Amy Harlib aharlib at
Thu Aug 25 11:23:32 EDT 2005

aharlib at
Fascinating!  Thanks for sharing this!

> Ven:
> >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!
> Hallie
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