To sum up, In King’s case, I think what you have with characters like Danny, the Losers, Mark Petrie, David Carver and the Girl who loved Tom Gordon what we are presented with is the Child Archetype. Of that archetype, Jung says: Jung: “It’s a striking paradox in all “child” myths that the “child” is on the one hand delivered helpless into the power of terrible enemies and in continual danger of extinction, while on the other hand he possesses powers far exceeding those of ordinary humanity.” In a lot of King’s books, especially those dating from until 1989, what we have, I’m convinced from such statements above, are stories that often tell more than a good yarn. According to Jung, many stories, if not all, are in fact a kind of window into the mind of the author. I think this applies to King with books like the Shining, Cujo, Pet Semetary and It and even stories like the Monkey, whose underlying theme could be the “collective unconscious” (instinct) trying to draw a mind back to sanity. In terms of what can produce the “child” hero archetype, Jung say: Jung: The conscious mind is caught in its conflict-situation (ex: King and his addiction problems). Jung goes on to say how such conflicts like the one King faced with his alcoholism/addiction can cause the imaginative instinct to illustrate a patient mental problem in the symbolic form of a “child” facing against insurmountable odds, with all indicators pointing toward the “child’s” destruction. Jung: “Myth, however, emphasizes that it s not so, but that the child is endowed with “superior” powers and, despite all dangers, will unexpectedly pull through. In all of what’s just been said, we terms and sentences which might serve as a useful description of the events in The Shining. We’re also given a way of interpretation through psychology. On such a reading, with the help of Jung’s quotes and outlines above, we have a reading of The Shining which allows us to take King at his word when he claims all unknowingly to be “Writing about myself.” The book in this way becomes a veiled mirror held up to King’s own mental conflicts, most probably stemming from upbringing, which have led him to a state of neurotic dependence through lack of confidence, and the natural reaction of the survival instinct kicking in through the imagination function. As to what characters like Danny and the Losers symbolize, Jung offers the best summary. Jung: “The “child” motif represents…a functioning system (i.e. instinct)…whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable one-sidedness and extravagances of the conscious mind…deviating further and further from the laws and roots of (its) being…It’s a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of the conscious mind.” One of those forces, Jung believed, was imagination, whose function, like every other instinct was to keep the mind safe and, above all, sane. While he stressed the therapeutic use of art and literature, Jung acknowledged the entertainment aspect of it as well and its use as a leisure tool. To be fair, though, Jung did believe leisure might be yet another type of natural survival function to help avoid physical and mental burnout. How does all this prove Doctor Sleep is a bad idea? Well, for one thing In stories like the Shining, Danny is, in effect, a symbolization of the whole, healthy aspect or goal to which King should strive for, and which his dream was pointing him to. Jack Torrance, on the other hand was what Jung called a Shadow symbol, which means a problem or obstacle the dreamer hasn't confronted. Again, though, it's making the personal universal, a relating to a common motif known as the myth of transformation, or the Hero's Journey. If Imagination can function as a therapeutic tool, then as Jung says, it will often present the patients mental situation to him or her in symbolic form. One of the archetypes to present itself most commonly to many of his patients was “The Child.” In his essay “Psychology of the Child Archetype ,” Jung has this to say: Jung: “One of the essential features of the Child motif is its futurity. The child is potential future. Hence the appearance of the child motif in the psychology of the individual signifies as a rule anticipation of future developments…Experiences of this kind, whether they occur in dreams or…the waking state, are, as we know, on a conditional dissociation having previously taken place between past and present. Such dissociations come about because of various incompatibilities; for instance, a man’s present state may have come into conflict with his childhood state, or he may have violently sundered himself from his original character in the interests of some arbitrary persona (Bachman?) more in keeping with his ambitions. He thus becomes un-childlike and artificial, and has lost his roots. All this presents a favorable opportunity for an equally vehement confrontation with the truth…In dreams it (the Child sic) often appears as the dreamer’s son or daughter or as a boy, youth, or young girl…” The thing to remember, again, about archetypes is that as the products or symbols of imagination, as elements that combine into story, they are universal representations of nature that universalize the personal. Think of it as starting in on a full close up of an individual situation, and then having the camera pull back until the situation is revealed to have been set against a much larger collective background. A background which at one and the same time symbolizes the forces of Nature that go up to make life possible in the first place, and at the same time are it's products. I don't know if that helps, or even I've explained enough. I could point out that the difference between and archetype and "Uninspired Invention" means that if an artist were to randomly slap together invention on an Inspired work of art (as I believe King to have done with Sleep), that person would, in a sense be guilty of a kind of psychological dishonesty, because he would have been like tugging against the Natural Laws that make him up. I could also point out the connection a writer like Coleridge also has to this, however I think here is a good enough place to stop, even I haven't been as clear as I could. I am sorry for whatever I fumbled in this explanation, or that it had to be so drawn out. My only excuse is that I've with stories, what they are, and where they come from, and that it also helps to be an English major. Anyway, it's just two cents, for what it's worth. ChrisC
Episode 33 is LIVE. Next week, Episode 34 will be my annual creepy poetry episode. Any requests are welcome.
This time, I talk about the overview of King-related film projects from Studio System News, and the interview Stephen and Owen King did with Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s “Q” this week.
I wrote an op-ed piece for the Ottawa Citizen about the “CURSE OF THE ADAPTATION.”
I also talk a little bit about Dr. Sleep and the difference between a work of fiction and a roman a clef.
Continued from last post. As I said, I think it's wrong to see personal psychology in fiction as limiting, because the nature of great fiction is to take whatever may be personal in any individual author and universalize those elements. This is something different from a simple roman a 'clef, which may be little more than dirty laundry hung out to dry. What I have in mind is the process that occurs when an artist is able to tap into what Jung called Archetypes. The archetype theory is bit more complex. Part of it has to do with its perceived New Age connotations, and it’s unfortunate, because that was not what Jung was interested in at all. He always tried to keep to as rational a scientific base as possible. To put it in layman’s terms, Jung’s theory is just this: imagination is an instinct. In the same way fight or flight controls our response to danger; imagination is, like the former, a product of evolution. As an instinct, imagination is beyond personal control, it is this that (in artistic terms) it separates archetype theory from the author as God theory. Archetypes are the word Jung used to describe the unconscious images or ideas produced by imagination, his alternative word for archetypes was “Primordial Image”, indicating both the transpersonal and evolutionary aspect of the imagination instinct. In other words, as instinct, imagination is not something one person out of hundred can create for themselves and claim to own or control. It is an instinct, and that means it is an unconscious aspect that has evolved with the human mind over the course of evolution. It’s important to remember that an instinct is not something the conscious mind can control. Our consciousness emerged out of instinct which remains an unconscious influence on human behavior to this day. Jung’s term for the human instincts was the “collective unconscious” as opposed to the individual personal unconscious. This means that no one can ever control imagination or claim ownership because imagination is something nature endows everybody with, whether they know it or not (at least it's Jung's way of looking at it, and I admit to taking some comfort in it). While man can’t control imagination, the fact of books, films and art pointed, for Jung, to the observation that certain individuals had the ability to tap into the imagination. These individuals are usually classed under the collective heading of “artist.” Whether this process comes naturally endowed or is matter of psychological training remains uncertain, King says writers are “born”, not “made” though he used to think the opposite once. What’s all this got to do with “Doctor Sleep?” Well, if Jung’s theory is correct, and imagination is in fact a collective instinct like fight or flight, then King and Tolkien are correct when they say “Stories pretty much make themselves” and that “Every story is true for a given amount of “true.” It all makes sense once imagination is viewed as an autonomous instinct that can send up “primordial images” (archetypes) into the conscious mind independent of conscious choice or operation and that this process takes place in everyone’s mind, yet more often in those people who are termed “creative” (King, Tolkien, et al). Jung stressed that imagination was above all a therapeutic tool, its purpose was the same as the other instincts: keep people sane. Here’s how it goes, according to Jung, instincts are the source of both consciousness and sanity, the natural bio-physiological laws that regulate the human mind. Whenever someone does something, or acts in a way incompatible with those laws, instinct will naturally fight back. Remember, instincts have just one purpose, to guarantee survival and safety, and that means protecting the human mind, which means guaranteeing the safety of a human life. Whenever anyone so much as THINKS in a way that is incompatible with, or otherwise poses a threat to instinctive drives for survival, the collective unconscious will naturally try to correct the malignant behavior in the same way white blood cells rush to kill a germ. In fact, it may be possible the same law which protects the body from germs is the same one that tries to drive out insanity, Jung said archetypes have a bio-physiological aspect. According to Jung, it’s by acting against the laws that regulate the human mind that people go insane. It’s here that even the instinct of imagination rushes to the aid of survival. I'll wrap this all up, I just have a bit more to say about Danny as Archetype, and hopefully it will explain why I think the fundamental flaw of Sleep is that King imposed needless invention on an Inspired Archetype. To be continued. ChrisC
Okay. I don't know how involved this may get so bear with me. I also don't know how this will sound, but here goes. My current thinking on the nature of writing, and how it relates to books like Dome or Sleep, is that it started with King's On Writing, where he stated his belief that "Stories pretty much make themselves. The job of the author is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them of course)...Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground...Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world (p. 163, trade paperback)". I can speak only for myself, however I found that way of looking at stories, whether book or film, as entirely fascinating. My curiosity was even greater when reading a book about J.R.R. Tolkien called the Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter and (on page 138) ran across this comment from the Rings author himself: Tolkien: Although you may feel that your story is profoundly “true”, all the details may not have that “truth” about them. It’s seldom that the inspiration (if we are choosing to call it that) is so strong and lasting that it leavens all the lump, and doesn’t leave much that isn’t mere uninspired “invention”. Again, it was a way of looking at fiction (from a pretty heady source this time) that again just fascinated me. Later I read words by Peter Straub that echoed Tolkien's in an intro he made to an anthology of essays by King as companion to On Writing called Secret Windows: essays and fiction on the craft of writing. On pages 24 (xxiv) and 25 (xxv) of his intro, Straub makes a distinction between "Inventing" and "Discovery", in words that echo Tolkien's. Also, in the Carpenter book, "Jung's Archetypes" were mentioned in connection with the nature of stories, and I found it gratifying, as by then I was already reading Jung long before I picked up either King's or Carpenter's books. I'm aware, above all, that Jung was a psychologist, and that his theories of Archetypes are applied to that field, however I don't know if that makes them roman a 'clef. The problem seems to be that it narrows the ability to enjoy the book, that it detracts from the reading experience if all we are talking about is the personal life of the author. I'm not sure if that's the charge you were making at all. All I know is I never saw looking at books in a psychological aspect as limiting in any way, because with archetypes, as Jung stressed, individual circumstances were ultimately related to collective circumstances. It's this relating of individual to collective and ultimate that makes for some of the best fiction, as it takes whatever is personal in a novel, film, etc. and universalizes it. This post is already running long, so I'll have to come back to explain. Again, just please bear with me. To be continued. ChrisC
You have no idea how odd it is to here you own words, that you've written, said aloud by someone else, and on a recognized media outlet. I don't remember ever being that eloquent. This was a rather good and informative episode though, even if I may have a few disagreements. I originally thought I wouldn't read it at all when it was released, however I cave and opened the covers; and I had to laugh. My clearest thought was, well this isn't Danny. For me the book is in no way King's best. It has all the faults I associate with the book Under the Dome. The characters are one dimensional, and with no real development, the little girl makes me wonder is she isn't a Mary Sue, and also the whole puts me in mind more of the author moving pieces around the game board at will. This, to me, is not good writing. What makes a fiction work is the ability of the writer to cooperate and follow the lead of the symbols or archetypes that, I'm convinced, make up elements, or natural ingredients of a story, and lend it depth and sincerity. It is a novel that would fit the above criteria. I am using the word archetype in it's Jungian meaning, and, for me at least, I think Jung did more than any to give modern scientific legitimacy to the concept of imagination. There's a lot more I'd like to say on this topic, but so as not to take up space, I'd like to come back later when I've given some more thought to what I'd like to say about Sleep, the Shining, and how both relate to Jung's concepts of imagination and art. So for now, I'll just label this, To Be Continued. ChrisC
Excellent article in today's Citizen, Bob! It inspired me to pick up King's short story collections. By the way, have you read King's "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft"? It includes some of the greatest insights into the writer's process that I've ever encountered.
Thanks, Christine! Yeah, On Writing is pretty much a bible for me. SK was able to write something there that I know many people have found a touchstone, even if they aren't a fiction writer. (His nonfiction's pretty good too, as a matter of fact). If you've the taste for dark stories, you could try Full Dark No Stars, a collection of decidedly dark novellas.