Session 23: March 10th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 3-6

Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel
Image via Wikipedia

Today, we summarized chapters 3-6 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

We discussed archetypes – the witch is an archetype. This character exists in many different cultures. Does it not also exist in Japan? Some people thought not. Later, I got this comment from a participant:

today’s talk on the archetype and the witch made me rethink about the difference between Western and Japanese culture. And it also reminded me of my childhood when I was always wondering if there are any witches in Japan. It might be difficult to find an exact image of “witch” in Japan, but “yamanba” may be the closest.

I have to correct what I have said when you have mentioned about “noh” masks. There is a “hannya,” who turns into an “oni” due to her jealousy, but perhaps you were suggesting “yamanba” instead? (In Japanese here).

Update: It might be interesting to compare Lewis’ White Witch with the Japanese character “Yuki-Onna“. Or perhaps also with Andersen’s Snow Queen. That would make a good essay for students, don’t you think?

What interests me in the idea of archetype is that there are similar types that exist in the minds and cultures of human beings who live in very different places. Dragons, for instance, are found in the myths and legends of China and Japan. This is understandable, as the two countries are close geographically and culturally. Perhaps the notion of dragon came to Japan from China. However, dragons also appear in Norse, Celtic and Indian myths.

A New York Times article (2003) about dragon is titled From Many Imaginations, One Fearsome Creature. It suggests that the origin of the dragon idea was the bones of dinosaurs, particularly of pterodactyls. However, dragons exist in Inuit mythology, yet no dinosaur fossils have ever been found where the Inuit live:

For thousands of years, cultures across the globe have feared different versions of overgrown reptiles. GREEK MYTHOLOGY — Perseus fought to spare Andromeda from a sea dragon, perhaps inspired by sightings of oarfish (right), which grow up to 30 feet long. THROUGHOUT EUROPE — Roman accounts of dragons spawned many legends; biblical dragons gave them credibility. THE INUIT — They had visions of dragons in a region where no reptiles exist. This one, confronting a caribou, was carved in bone. MT. PILATUS, SWITZERLAND — Pterodactyl fossils (below) are plentiful in this area. CHINA — Flying dragons could be harnessed for transportation. THE AZTECS — Their serpent god Quetzalcoatl had various guises and was seen as a protector usually.

Peter Schaker writes of the White Witch,

She is, of course, the evil force in the traditional fairy-tale separation of good from evil… She is simply the archetypal figure of the temptress witch, whom we respond to quite directly as “bad.” And that is how Lewis himself viewed her: “The Witch,” he wrote in a letter, “is of course Circe, . . . because she is . . . the same Archetype we find in so many fairy tales. No good asking where any individual author got that. We are born knowing the Witch, aren’t we?” [In a letter to a friend, 1954.]  Circe, in the Odyssey, tempted men with magical food and turned them into animals. The Witch, by her affinities with Circe, fits the same pattern, or archetype, as the witch who caught Hansel and Gretel, the old witch in Grimm’s “Sweetheart Roland,” and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: each tempts its prey, hates human beings, and epitomizes selfishness, cruelty, and desire for control. Each suggests to children the nature of evil..

Lewis seemed to believe that the witch was an archetype, in other words, a universally recognized figure.  However, if the witch archetype, for example, does not exist in Japanese culture, that would suggest that the witch archetype is not universal. Perhaps some archetypes are universal and some are not? What are some Japanese archetypes?

Finally, the differences between Japanese and Western culture are obvious and easily explained – geographical distance, and historical isolation. What, to my mind, are more surprising than the differences are the similarities. Dragons, for example, are part of both Japanese AND Western cultures. Isn’t this odd!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

8 thoughts on “Session 23: March 10th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 3-6”

  1. Hikoichi is a joker character who appears in many Japanese regional tales .「天狗のかくれ蓑」(Tengu no kakure-mino) is a famous one. By cunning, Hikoichi obtains a “mino”, a cloak made of straw, from a character called Tengu (another stock character with a mask). This cloak can make one invisible, so taking advantage of it he puts it on and goes to a sake bar…

    I’ve heard that “persona” means both mask and personality.
    Jokers like Hikoichi play an important role in Japanese theater in the recent era.

  2. Conventionally “witch” seems to be a bad character, but I remember Glinda (Witch of the South) of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an attractive good witch.

    1. That’s true. Is the “good witch” or “wise woman” an archetype? Perhaps Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary, is herself an example of an even older archetype?

      1. I don’t think “good witch” is an archetype. My image of “witch” has been “black.” She wears a pointed black hat, and maybe has a black cat. I think archetypal witch is black. Glinda is the only one good witch (a white witch) I know. Did Lewis make the witch white and malicious (Queen Jadis) based on Snow Queen by Andersen? Or some other white witch?

  3. “What are some Japanese archetypes?”

    Oni is considered to be Japanese archetype. Oni first appeared in Kojiki, or The Record of Ancient Matters, completed in 712. Oni are similar to demons, goblins, ogres, devils or trolls known in different cultures. Oni has a human figure, ferocious scarlet (or blue) face with his mouth split to ears, horns and fangs, and mostly have iron rods in his hand. Oni capture people and eat them. Oni, however, is not always labelled as evil but is a rather complex character because it sometimes has a benevolent nature as well as a demonic one; for example, some Oni walk at the head of processions in rituals, sweeping away evil spirits, or Oni Gawara (Goblin roof tiles) are put on the ridge of the roof to ward off evil spirits.

    As suggested, Yamanba would be equivalent to Western “witch”. However, Yamanba has two aspects like Oni and there is something of human touch sometimes, so in that sense, it’s not like Witch of the West who is always seen as “bad.”

    Personally, I’m much more scared by Hannya than Oni or Yamanba, and have been scared of it since my childhood. Hannya has two sharp horn sprout from the temples, gaping mouth full of gold teeth with upper and lower fangs. So scary!

  4. Regarding archetypes, as opposite idea of that of Witch, enchantment is done variously as miracle for honest people in Japanese fairy-tales. And “Oni” is an evil character to be defeated and considered to live at a distance, who turns up in many tales as if they were in our mind.
    In the story,「泣いた赤鬼」by 浜田 廣介(Hamada Hirosuke), two Oni are kind. They remind me of the Faun in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

    1. Thank you. Here are some archetypes I know. Archetypes are, by definition, universal. Perhaps you can tell me if such characters exist in Japanese mythology or not.

      1. the wizard/wise old man, e.g. Merlin, Gandalf
      2. the trickster, joker (this archetype pops up in modern popular literature in the Batman stories, and also as “the Loki mask” in the Jim Carrey movie The Mask, and I would say the Lupin the Third is a modern Japanese version of this archetype)
      3. the Knight; Japanese equivalent is of course the samurai; we are here talking about the mythological character, not the historical reality

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.