Ok. Admitted, I like wild story turns. The wilder, the better. Today I am going to talk about an old story topic, Amor and Psyche.

I have to go back a little bit for this. I grew up immersed in the world of Ancient Greece and Rome, with books about Mars, Apollon, Zeus, Artemis, Hera, and all the others. My passion for Ancient Greek and Roman mythology and its surrounding culture was kindled early in life since I attended a classic grammar school from age 9 and started out with Latin as a first second language to be followed by Ancient Greek later on, and some more languages. Through the love and passion of my Latin teacher who also happened to be my class teacher (thank you so much, Mrs Elisabeth Lebek), this passion grew and spread like a wild fire. And I was not tyhe only one. All of our class were the same, we all kind of fell in love with the ancient mythology and the world of gods and godesses, heroes and heroines. We explored all the myths, looked at the tales, discussed them, perused all the school library books, we acted in plays, we re-enacted scenes on the playground, we devoured all the writings where immortals and mortals would mingle. It kept us enchanted, we looked at its beauty wide-eyed, mystified and with immense awe. And what’s more, we would always hope for a good story ending, set alight by the story, it was a feverish and never ending wish, we would pray for one good story ending, and go on to read the next one straight away… and rarely we were deceived. All the ancient mythologies have a good ending or at least an ending that can be called “fair” to some extent.

I can safely say that this was a strong impression and it somewhat reflects the classic mindset that the good has to win and the bad has to yield and / or has to be destroyed. The inherent order of the golden age could and must not be destroyed. All sounds pretty naive when you think about it from a post-post-modern point of view. But as children, we could not tear our eyes away from these tales. I remember many nights spent with a torch underneath the duvet so I could read on and would find out if my heroes would fare well. And so they did. In most cases anyway.

I will now share one of my favorite tales with you: Amor and Psyche by Apuleius.

“Amor and Psyche” is a tale about Amor, the beautiful son of Venus, and the immensely beautiful but mortal (!) daughter Psyche who happens to be a king’s daughter. It is a very early version of Romeo and Juliet in my book only this one ends differently. Mortals and immortals don’t mix. So, where is the punchline? I would say the punchline is that because this love is so utterly and immensely forbidden, it is a red-hot searing and all consuming love. The one where your knees go weak. And that’s the nice bit of this story. Somehow, because a more adult theme is played, and because the protagonists don’t exactly do as they’re told (they both don’t, Amor does not obey his mother and Psyche does not do as told by Amor) and so you don’t really expect a good ending.

You think that Amor and Psyche have tried the patience of the ancient gods a little too hard and therefore, they might be punished and they might be cast asunder. But this does not happen, stop, it does – but the ending is still one that unites the couple, never mind the hair rasing twists in this story: This tale ends well. And the reader is amidst the action. He is carried with the frenzy, it is not boring, not in one moment. It simply works. The reader wants the couple to reunite, even though they have been playing against the rules. And they do reunite.

But it does not end where all our children’s fairy tales end, in a dreamy, soft coloured, plush, marshmallow, sugary sweet candy world. It ends well, it is a nice tale, but a twisted one. So far so good. No?

The thing is… Lately, I have been thinking about the need for logic, for exactness, for accuracy, for a plot which is logical and also for authenticity. In terms of being a writer, I really prefer to go a long way to be pretty accurate to being so-so and wishy-washy. But when it comes to artistic freedom, I also like to have a fair portion of that too. So, isn’t that a bit too much to ask for? Can you have both?

Can you have authentic tales with a fairy tale ending? Can the human imagination take this or is it simply too long a stretch? I think it can. I will show you how this one goes.

First, I would like to come back to Amor and Psyche which is a fantastic example of how a tale can manipulate the reader as long as the underlying story or the concept is a good one. The concept underneath the story is pretty clear cut: immortals don’t normally mix with mortals. Don’t mess with Venus. She is one to dish out straight away. An enraged Venus always spells BIG trouble back at the Olymp. But there is something that can overrule this.

What could that be? What concept could be overriding Venus if not LOVE itself?

Yes, of course, Amor falls for Psyche as well. He does not obey his mother, whose plan was that she wanted to marry Psyche to an ugly and horrible demon. Only because Psyche was a wee bit more beautiful than she was and therefore Venus basically wanted to get rid of her. Sounds all too human? It certainly is. The depiction of the gods and godesses in ancient times bear witness of the nature of a perfectly human character. So, in effect, Venus wants to get her throne back as the most beautiful goddess and as a woman. How so? Since Psyche was so incredibly beautiful, people stopped being devoted to Venus, worshipping her. This in turn of course did not wash well with her.

Seeing Psyche, all these people adored and worshipped her instead, this mortal child, which enraged her.

Amor, Venus’s son, with an order by Venus sets out to obey his mother and tries to marry Psyche off to an ugly demon so she would be basically out of the picture. What did Amor do? …

He spoke to the god of winds and had the trustful and obeying Psyche (about to marry the demon) swept away by winds and brought to his little hide-away where he could meet up secretly with Psyche since her beauty had also swept him away. … Because he did not want anyone to know about his little tête-a-tête he only saw her at night when she would not see him at all. Um, so far, so good.

He hid away with Psyche at night, not disclosing his identity to her in fear she might talk to other people and they would be found out.

However, Psyche’s envious and down right bad sisters tried the naive Psyche by telling her into thinking that she did not marry a man but a snake instead. Accordingly, she waited upon him one night and held an oil lamp and a sword above his body to find out who he was. A drop of hot oil fell down and burned Amor who woke up and in turn was enraged with Psyche who did not do as told. He went away and left her alone which made her desolate and only added onto her feeling to miss him awfully. So far so bad.

Venus also found out since the sisters were also present and blabbered out the secret. I don’t want to record the whole story here but the tale continues with some really hair-raising story turns…  And yet, it ends well. Even though there is a long way around, there are some severe obstacles, the thorns indeed help to make the rose more beautiful. And so, I guess, Amor and Psyche is a typical example of why some stories even though they are not credible, in a strict sense, may still work for the reader.

There is a huge twist needed here to reunite our lovers again. But it does happen… Read for yourself. This is a link to an English translation of the Latin original by William Adlington http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/cap/index.htm

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And guess what? Now I am totally intrigued. Could this concept also work the other way around?… Can you imagine to have a story that ends really badly for a hero and still have lots of hair-raising story turns without losing your readership and / or losing your credibility? How much can a reader take in terms of wild story turns or why do some stories work and some others simply don’t?

(To be continued)

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