Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Crossing of the First Threshold (and something to do with Wendy Birds)

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I've been slowly making my way through Campbell's landmark piece, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I read parts of this in high school/ early college, but I hadn't revisited it since. Re-reading this book as an adult is certainly more rich; as is with all great writing, experience makes a more appreciative reader.
I'm taking a closer look at this piece for a paper I'm working on; coupled with The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By  by Carol S. Pearson, I'm investigating how these ideas relate to the Comp classroom, but that's not what I'm writing about here.
One of the most profound moments of the book thus far has been the chapter, "Departure: The Crossing of the First Threshold." Here, Campbell investigates, obviously, the guardians that survey the boundaries of the hero's adventure. The hero must overcome the snares of the guardian to officially set off on his journey. Campbell notes how "the Arcadian god Pan is the best known Classical example of this dangerous presence dwelling just beyond the protected zone" (81). Pan immediately caught my attention as I had just finished reading J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan to my daughters. While the character in Barrie's work (and the variants that ensued) were no doubt inspired by the many versions of Pan that exist in myth, I was intrigued by the similar function of the guardian Pan and Peter Pan in the children's version.
Both Pans call the initiate to an experience beyond the physical world, an experience of the unconscious. The hero is catapulted into a “new zone of experience” as he provokes the threshold guardian’s dichotomous nature: “protective” and  “destructive” (82). Wendy's "new zone of experience" is arguably the place of maturation, coming to terms with her inevitable motherhood role, for instance, and the fear thereof. Wendy is, of course, shot down by the lost boys, only to resurrect as their caretaker; she goes to Neverland to die as "Wendy Bird," but finds her new purpose as "mother". 
For the hero, this can be extremely frightening to have the unconscious desires and/ or fears laid bare, often for the first time to his own self: Campbell explains how "The emotion that [Pan] instilled in human beings who by accident adventured into his domain was 'panic', fear, a sudden, groundless fright. Any trifling cause then- the break of a twig, the flutter of a leaf- would flood the mind with imagined danger, and in the frantic effort to escape his own aroused unconscious the victim expired in a flight of dread" (81). Wendy's panic as she descends into Neverland, flightless, is a prime example of this fear in action.
But Wendy, as other heroes must, pushes past the threshold, leaves ego behind (Campbell 89), and finally is awakened, illumined to her purpose, without fear. Ultimately, she is able, like the hero in Campbell's work, to move between the two worlds, experience the supernatural and return to the natural by “giv[ing] up completely all attachment to this personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resist[ing] the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment” (237). In other words, she “willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in [her]” (237).
Understanding Pan (myth) this way, as a guide or gateway to the unconscious heroic is quite beautiful. Instead of a sex-crazed trickster, he is truly a "shepherd" of illumined space that awaits the hero.
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Interestingly, the Brownings wrote on Pan a handful of times in this same manner. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Musical Instrument" rejoices at "sweet, sweet, sweet" Pan's pipe that causes the sun to never set (illumined space) and beckons listeners to return to "dream" (unconscious), ultimately "making a poet out of a man" (creative transformation). The speaker does admit that Pan creates his music destructively, by ripping out weeds to fashion his instrument, but this destruction brings great awakening.
The same poet, in "The Dead Pan," writes painfully beautiful lines lamenting Pan's death and the cease of creativity that it invokes.
Perhaps, to me, the role of Pan is much more multi-faceted after reading Campbell's chapter. While some guardians of the unconscious can be monstrous, they all propel the initiate into the spaces or "zones" that awaken them more fully to their own selves, capabilities and purposes, often creative.
Understanding Pan this way is not so intimidating; encountering Pan should be a sign we are on the right track, as he guards the space which holds the full potential of our heroic capabilities.
As Peter flies away, even Wendy wonders with eagerness when she will encounter him again:
" 'Will you come again and visit us?' Wendy asked hopefully.
'Well, I am awfully busy you know,being a captain and all. But I suppose I can visit sometimes,' Peter replied with a mischievous smile. 'After all, I cannot let you forget how to fly' " (176).


Works Cited

Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan. Franklin: Dalmatian Press. 2012. Print
Browning, Barrett Elizabeth. "A Musical Instrument". Bartleby. Web.
--. "The Dead Pan." Bartleby. Web.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Princeton UP. 1949. Print.
Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology. New York: Meridian. 1974. Print.

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