans had made him look like a fool. Yet it was here that he first met Mesa, who he now pined for in his bones. He must get back to Rhonda and outdo Crim. And Leo must be terminated, since he had obviously gone mad, and courted disaster if he planned to control Rhonda’s army. The Governor of Guardians, ha, they despised the fat man. It was him, Gart they followed.
‘I messed up,’ Zap acknowledged, stretching on the wet sand nearby and cracking his joints. ‘Forgot, I can’t activate coordinates for the hub, and this happens to be the only other place we’ve been in together before. I had little choice. ’
‘You’re not so bright after all, are you?’ Gart grunted.
‘At least we’re not consumed by noxious fumes of our own making. Best not dwell on the past.’
‘We are in the past, eejit.’
‘Local slang, eh? You’re a fast learner. You score a point. Zap jumped up and ran a circle of cartwheels. ’Let’s go up to the estate, see who’s there.’
Derrynane estate looked deserted. ‘Nippy air on the plateau,’ Zap said, ‘you would’ve thought they’d light a fire, but not a whisk of smoke from the chimneys.’ The men slipped through the narrow gap between green-smothered walls, the two dragons, Zap recalled, though now their shape was lost under rampant ivy. The yard, empty of dogs, cats, geese or horses, had a silver car parked near the main entrance. Zap whistled, ‘Flashy design, time’s moved on since we’ve been here last.’
Gart’s heart lurched at the sight of the woman appearing in the porch.
‘Hi,’ she said, ‘do I know you? You’ve been here before, haven’t you?’
Zap, in Shaper style, put a hand to his heart. He too recognised her, though she had turned into a mature woman. ‘You’re Cara, I remember. Where’s everybody? Saki, Anke, Mushki …’
‘Oh the troupe, goodness, that was years ago. When Gutch and Craig joined them they hit the road together. I think they operate from a place at the English coast.’
‘And that witch?’ Gart wanted to know.
Cara gave him a piercing look. ‘You mean the oracle of my mentor, Tilly. She has sent me here, for a retreat. I only just arrived. I plan to spend some time writing on my story of Mesa.’
‘I hope the story includes us,’ Zap said, we’re friends of Mesa.’ He shot a glance at Gart, whose mouth opened and shut in confusion.
‘You better come in.’ Cara’s scalp tingled. This must have been what Tilly had had in mind, to process the strange occurrences from so many years ago. ‘Zap and Gart, is it?’ Like Tilly, they hadn’t aged at all, while she herself had gained ten years. To mask her excitement she whizzed around the kitchen. She stacked kindling in the cooker, emptied her shopping into the fridge, plonked bread and cheese on the table, put a kettle on, fetched plates and cups and cutlery, all the while feeling Gart’s eyes on her. She told her guest about her life, her journeys, and studies. Zap helped with arranging the table and kept nodding, eager to hear all she had to say. Cara only tried to gain time to collect herself before she was ready to ask the questions pressing on her mind, about Sax, about Rhonda, about Mesa.
‘Shall I get logs?’ Zap asked sweetly.
‘Oh yes, please. I was planning to camp in the cottage, but we might as well get rid of the chill in the big house. The cooker is attached to a central heating.’ She watched Zap walking out with a basket, charmed by the ease of his manner. Gart made way for Zap but did not offer any help. Rooted to one place since entering the kitchen, he resumed his position, leaning casually against the door frame Now they were alone Cara couldn’t avoid him. Their eyes met. She blushed. He had followed her every movement with an air of aloofness. A hint of curiosity sneaked into his eyes.
‘I look like her. Is that it?’ Cara said.
‘In a way.’ Gart moved towards the table and pulled out a chair to sit on. ‘What happened to your lover, Dillon?’
‘We split, went our different ways. He had his quest.’
‘What quest?’ Gart asked. The term perked his interest since Oruba had called his underground journey a quest.
‘Not my tale to tell. He may have found whatever he was looking for.’
Zap returned, groaning under the heavy basket of wood on his shoulders. He piled logs over kindling in the cooker and neatly stacked the rest against the wall before he went to get another load. Cara lit the fire. Gart, intrigued about her remark regarding Dillon’s quest, struggled to grasp what precisely intrigued him. He scratched his ear, as if hoping for a message. He resented how confusion undermined his confidence. The kettle whistled. To snap out of his dazed state, Gart got up to pour the boiling water over the coffee in the percolator Cara had prepared. ‘Thank you,’ she said, surprised. When Zap returned they settled to a meal. It was Cara’s turn to ask questions. Intermittently Zap fed the fire and they moved from coffee to drinking wine. The story Cara was so eager to hear unfolding was punctured by heated disagreements between Zap and Gart.
‘Some names have changed, but I recognise the characters.’ Cara said, jotting down notes, pen hot in her hand. ‘I thought they’d outlawed weapons in Rhonda. Where did the laser guns come from?’
Gart said. ‘Leo must have raided the Archives. Everything from ancient pasts is stored in the pyramids surrounding the archives – and there maybe catacombs under them. I know this because Leo let it slip once. ‘The man’s a danger to Rhonda. I’ll put an end to him.’
Zap shook his head. ‘Killing Leo, and start a war! Use your imagination. He turned to Cara. ‘If you’ve a say in this story, keep this man away from Mesa. He’s murdered in the past, he can do it again. Mesa deserves better.’
Gart pushed back his chair and sent it cluttering to the tiled floor. He stormed from the kitchen. Cara felt the hurt pride under Gart’s rage. Zap crunched his fist and stared into space. Fiercely protective of Mesa, he had clean anger under his pain. ‘Please keep the fire going, Zap, there may be frost tonight. I’ll talk to Gart,’ Cara said. And she knew where to find him.
The sky had cleared towards the horizon. Beyond the yard, the autumn breeze picked up, biting through Cara’s light coat. She saw him standing at the cliff, looking towards the faint silver band that now divided sea and sky. A diaphanous layer of cloud screened the late sun, against which Gart’s lean body looked delicate, like a feather drawing. Why had she invested her story with two lovers, men who did not see eye to eye, men as different as Assisi and Caligula? He did not turn to look at her as she stepped close to him. He did not move at all, his mind had wandered off through time’s veil, searching for Mesa, no doubt. ‘You see,’ Cara said, ‘once we have given life to something we can’t control it, we can only try to influence an outcome with truth, which is not always in tune with our wants.’
‘I don’t understand.’ Gart finally met her eyes. ‘You created this damn story. Whose side are you on?’
‘Truth is hard to discern, its meaning is held in another reality, where on-going myths are spun. You became part of my story because you walked into it, in a most brutal and controlling manner, though it wasn’t entirely your fault. Does the name Batin mean anything to you?’
Gart felt a stab of fear, but quickly shrugged it off. ‘I think I met a ghost of that name.’
‘How your path unfolds depends on your engagement with what you attract. It’s the same for me, but in addition I’m recording fates, yours, Leo’s, Zap’s, Mirre’s, Oruba’s, Mesa’s, Crim’s… ‘
He cut in. ‘Crim’s one too many.’
Cara sighed. ‘I care for all of your fates, they affect me deeply. My feelings swing about, gyrate like a weathervane does when it storms, which should kind of answer your question. Right now, as I stand here next to you, sensing the pain you can’t quite admit, I’m on your side, but my alliance can change, from moment to moment, from day to day, from chapter to chapter, since like you, I’m compelled by this quest for truth.’
‘Truth again …’ Gart’s lips curled and broke into a devastating smile. ‘Tell me this then – why does Mesa look like you?’
Cara swallowed her shock. He had touched on her core identification, revealing her disparate affections, the turmoil she experienced between the two types of men she was enmeshed with across time, of whom one now exploited her vulnerability, took complete possession of her with his eyes. And faithful to his nature, he relished in the conquest. Cara’s heart quickened. From deep inside her body she felt his pull, as if by a rope. His seductive power made her tremble. Yet she knew he cared only about himself. And coerced by her divided nature, her concern instantly switched to Crim.
* * *
If you’re not familiar with the concepts of the Shadow, Animus or Anima, the Wikipedia pages can serve as introduction.
And anyone who has never heard of Joseph Campbell – this book is a must for writers.
… the wonderful visit …
I loathe most talk of angels since they became best-selling brands, but the synchronicity of Annie Lennox wearing wings and singing to an angel at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the discovery of a rare book among my shelves, brought angels up close.
H G Wells (1866-1946) has been referred to as the Father of Science Fiction. A neglected story, The Wonderful Visit, published shortly after The Time Machine, was regarded as a mocking reflection on attitudes, beliefs and the social structure of a typical English village in Victorian times. I read the social commentary as ornamentation, the comical human attempt to stay the same, round a more essential theme, the conflict that can accompany awakening.
The edition below is from 1922 and has an illustration by Conrad Heighton Leigh. The line under it is from chapter 5 – ‘He fired out of pure surprise and habit.’
A strange bird was sighted.
Ornithology being a passion of the Vicar of Siddermorton, Rev. K. Hilyer, he was going to outdo his rivals and hunt the strange bird. So it came to be that on the 4th of August 1895 he shot down an angel.
… He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of pure surprise and habit. There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice, and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground – a struggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying blood-stained plumes … the Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no bird at all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe of saffron and with iridescent wings … never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour …
‘A man,’ said the Angel, clasping his forehead … ‘then I was not deceived, I am indeed in the Land of Dreams.’ The vicar tells him that men are real and angels are myth … ‘It almost makes one think that in some odd way there must be two worlds as it were …’
‘At least two,’ said the Vicar, and goes on pondering … he loved geometrical speculations, ‘there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly aware of each other.’
They met half way, where reality is loosely defined, and truth has no hold. And they shared the nature of their worlds. Eat, pain, and die were among the new terms the strange visitor had to come to grips with.
‘Pain is the warp and the waft of this life,’ said the Vicar. Riddled with remorse over having maimed the Angel’s wing he decides to looks after him. But to adjust to the Vicar’s world, the Angel must eat and accept pain, and learn all manner of things very fast indeed … Starting to read, during a phase of now legendary sunshine, I settled in my garden with a glass of red, and consequently spilled the wine on my wild strawberry blossoms due to sudden bursts of laughter.
‘What a strange life!’ said the Angel.
‘Yes,’ said the Vicar. ‘What a strange life! But the thing that makes it strange to me is new. I had taken it as a matter of course until you came into my life.’
Mr Angel is nothing like the pure and white angel of popular belief, more like the angel of Italian art, polychromatic, a musical genius with the violin. Listening … the Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity … The reactions of the villagers oscillate across a hair-thin-divide between comedy and tragedy, while the bone of the story is psychological, and spiritual. Indirectly, the Vicar encounters his anima (his inner female) through the Angel’s love for Delia, the maid servant of the house. There is no escape. Things get intense. The Angel, over the span of a short week, is tainted by the wickedness of the world, and it crushes him. And the Vicar’s awakening from his narrow prison brings him into tragic conflict with his community.
* * *
Not much has changed. The world is crowded with wounded angels seeking compassion, and since our daily vocabulary offers little more than clichés for other realities, awakening rarely convinces, unless it is embodied and conveyed through atmosphere. Look out for the artist… the musician, painter, writer, animator, filmmaker … and the children.
‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The painting heading this post is by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg.
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