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Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Wed Aug 24 19:04:20 EDT 2005


>The Odyssey? East of the Sun West of the Moon? I
>have a glimmering of what you mean but would you
>care to unpack please? The Snow Queen I get but,
>durrrr... it's only now that I see it's resonance
>with Tam Linn  -- probably my low opinion of HCA
>getting in the way.

You may be very sorry indeed that you asked about the Odyssey & F&H - 
I did an essay on the subject about a year ago, and keeping to the 
2,000 word limit nearly killed me!  Verbal restraint will come less 
easily for being exhausted atm, from hill climbing (and walking 
alongside cliffs, which required not looking beyond my feet as much 
as possible) and getting deluged upon, and then serious 
transportation problems getting home after all this...

The short answer, which will spare you a lot of drudgery, is think of 
the giant in the supermarket - if you read carefully, he's subtly 
shown to be a cyclops, and is defeated by being blinded (though it's 
temporary in F&H).  That's about - oh, one percent of all I found 
when I started digging into this.

The initial clue for me about the Odyssey came from 'The Heroic 
Ideal' essay, which listed it as a 'narrative structure', one of the 
three main myths and legends which form an 'underlay', and what gave 
the 'shape of the story', and the 'way it had largely to be told in 
flashback'.   Starting with the last, she says that Odysseus is found 
disentangling himself from Calypso by telling his story.  Actually 
Odysseus is first seen weeping on the beach on Calypso's island, and 
he's disentangled by the intervention of the gods, telling his story 
only *after* he's escaped; his story-telling re-establishes his 
heroic persona, but doesn't do any of the disentangling.  There's 
another more minor memory error in that DWJ says that Calypso says 
Odysseus has to visit Hades before getting home, when she finally 
lets him go, but it's actually Circe who says this.  Anyway, Calypso 
(whose name means the concealer) is Laurel, and Tom when first seen 
has just recently disentangled himself from Laurel (the divorce).

Back to 'The Heroic Ideal', DWJ says that Tom takes on the role of 
Odysseus with the letter about the giant in the supermarket, and 
Polly to a small extent takes the role of Penelope (staying at home 
while Odysseus/Tom travels the world), but Polly also plays the role 
of Telemachos, as 'trainee' or 'New Hero', and shares the role of 
Odysseus with Tom.  The last is interesting, as  it's based on a 
somewhat different version of the story of the Sirens from that in 
the Odyssey itself, as DWJ says that when Odysseus hears the song of 
the sirens but resists them, their power is destroyed for ever.  (Not 
in the Odyssey.)  But Polly's heroic act of memory breaks the power 
of Laurel, in a way similar to Odysseus confronting the Sirens.  (One 
of Laurel's middle names is Lorelei.)

In DWJ's version what the Sirens offer, 'the truth about the past', 
would be irresistible to 'a ceaselessly curious man like Odysseus'. 
When Polly succumbs to her curiosity about Tom, it is actually Laurel 
who tells her 'the truth about the past', though of course it's truth 
told in a way which delivers untruth.  (This 'unjustified curiosity', 
as it's called in 'The Heroic Ideal' is the element  related to 'East 
of the Sun, West of the Moon' - though it seems kind of hard on poor 
Polly that Odysseus' act of heroic curiosity is transformed into the 
female 'unjustified curiosity' common to many folk tales.)

That's pretty much what's in the essay about it, but as I said, the 
more I thought about it, the more resonances I found.  In terms of 
plot, aside from the story of the giant in the supermarket and Tom's 
divorce from Laurel/Odysseus escaping from Calypso, there's also the 
fact that Polly 'escapes' from Hunsdon House because she hasn't eaten 
or drunk there, which relates to the escape from the land of the 
Lotus-Eaters in the Odyssey, and (indirectly) the changing of Tam 
into various animals, which as Polly suspects, isn't something which 
happens as easily in F&H, but which also appears in the Odyssey, with 
the story of the Old Man and the Sea.  (The last two are pretty 
common folklore themes, so I'm not making any unique claims for 
them.)  And possibly, there's the wind creature which attacks Polly 
and Tom in Bristol and the Aeolian wind episode when Odysseus is 
almost back home in Ithaca.

A lovely one I found related to the story of Odysseus and the 
Cyclops, whom Odysseus escapes in part by saying his name is 
'Nobody'.  Looking at Tom, there are three times in the book when he 
is called 'nobody' (twice Ivy calls Tom 'Mr Nobody', and when Polly 
steals the photo from Hunsdon House; she doesn't recognise Tom at 
that point, but actually says 'He was nobody Polly knew.'  Talk about 
tricky language!)  Another pairing which made me very happy came from 
considering Polly as Penelope, which gives Seb as the collective 
suitors.  He fits not only in his arrogance and scornfulness (of 'old 
Tom', usually) but also in his 'unlawful' courtship of Polly (as the 
suitors are described as courting Penelope unlawfully).  In Seb's 
case, it's 'unlawful' because it's without Laurel's knowledge, and 
this (combined with Mr Leroy's attempt to hurt Polly) allow Polly the 
chance to try to claim Tom.

Finally, I saw a thematic similarity in the whole question of 
heroism.  Odysseus is a slightly unusual hero even in the Iliad, but 
in the Odyssey he has to do the unthinkable and allow his disguise as 
an old beggar - despised and ridiculed.  (Greek heroes did *not* 
accept ridicule.) Relates beautifully to the wonderful line of Tom's: 
'The thing I hadn't bargained for about hero business ... is how 
terribly embarrassing it is... You have to learn not to notice how 
silly you feel.'

There's more, but that's more than enough for here now, and Tom's 
line is a very good stopping place anyway!


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