[Contents]
CONCLUSION

To tackle the retelling of a myth, or a set of myths, is to walk a fine line between relating a story and creating a story. This is true for all kinds of stories. For example while each new teller of a good joke will add and omit various elements there will always be a set of characters and moves such as three people, a bar and a punch-line. This essay has examined the process of re-telling the Persephone/Demeter and Narcissus myths into a new form that is the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript.

The first part of this commentary focused on the ‘relating’ part of the process. It examined two perspectives on the origins of the myths. The first dealt with the tangible historic origins of the texts, the second with the Jungian notion that the stories may have a basis in the intangible realm of the human collective unconscious.

From the historic perspective myths are either naïve attempts at explaining physical matters that science was yet to grasp, or they were coded accounts of invasions and cultural shifts. From this perspective there is little point in retelling a myth, other than as a means of leaving a cultural footprint for future historians to ponder. In this sense, the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript serves to document current (progressive) attitudes towards issues such as homosexuality, sole parenting and ageing.

From the Jungian perspective myths are treasures. They are precious maps that indicate pathways through the foresty regions of the collective inner world. If one adopts this position at the outset of the process of retelling a myth, as I did in commencing to write Pomegranate Flesh, then one takes on an obligation to not change certain elements of the story, as these are the psychological signposts that make the myth a useful model for human psychological processes. It also however involves a process of evaluating the many variations in the old sources and a selection of elements that fit the psychological pattern. Personal artistic choice was allowed to play a role in the selection of elements for inclusion in the story and in the process of weaving the elements together into a coherent whole. The use of a personal artistic, rather than academic, process was intended give to the story greater credibility and psychological relevance for contemporary readers.

In Chapter Four, the commentary shifted focus towards the elements of the story considered by Jungian writer Virginia Beane Rutter (2000) to be the major psychologically-relevant points and by referring back to the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript it showed how these points were recognised in the mythic texts used as source documents and faithfully restated. It also illustrated the extent to which the story can be seen from a Jungian perspective as a useful tool or guide for people negotiating issues such as adolescent maturation, empty nest syndrome and, more generally, the search for meaning in everyday life.

The second part of the commentary delved into the creative part of the story telling process. As the myths changed and evolved over time a variety of versions emerged with differing elements present in many of them. A major part of the creative process was therefore the selection of which elements from the vast supply of historic mythic data to include. The primary consideration in the selection process was the development of the central characters from their starting positions to their conclusions. Other characters linked with them in mythic texts were allowed into the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript only if their presence supported the unfolding of the central characters. They were thrown out if their presence was deemed to be distracting or irrelevant to the maturation process. Choices about the names of characters and places were made on the grounds of easy readability, balanced against a desire to make it possible for readers to track the story back into the mythic literature.

In attempting to say something meaningful about the normal and natural process of teenage maturation it was important to avoid losing the message in a confusion of other issues. Care was therefore taken to avoid evoking responses from readers to issues such as destiny, homosexuality and incest. While these are interesting topics, they were seen as potential distractions from the central themes and they were therefore either omitted or played down.

Finally the essay discussed the omission of a clearly identifiable villain from the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript. This issue is fundamental to the structure of the novel, both in terms of the drama that unfolds and in that it places it firmly in the realm of Jungian psychology. It means that the story is about characters dealing with their own internal tempters or villains ~ their shadows. This approach was employed so that the story can serve as a guide for readers who find themselves in situations that resonate with the circumstances of the central characters. This notion that a novel can work psychologically is captured by the words of the French writer Alain who wrote:

The human being has two sides, appropriate to history and fiction. All that is observable in a man falls into the domain of history. But his romanceful or romantic side (roman as fiction) includes ‘the pure passions, that is to say the dreams, joys, sorrows and self communings which politeness or shame prevent him from mentioning’; and to express this side of human nature is one of the chief functions of the novel.
(Cited in Hillman 1983, p.6)

Why use a Greek myth to do this? Because as Crompton (1999) wrote: “The ancient Greeks, in their dramas and myths, allowed themselves to look at these shadow aspects [envy, jealousy, fear and suspicion] in a manner that has never since been surpassed" (1999, p. 10). Furthering this is Jung’s (1972) assertion that myths can serve to bring one-sided, abnormal or dangerous states of consciousness into equilibrium in an apparently purposive way. In addition, the Greek myths, as opposed to myths from other cultures, are unique in being a well-preserved body of work. As McLeish, who documented the journey of the Greek mythology through history, wrote: “Greek myth survived intact better than almost any other ancient world system” (2001, p.12). This ties in with Pinkola Estes’ comment: “The more whole the stories, the more subtle twists and turns of the psyche are presented to us and the better opportunity we have to apprehend and evoke our soulwork” (1992, p.17).

Combining these observations, the Greek myths can be seen as a valuable source of insight. The only problem with them is that in the form they are often presented they are dry, complex and difficult to access emotionally.

In a recent paper on ‘Ageing and Sustainability’, Professor Kateryna Longley said: “Throughout history in families and in communities across the globe, the old have told stories to the young. It is in this way that history has been understood and cultural knowledge and values maintained.” She argues that: “The real value of storytelling lies not in the story but the telling and the listening, face-to-face, voice-to-voice, heart-to-heart.” (Longley, 2002, p.1).

With this in mind, I posit that one of the reasons why the Greek myths have lost their emotional potency is that something has been lost in the shift from being live stories told heart-to-heart to being translated printed text. That the stories as they appear in mythology texts lack a personal dimension is sometimes openly admitted. Graves for example, introducing The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1982) writes: “It [the encyclopedia] does not discuss philosophic theory or religious experience, and treats each cult with the same impersonal courtesy” (p.V). Other writers, such as Crompton, have raised the issue of this cool courtesy. Crompton wrote in his introduction to Gods and Goddesses of Classical Mythology: “Let us enter the mind and attitudes of Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Demeter and Persephone, and see in their lives and struggles the passions of our own hearts.” (1999, p.9). But while he states this interest in immersion into the stories, his text follows the same dry style as Graves (2001) and Guirand (1982).

It was with a sense of the deadness, and also the potential of these myths that I embarked upon the process of writing Pomegranate Flesh. Although restricted to the medium of printed text, a conscious effort was made to emulate the style of the Cantadora’s discussed by Pinkola Estes (1992) with the aim of breathing life back into the tale so that it can serve, once again, as a vehicle for ‘cultural knowledge’ about how the transitions associated with adolescence can be negotiated.

This meant that the writing process involved a constant awareness of a number of forces including: the historic shape of the stories; my own knowledge about the process of maturation, gained from experience as a daughter, a mother, a counsellor and a friend; awareness of current social and cultural issues; and creativity, which makes decisions on grounds not fully understood, yet which feel instinctively right. It is hoped that this explanation will provide fuel for other writers seeking to understand the nexus between creativity and the retelling of mythology.

As stated earlier, the psychological model that best fits this kind of process is Bronfenbrenner’s (1995) systems model of human behaviour, which acknowledges that behaviour can be simultaneously motivated by a number of forces. Bronfenbrenner draws parallels with ecosystems and organic processes, which as well as fitting the multiple sources of input into the story also echoes the sense I have, as a writer, that a book grows in an organic way out of the fertile soil of the author’s mind. Soil in which all things previously read and heard have fermented and composted, giving rise to the growth of a complex and individual new being ~ like Persephone returning from the Underworld.

As I write this conclusion I am still hoping that the novel Pomegranate Flesh will be accepted for publication and that in circulation it will serve the psychological purposes this essay has explained.

The essay has described the processes behind the writing of the novel, teasing out the many various elements that at the time of writing ran seamlessly together. For the most part the writing was effortless and entire scenes flowed as rapidly as I could type, unfolding before my eyes as text on the screen. At other times I paused, drew maps on large papers and rummaged through reference books for names and references, consciously constructing the skeleton that the scenes filled out.

I found Kora easiest to write. I know her, I have been her and I have walked her path. I have also seen my friends live through their Kora years and so I was able visualise her clearly and to hear her speaking. The male characters I wrote with more of my mind and less of my instinct, deliberately crafting them to fill their roles. While Hecate is modeled to some extent on Milton Erickson, her mannerisms and gestures are a portrait of a friend of mine, a former clown who now works as a counsellor and dream analyst. She is someone I see as an archetypal wise old woman. While the creation of all of these characters and their stories took time and attention to detail, none of them challenged me in the way that Demeter did.

Her challenge is much more my own and I frequently felt stuck, unable to say what she should do next because within myself I didn’t know. While the mythic texts told me her next moves, I struggled to find her rationales and the emotional steps she needed to take to get from one place to another. At these times I had to stop writing, to let time (sometimes months) pass before continuing. At other times I wrote her scenes slowly one line at a time, pausing between them searching for the logical next step.

Looking back on the process of writing Demeter I am reminded of Pinkola Estes’ comment about story tellers from her tradition. She says: “We know when someone has grown a story and when a story has grown them” (1992, p. 463). In writing Demeter through to her conclusion I felt that I was changed, and perhaps grown, and, although I am one person and not a representative sample of the whole population, it is this that gives me faith in the potency of Pomegranate Flesh.

Faith enough to be making this submission. And Faith enough to be considering retelling the Theseus myth as a story for fathers and sons.

[References]