, got me thinking again. Said our
: “I would argue that the ‘christ-figure’ iconography is not always intended by the writer, but is the result of western reader response. As Joseph Campbell pointed out, the archetypes exist across history and cultures.”
I’d like to explore this through the now-cancelled science-fiction/fantasy TV show, Farscape. (Check out my recent review of Farscape if you haven’t yet seen the show).
The way I see it, there are basically two kinds of hero: 1) the likable, appealing t
raditional hero; and 2) the sharp and edgy anti-hero. John Crichton, the good scientist who gets shot through a wormhole into another galaxy, fits the description of the first kind: intelligent, kind and good, John — the ‘every man’— appeals to our sense of what a hero should be. He is born of the light, and displays a confidence and individuality that reflects a loving and nurturing family who labored to support him in all his endeavors. So much so that John initially withers beneath the imposing shadow of his celebrated heroic father (a famous astronaut) who nonetheless tells him:
“everyone has the chance to be his own kind of hero.” The anti-hero aptly describes Aeryn Sun, the alien Peacekeeper Officer, who is an edgier, darker character (albeit this is paradoxical to her last name, which I’ll talk about later) with few, if any, obvious heroic or even likable qualities. Several of her faults are pointed out to us in Season One and Two of the show (Aeryn herself admits, while under duress in Season Four, that “I’m not a very nice person.”). Born as one of thousands of other anonymous Peacekeepers (galactic nazis) on a command carrier, Aeryn grew up not knowing the love of a parent or having learned the confidence of an individual within a nurturing family.
Both kinds of hero begin their journeys as ‘everyman’ who strays, like Dante’s Pilgrim into a dark wood to embark on a hero’s adventure of enlightenment and service (John’s name is not coincidental here). Rather than ‘straying’, though, John and Aeryn are ‘thrust’ into their forced pilgrimage. Although, one could argue that both were more masters of their fates than either would care to admit: John did call his ship Farscape; and Aeryn did choose to defend him to her superior, inviting his declaring her irreversibly contaminated. Either way, both had a signature in initiating the journey of heroic enlightenment and service.
John is already somewhat enlightened; he’s a scientist on a fact-finding mission, out to prove a theory about how the universe works. John is a self-actualized individual, seeking further enlightenment, but who will be compelled into heroic service to his community. Aeryn, on the other hand, starts out as the “good soldier”— she is no stranger to selfless service. While pursuing service in ignorance, it is enlightenment she unconsciously yearns for and seeks through her small acts of insubordination then final act of compassion that frees her from the shackles of Orwellian Peacekeeper rhetoric. Aeryn served the “greater good” of her community without understanding its true consequences on i
ndividuals. It is largely through her relationship with John that she is personally enlightened toward truly heroic service. It is also through Aeryn that John learns to connect with his community and apply his enlightenment in heroic service as well. Each serves as a catalyst for the other by providing a reason for heroism; each provides the key to unlocking the heroic quality the other must call forth and use.
John and Aeryn can be seen as two halves of a whole. That these two characters represent two sides of a metaphorical hero’s coin, is no where more apparent than in their extremely connected yet turbulent relationship with one another. From the moment they meet John and Aeryn are inseperable. He is her muse and she is his guiding inspiration (the sun around which he orbits). What he suggests, she executes. What he thinks she does. John talks the fight while Aeryn delivers the punch. She, in turn, provides John with context and relationship; for what good is knowledge if it is not used in relationship to something of merit. These two are a team. Mirror images that complement one another. Together, they serve to complete the whole, our whole: the yin and yang that flows through all of us; the male and female energies that move us and inspire us to be and do; the light and dark sides we all possess that
give us depth like the chiarascuro of an impressionistic artwork.
There is a wonderful scene, I think it is later in the second season, where the two of them are working together to fix a vehicle; without words each anticipates the needs of the other and they work seemlessly as if they are the limbs of one common entity. There are actually many scenes like this one, which demonstrate how they operate as one. In an episode near the end of the third season, I think, when presented with a problem the two of them shout out simultanously, “I have a plan!”
John is the hero we like to recognize in us, the one we see in ourselves. He embodies all that we strive to be: kind, sensitive, strong enough to be vulnerable, confident and honourable. John represents our public self, the person we’d like to project to the world: successful, attractive, a leader who is respected (he does finally get the respect of his colleagues, though he must earn it first). Aeryn is our dark side, the part we often hide from the world (including all the nasty little things we did when our ego and integrity faltered—and Aeryn certainly did a number of these faux pas
, like ratting on her former lover to satisfy her ambition as a pilot). Hence, our initial reluctance to empathize or identify with her. We quickly choose John, our public self. But it is Aeryn who we are inevitably drawn to for the darker deeper journey we all crave. So, while we ostensibly cheer for John’s quest, we quietly root for Aeryn to prevail.
But Aeryn represents much more than this. What Aeryn shows us is where service through enlightenment can take us and she demonstrates this to John in so many ways. Every hero receives a gift during his or her perilous journey; a gift that he must share with his world. One of John’s gifts is the incredible knowledge he gains (not just of wormholes, either). Aeryn’s gift is something she has always had, but John must unlock and show to her: her heart (closed and protected from the world) and her faith. What Aeryn gi
ves back to John (besides her heart) is her incredible faith in him…and ultimately in the world around her, through love. As I mentioned in my previous post (okay, I’m repeating myself, but I think it’s worth repeating), this relationship is not unlike that of the two Aeon twins, or syzygies
, in Gnosticism, where the male Aeon, Caen
(power and knowledge), and the female Aeon, Akhana
(truth and love) emanate as beings of light to enlighten humanity so that they can ‘know’ God. John and Aeryn forge a new world based on the powerful joining of knowledge, faith and love. Aeryn, who embodies selfless faith and love, provides John—himself the repository of knowledge and enlightenment—with a vehicle to transmutate his Farscape and newly embraced community into a world of unimagined peace. Aeryn is like the light of Christian mysticism, which seeks as its goal the perfection of charity as opposed to many other mystics for which acquiring transcendental knowledge forms a major theme. For Aeryn, it was always a matter of faith and belief. It was the reason she could take action immediately, could act out her choices swiftly and directly, and could adapt with lightening fluidity from blind soldier to faithful guardian and loving mother.
As for the apparent oxymoron of Aeryn Sun’s name…I think it only appropriate that she, initially presented as the darker hero, embodies it; for it is only by first acknowledging one’s darker side and journeying through it that one can finally see the true light, the light that feeds our souls and brings us home.
So, is this a Different Hero’s Journey, as only Farscape can deliver and intentionally portrayed by its producer/director? Or is it a common trope of the western reader, as Modern Matriarch said? Or, yet again, just something I’ve personally invented as a writer of fiction and student of metaphor? Or perhaps it is all of these…