The Wolves of Midwinter

Friday, May 04, 2012

Discussion of Anne Rice's "The Wolf Gift:" A Modern Day Myth Part 1

Enter Nideck Point:Beginning of Reuben's Hero Journey

 

      Fascinatingly, Anne Rice has always had a proclivity for creating modern mythology, and she always populates her seemingly conventional settings with numerous types of creatures and characters that are otherwordly. She has a knack for bridging both worlds of the unconventional and conventional, savage and civilized (Who really are the savage and civilized in the Anne Rice equation though?), profane and sacred. Within these dimensions though, there are always nuance within each of them that begs the question: Are our words for these abstract concepts  far too weak for these strong, incomprehensible concepts? The Greeks have long been debating this conundrum in the Platonist tradition; Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages have been struggling over the "name" of God. In Anne Rice's "The Wolf Gift," the conventional idea of the werewolf  transcends  the savage, ruthless  beast that many people associate the simplistic term "werewolf," with. Werewolves have been refashioned so many times that the word "werewolf," cannot be easily assumed to mean the traditional model. More importantly, was it the traditional model? In Marie De France's Bisclavret, the werewolf is still conscious and human , but a projection of the wife's suspicions of his infidelity. Within Neil Jordan's "The Company of Wolves," wolves are the bestial way that young women first envisage men, while going  through puberty and  learning about the strange idea of sex.

                Anne Rice's "The Wolf Gift," mainly centers around a protagonist, aptly named Reuben "Golding", who even has nickname coined by his mother and girlfriend, Celeste, of "Sunshine Boy." Within this part of the narrative, there are many mundane background details about the world of San Francisco, where Reuben works as a journalist for the San Francisco "Observer." Fittingly, Reuben's role as a journalist and also as an artist (he vies to be like his well-respected father, the poet and thinker of the family) is an inquisitive observer rather than just a rigidly objective journalist. He begrudges the limiting labels of "Sunshine Boy," that exude a certain naive simplicity that he simply doesn't believe about himself. Both his mother and Celeste, his girlfriend, have jobs that serve the city of San Francisco; they are institutional roles. His mother is a "brilliant surgeon and Celeste is an accomplished lawyer, both of them ostensibly deal with things that are logical. Reuben's brother, Fr. Jim, though is a priest, and while he still has an institutional role; the role of being a priest ironically deals with spiritual elements, which really should not be housed in an institution or limited to logical ideas. Then again,Fr. Jim is an interesting character because he does serve the city by aiding the city's poor, but throughout the novel he tends to interestingly question the generic notions of religion. Eventually, Reuben,as with any hero like Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker, has an overriding desire to escape the complacency of the conventional world, and travel into the vast unknown territory of the unknown.

        While a journalist deals with objective facts, the questions remains as to whether a journalist is really objective. At the beginning of the novel, Reuben finds himself at "Nideck  Point," where he serves the role of the journalist who is exploring the house for a possible article. With him, he is accompanied by Marchent, the owner of this opulent house that is "stranded  as it was its own park, suggesting another world" (page four) Interestingly, the park foreshadows a recurrent idea throughout all of Anne Rice's novels of a "savage garden" or a woods where our societal ideas are eschewed in favor of nature's unpredictable rules.  In a nonjudgmental way, Anne Rice never describes nature as being something simply evil, but questionably amoral. The things we ascribe with the label "evil" often just means misunderstood or contradictory to our conventional ideas. In another post, I'll discussing the prominent allegorical role of the woods in this novel.

          Anyways, the conversation between both him and Marchent invokes the many background details about his atypical life back in "San Francisco." Again, the details about San Francisco are described with "sun" descriptions. In all of Shakespeare's plays, there is always a dichotomy between darkness and light, which separates the conventional world during the day, and the unconventional word of the night (Macbeth's visitation with the witches-occured during the night, the ineffable meeting between Hamlet/his father's ghost; took place during the night where all things out of the ordinary are afoot) Before Marchent with "her golden hair" and Reuben head back towards the house with the "lush green vines covering over half the immense structure," during a dying day, Reuben gazes one more time across the terrain surrounding the indescribably beautiful monument of the house, he thinks to himself "I'll get in the mood of all this, I'll get this strange darkening moment." (page 8 of The Wolf Gift). Thereafter, another detail suggests " a little shadow fell deliciously over his soul."(pg. 8)  Essentially, the darkness will be invigorating, and he treats it as something that will enliven his dull existence in the institutionalized life of San Francisco

   . After hearing the mystifying details about the fact that the mansion was  owned by the enigmatic "Uncle Felix," night is awaiting its time to set on Reuben's supposed naive life. Entering the house, which even has vines almost as if its a part of the forest, serves as the beginning of  Reuben's hero journey away from the  conventional aspects of his life, and into the territory of the unknown. One of my favorite experts on the "hero journey," or  one of  the archetypal elements that frames the hero myth, Joseph Campbell defines the beginning of the "hero journey," or the "call to adventure." This  is the initial step  of Joseph Campbell's model of a  "mono-myth."  In this part, the hero must always first overcome their burdensome fears that prevent them from stepping away from the safety of the conventional world. Interestingly, this quote aptly describes the beginning journey of Anne Rice's werewolf hero, Reuben Golding, when he ventures outside of San Francisco and becomes more than just an objective journalist/observer"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."  (Quote from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces)    Eventually, Reuben Golding will go through many of the same steps of the traditional hero or superhero journey. While "The Wolf Gift," has received mixed reviews on Amazon, I think Anne Rice has unknowingly fashioned yet another mythological story with so many fond elements of stories that are often misunderstood because some people like stories to stay well trapped within the institutional rules of mundane literature. 










My next post will include discussion about the 


beginning elements of Reuben Golding's hero 


journey; his superhero transformation, a 


discussion of whether or not the hero is really 


serving the good or the bad (questions 


explored in Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter, 


Lord of the Rings, and many other examples 


of modern myths?)



             
     

5 comments:

Lynn said...

I love your review, however it is Marchent, NOT Maharet. Maharet was in her vampire chronicles.

Mary said...

Two corrections to your blog.
1. Reuban's mother is an MD. She is a surgeon.
2. Maharet is a vampire from the "Queen of the Damned." The lady in the "Wolf Gift" is Marchent

Justin B. said...

Thanks for pointing these errors out, I fixed them accordingly! Accuracy is always important when talking about any book.

Doug said...

Why do you think Anne Rice has "unknowingly" ("fashioned yet another...")? I cannot imagine someone who works with the themes she has been dealing with for the past 40 years doing so "unknowingly". Did not Lestat come to awareness of his own strength long before Marcus took him, when he fought and slew the wolf pack in the dark, wintery forest? Rice has used these thematic elements before.

Justin B. said...

Doug, this topic fascinates me, as so many writers have different techniques, but many seem to all agree that the process of artistic inspiration is spontaneous.I don't mean to interpret Anne Rice as someone who is unaware of what she writes. It can be construed that way. I just mean that she might not have set out to write " a modern myth," but a werewolf story with character that endear and fascinate her.

More than any other author I've read, I am aware that she researches things very well before starting a book. When I write, I try to do the same thing. There are only so many limits to conscious planning, some things are ingrained in your mind. I really feel like the story that develops reappears in a different form when writing, than when being pondered in your mind. I'm sorry if the word "unknowing" sounds bad. It shouldn't be treated with bad connotations. It just means that art works mysteriously on its own, and many writers, including myself, really do unknowingly write something time to time.

Basically, we don't know if Anne Rice knowingly set out to write a modern myth. I know George Lucas consciously did with Star Wars. With Anne Rice, I'm just not certain. If you asked JK Rowling, she'd probably assure you that she was fueled by the characters and the universe. She didn't set out to write the "next big seller" or "modern myth." Those are descriptions that many readers use to define the book on their own.