FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: "Nigel Price" <nigel.a.price@virgin.net>
Subject: (urth) Barton, Barrington, and Pandora's Plato
Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 13:52:25 +0100

Prompted by Alex's recent contribution to the list, I'm currently rereading
"Pandora by Holly Hollander". I'd forgotten just how much fun it is. The
authorial voice is very well judged, and the picture of Holly which emerges
is both affectionate and amusing. Lot's of nice local detail, as well, from
the area where Wolfe lives.

I noticed with pleasure that the technique of translating Classical place
names into English which Wolfe uses in the Latro novels also seems to
feature here in a minor way. Would I be right to assume, for instance, that
"Dawn", the town in which the genteel nursing home for the
wealthy-but-criminally-insane is situated, is actually a pseudonym for the
real Ilinois town of "Aurora"?

I've looked at my road atlas of the United States to check and, yes, indeed,
Aurora is situated out on the western side of the Chicago conurbation.

I've assumed, like others, that the fictional town of "Barton" in the novel
is really Wolfe's own home town of Barrington. Holly states early on that
most of the rich people live to the west of Barton in a place called "Barton
Hills". Sure enough, my map of the real Chicago area shows that, to the
southwest of Barrington, there is a place called Barrington Hills. There's
also a place called South Barrington marked (to the south, of course!), and
another (to the north) called Lake Barrington.

Holly states that Barton is "a town of about 10,000". Is that the size of
the real Barrington?

She also says that it's "65 miles by car from the Loop."

Do any list members live in or know the greater Chicago area well? Is that
the real distance from Barrington to the city centre? It doesn't look that
far on my map - it looks more like 30 miles. And, for the record, why is
that area of central Chicago called "The Loop"?

Could she in real life have made the journey to Aurora by getting a train
into Chicago and then a Greyhound Bus out to Aurora? How long would it have
taken her?

(Like it matters!)

I was also delighted to see that when (chapter 7, "How War Came to Barton",
p56 in the NEL paperback edition) Aladdin Blue explains the myth of Pandora
to Holly at the book sale, he offers an explicitly Platonic interpretation:

    "In the first place," Blue lectured, "it's a commentary on Platonism -
the idea that each real thing is an imperfect attempt to duplicate an ideal
one. Epimetheus had made mankind like the gods, so the gods made Pandora
like a goddess. The Greeks were saying that real people are carricatures of
ideal people - their gods."

Now, this is gold dust to me, because I've been asserting for some time that
the rationale behind Wolfe's use of symbolism is essentially Platonic,
particularly in The Book of the New Sun. I even pestered people (sorry,
Potto) with questions about where they thought Wolfe got his Platonism
from - primary or secondary sources? Here, at least, is a direct reference
to a philosopher whose ideas (or do I mean "Ideas"?) are, I believe, central
to Wolfe's work.

An interesting comment on the significance of myth in general occurs on the
next page (p57), where Aladdin Blue explains the difference between history
and myth:

    "But the real difference is that the events that make up history are
over and done with, while myth continues, circling our earth forever, like
the chariot of Helios."

I suspect that Wolfe would probably categorise Biblical events as myths in
this sense (which is no comment on their historicity or otherwise), and
that's one reason why their patterns keep re-occuring in his novels, even
when those novels are set in the distant future.

Aladdin Blue interprets Pandora's Box as, "the part of the human brain
that's suppressed in the interests of society." That seems to give us the
other part of the puzzle when it comes to grappling with the rationale
behind Wolfe's use of symbollism: the psychological. Myths deal with
archetypes of human thought and behaviour. All very traditional, in fact,
and fully in accord with ideas that were floating around in Classical
thought, became highly fashionable in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
with the "Ovide Moralisee" and the various psychomachias and
allegorisations, and regained renewed impetus at the end of nineteenth
century from the theories of Freude and Jung, when, for example, the myth of
Oedipus gained, shall we say, a new complexity...

So: the physical world as a reflection of divine reality, myths as the
recurring patterns whereby the physical world reflects that greater reality,
and myths as symbollic statements of enduring psychological truths.

Excellent! All grist to the Lupine literary critical mill....

Minety, Wiltshire

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

<--prev V30 next-->