What I almost read...
The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine by Robert Bly and Marion Woodman
This book opens with the long and winding Russian legend of The Maiden King, which reminds me to some degree of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, except weirder. It opens with stepmother incest, when a stepmother falls in love with and begins manipulating her beautiful stepson. He's young, he's weak, and he falls for all of it. Fortunately, he runs into the titular Maiden King, who rescues him in a series of highly symbolic and image-rich adventures. Bly and Woodman are both psychologists, Bly best known for his men's movement work and Woodman for her adaptation of Jung's theories to include bodily, not just mind, experience. Each of the authors, in turn, analyze the legend in their own styles. Bly goes blow-by-blow through the narrative, Woodman writes a more impressionistic analysis of the psychological themes. Both look to this as a legend for our times, when the old gender roles are radically shifted and new ways of being male or female are uncertain. I read enough to know that this is a perfect fireside winter read, so I hope I'll come back to it over winter break.
The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five by Doris Lessing
Didn't get as far into this one, but this fictional addition to Lessing's novel series, Canopus in Argos: Archives, is another tale of strife between two genders. I'd love to come back to this one when I have time to sink into the narrative rather than skim over its surface. The men and women doing the marrying are atypical in various ways, and from what I've read about the book, Lessing too was struggling with the gender issues of her contemporaries in this writing.
Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougemont
Ya gotta love the French for all things romantic, including the most geeky, least romantic analysis of romance I've ever read. Though I stalled out about a third of the way through, De Rougemont opens strong, arguing that the legend of star-crossed lovers Tristan and Iseult is the core of our Western understanding of romantic. This was written in the 40s, and although it has since become commonplace for every goth kid to equate love and death, de Rougemont did a handy job of showing how the two desires, to give over to romance and to surrender to death, are intertwined in this iconic tale. Of course, the lovers die in the end due to a misunderstanding. In fact, his main argument is that romance is a narrative drive that is fueled by obstacles. When the story runs out of obstacles, more emerge, such that the main cultural messages we receive about romance are about pursuit rather than, say, intimacy, deep connections, commitment, etc. No sustenance, just drive and pursuit and thwarted desire. After de Rougemont turned to analyzing the cultural context of the troubadours, particularly the religious context, I felt I had read enough for now. But I can see that this is one of those early, influential cultural history texts that has influenced a lot of rhetoric in that arena. And it all starts with a folktale...