Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diversity and the Outsider

"We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams." ~ Jimmy Carter

"Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences." ~Mikhail Gorbachev"

"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC) represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, and progress all result from the union of the unlike. Concord, as much as discord, requires the presence of at least two different notes. The brotherhood of man is an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences, as well as learning to recognize our similarities." ~STAR TREK

Myth and folklore are all about interactions between humans and magical and otherworldly creatures. That hasn't changed today, although you are as likely to find aliens and mutants among the gods, faerie folk and elementals. Otherworld includes the entire universe of possibilities.

Except for tales of the gods, classic mythology and fairy tales are usually told from the human point of view. There are exceptions, but in general the stories were meant as cautions to keep people safe; which could also mean keeping them in their place. Thus in the original Little Mermaid tale, the nonhuman heroine loses her prince to a human woman, returns to the sea and dies. There are tales of changeling children swapped for trolls in Swedish and Celtic legend; in both the way to get rid of them was to treat the child cruelly.

It's only recently that stories have shifted to the outsider's point of view. Superman, of course, is from another planet, but Kryptonians are human in most respects; he is more a god than an alien.

The first truly nonhuman character that I recall was Eando Binder's Adam Link. Adam Link was a robot who appeared in a series of stories from 1939 to 1942. The stories were about his attempts to be accepted by human society. There were other robotic heroes but most of these were so humanoid that it didn't matter or human brains in metal bodies.

Since then outsider heroes have become popular. Aliens like STAR TREK's Spock and the comic books' Martian Manhunter, demons from other dimensions like Hellboy (see image), vampires, and like creatures are heroes too.

In faerie lore, changelings were fey beings left behind when human children were stolen. The modern versions are the mutants in stories like X-MEN. The children are "different" from their parents, sometimes just by having super powers, but some have blue fur, tails, claws or scales. They are the ultimate version of the outsider. But in the new stories the changelings are the heroes.

Of course the truth represented by these heroes has nothing to do with the Otherworld. The appearance in popular culture of outsider heroes reflects, I think, a growing acceptance of human diversity in all its forms. And this is something we have to learn. There is too much beauty to be seen in differences and truths to be learned from each other to waste it hating ourselves over small differences.

And that's all there is between us ... small differences. There are no outsiders.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The scene to the left includes a corny line from a 1951 Buck Rogers Sunday comics page, but it's one that has stuck with me all through life. "A guy's never done for till he quits breathing." I like it's simplicity better than "Never give up, never surrender" because it simply states a fact: as long as you're alive there are always choices. It seems to pop into my head and get me through tough times.

Here is another deceptively simple one: the Green Lantern's oath from the original 1940s comic books, "I shall shed my light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light ... "

Light dispells darkness as knowledge dispells ignorance, Life dispells death.

A Maori proverb says, "Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."

"As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." ~Carl Jung

Here's a mix of quotes by people real and fictional about mythology and stories, spirit and the universe:

"Legends are the spice of the universe ... because they have a way of sometimes coming true." ~Captain Jean-Luc Picard, STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ~Albert Einstein

"'Mythology' is what we call someone else's religion." ~Joseph Campbell

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." ~Thomas Jefferson

"When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?" ~ Shepherd Book, SERENITY

"God goes by many names, perhaps some alien sounding, different faces, and history, but all describing the same Creator." ~Brother Theo, BABYLON 5

"Many paths lead from
The foot of the mountain,
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon." ~Ikkyu

"Do you think He's really out there!?" -- Doctor McCoy
"He's not out there Bones, He's in here." -- Captain Kirk ~STAR TREK V

"The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out." ~Delenn, BABYLON 5

"The whole room, four walls, the floor, and the ceiling, everything, albeit distorted, is compressed into that one small circle.… No matter how you turn or twist yourself, you can’t get out of that central point [between your eyes]. You are immovably the focus of your world." ~MC Escher

"Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid, the first time they tell you that the world's turning, and you just can't quite believe it cuz everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67000 miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That's who I am. " ~The Doctor, DOCTOR WHO

"What appears to be coming at you may be coming from you." ~Meatball

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." ~Henry David Thoreau

"If you confront the universe with good intentions in your heart, it will reflect that and reward your intent. Usually. It just doesn't always do it in the way you expect." ~G'Kar, BABYLON 5

I'll be doing occasional quote posts, so if anybody has any good ones to share, please send 'em along!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Tao of Tarzan

"I have to say he is the finest man that I have ever known - trousers or no trousers." - Rawlins (TARZAN ESCAPES)

When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote TARZAN OF THE APES in 1912 he had held a number of jobs. As a night watchman, he read fiction magazines on breaks and decided that he could write better than what he found in those. 25 books later, not to mention movies, radio, comic books and tv, ERB was able to retire to a ranch in Tarzana CA.

Tarzan had many mythic sources. The hero raised by animals is a common theme from Romulus and Remus nursed by a she-wolf, the Greek heroine Atalanta by bears and the Celtic Oisin by a deer. His story reflects the Arthurian legend of the young man who discovers his true noble heritage. Like any good hero he eventually became immortal.

In his adventures Tarzan overthrew a lot of false religions, idols and god-kings, yet his own spirituality was almost never mentioned. I said last week that Tarzan was a Zen hero. Reading through a few of the books I found some amazing parallels.

"To Tarzan ... contentment is the highest ultimate goal of achievement ... He saw the greed, the selfishness, the cowardice, and the cruelty of man; and, in view of man's vaunted mentality, he knew that these characteristics placed man upon a lower spiritual scale than the beasts, while barring him eternally from the goal of contentment." ~TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD (1933).

Buddhism teaches that the only thing that bars us from happiness is attachment to things and feelings.

"Happiness does not come from having much, but from being attached to little." ~Cheng Yen

Samsara is a term for living in the world, attached to habits and materialism. It is the opposite of Nirvana, freedom and happiness.

"The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated." ~The 14th Dalai Lama

ERB wrote adventure stories, not philosophy. Tarzan was not a Zen master. Tarzan did kill, but hey, he was raised by apes, not monks! Burroughs said, "Necessity required him to kill for food and in defense of his life, but the example of his savage associates never suggested that pleasure might be found in killing ... His viewpoint toward death was seemingly callous, but it was without cruelty."

Popular culture analyst Doc Hermes wrote, "This dual nature is one of the things I love best about the character. Tarzan is not a mere animal in a human form, he is a unique symbiosis of the human and the animal natures ... the balance between Lord Greystoke strolling through Hyde Park with Jane on a Sunday and Tarzan ripping raw meat from a freshly killed gazelle is an essential part of the appeal. Tarzan is yin and yang in a single body."

Writing about the traits that separated his hero from the apes ERB said "not the least of these were in a measure spiritual, and one that had doubtless been as strong as another in influencing Tarzan`s love of the jungle had been his appreciaton of the beauties of nature." ~ TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, 1921) Tarzan lives, not in a treehouse with an elephant elevator, but on a sprawling ranch in Africa with his wife Jane. But he "loves to roam remote fastnesses still unspoiled by the devasting hand of civilization." He has a "spiritual enjoyment of beauty that only the man-mind may attain."

Zen sayings and poems like Han shan's "A thousand clouds among a myriad streams And in their midst a person at his ease. By day he wanders through the dark green hills, At night goes home to sleep beneath the cliffs" might be talking about Tarzan.

In "The God of Tarzan" (JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN, 1917), Tarzan reads about God and sets out to find this being who is supposedly more powerful than himself. Investigating what he hears from jungle people, he eliminates false gods like the Moon, idols and tribal shamans. Finally he understands that the still, small voice in his conscience that stops him from killing a helpless enemy is God, and God is stronger than Tarzan. You can read the story here:


That story was probably one of the earliest influences on my own spiritual thought.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Nature of Freedom

"There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. ~G'Kar, BABYLON 5

"Once your awareness becomes a flame, it burns up the whole slavery that the mind has created. There is no blissfulness more precious than freedom, than being a master of your own destiny. ” ~Osho

Myth reassures us that we are all heroes, we have a purpose and a connection to the All. Relatively recently, the stories also tell us that we are free.

In earlier cultures stories reinforced the idea that a good person obeys the local gods, preisthoods and kings. There were exceptions like Robin Hood, but most heroes like Beowulf, Hercules and Lancelot stayed in line.

It wasn't until the 1800s that the idea of personal freedom emerged. Its roots are in heroes such as Hawkeye in LAST OF THE MOHICANS and romanticized stories about pirates and Western outlaws, but the first great romantic rogue hero in fiction was The Scarlet Pimpernel, beginning as a play in 1903 and a series of books by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a British nobleman who was an outlaw in France for rescuing people from the guillotine. With his colorful name, secret identity and symbolic calling cards he was forerunner to generations of masked heroes from Zorro to V For Vendetta.

The Victorian era produced Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective who worked independently of the law and Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, using his submarine the Nautilus to try to end war.

The 20th century brought pulp magazines and comic books and with them hordes of masked, cloaked "mystery men"(1). The 1920s -30s were a time when gangsters seemed to run roughshod over the law. The Phantom, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Batman, and The Spirit took matters into their own hands, supplanting such authority figures as Dick Tracy in the popular imagination. It was like telling us that if society couldn't save us, the Universe and the human spirit working together would.

The ultimate expressions of freedom came in Tarzan, The Saint, Superman and Doctor Who.
Tarzan was free of civilization and all its expectations and limitations. For those familiar only with movies, Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan was not that ignorant character but an educated English nobleman who when he learned his hertiage chose to return to the jungle.
The Saint literally laughed at the law; his books had titles like THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN and THE BRIGHTER BUCANEER. He helped people (and himself) with an utter disregard of the criminal nature of his methods, and had fun doing it.
Superman was not only free of society but of all mortal limitations. He was a logical extension of folklore heroes. Individuals who were more powerful than their environments, from the purely physical in Hercules to advancing technology in John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Superman himself has changed with the times: in his early stories he could be harmed by exploding shells, but now he could survive a nuclear war.
Doctor Who is free of time and space. In his TARDIS he travels anywhere and anywhen, the embodiment of Hung-Chih's saying "A person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere." The Doctor is not bound by the laws of any one period or society, not even his own (he stole the TARDIS).
Of the above, Tarzan, I think, is the most free. He can't fly or deflect bullets or travel in time but his mind is free. He goes where he wants and accepts whatever he meets. Tarzan is probably the most Zen-like of all the heroes.

In TV and movies, private eyes and loner cowboys were more prevalent than police heroes. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke with the Council of Watchers who supposedly controlled her destiny. The science fiction heroes have gone from the Space Rangers and Space Patrol of early tv and STAR TREK's upholders of the United Federation of Planets to the rebels of STAR WARS, the fugitives of FARSCAPE and finally the "Let's Go Be Bad Guys" crew of FIREFLY.

Stories like these don't just express the need and yearning for freedom. Myth tells us that we are good and deserving, and eternal, and it tells us that we are free. We just have to decide to accept it.
Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull told a gull with a broken wing,
"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."
"Are you saying I can fly?"
"I say you are free."

(1) before the term "superhero"