Sunday, February 24, 2013

Greek Myths, Part 1: Fear and Fate

After finding success with the Storyteller series, Henson planned an extended run focusing on Greek myths.  This four-episode mini-series was presented in a similar format, with a narrator telling the tales to his dog, but the time period had moved out of the medieval ages to an earlier ancient Greece.  New effects and creatures were created to tell these grand tales, allowing for deeper exploration into the world's oldest stories.

The biggest change came in the replacement of John Hurt with Michael Gambon as the Storyteller.  While Hurt presented a more humorous and passionate narration to his tales, Gambon was a tragic character, lost within the famous Labyrinth, telling stories to pass the time.

The dog is the same, though.  Maybe it's an ancestor of Hurt's dog.

The first episode that aired encapsulates that which sets Greek myths apart from the other folktales, making for a good starting point.  "Perseus and the Gorgon" contains all of the familiar tropes one expects from these ancient myths.  There is the prophecy that tries to be avoided and ends up fulfilled, a half-human, half-god hero, and a quest to kill an unbeatable monster that relies on the hero's wits and gifts from other gods to achieve victory.

Nowadays, most of the events in these tales gets ascribed to Hercules.  After all, if you've seen one demi-god hero, you've seen them all.  So, in that sense, Perseus doesn't really bring anything new to the table of heroes.  He is just a pawn that lets the story play around him.

I am a legendary hero, sir.

Fearing an oracle's vision that says Perseus will kill his grandfather King Acrisius, the aforementioned king locks his young daughter Danae in his dungeon, where Zeus impregnates her via beam of golden light.  Discovering the child, the king locks the boy and his mother in a chest, intending to drown them in the sea.  This takes them to Seriphos where the King Polydektes attempts to make Danae his wife. Perseus, a young man at this point, reaches the conclusion that if he can slay Medusa, the Gorgon woman with a head of snakes and a stare that can turn any man into stone, he and his mother will be free to go.

Don't look directly in her eyes.

Along the way, Perseus meets with other figures of Greek mythology, such as Hermes and Athena who lend him winged shoes, a cap of invisibility, a sword, and a mirror shield to fight the Gorgons.  After seeking directions from Atlas, the Titan who holds up the heavens, as well as the Gracae (who share one eye with which to see the future), Perseus fights Medusa by using his shield to look at her reflection as he swings his sword around aimlessly.

The most awkward epic battle in ancient history.

He defeats her and brings the head back to Polydektes, who foolishly wishes to see the head has proof.

Whoops! Bad call, Polydektes.

Other story threads are quickly tied up (Perseus turns Atlas to stone to give him a much needed rest from bearing the weight of the world, and he later accidentally kills his grandfather in a discuss throwing contest) and Gambon shares with us the message of the story.

We cannot fear the future.  Characters who suffered were those who tried to avoid their fates, while those who faced their fears head on succeeded.  Medusa represents all that which paralyzes us and prevents us from living our lives.  These messages are as old as history and they remain relevant to this day.  It's no wonder we enjoy revisiting these ancient tales.

Coming up are three more stories that hold more universal lessons and trace the journey of the Storyteller's own fate.

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