From Wildman to King: Another Look at Male Myth and Initiation Part 2

But the man who is truly fortunate in his ability to see things as they are moves through and beyond his pain to ask what happened to the father who should have been there and was not. In the process of searching for the facts of his father's life, he is likely to discover his own identity and the life that he, and no one else, must live. The wounded son becomes a man, and the man becomes a hero.

Luke Skywalker, a sort of naive country boy at the beginning of the Star Wars saga, could have refused to follow the adventure that "just happened" to come his way. He might have excused himself on the grounds that he had no father to initiate him, and hence no way of knowing how to be the kind of man capable of rescuing a princess and saving the galaxy. Parzival too might have remained in the forest with his mother, resenting the lack of anyone to give him a ride to Arthur's Court. But instead, both boys set off for the unknown, following their fated course to the discovery and redemption of their true selves. In the process they also found, and in some ways redeemed, their missing fathers.

It takes a good deal of faith, and perhaps even a bit of naivete and foolishness, to follow after opportunity when it comes along. A man may have nothing beyond his own wavering intuition to guide him as he heads off into the unknown, taking a leap of faith that, for all he knows, could be a plunge to disaster. Parzival had no inkling of what lay beyond the paradise in which his mother sought to keep him. Luke Skywalker had no assurance that any good would come from answering the princess' mysterious distress call.

The gardener's boy had only the untried word of Iron Hans to support him in his declared intention of going to war. Probably there would have been no objection made had he remained in the garden, quietly daydreaming about heroic deeds while everyone else went out to the battle. He could have done the same during the festival, safeguarding his fantasies by avoiding the possibility of their fulfillment, and no one would have been the wiser. But instead, he took his chances and went out to the forest's edge to once again put Iron Hans, as well as himself, to the test.

The gardener's boy seemed intent on remaining unnoticed and unknown. After his rout of the enemy, he might have ridden in triumph to the palace where he probably would have been given anything he asked for. But, except for dropping of a few hints on apparently deaf ears, he kept his heroic identity a carefully guarded secret. Then, during the festival, he three times caught the golden apple and two, almost three, times escaped discovery.

There is always some degree of mystery about the hero. The actual men behind hero tales tend to disappear into the legends that grow up around them. Since the role is archetypal, heroes are of necessity larger than life. So long as the hero's real identity and personality remain unknown, he seems to be the embodiment of the idealized image projected onto him. No one will look upon him as just another man.

The superheroes of comic book fame are super by virtue of their hidden identity. Lois Lane's feelings about Superman would be quite different if she knew of his secret link to Clark Kent. While Superman is every woman's dream, the inept Clark is more an object of good natured pity. Superman can do almost anything. Anything that is except have a personal relationship. No woman, not even Lois, ever gets close enough to see the man behind the hero. Desired by every woman, accessible to none, his is a most comfortable position for a man who is uneasy with intimacy. It is also a most lonely one.

In the comic book saga, the link between Superman and Clark Kent is rarely suspected. Likewise, almost no one associated the lowly gardener's boy on the three-legged horse with the mysterious knight who come just in time to save the kingdom. Only the princess, who alone knew what the boy had hidden under his hat, suspected the truth. But while the disguised prince seemed intent on keeping his identity hidden, he also repeatedly risked exposure.

Like the gardener's boy waiting for someone to see through his disguise, we both long for and fear being known, not for what we appear to be, but for who we really are. Yet many people, women as well as men, fear intimacy even more than they do loneliness. The very possibility of love is a challenge to their habitually constricted sense of self. Pushing away the very thing they most desire and need, they dismiss love as an illusion capable of bringing nothing but pain. They are not entirely wrong in their perception, for love, like anything worthwhile, always brings with it the painful possibility of its loss.

In catching the princess' golden apples while continuing to frustrate the king's attempts to discover his identity, the youth seemingly sought to have his cake and eat it too . The golden apple is an ambiguous symbol. Since the Latin word for apple also means "evil," Christian tradition assumed that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil bore apples. As the forbidden fruit, apples came to symbolize sin. But in the hand of Christ or the Virgin, an apple also represents the plan of salvation that the fact of sin - "the happy fault" - made both necessary and possible. Like the ball that fell into the wild man's cage, apples are spherical and thus symbolic of wholeness. Apples are associated with desire and death, as well as love, fertility, and joyfulness. Offering an apple is traditionally regarded as a declaration of love. It can also bring strife, as did the golden apple that indirectly led to the Trojan War (Cirlot, p. 14, Cooper, p. 14).

According to Greek mythology, the goddess Strife was not invited to an Olympian wedding. Angered by the slight, she threw a golden apple into the midst of the wedding party. Finding that the apple was inscribed, "For the Fairest," Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite disrupted the celebration with an argument over which of them it was meant for. Intervening in the dispute, Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris of Troy, the most handsome of mortal men, for his judgment as to their relative beauty. Aphrodite won Paris' favor by bribing him with the promise of the most beautiful woman in the world. As Aphrodite triumphantly carried off the golden apple proclaiming her supreme beauty, Paris set out to lure Helen away from her Greek husband, and unwittingly start the war in which Paris and his fellow Trojans would perish.

The princess' golden apples were in appearance much like the golden ball that the boy lost and then regained in his bargain with the wild man. The story says nothing about the ball after it was returned to the boy. Perhaps he took it with him as he journeyed from palace to forest and then out into the wide world, the palace kitchen and garden. Or maybe the golden sphere was lost somewhere along the way only to reappear, as is often the case in myth and dreams, multiplied threefold in the golden apples.

On each of the three days of the festival, the gardener's boy went out to the edge of the forest to be transformed, through Iron Hans' gift of horse and armor, into the mysterious knight. On the first day his horse and armor were red, on the second white, and on the last day they were black. Any number of associations can be made to these colors. One of the most obvious would be the colors of the three stages of alchemy. But the successive colors of the youth's horses and armor reverse the usual alchemical sequence (Jung, 1980).

Each stage of life has its own unique process. Alchemy, and its psychological parallel of the inner journey, is generally regarded as representing the process of a mature individual who, already established in the world, discovers a deeper reality. The process depicted in "Iron Hans", being that of a young man finding his place in the world, is perhaps better understood as a reductive one, moving like a consuming fire through successive stages of red hot, white hot, and finally cold black ash, the kind of experience every young hot bloodied male ego must pass through as youthful grandiosity is tempered and reduced to manageable proportions in the fires of reality.

Gold was the object of the alchemist's labors, yet the youth apparently had little use for it. He gave away the gold coins that the princess had forced upon him when he visited her room. One might have assumed that he went to catch the golden apples to prove his heroic identity. After all, disclosure of the mystery knight's identity was the stated objective of the festival. But the point of the contest was apparently missed by the youth as he showed his prizes to no one except the gardener's children.