The Woman Wanderer

30 09 2008

Several years ago, I heard Sheri O’Sullivan give a talk at a conference about the “woman wanderer.” She argued that for female characters in Young Adult novels, the outcomes of the hero quest differ than for male characters. I found this intriguing, ineffable, and true. When I perused the numerous stories of the quest, the males got to either rule (Beowulf) or gain empowerment. Joseph Campbell’s research supports this.

            However, female characters do not get to rule. Instead, they face a choice: They may either leave the culture as they are too changed by the journey to fit in, or they may return to their passive roles; the quest becomes, for them, a way to achieve personal growth but not a way to triumph within their society.

Hero with a Thousand Faces

Hero with a Thousand Faces


            This is true in works by men (The Wizard of Oz, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, e.g.) as well as by women (Tuck Everlasting, The Moorchild, A Wrinkle in Time). Even strongly feminist writers such as Lois Lowry follow this motif (Gathering Blue, e.g.), leading me to wonder if there is some cultural/societal mechanism that reinforces some dichotomy, or an internal mechanism that causes writers to follow these motifs in quest stories.

            When these works are made into films, either on the big screen or small, the male directors, as far as I can see, recast those elements which might have made the heroine’s journey more heroic. For example, in Tuck Everlasting, Winnie is older than in the book (12 years), allowing her to pursue a romantic relationship with Jessie. However, the book’s younger Winnie has to overcome more obstacles since a 12-year-old is less likely to be heroic. Thus, the film, while adding romantic interest, weakens Winnie’s transformation. Similar changes are made in other works (The Tombs of Atuan, A Wrinkle in Time) made into films. The more I collect such works, the more I see that O’Sullivan is right, and the more I want to explore why this might be so.



16 09 2008
Welcome to my first-ever web log. Please explore the “Research Project” pages to see what I plan on doing for CLST 355.

Museum Musings

15 12 2008

Well, I FINALLY made it to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and it was well worth the effort. Here I will give some of my impressions of the exhibits, and then of the museum as a whole (and as a concept) as well as a brief critique.
I really enjoyed the exhibits, especially the miniature mosaics—I couldn’t believe that someone could make art that small! Also, the art placed on needles and seeds—it was just unbelievable but beautiful. I also was amazed by the x-rays of plants that took on 3 dimensions when viewed through special lenses. Equally enjoyable was the Cat’s Cradle room devoted to string art; imagine, a museum that devotes an entire display to string art! Perhaps, though, my favorite was the display on folklore and folk medicines which showed treatments for mouth fungus (just stick a duck’s bill in your mouth!) and other equally bizarre things. It shows how easily we believe, and how the beliefs of today may be just as strange—we just don’t have the perspective to see them as strange yet.
The museum itself is unlike any other I have ever been to (and, not to be modest, I have been to many of the world’s greatest), and it was a refreshing change. There is an intimacy, as the displays are sequestered into semi-private areas. The house-like layout lends some familiarity and hominess, yet the dark interior also adds a layer of mystery. I loved the various ways the information was distributed through video, phones, lighting, sound effects, and special lenses, all designed to appeal to more than the visual and thus enrich the experience. Also, the way in which the pseudo-scientific and pop art is placed alongside more standard museum fare shows that not just the stuffy ivory tower stuff is worth study and enjoyment—museums should consider all aspects of life.
I also appreciated the way in which the viewer is a participant; these displays do not let you go quickly by, as in many museums. Instead, you are almost forced to sit and watch, listen to a tape, and make connections. While not a huge museum, I probably spent as much time as I have in some of the world-class venues I’ve visited because I had to listen and watch to understand the display.
Given the museum’s name, I was not sure what to expect, and the quirky title does reflect the quirky nature of the interior. In fact, as I was leaving, one of the other patrons asked the clerk a question I had wondered myself—were all of the displays equally true? That is, there seemed to be an attempt to put on a parody of museum displays in some places. The clerk responded that they were all equally “true,” but they did not preference one approach to art, science, technology, or “truth.” Thus, Noah’s ark was seen as equally worthy of consideration as x-rays of plants. Indeed, I appreciated the inclusion of religion throughout the museum, especially the diorama come to life of the vision of a saint who saw Christ in the antlers of a stag.
The museum reminds us to find beauty and wonder in the achievements of the unknown and lesser-known, in the cutting-edge as well as the established, and in the mystical and esoteric as well as the down to earth. I was intrigued by the one display on memory, and how the one theorist argued that true memory does not exist. This made me think of several of our readings this semester. While I disagree with his theory—of course we have memory—it was an interesting argument that both reified and expanded the museum’s message that knowledge is a slippery thing, and we must be careful in claiming to know anything for certain. I am hopeful I can go again, especially with my nieces and nephew.
Unfortunately, the museum is not very well suited to the handicapped; a lot of stairs and steps up and down, none of which is well-marked, especially in the darkened interior. Those with sight impairments would have some difficulty, and some of the spaces are not big enough for two people to pass easily. However, the price is more than reasonable, and most would enjoy the place.


9 12 2008

            Now that my presentation is over, it’s appropriate for me to reflect on what I’ve learned and can still learn. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts:


1.         On Software:

In order to make my presentation more visually appealing, I put a lot of time into developing images. To do this, I needed to learn how to take advantage of my computer’s various capabilities. My favorite feature turns out to be one of the simplest—the Grab feature. I had to have my professor show me how to figure it out, but once I saw how it worked, I have been cutting all kinds of images, both for my class presentation and other (more fun) things such as Christmas wallpaper. Indeed, a whole new world of getting and manipulating images has opened up to me just from this one feature. Before I used Grab, I was limited to what I found online. Now, I can find just the right image for myself.

            The other area I’ve learned most about is getting movies into PowerPoint. This was frustrating at first, until I got several different software elements that allowed me to rip movies and edit them. I needed several QuickTime products and MPEG Streamclip; I also use Mac the Ripper and iskysoft (although this one is now superfluous) as well as iMovies. In fact, once I got the films ripped, iMovies was essential and fairly easy to use. I’m still not sure if I’m violating some copyrights, so I try to limit ripping to movies I own and/or will use in a professional capacity.

2.         On Technology:   

While this technology has its positives, it is more expensive than I anticipated, and it takes a while to learn. Thus, putting together a 15-20 minute presentation took as much time as writing a paper, and I was still tinkering with the final product minutes before the final time.

            I’m also not sure now whether WordPress is something I’ll continue, at least while I am both working and matriculating full time. I can see myself doing some sort of blogging once I get done with school and want to have a presence online, but there is a lot of discipline involved, and I am not sure anyone would be interested in reading what I have to say. I guess there’s a certain self-confidence, or perhaps even self-indulgence, required to blog full time. I do find the journaling aspects helpful in terms of gathering information, but I do this already on my computer, so WordPress is not essential.

            I also realize just how visual we have become as a society. Part of me rebels against this as it correlates to a less literate society; I definitely do not want to encourage laziness in an audience, nor do I want to preference images over texts. Some of our readings have discussed this. At the same time, I want to be current and relevant, and engage my audience in an interesting way, so I do want to use both texts and images in creative ways. This class has helped inspire me to find ways to do so.

3.         On Presenting:

While my presentation went okay, I was really impressed by those who did not rely so heavily on papers. I envisioned mine more like a conference paper, yet those like Jonathan and Chris were able to do the same without such a hindrance. I was reminded of my colleague, DawnEllen, with whom I have presented at several conferences. She typically speaks more extemporaneously, using only notes or an outline and opting for lots of images (especially film clips). She always knows her subject so well, and is engaging, that it works for her. I hope that my next conference paper will more along these lines.

I was reminded how sometimes things beyond our control can limit us. For instance, I would have preferred to stand closer to the screen, but the room configuration prohibited this. I also meant to bring a reading lamp but forgot it, so some of my clips were not as easy to see as I would have liked. In addition, my handout was a last minute contribution, and I should have thought more about it earlier. I did, though, practice a number of times reading through the paper and timing it, and that I did fairly well. I always stumble a bit—don’t we all?—when in front of others, but audiences usually accept this.

These are all good things to be reminded of, and I appreciate the ways these elements will work together to make me a better presenter. I know I am more interested than ever in exploring ways to put punctum in my presentations (if such is possible—can punctum be planned?), and that is certainly a good thing.

Bit by Bit

8 12 2008

            In my last entry, I mentioned how I was going to images versus text. However, now that I’m pretty much done, I realize that I am using quite a bit of text. This is not a bad thing, either, since many of us learn by reading as well as by images. I tried, when I used text, to limit it to quotes and key words, plus a few headings.

            This week in church, I also saw another type of software that goes beyond PowerPoint and puts video somehow with the slides. For example, in a slide about the star of Bethlehem, the star actually glimmered and pulsed. It was really cool, and I hope to find out more about this program and possibly use it in the future. It added an extra pizzazz to the slides. Even so, I’m still not willing to just go for pure entertainment—such features need to underscore a message, not draw attention away from it.

Putting It Together

5 12 2008

Now that I am finalizing my project, I am starting to realize how many images I need. In going from a display of texts to one based almost entirely on images, I have found how hard it is to get the images—just how many I need! I seem to need one for every few sentences at least, or the slides will not keep up with my narration. I am beginning to realize how such a presentation preferences the visual, and so now I have to consider the punctum of the images more closely.

            I originally thought that writing a paper would be more difficult, but I have spent as much time if not more fine-tuning the PowerPoint as I would have spent writing an essay! It’s taking a lot of work just to get everything timed out just right, and I’m still not sure it will come out as well as I hope. I’m having some trouble finding pictures that represent my overview of the book Tuck Everlasting—I want to save the film images for the film discussion, but then I have to supplement with either found picture or text, and that is proving irksome since I’m not finding what I want. (I may just go with the film version.) I’m also trying to get the film clips to come out just right, and that is very time-consuming. I’m not complaining, just realizing that a good presentation can be just as much work as a long paper.

            I have, though, been using some of these strategies in my other class when I present—I’m not sure it’s making much of a difference, but it helps me process the material when I have to work through it so much to make it accessible. Finding a picture to stand for an idea really helps me grapple with the idea itself. Even if the audience doesn’t see a difference, I do.

            We discussed in class how we might use guerilla tactics at conferences; I’ve been thinking that just reading a paper can be an attempt at this, if the paper itself challenges ideas and conventions. Thus, the ideas themselves can be the shot across the bunker’s walls. I guess this would be the sedentary type of resistance but it’s worth considering.



“If you don’t execute your ideas, they die.”  –Roger von Oech, author and consultant


Jury Duty

25 11 2008

I haven’t blogged for a while; to be honest, the creative well has been dry—I’ve let the business of school and work block out anything I might want to say, and I haven’t quite figured out what I do want to say. However, as I was sitting in the jury assembly room yesterday, waiting to be called for jury duty, I started thinking about Joan Didion. I asked myself, “What would JD do if she were here?” What notes would be prompted, even if they related not a bit to her current project. Thus, some ruminations about life not related to my project. I hope that by getting some of these sauerkraut recipes out, I can refocus a bit on the project.

            First, I believe in our jury system—with all its faults. It’s still as good as anywhere else. Why, then, do so many of us want to get off? When I finally got into the court room and the judge asked is any of us had hardships that might prevent them form serving on a six-week case, at least of us voiced our reasons. Some of us were students with impending finals, others had jobs that didn’t pay for jury duty, a few had surgery, etc. I, along with the other students, was allowed to postpone until the end of the year, but I felt sorry for the defendant that none of his peers wanted to be there. I know I would want willing people on my jury!

            I loved one woman’s expression of “hardship”: she had out-of-town quests coming for the holidays, and she had to pick them up at the airport. I admire her gall at claiming this as a hardship that deserved getting off of jury duty—Didion would certainly make a character out of her. And the man who was going into surgery to have a 10mm kidney stone removed, yet he wasn’t feeling any pain! The sign language professor who needed to critique her students’ final performances. All of these folks would be great on a jury together!

            Joan Didion would also find some perverse interest in the ways people dressed. Shorts and tank tops were not allowed, but almost everything else was. There were nicely dressed people, but most wore t-shirts and jeans, some not too clean looking. Many had phone pieces in their ears or hands, and a lot of us had brought our laptops. I remember when we dressed up in suits for jury duty—those days are long gone, I guess. They belong to the days when the video they showed us was made, a film in which jurors like ourselves extolled the virtues of our system. It passed the time, but looked ancient. Many of us had reading material, but did we really get much done? One girl at least had her boyfriend with her—I never thought of bringing my own company to the jury room! An older lady sat at the public computer and played solitaire—my tax dollars at work. I’m sure Didion would find something to say about each of these things.

            I liked the judge—he was a character in his own right. He was funny and had his shtick down pretty well. He even had a judge puppet on his desk (I’d love to have been there when he used it!). He pressed people about their hardships, but good-naturedly. He seemed to have heard al of the excuses before and knew what questions to ask. He would be the comic relief in Joan’s story.

            I did notice the amount of technology in the court room—all kinds of projectors and viewing screens for presenting evidence. There’s a thesis topic if anyone needs one—the uses technology in delivering evidence in a trial. I wonder if it changed the way we “view” a crime. I remember when I sat on a jury several years ago, and a video of the defendant was crucial in showing he did not have the disability he claimed. Even without sound, and poorly produced, the video was as persuasive as the man when he sat just a few feet from us. His condition in court was very different than that on film, and we finally did not award him the damages he sought. This also raised the question of who is watching, and when, and what video did we not see that might have proven his case?

            This gets me back to our readings—technology both removes us and brings us in, gives us memories and erases them. How will this affect justice in the future? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Montage or View Master?

14 11 2008

            As I think about the readings on montage, it makes me wonder about how this might look in a PowerPoint presentation such as mine, which is more a reading of a paper/lecture punctuated with visuals to illustrate the point. PowerPoint seems to work more like those old ViewMasters we had when we were kids (do they still have them?) that would show slides on at a time, based on a theme usually, but almost no text (some captions, I think). Can I juxtapose disparate images, or would this be distracting and confusing? Can I have a bit of film playing as I am speaking, or would this too be distracting? The cartoon/comics strategies also suggest some interesting techniques, but since I think more in terms of text than images, this makes it hard for me to visualize my current project using these techniques. These are things I need to play around with.

            I also wonder about how many images I will need. Jason’s show used a lot more images than I have ever seen in a PP (granted, it was a long piece as well). I prefer fewer pictures and little text—I like outlines and a “keep it simple” approach—but this may not be what audiences prefer today. I also am still trying to figure out some of the technologies on my computer that would let me do more advanced things—I love the Mac, but the video components have been harder to master (for example, to get a useable clip, I have to use four different programs) and taken a lot of time which may have been better spent elsewhere. Even so, the more I use it, the easier it becomes.

            I do think I have an interesting literary topic, and the paper is pretty much done, so at least that part is finished. I guess I am on my own quest for an interesting presentation!

Thoughts on Joseph Campbell

16 10 2008

          Joseph Campbell is, in many ways, the progenitor of modern mythological studies. Heavily influenced by Carl Jung, Campbell studied myths from many cultures and advanced very influential theories about why so many cultures seem to have the same mythic structures. One of these structures—the hero quest—has become so influential that even Hollywood screenwriters have followed Campbell’s formula in writing such screenplays as Star Wars and The Princess Bride, based in large part upon Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Joseph Campbell

          Campbell was not the first to propose these ideas; as stated earlier, Jung had proposed archetypes as a way of explaining so much of what we see that is common to humanity. However, Campbell was able to apply Jung’s ideas across a broader spectrum and to popularize them by writing in a more readable style. Later in his life, he did a PBS series with Bill Moyers that made him even more well-known.

          The Hero Quest is, according to Huck et al., the basis of virtually all young adult fantasy novels (and indeed of juvenile literature as a whole). Campbell’s basic argument is that all quests follow the same basic pattern:


I.          Departure

A.        Blunder—the hero chances upon a situation and is drawn into a relationship with forces not rightly understood (Dorothy in Oz).  A “herald” may appear and give the call to adventure (e.g., Glenda in Oz); often, the herald often seems dark, loathly, or judged evil by the world (frog) or a beast (white stag in Lion).

B.         The Refusal of the Call—Hero does not rise to the challenge (e.g., Arthur & Excalibur).  It can occur later in an adventure—Lotus Eaters & Circe in Odyssey

C.         Supernatural Aid

1.         The first encounter is with a protective figure, often an old crone or old man, who provides a talisman and/or advice = the benign, protecting power of destiny.

a.         SW Indians—Spider Woman, a grandmotherly dame who lives underground.

b.         Fairy godmother

c.         a goddess or witch

D.        The Crossing of the First Threshold—the first limits of the hero’s sphere

1.         The hero meets a guardian at the entrance to the zone of magnified power.  Beyond is darkness, danger, the unknown. 

2.         It may be a doorway, gate, bridge, road, or body of water, etc.  Passing it shows the hero’s willingness to go beyond.  There may be a choice in which boundary to go through.

3.         The guardian is often neutral—the hero must make the choice.

E.         The Belly of the Whale

1.         After passing the threshold, the hero is swallowed into the unknown and would have appeared to die.

a.         Red Riding Hood

b.                   Greek gods swallowed by Kronos

c.         Osiris in sarcophagus in Nile

d.         Jonah; Joseph; Christ

2.         The passage through the threshold is a form of self-annihilation and rebirth.


II.         Initiation

A.        The Road of Trials.  After crossing the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms where he must survive a succession of trials.  The supernatural helper he met earlier often aids him.

1.         Orpheus (What Dreams May Come)

2.         The labors of Hercules

3.         The dream vision

B.         The Meeting with the Goddess (Athena in Odyssey)

C.         Woman as the Temptress (Circe; Deer Woman)

D.        Atonement with the Father

E.         Apotheosis

F.         The Ultimate Boon


III.       Return

A.        Refusal of the Return (Odysseus with Circe; Lotus Eaters)

B.         The Magic Flight

C.         Rescue from Without (Glenda reappears to help Dorothy)

D.        The Crossing of the Return Threshold

E.         Master of the Two Worlds

F.         Freedom to Live


IV.       The Keys—the Ability to Live Wisely & Well, to rule the kingdom



          When the male hero returns from his quest, he get to rule; the adventure and the trials have taught him valuable skills he can then use to transform his society. Thus, Beowulf, after killing Grendel and his mother, rules for many years in relative peace—he has rid his world of the evils that destabilized the culture. Odysseus returns from his odyssey to reclaim Ithaca, drive out his rivals, and reestablish order. Jason brings back the golden fleece and gets to live as a hero and king.



Jason and the Fleece

Jason and the Fleece


          However, while this has been the generally accepted understanding of the quest motif, some have challenged it as a bit outdated. While the older myths, embedded in patriarchal systems, almost always focus on a male hero, modern writers (especially women) create female protagonists; the young woman’s quest has become a predominant motif in its own right. When we consider that of the fantasy works which have been awarded the Newbery Medal, at least half have been written by women and feature a female hero: A Wrinkle in Time, The Hero and the Crown, The Tombs of Atuan, The Grey King. I’ll be developing this is later posts.