Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Seventeen Steps

Mr. Memory and others will recall that, as mentioned previously, I've been a-questing for a new SnB, a sometimes taxing task.

The quest [brass fanfare!] surely must be one of the most beloved of narrative genres. It's certainly one of the most studied. The scholar Joseph Campbell identified 17 steps in the quest proper, beginning with an Edenic beginning. Campbell's brand of universalism ain't what it used to be (properly so, IMHO), but I am very fond of gardens (Edenic and otherwise). So here's my Tokena sock in progress amid the cherry blossoms of Branch Brook Park.

Tokena sock with cherry blossoms

Alas, terrestrial paradise is by definition impermanent. The quest also includes a threat or disaster that provides the explicit impetus for the quest journey. Somewhat paradoxically, this push is sometimes known as the Call. The Call is fraught with serious baggage, not least anxiety, and almost always is unwanted.

Modern Yarn


There are about as many responses to the Call as there are people. There's quite a catalog in The Fellowship of the Ring:
Aragorn had Andúril but no other weapon, and he went forth clad only in rusty green and brown, as a Ranger of the wilderness. Boromir had a long sword, in fashion like Andúril but of less lineage, and he bore also a shield and his war-horn.

'Loud and clear it sounds in the valleys of the hills,' he said, 'and then let all the foes of Gondor flee!' Putting it to his lips he blew a blast, and the echoes leapt from rock to rock, and all that heard that voice in Rivendell sprang to their feet.
(I always feel for Boromir – the author makes the poor guy literally blow his own horn yet he's symbolically defensive, then – the kiss of death – he's portrayed by Sean Bean. Faithful ringheads say J.R.R. Tolkien originally wrote him to become the king's most trusted general, but oh well.)

The quest genre is fabulously self-contradictory. Quests also involve denials of the call, separations, initiations, descents into hell, paradisiacal visions, many obstacles and unexpected kindnesses, parental issues, death and resurrection, attempts to return to the Edenic state, and refusals to return. Film director Alfred Hitchcock famously termed the object of a quest the MacGuffin and further claimed it's essentially irrelevant.

Picnic among cherry blossoms

Huh. Objects – the nouns in find the Grail, melt the One Ring, Kill Vader, pull off the heist, stop the spy ring – all lack primacy? If there are life lessons to be drawn from stories, then perhaps that means there's time to view the cherry blossoms (with or without the Easter bunny ears of these picnickers), especially for a meta-process knitter.

And to step out of the framing device and into the present, today I drove past four Post Offices in NJ and saw nary a tax protester. Back when I lived in NYC, I used to go to the Farley Post Office Building on Tax Day when the TV crews were there, just to see the people dressed up as bottles of Excedrin tap-dancing on the steps. It seems to me a little honest commerce is more effective – and more fun! – than astroturfed teabags any day.


Kim said...

I'm not a ringhead so I was a bit lost with all the ring-lingo. I really appreciate you taking the lead in the quest for a new meeting spot. I'm going to miss MY so much.
Your socks look heavenly with those cherry blossoms.

Bezzie said...

Oh man, I haven't thought about Joe boy in a while. He blew my mind as a naive little high schooler.

Lovin' the cherry blossoms! I drive past every day and "luckily" I get stuck in traffic near the overpass of Bloomfield Ave. over the park every morning.

Cindy G said...

May the Force be with you!

craftivore said...

astroturf teabags = fake grassroots

Thanks for adding to the vocabulary. Good luck with your sNb, I still haven't found a proper one here and we even tried hosting it at people's houses for awhile. That doesn't work in the end. Libraries are sometimes good choices.