A Few of the Issues Raised

Here are a few of the issues raised and themes explored in The Legend Of Aranrhod. They are mostly only hinted at but they’re there. 

[For a psychological interpretation of the story, as a parable of the journey from child to adolescent, see on the Sidebar under ‘A Psychological Interpretation’. It’s radical, but also very interesting to see another layer in the story.]

1. The role of myths and legends in our lives

A) At national level.

Many nations have myths and legends and these influence the way people see themselves – perhaps Romulus and Remus being raised by a wolf helped to make the Romans militaristic. If you thought such myths faded away long ago, think again, for they claim to have discovered the cave where the lupine nursery was situated!

In a way, Britain lives by a legend which was the British Empire, and legends like King Arthur and Robin Hood give us examples of valour and compassion to live up to.

Branwen, Carys’s mother, believes that the Welsh have a legendary background of courage against invaders, and especially in North Pembrokeshire where she lives, which resisted (possibly with ‘King’ Arthur’s help) the Saxons from the east and the Romans, who tried invading by sea from the south but couldn’t get past the Landsker Line of castles. This explains why she hasn’t much truck with Welsh people who live south of that Line – though if she thought about it, she’d see that it was hardly their fault that they lived the wrong side of the fortifications.

B) At a family level 

It’s surprising how many families have their own legends, often revolving around something a member was supposed to have done not many generations ago. It might be legendary wealth that was lost when the family had a bust up – or what about the great uncle who went to America and made his fortune? He was never heard from again, so how do we know? But that’s the whole point of any legend – there’s no written evidence, and if there is, there’s no proof that the evidence records what actually happened, since the scribe may have been reporting the legend! At some point in time, someone has a theory – about why the family is so poor, let’s say – and the theory gets passed down orally, with inevitable modifications. Just watch any episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and you’ll see examples of family legends. For example, Alistair McGowan’s family always believed they were originally from Scotland but it turned out to be Ireland.

Branwen believes her family’s legend, which tells her that the name ‘Aranrhod’, which has been passed down their female line since time immemorial, carries with it the possibility of a grave responsibility. This will involve fighting against a great evil. The trouble is that Carys doesn’t believe in the legend of Aranrhod like her mother does. In fact she thinks her mum is losing her mind. She feels this stupid legend has prevented her mother from having a normal relationship with her and she resents it deeply.

C) At all levels

At both national and family levels, legnds provide a model to live up to and a pattern to mould ourselves around. For instance, while many people believe that The Old Testament records historical fact, others believe that its holy books recount the Founding Legends of a people, giving them an identity and standards to live by – and that Genesis tells Legends of Creation itself, so that we live and grow believing in a creation that is essentially good, as God beheld it, and believing in humanity as essentially God-like.

Children sometimes feel under pressure to live up to the legendary standards of their family – their religious faith, their social values, their political beliefs. When a dad refers a child to what HIS father did, or grandfather, (maybe in a war, or in an economic depression, or in his career) in a way that dad is reciting his family’s legend, laying out a template. To a certain extent all children feel this pressure to conform to their family ‘image’, but the weight of family legends can prove unbearable in famous families like the Kennedys, whose descendants have to live up to the legendary exploits of their ancestors and sometimes do silly things under the strain.

Further problems arise when children, like Carys, don’t believe in the family legend, or think it’s being used to control them. Maybe they see (or think they see) their parents acting hypocritically, not living up to the family legend themselves. Or maybe their friends’ families have different, more attractive legends (the grass being always greener). So it is easy for children to assume, as they approach adolescence, that there are only two choices – conform or rebel.

The Legend Of Aranrhod suggests a third way: give due respect to the members who believe in the family legend, as Carys finally learns to do with her mother, while making it your own. Ultimately you have to re-tell your family’s legend in your own language, adapted to the times you live in, making sense to you. It may not end up very different, but it will be yours. Carys only changes a few details, but it makes the difference between her world being destroyed or being saved. Which is why someone wrote and thanked me for the book’s ‘salvific message’ I suppose.

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS
i. Does it matter if the legends we live by are historical fact or highly embroidered fact?
ii. Are conspiracy theorists the writers of today’s legends?

2. The difference between goodness and truth. Evil people can actually know the truth, and speak the truth. Hitler probably said many things that were true. (Maybe Hitler is a bad example without having a quote!). The Devil quotes Scripture in the bible. Balimm knows true things but then he uses his knowledge for evil. Jesus doesn’t just say ‘I am the truth’, no, he says ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ – so his ‘truth’ only means something when placed beside the way he’s chosen to follow, the strait and narrow road of goodness, not the wide road of evil. Only then will the ‘truth’ lead to ‘life’, which is life lived in God.

3. Can inanimate objects like stones be made ’sacred’? What does it mean to consecrate a building? Did you know that one of the early popes ordered Christian builders to use stones from pagan shrines in their church building? They wanted to render the pagan sites ‘holy’. By doing that, weren’t they being as ‘pagan’ as the pagans, believing stones could be something more than mere stones, and that mere places, patches of ground, could be ‘holy’ or ’sacred’? In the Old Testament, the patriarchs erected altars, consecrating stones or the ground where they had had a spiritual experience.

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS
iii. Are we doing the same when we erect cairns of stones on mountains in memory of someone or an event, or when we tie flowers to a tree where an accident has happened?
iv. Is there a primeval urge in us to recognise the holy in places and things? What about places like Wembley or The Kop?

4. Is there such a thing as ‘magic’ – is it the same as ‘miracles’? Aaron defeated the Pharaoh’s magicians because his ‘rod’ or ’staff’ was more powerful than theirs. So, was Aaron’s Rod magic? Is something ‘magic’ when a pagan does it but a ‘miracle’ when a Christian does it? Through an understandable fear of ‘black’ magic, have Christians thrown out some of Christianity’s ‘magic’, some of its mystery? The New Testament doesn’t deny the existence of magic, nor of things like demons, but rather has the confidence to believe that a Christian’s ‘magic’ is more powerful – but you had to have the authority to use it, which the seven sons of a Jewish high priest in Ephesus learned to their cost: they tried to defeat a demon by using the stronger ‘magic’ (we’d say ’spiritual power’ now?) of Jesu’s holy name. But the demons didn’t recognise their authority to call upon Jesus in this way and they beat the priest’s sons black and blue. The Philistines had a similar experience when they tried to use the Ark of the Covenant. They couldn’t handle the divine power it held.

Instead of teaching people to treat the spiritual power inherent in belief in Christ with respect and mature responsibility, we shy away from the whole subject and so leave the pitch vacant for charlatans and evil people to peddle their twisted view of spiritual power, as something to use to one’s own advantage, which is what Balimm wants to do with Aaron’s Rod.

5. Do we all have a destiny? This is another hot potato that forms a major theme of the novel. What’s the point of an almighty deity if we’re all free to do what we like? Wouldn’t an almighty, omniscient, prescient God (like Merlin maybe represents if the story is read as an allegory?) lay out everybody’s destiny? The Calvinists believed in determinism, that the ones going to heaven were selected before they were born. Is genetics doing the same job as Calvinism did (does anybody know what the social consequences, if any, were from Calvinism?) in sapping people’s incentives to be good or lead a healthy life since our future is already written in our genes?

6. Do we take our spiritual life, our faith, our religion, too seriously? Where does laughter, and even being SILLY, fit into our life of faith? If you believe in the Devil, does he have fun? Does he laugh? What makes him laugh? Does Jesus laugh? What is your overriding impression of Jesus’s mood? A man of sorrows? A tortured and tormented soul? Did he worry a lot? Always anxious about things? How easy is it for you to picture Jesus laughing? Did he tell jokes – even silly jokes like Bethany? Did he let his hair down and enjoy himself sometimes?

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION
v. They’ve proven that showing funny films to patients helps them heal (but it doesn’t keep them in stitches – boom boom!) but could fun and laughter actually be a weapon against evil that the Church has neglected? Are there examples of this changing? An evangelist called David Watson used to punctuate his serious sermons with actors doing funny sketches. They were known as The Riding Lights and they became a professional troupe travelling the country with their own mission – to preach the gospel by making people laugh, as Jesus did so often in his parables.

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