(urth) Graves etc. (was: A Cabin on the Coast)

Matthew Groves matthewalangroves at gmail.com
Wed Jan 16 23:39:05 PST 2008

On Jan 16, 2008 5:04 PM, Matthew Keeley <matthew.keeley.1 at gmail.com> wrote:
> I saw your "Interpreting Wolfe" list on Amazon; I see you put The
> White Goddess on that too. It's one of those things I've been meaning
> to read for a while, and learning it's influenced by Wolfe makes me
> want to read it more. <snip>

I'm glad you found that Amazon list.  I've been creating for myself a
course in Wolfe-related readings, trying to fill in the vast holes in
my very pragmatic public school education.*  The list on Amazon is one
product of that course.  I've been altering it now and then as I find
new books and reject some less helpful or less interesting ones.

There's no doubt in my mind that Wolfe has read The Golden Bough at
least in abridged form, along with Joseph Campbell's works.  Also, The
Golden Bough is the basis for much of Graves's work in The White
Goddess.  (But I suggest you read Graves not as if it were
anthropology or even comparative mythology, but as fantasy.  Fantasy
non-fiction.  That's how I have to read it.  It's too improbable for
me to read it as scholarship.)

I'm sure others can speak more knowledgeably about Graves than I can.
I have found The White Goddess to be very difficult, slow going,
particularly since I have almost no background in the things he's
talking about (sometimes I don't even know what he's talking about).**
 The thing in Pirate Freedom that suggests Graves's influence is the
relationship between Chris/Ignacio*** and Novia.****  I think this
relationship is one of Wolfe's versions of / reactions to Graves's
"Single Poetic Theme", which Graves summarizes thus:

"The Theme, briefly, is the antique story ... of the birth, life,
death and resurrection of the God of the Waxing Year; the central
chapters concern the God's losing battle with the God of the Waning
Year for love of the capricious and all-powerful Threefold Goddess,
their mother, bride, and layer-out.  The poet identifies himself with
the God of the Waxing Year and his Muse with the Goddess; the rival is
his blood-brother, his other self, his weird."

So the Theme is a cyclical one (reflecting the year cycle, the sowing
and reaping of grain), a loop like the plot of Pirate Freedom.  The
advent of genetic cloning affords an sf trope on this ancient myth.

While it has been a terribly difficult read for me, I would encourage
you to read The White Goddess, if for no other reason than that it has
been tough going alone, and might be instructive and interesting to
discuss it on the list.  I think it would interesting to work out
where its influence on Wolfe appears, and how Wolfe's own interests
and beliefs, particularly his Catholicism, lead him to deviate from
this Single Poetic Theme.

* I'm tempted to rant here about the state of public education in the
US -- and how, however much we are behind in math and science, we are
ten times worse in our neglect of the humanities.

** I suppose what I need now is a reading list for understanding
Graves's The White Goddess, but I'm presently unwilling to go there.

*** and perhaps extending to Señor Guzman and Chris's child.

**** and maybe Estrellita? Azuka? Pinkie?

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