Friday, May 20, 2011

Five Wounds: Archetypes

We often think of fairy tale characters in terms of archetypes, but many such characters – the werewolf, say – are now so over familiar that they have been tamed imaginatively. They have lost their teeth. One way around this problem is to retrace the genealogy of a particular figure, and return to its primitive prehistory rather than use its domesticated modern variant.

Cur and the black dog

For example, Five Wounds features a character, Cur, who is not a werewolf, but is nonetheless animated by the same conflicts that drive the character type of the werewolf (human vs. animal, reason vs. instinct, free will vs. involuntary response). Cur is not affected by a full moon; nor is he ever physically transformed into an animal. Rather, he has a mutant strain of rabies. This links his condition to very old ideas about the physiological origin of anger, which was once thought to be caused by the heating of the blood. That’s why ‘in cold blood’ is still a synonym for ruthless premeditation, as opposed to reactive, spontaneous violence, which is by contrast ‘hot-blooded’. Anger was thought to make men brutish, and in particular to make them canine, so rabies was understood as an acute case of infectious anger in its most concentrated form. [1]

[1] These ideas are explained in more detail in Edward Muir, Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta and Factions in Friuli during the Renaissance.

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