Snow Sanctuary and the Heroine’s Journey

                                          The Twelve Stages of a Heroine’s Journey

We all can be heroes of our own story; however, after giving numerous book readings, I discovered that my readers were not familiar with the classical journey of a hero as described by Joseph Campbell. In his book, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, he first summarized the heroine’s journey, and since then many successful books and Hollywood movies have used this narrative line: think of The Wizard of Oz, and Star Wars, Superman, Huckleberry Finn, Batman, and Hercules. Campbell stated, “A heroine/hero is someone who has given her or his life to something bigger than oneself.”

1. Ordinary beginnings:

In Greek days the heroine would be the child of both a God and a human, giving the heroine a divine lineage; however, this myth has been changed in modern times to have the person come from humble beginnings and usually an ordinary life, thus making it easier for us to identify with her.

2. Call to Adventure:

              The heroine is invited to accept a challenge and might have doubts at first.

3. Refusal of the Call

The heroine may refuse the call at first, expressing self-doubt or inability to leave home. This helps the reader to identify with the fear she might have about taking on a new challenge.

4. Meeting the Mentor:

              The heroine needs to have guidance to accept the challenge and will find a mentor or the  mentor will unexpectedly arrive. The mentor will give advice, practical training and some self-confidence to the heroine, thus giving her the courage to take on her quest.

5. Crossing the Threshold:

The heroine now has the physical and mental strength to leave her home and venture into the unknown.

6. Test, Allies, Enemies:

Many obstacles, challenges, dangers must be overcome by the heroine as she learns about her own abilities and weaknesses. The people she meets can help and harm her as she journeys through unknown territory toward her ultimate goal. She will learn who can be trusted and who will try to thwart her dreams. She will be hampered by one flaw in her personality, but she will learn to overcome this.

7. Journey to the underworld or labyrinth:

              The heroine ventures into the underworld where she must confront her own death or a terrible danger. Here she will confront all her fears and doubts about the adversity that lies ahead if she continues. Now the reader will understand the magnitude of the quest and the  possible consequences.

8. Ordeal:

The final ordeal is some physical test or confrontation where the heroine risks everything. She must face her greatest fear and use all the skills she has gained through her a journey to overcome the challenge. Here is the point of tension where the heroine could lose everything.

9. Reward:

After defeating the enemy, surviving death and overcoming the personal challenge, the heroine emerges as a stronger more self-confident human and usually wins her reward. She is now ready to return home.

10. The Return Home:

              The heroine still has adversity to overcome on her return home. Her journey is not over and she must  commit to a higher cause other than her personal glory.

11. Resurrection:

Often the heroine faces one more brush with death where her existence is threatened and the consequences will affect not only her own life but the lives of those around her.

12. Sharing the gift

Once home the heroine will be a changed person. She will have gained many attributes, grown physically and spiritually, and be ready to start her new life. There will be a resolution for the other characters also, both her compatriots and her enemies.

Joseph Campbell recognized that there is a heroine in all of us if we just chose to take on the challenges that confront us. To my many readers, now see if you can chart Lia, my protagonist’s heroic journey.

Why read Shakespeare?

 

              William Shakespeare                              J.K. Rowling

 

                    Why High Schools should still teach Shakespeare

 After watching my twelve year grandson perform as Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, I remembered how much fun my U.S. Ski Team teammates and I had acting out Shakespeare’s plays while we were snowed in at such races as The Alta Cup in Utah, The Roche Cup in Aspen and even the World Cup in Europe.

 This may sound crazy, but in the 1960’s, lacking technology, we had to find ways to entertain ourselves in the slope-side ski lodges, sometimes for days. At the ripe old age of 18, we all had one experience in common; while in high school, we had read Shakespeare’s plays, often one a year for four years. Traditionally the plays included Romeo and Juliet (Freshman year), Macbeth (Sophomore year), King Lear (Junior Year), and of course, to top off the teenage angst, Hamlet, (Senior year). Each year the reading of the plays grew easier as we became accustomed to the language as well as keen observers of the wit and themes. We also discovered that using the quotations on college essays added depth to our teenage philosophy about life.

 

 On the US Ski Team, sometimes when we traveled, we would bring a few copies of the plays, (fortunately the editions were small) so when the blizzards came, often stranding us in the avalanche-prone lodges, we would raid the lost-and-found for a few appropriate costumes, assign roles, and start a group reading. Talk about building a team spirit; laughing and acting together broke down inhibitions and rivalry. We were one in the moment as we shared the larger-than-life trials of Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Cordelia. (Hence my protagonist’s name Lia in my novel Snow Sanctuary) Naturally, King Lear, wandering the heath during a storm, became one of our favorites:

 

                          Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

                          Your cataracts and hurricanes, spout (III, ii,1-2)

 

After my ski team experience, I taught English, including Shakespeare, in high school for twenty five years and discovered how the Bard continues to be relevant to each new generation, the plays establishing a universal language not just in America but across the world, a language that transcends generations and cultural differences.

 

Just a little research demonstrated to me that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, his words, plots, and characters, not only resonate with today’s youth but also can continue warn them about hubris, judgment, deceit, treachery, and humor all the while entertaining them with witches and magical thinking.

 

Incredibly, Shakespeare coined over 1700 English words by changing verbs into nouns (assassination), verbs into adjectives (fashionable), adding prefixes and suffixes (bedazzled) and making up new words (eyeball).

 

So, as high schools struggle to make the four years of education “more relevant,” this is my plea for the teachers to keep the reading of Shakespeare in America’s classrooms for all students, not just the advanced placement scholars.

 

Here are a very few examples that demonstrate how intertwined modern culture is with Shakespeare’s work and why the students will be grateful to be exposed to the plays.

 

1st J.K. Rowling exclaimed, “I absolutely adore Macbeth,” and used the example of the witches’ prophecy for Macbeth about becoming king as a template for Voldemort’s belief in his destiny.

 

2nd The lyrics for the song in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabin, “Something wicked comes this way” comes from the witches’ portent while they are stirring the cauldron in Macbeth, “By pricking my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes.”

 

3rd J. K. Rowling named her heroine in Harry Potter after Hermoine in A Winter’s Tale.

 

4th Finally, check out how many Shakespearean actors were hired to be in the eight films about Harry Potter: Bill Nighy( Rufus Scrimageour) Cieran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Guy Henry (Pius Thickness), Richard Harris, the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time (Albes Dumbledore). You can check out the rest.

Don’t you just love Rowling’s character names.

 

5th If Harry Potter doesn’t amuse you, compare the film The Lion King to Hamlet, using the story arc of the proud king Mufasa who is accidentally killed by his evil, ambitious brother Scar, and over time Simba (the son) returns to right the injustice. (Both stories use a ghost of the dead father to call the son to action.) However, in our Disney version, there is a happier resolution in The Lion King.

 

6th Oh, and when the students study astronomy in science class, they will learn that Uranus has 27 moons and many are named for Shakespearean characters: Titanic, Oberon, Puck, Cordelia, Ophelia.

 

7th Or in Language Arts’ class when the students learn about clichés, they will learn that Shakespeare coined such terms as “in a pickle,” “it’s Greek to me,” “hoodwinked,” and “tongue-tied.”

 

8th Yes, there seems to be a constant reinvention of Shakespeare for each generation. I once heard that great literature is writing that can be read during each decade of one’s life, finding new interpretations as one grows older. Certainly, on the ski team we learned this.

 

So, should high schools continue to teach Shakespeare to all students? Absolutely, especially because many colleges no longer require a reading of Shakespeare in their curriculum. I envy every student’s introduction to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and hope they, too, will find some friends who are willing to act out these dramas, maybe even on the top of a mountain during a storm.

 

Shakespeare coined over 1700 English words by changing verbs into nouns (assasination), verbs into adjectives (fashionable), adding prefixes and suffixes (bedazzled) and making up new words (eyeball).

 

So, as high schools struggle to make the four years of education “more relevant,” this is my plea for the teachers to keep the reading of Shakespeare in America’s classrooms for all students, not just the advanced placement scholars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a look at Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Damien

I’d never felt such cold, balancing on my skis in the starting gate, dressed only in a thin racing jacket and stretch pants, shivering, waiting. I cringed at the lack of snow on the mountain race-course. I wondered how the Eastern Ski Association could make me—us—practice for the downhill championships with so many stumps mushrooming from the icy trail? At this moment, all I wished for was my feather comforter over my head instead of my silver crash helmet, a fiberglass bucket that afforded little protection from the 10 degree February morning here on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.

“Lia, I’ll ski first. I know you’ll be slower,” said Damien, taunting me with his devilish grin, his Colgate-white teeth, his cheeks growing frost-feathers on his teenage fuzz. Seeing my expression, he became serious, “You look a little scared.” He paused and closed his eyes. “Remember, courage isn’t the absence of fear—it’s doing your best despite it.”

I laughed, “Ha! Speak for yourself. You look like a snowman.” Trying to reassure myself, I continued, “Watch out or I’ll catch you on the first fall-away turn, just above the birch grove.” He turned toward the course, so I yelled again to his hunched back,“Don’t forget your pre-jump. Remember Marsha is ahead of you.”

The wind muffled my words as it blew the inch of powder away from the makeshift starting gate. Damien poled out of the start, his skis rattling on the boiler-plate ice. When he hit the first turn, his skis scratched the crust, creating a sound like fingernails scraping a chalkboard. He tried to skate in order to pick up speed for the first artificial bump. He looked like a baby bird attempting its first flight, arms and legs askew. Then, silence.

I counted to thirty in order to give him a lead, in case he had trouble. A blast of loose snow delayed my leap out of the gate. On course, I hit a tuck, head to knees in a perfect aerodynamic egg position, to get speed for the bump. The bump came sooner than I expected, indicating the course was faster than before. Three gates down, I had to start my turn for the fall-away gate much earlier than I had planned. As I set my edge on the dusting of wind-blown snow, I saw a track below me, headed for the woods.

Out from the woods ran my friend, Marsha, frantically waving her arms as if she were a policewoman trying to stop cars. She struggled for balance in her effort to stop me. “Come quickly, Damien tried to pass me, lost control and went into the birches,” she screamed, trying to be heard over the moaning wind.

I threw my skis sideways, clicked out of my bindings, and ran toward the largest birch tree. Pressed against the white bark, Damien’s head tilted at a right angle. Unmoving, he resembled a chickadee lying in the snow, neck broken, after flying into a window. When I knelt by his head, I saw a red spot on the snow. His ski helmet dangled from his face. His skull was split open. I tried to brush away the trickle of blood flowing across his check. Unseeing, his dilated, blue eye stared at me. In my stupor, I barely heard Marsha yell, “Go for help. I’ll stay with him.” She pushed me away crying, “Oh my God!”

I ran back to my skis, struggling to find them through my tears. In a daze, I skied the rest of the course, standing up, missing most of the control gates. At the finish line, I saw my father, Stan, and yelled to him, “Send help up to gate 4. Damien went off course.” I waved uncontrollably up the hill. News about Damien’s death spread quickly after the directors closed the course and canceled the downhill race. Not one of the junior skiers wanted to race again, yet the coaches demanded some sort of result in order to pick the team for the up-coming Junior Nationals in March. For this reason, the race officials reorganized the downhill race into a slower giant slalom to be held the next day.

I knew that in order to make the team, I needed to have a solid result to complement my third in the slalom two days before, yet my heart cried out at the injustice of having to race when I only wanted to stay in bed and think about my friend, Damien. On the other hand, I also knew that he would want me to race—not to give up on our dream.

Years before, Damien and I had made a pact: for three winters we had worked to make the team to Junior Nationals. Although he was from a town in New Hampshire, every weekend from December to April, he would travel north to my Vermont hometown and practice with me. We would borrow slalom poles from the ski patrol at Mad River Glen ski area and set up short courses. For fast downhill training, we would get to the mountain early, before the recreational skiers, and practice tucking the intermediate trail called the Porcupine. We both agreed that if we worked harder than the pampered racers in organized programs, we could achieve our dreams of being on the US Ski Team and, just maybe, the Olympic Team of 1972.

He was my first boyfriend.

Now one day after Damien’s death, once again I stood in the starting gate. I caught the eyes of the head race-official, John Boast, who stood below me, his thick, dirty-blonde hair, tanned face, and powder-blue parka making him look like a model from SKI Magazine. He was the one who had demanded that the race be held, because ambitiously he wanted to coach the Junior National Team headed for Montana.

My anger at him caused my breath to quicken. I looked down to make sure my boots weren’t touching the electric wand across the start. I extended my poles over the trip rod. My adrenaline made me forget everything as I stood charged, ready to fly. “Racer ready,” yelled the starter. I jiggled my goggles to clear the fog off the lens and looked down again. That’s when I saw it on my blue stretch pants—a dried, white crust from Damien’s brain. “Five, four, three, two … ” I bent low, my heart jumped. “One … ” I drove my poles outward, kicked my boots back, launched my body over the baton, as every one hundredth of a second counted. “Go.” My body sprang off the pad before my boots tripped the wand.

On course, I had to ski a perfect race for both of us. I took a deep breath as I pushed out into the line of red and blue flags. I was in a trance, my skis dancing left to right, slicing the icy track, my knees pulsating, my weight driving forward to each gate, my knuckles knocking the giant slalom poles aside. I felt as if a fresh wind were pushing me on. Now I understood—yes, ski racing would still be my life. This dance with the snow and the challenge of the gates transported me into a zone beyond words, into a world of light, texture, and balance.

The wind-snapping flags led me down the course like Buddhist prayer banners, just like the ones my mother used to fly in our yard—my mother, who also had died.