Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

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Christo
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Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:16 am UTC

We did a strip at my webcomic site today essentially about Joseph Campbell's hero's journey formula. I imagine some people over here have some insightful--you know--insights. So let's hear them. I'll get the ball rolling with the exposition that accompanied the strip.

When The Matrix first came out, my younger cousin said to me, “It’s basically just a retelling of the New Testament.” I found this to be extraordinarily dumb. Sure, there are similarities, as today’s strip points out, but to say that The Matrix is a retelling is like saying that my younger cousin is a copy of me, when the truth of the matter is that our similarities come from common ancestors, i.e. our grandparents. The New Testament and The Matrix follow a formula that was developed way before the written word ever was.

Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand faces. It’s a brilliant examination, through ancient hero myths, of man's eternal struggle for identity. At least it is according to some dude on amazon.com. I don’t know. I never got through the first chapter because it’s as unreadable as my local newspaper. But his concept is a solid one. As long as humanity’s been able to speak, it’s been telling the story of the Chosen One.

Chart out the similarities between Gilgamesh, Oedipus, Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, Eragon, and any other hero you can think of. Chances are they’re an orphan with special talents that set them apart from normal people. They have a mentor, allies, special equipment. They have a momentous crossing of water, a descent into the underworld, and a renaming. They die, and they are resurrected. And they save the day. And, and, and… you can relate to them.

To me, that’s the genius of popular religion. Moses, Jesus. Vishnu, Mohammed. While these guys are allegedly divine, they’re also accessible. A friend of mine got upset when I mentioned that Jesus’ life has all the components of a hero’s journey. He felt like that implied that it was made up. Well, it was made up. I mean, people made it up, or the divine made it up. One way or another, a story was created that people respond to, and that’s pretty damn cool.
Last edited by Christo on Tue Nov 17, 2009 4:30 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby poxic » Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:50 am UTC

And then there's Women who Run with the Wolves, a decent attempt to fill in the dreadful hole left by Campbell. (He actually said, I think in an interview with Bill Moyers, that women could not be heroes. They were the ones who tended to, supported, and provided companionship to the heroes, but the heroic life was for males.)

Estés wrote about a woman's mythic role in life, as Campbell wrote about that of men. IIRC, her research lead to quite a different set of myths than Campbell's did -- historic versions of fairy tales and non-European myths, anywhere she could find traces of women's history and strength. It's been a while since I read it (and Campbell's books, on which I was hooked for a year or two). I should go back and reread WWRWTW as well as The Masks of God, just to see if the ten or twenty years since have changed my impressions.

I didn't find Campbell's books hard to read, until I got to Creative Mythology. That's where my interest screeched to a halt. I tried two or three times but just couldn't get through it. I kinda feel bad, since I like the idea of what he was trying to do there.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby telcontar42 » Tue Nov 17, 2009 9:00 am UTC

Christo wrote:When The Matrix first came out, my younger cousin said to me, “It’s basically just a retelling of the New Testament.” I found this to be extraordinarily dumb. Sure, there are similarities, as today’s strip points out, but to say that The Matrix is a retelling is like saying that my younger cousin is a copy of me, when the truth of the matter is that our similarities come from common ancestors, i.e. our grandparents. The New Testament and The Matrix follow a formula that was developed way before the written word ever was.

I agree with most of your post, but I do think that the Matrix is intentionally based on Jesus. The whole messiah, prophecy, death and resurrection, etc. It's too packed full of biblical allusions. It's true that the basic structure of the heroic epic is older than the Bible, but the Bible in influential enough in our society that most stories that appear to share many similarities with the Bible, are based on it, at least in part. Another example in the Lord of the Rings, clearly packed full of allusions to Jesus and the Bible.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:16 pm UTC

poxic wrote:And then there's Women who Run with the Wolves, a decent attempt to fill in the dreadful hole left by Campbell. (He actually said, I think in an interview with Bill Moyers, that women could not be heroes. They were the ones who tended to, supported, and provided companionship to the heroes, but the heroic life was for males.)

I'll have to check that out. It sounds fascinating.

telcontar42 wrote:I agree with most of your post, but I do think that the Matrix is intentionally based on Jesus. The whole messiah, prophecy, death and resurrection, etc. It's too packed full of biblical allusions. It's true that the basic structure of the heroic epic is older than the Bible, but the Bible in influential enough in our society that most stories that appear to share many similarities with the Bible, are based on it, at least in part. Another example in the Lord of the Rings, clearly packed full of allusions to Jesus and the Bible.


I disagree. The messiah, prophecy, death, and resurrection all appear in Harry Potter which isn't based on the bible. I think if you run parallels between Neo and Jesus you'll find plenty, but almost all of those parallels appear with any other hero, and the places where it breaks down are substantial.

I'm not sure what the allusions in Lord of the Rings are to the Bible, but I've heard that Tolkien was a devout catholic so it would surprise me. Even if there are allusions, I wouldn't say that Lord of the Rings is a retelling of the bible. That feels forced.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby BlackSails » Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:10 pm UTC

Christo wrote:
I disagree. The messiah, prophecy, death, and resurrection all appear in Harry Potter which isn't based on the bible. I think if you run parallels between Neo and Jesus you'll find plenty, but almost all of those parallels appear with any other hero, and the places where it breaks down are substantial.


His girlfriend's name is Trinity. He dies sprawled out in a cross at the end. The human city is Zion (aka Jerusalem). He dies and is reborn, etc, etc.

Its a Jesus allegory.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby telcontar42 » Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:47 pm UTC

Christo wrote:I'm not sure what the allusions in Lord of the Rings are to the Bible, but I've heard that Tolkien was a devout catholic so it would surprise me. Even if there are allusions, I wouldn't say that Lord of the Rings is a retelling of the bible. That feels forced.


The Lord of the Rings has biblical allusions because Tolkien was a devout catholic. His faith influenced his writing. Gandalf, the teacher and guide, dies to save the fellowship, then is resurrected as Gandalf the white. A devout catholic would not just accidentally make one of his main characters resemble Jesus. The simarillion is also strongly influenced by the bible.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 17, 2009 6:02 pm UTC

If you're equating classic hero mythologies to the bible, that's fine, but don't assume the bible did it first. I can't recall where I heard this, or whether or not it's a factoid, but there are only something like 12 stories ever told, and everything else is just a variation of details. The story of Jesus/Neo/Hercules resonates.

And the notion that heroes are only men is ridiculous, there's nothing intrinsically masculine or feminine about the heroes journey. Any author who claims that women CANNOT be heroes (which is different from claiming that they classically have not been heroes) is a half-wit. Hell, on two counts, because arguments can easily be made about a ton of heroic women in storytelling. I mean... arguments is the wrong word; you can just point to them.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Tue Nov 17, 2009 6:03 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
Christo wrote: I disagree. The messiah, prophecy, death, and resurrection all appear in Harry Potter which isn't based on the bible. I think if you run parallels between Neo and Jesus you'll find plenty, but almost all of those parallels appear with any other hero, and the places where it breaks down are substantial.

His girlfriend's name is Trinity. He dies sprawled out in a cross at the end. The human city is Zion (aka Jerusalem). He dies and is reborn, etc, etc.
Its a Jesus allegory.


Jesus didn't have a girlfriend named Trinity. In Branaugh's version of Hamlet, the hero is carried off in the Christ position--which is not to say that Hamlet is a Christian allegory. And Neo saves Zion from invading hordes, something that Jesus never does. Yes, they use some Biblical language, but they also have characters like Morpheus named after the Greek god of dreams. The Matrix uses an amalgamation of all sorts of religious iconography, and to say it's an allegory of Jesus is to over simplify.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:15 pm UTC

telcontar42 wrote:The Lord of the Rings has biblical allusions because Tolkien was a devout catholic. His faith influenced his writing. Gandalf, the teacher and guide, dies to save the fellowship, then is resurrected as Gandalf the white. A devout catholic would not just accidentally make one of his main characters resemble Jesus. The simarillion is also strongly influenced by the bible.


All right, so it's pretty well-recognized that The Chronicles of Narnia have strong Christian parallels, right? I think Aslan even says something to the children at the end of the last book like, "I exist in your world as well, but I'm known by a different name. It begins with a J and rhymes with Jesus." Gandalf, on the other hand, might share characteristics with Jesus, but I don't think that means he's supposed to be equated with Jesus in the same way that Aslan is. I think that severely limits the reading of the books.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby telcontar42 » Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:35 am UTC

I agree that the religious metaphors in the Narnia series are much more obvious than in The Lord of the Rings and that there is a lot more to The Lord of Rings than a big biblical allusion. Still though, when an author that religious includes a character in his most significant work that shares some characteristics with his personal savior, it's probably pretty significant. The concept of resurrection is too important to Christianity. He's not just following along with an old storytelling structure, he's talking about Jesus.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby BlackSails » Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:40 pm UTC

Jesus didn't have a girlfriend named Trinity. In Branaugh's version of Hamlet, the hero is carried off in the Christ position--which is not to say that Hamlet is a Christian allegory. And Neo saves Zion from invading hordes, something that Jesus never does. Yes, they use some Biblical language, but they also have characters like Morpheus named after the Greek god of dreams. The Matrix uses an amalgamation of all sorts of religious iconography, and to say it's an allegory of Jesus is to over simplify.


Really? Jesus never saves the world by dying? I thought that was sort of the whole point of the Jesus story - that he died for our sins?

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby rnbguru » Wed Nov 18, 2009 3:15 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
Christo wrote:
I disagree. The messiah, prophecy, death, and resurrection all appear in Harry Potter which isn't based on the bible. I think if you run parallels between Neo and Jesus you'll find plenty, but almost all of those parallels appear with any other hero, and the places where it breaks down are substantial.


His girlfriend's name is Trinity. He dies sprawled out in a cross at the end. The human city is Zion (aka Jerusalem). He dies and is reborn, etc, etc.

Its a Jesus allegory.


Game. Set. Match.

There might be other details outside of the Jesus connection, but that's definitely a driving inspiration.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Wed Nov 18, 2009 4:36 pm UTC

rnbguru wrote:Game. Set. Match.

Well, you've got the credentials to be an actual tennis umpire. You're blind. This conversation is just getting started.

BlackSails wrote:Really? Jesus never saves the world by dying? I thought that was sort of the whole point of the Jesus story - that he died for our sins?

Right. In the movie Armageddon,
Spoiler:
Bruce Willis
dies to save the world. And look, it's called Armageddon, he must be Jesus too.

Of course, Neo has many Christ like characteristics. In the first movie a character even says to him something like, "You're my savior. My own personal Jesus Christ." That connection is definite. But lots of characters in lots of stories have Christ like characteristics. That doesn't mean that everyone of them is supposed to be a retelling of the Gospels.

All I'm saying is there's a whole network of connections to other mythologies--many of them older than Jesus. For example, in the second movie Neo learns that he's simply the latest incarnation--this seems like an allusion to Hindu notions of an avatar. The fact that he's able to show people a greater reality may be an allusion to Buddha. And, again, Morpheus is named after the Greek god of dreams. There are levels and levels to the movie and saying "Neo = Jesus" is selling it short. Can we use the geometric symbol for similarity and say "Neo ~ Jesus"? That doesn't feel like that much of a reach.
Izawwlgood wrote:If you're equating classic hero mythologies to the bible, that's fine, but don't assume the bible did it first.

I'm assuming you didn't read the entirety of the post. The fact that the bible didn't do it first is my point.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Nov 18, 2009 5:01 pm UTC

Or that perhaps I was responding to the person above my post, the person who... equated classic hero mythologies to the Bible...?
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Wed Nov 18, 2009 5:33 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Or that perhaps I was responding to the person above my post, the person who... equated classic hero mythologies to the Bible...?

Hey, I apologize if my post was rude. When you said "classic hero mythologies" I didn't realize you were talking about Lord of the Rings. I thought you were talking about classic in the sense of Greek and Roman mythology. I think you and I are on the same page.

Again, sorry if I was brusque.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Nov 20, 2009 8:16 pm UTC

Christo wrote:I disagree. The messiah, prophecy, death, and resurrection all appear in Harry Potter which isn't based on the bible. I think if you run parallels between Neo and Jesus you'll find plenty, but almost all of those parallels appear with any other hero, and the places where it breaks down are substantial.
If you have a story written by someone coming from a European/Western culture within the last 500 years in which a protagonist makes a decision that causes their death but at the same time benefits not just their traveling party but all of humanity... there's a Christianity connection there. I don't care how much the writer is saying they aren't doing it deliberately, simply coming from the culture is enough to cram the idea into one's noggin where it sits and festers and makes the writer put their creation through a Big Damn Sacrifice..... often with a *surprise* ending of the Protagonist being okay and possibly getting an upgrade of some sort.

Neo in the Matrix? He's a Christ-figure. If you want to argue that Neo is a Mithras figure or a play off the Phoenix or even an extrapolation of some sort of instant karmic rebirth or something, you can. Go for it. But discussing a figure who dies, is reborn and sacrifices oneself for the betterment of Humanity, then trying to say there's nothing at all Christ-like about it? Lunacy.

I mean, he was even a damn virgin birth, unless you want to consider whatever the hell the robots did to create more humans sex.

But back to the point... putting forth a figure with certain characteristics, though shared by many, many different beings in mythology, in a European/Western culture is going to be compared to the central figure of Christianity, and rightly so.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:50 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:simply coming from the culture is enough to cram the idea into one's noggin where it sits and festers and makes the writer put their creation through a Big Damn Sacrifice.....
I sort of agree. Growing up in our culture leads us to depict heroes that sacrifice themselves for their ideals, but that was true for the writers of the gospels. I don't know how else to say it, but Jesus wasn't the first Christ figure. He was just the biggest.

But discussing a figure who dies, is reborn and sacrifices oneself for the betterment of Humanity, then trying to say there's nothing at all Christ-like about it? Lunacy.
I don't think anybody's saying he's not at all Christ-like. I look like on of my uncles. That doesn't mean we're the same person, only that we share a common ancestor. So do Jesus, Gandalf, and Neo.

I mean, he was even a damn virgin birth, unless you want to consider whatever the hell the robots did to create more humans sex.
Yeah, but everybody in that movie came from a virgin birth.

But back to the point... putting forth a figure with certain characteristics, though shared by many, many different beings in mythology, in a European/Western culture is going to be compared to the central figure of Christianity, and rightly so.
I'm not arguing against a comparison, only against an equality.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby podbaydoor » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:08 am UTC

The point is that in a Western European-centric culture heavily influenced by centuries of Christian art, further art alluding to those works is probably based off of those Christian stories. Now, those stories might share universal themes with other stories from other cultures, but if you ask the particular artist about naming everything in sight with a vaguely Biblical name in his work, he'll probably say, "I was thinking of that Jesus dude at the time."

And again, because Jesus' journey was a classic hero's journey, the works alluding to him will share characteristics with other stories that also use the classic hero's journey, but the specific intent of the specific author will, in a Judeo-Christian-based culture, probably be alluding to Jesus.

It's not math, A=B and B=C so A=C, it's more like A is kind of like B and B is kind of like C, but the author was probably thinking of B when he wrote A because he came from a culture where B, not C, was dominant. And also because he inserted B-specific references everywhere.

Now, you as the viewer are perfectly free to interpret the work - draw out parallel themes between A and C, equate A to B to C to D to E, go wherever the discussion goes. So sure, talk about Neo's similarity to Gilgamesh all you want and it will probably bring up some fascinating points about culture or patriarchy or whatever the hell themes you're going with. But the Wachowskis were probably thinking of Jesus when they inserted all their Biblical allusions, otherwise they would've named the underground city Uruk.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby LE4dGOLEM » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:50 am UTC

Christo wrote:I look like on of my uncles. That doesn't mean we're the same person, only that we share a common ancestor. So do Jesus, Gandalf, and Neo.

You seem to be equating people and stories. Or, more generally, objects and information. Objects, such as people, can't be copied: you're not your uncle. But information, such as stories, can be copied. Neo, Aslan, whatever, can be exactly the same "person" as jesus, in that they represent the exact same information. Even if you were somehow precisely genetically identical to your uncle you've still experienced different events, and so you represent different information.
But yeah, jesus wasn't the first christ figure.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:09 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:It's not math, A=B and B=C so A=C, it's more like A is kind of like B and B is kind of like C, but the author was probably thinking of B when he wrote A because he came from a culture where B, not C, was dominant. And also because he inserted B-specific references everywhere.


I agree with most everything that you're saying, and it's that "A=B" attitude that bothers me about analysis of the Matrix.

Let me know if you disagree with this: I would argue that the writers wanted to write about a Messianic figure, and Jesus is the most recognizable in our culture so they borrowed images and names from the Bible. That being said, the goal wasn't to recreate the Bible. The goal was to strengthen their own creative thesis via allusion. That's why there are so many allusions to other cultures as well. And that's why the metaphor breaks down in important places.

LE4dGOLEM wrote:You seem to be equating people and stories. Or, more generally, objects and information. Objects, such as people, can't be copied: you're not your uncle. But information, such as stories, can be copied. Neo, Aslan, whatever, can be exactly the same "person" as jesus, in that they represent the exact same information. Even if you were somehow precisely genetically identical to your uncle you've still experienced different events, and so you represent different information.
But yeah, jesus wasn't the first christ figure.


Respectfully, I couldn't disagree with you more. Even Aslan, who is definitely supposed to be Jesus, is not the exact same information as Jesus. Lewis turned him into a lion and made him accessible to children. He cut out elements and added elements and presented his own interpretation.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby GiantSnowman » Tue Dec 01, 2009 7:58 pm UTC

I always thought of Neo more as Buddha-like then Jesus-esque. I see the Matrix as a metaphor for our world of illusions from which he is the first to awaken.

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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby Christo » Tue Dec 01, 2009 9:36 pm UTC

GiantSnowman wrote:I always thought of Neo more as Buddha-like then Jesus-esque. I see the Matrix as a metaphor for our world of illusions from which he is the first to awaken.

I certainly see the connection. He's also similar to the Buddha in that he's apparently the sixth incarnation.
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Re: Heroes, Mythology, and Religion

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Dec 01, 2009 10:00 pm UTC

Christo wrote:
GiantSnowman wrote:I always thought of Neo more as Buddha-like then Jesus-esque. I see the Matrix as a metaphor for our world of illusions from which he is the first to awaken.

I certainly see the connection. He's also similar to the Buddha in that he's apparently the sixth incarnation.

semi-unrelated, Keanu has also portrayed Buddha in another film.
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