The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh, by Rivkah Scharf Kluger

The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh: A Modern Ancient Hero
By Rivkah Scharf Kluger
As a young student of Jung, Kluger was encouraged by her mentor to study the archetypes of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Throughout her career, she gave many lectures on the subject, and was working on this book when she died. This is Kluger’s posthumous opus about the archetypes of Gilgamesh. As you can imagine, this is a very Jungian literary analysis. Her thesis was that the Epic of Gilgamesh was a coming-of-age story in which the character developed became fully aware (or conscious). 

In the first part of the story, Gilgamesh has only an id. He is wild – forcing the men to slave night and day on his building projects. Mothers would weep at the untimely deaths of their husbands and sons who had died from overwork. Gilgamesh would rape the maidens. He would ride around on the shoulders of children (how he managed this feat, I don’t know). Enkidu, likewise, was pure id – though in a different sense. He was someone who could run with the animals because he wasn’t yet quite human. 

When Enkidu and Gilgamesh met, there was the first inkling of ego – they became conscious that there was something else to their selves besides this wild energy. But even after they fought Humbaba, they were still a little wild. They scorned Ishtar, throwing insults (and bull haunches) at this revered and dangerous goddess. They were aware of their egos – they wanted immortality through glory – but they still had no self-control. 

This insult to Ishtar was another step in their development. Ishtar was the mother goddess, as well as the sexual goddess. By insulting her, they separated themselves from their “mother figure,” thus becoming men. Granted, immature men, but men all the same. 

After insulting Ishtar and maddening some others of the gods, Enkidu died. Neither Enkidu nor Gilgamesh was ready for this turn. They had not come to grips with the reality of death. In fact, even after Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh was in denial. He waited for his friend to return until maggots fell out of Enkidu’s nose.

This realization of death was a new step in Gilgamesh’s life. He now needed to discover his superego,  which is the part of himself that would moderate the impulses of the id – his child-like, uncontrolled desires – with his ego – the part of him that was aware of the needs of the real world. Basically the superego is his conscience. 

He dressed himself as a wild-man, in some ways regressing away from his ego’s consciousness, and went on a quest for immortality. Along the way, he was tested – over and over – by gods and men. They kept telling him to turn back, his quest was pointless. But he passed all of those tests and reached his goal: Utnapishtim, the man who had survived the deluge and achieved immortality. Much to Gilgamesh’s disappointment, Utnaphishtim couldn’t tell Gilgamesh how to become immortal. But he gave Gilgamesh a plant which would restore the youth of whomever ate it. 

Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to bring it back to his home in Uruk to share with others. Perhaps this was his first glimmer of conscience? But, of course, even this plan failed. A snake found the plant and ate it. Gilgamesh’s journey for immortality had failed. But it was not pointless. Because in that journey, Gilgamesh had gained wisdom. He’d become aware of his conscience. He was fully conscious. 

This was a very difficult book for me to read because I’m not very familiar with Jungian literary analysis. In fact, I don’t think I really processed what Kluger was saying until I tried to put it into my own words. Therefore, this book wasn’t very enjoyable to me, and it will not get a very high star rating. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good analysis, only that it wasn’t for me. 

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, narrated by Steven Pacey

Oskar, a 12-year-old boy, is bullied by his schoolmates. He spends his time fantasizing about revenge and stabbing trees with a knife. He obsesses about violent crimes, keeping a notebook of newspaper clippings. One day, a strange girl and her father move in next door. She seems quite unaware of social norms and completely immune to getting cold. Her father and she argue loudly and frequently, which Oskar can hear through his wall. Despite the fact that she tells him they can’t be friends, Eli and Oskar soon form a bond. She encourages him to stand up to his bullies, and he starts growing in self-confidence. But strange murders are suddenly occurring in his neighborhood, and Oskar begins to suspect that Eli is more than he thought she was. 

I have been interested in reading this book after reading a fascinating short story of his a few years ago. This book did not disappoint. It was eerie and consuming. It was also very gruesome, and it has some graphic child-sexual-abuse scenes, so beware. Luckily, I had read reviews of this book beforehand and already knew about the child abuse, so I was not quite as repulsed by it. However, this book lost an entire star because of the child-sexual-abuse, which didn’t appear at all in the movies and wasn’t absolutely necessary. The child abuse did help develop the character of Eli’s father as a disgusting and pathetic failure, but I think both attributes could have been manged in other ways. Or, at least, without the graphic scenes.

In general, I am pleased with Lindqvist’s style – it is mysterious and flows well. The characters were well-drawn and believable (in a there-be-vampires sort of way). There dark, dreary mood was set early in the book and retained steadily throughout. There was nothing particularly original about Lindqvist’s vampire, though Eli had some original personality traits and circumstances. Also, I’ve seen this book described as a romance, and I don’t agree with that. Yes, Oskar asked Eli to “go steady,” but that was about it. I mean, he was 12, and those feelings were very naive and not pronounced. This was a book about friendship, not romance.

Overall, I was pleased with the book and would read another by Lindqvist, though I’ll probably wait before I can get through another that has sexual abuse in it. The audiobook was well-read – the voices were distinguishable and the pacing was quite reasonable.
3.5 stars for flow, eeriness, mystery – star lost for child sexual abuse

Fire & Ash

Fire & Ash, by Jonathan Maberry

Reason for reading: This is the fourth and final book in a series that I’ve been reading. I’m making a goal this year to get farther in / finish as many series as possible

Summary: In this fourth and final book in the Rot & Ruin series, Benny, Chong, Lila, and Nix battle the genocidal Reapers while keeping the zombies at bay. But they might have to become monsters to fight monsters. And who is more of a monster: The zombies or the humans? 

Thoughts: This book was filled with action and adventure with a dash of intrigue. Like most Maberry books that I’ve read, the action got a little too much at times, to the point of feeling a little B-rate. But Maberry has some interesting plots and his philosophy about who really is the monster is quite interesting. Overall, a good finale. If you liked the first three books, you’ll like this one as well.

Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam


Written by Bonnie Nadzam and Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Reason for Reading: This was long-listed for the Prize Formerly Known as Orange. 

Lamb hits a mid-life crisis when his wife divorces him for infidelity and his father passes away. Just after his father’s funeral, he meets Tommie – an 11-year-old girl who desperately needs guidance. Lamb is strangely attracted to the girl – he wants to help her seize life, he wants to buy her presents and make her happy. Then, with Tommie’s consent, he abducts her. 

I had a really hard time deciding how to rate Lamb. The narrative was intriguing – almost addictive – but the subject matter was very disturbing. I had a hard time putting it down because I wanted to know how it would end. I felt compelled to keep reading despite a deepening sense of unease. From the subject, I should have known it would make me feel that way, but I thought it would be a book with more hope in it. I respect the way Nadzam kept the details subtle. There were no highly disturbing scenes (well, there was ONE scene that was a bit disturbing, but it could have been much, much worse). My recommendation – read this book if you would enjoy looking at pedophilia from another perspective, but avoid it if this is a sensitive topic for you.

Spoilerish Discussion 

Before deciding how to rate the book, I took a look at what other people had said about it. There are, predictably, people who loved the book and people who hated it. In the interest of proving to myself that I’m not narrow-minded, I want to have a spoilerish discussion to address some issues that came up in the positive reviews.

First of all, one review pointed out that it was unclear who the narrator of this book was. To me, it seemed that the book was in the third person subjective, focusing on Lamb. There were a few scenes where it seemed to be from the POV of Tommie, but even that could have been in Lamb’s head. So that’s how I’m interpreting the book – our narrator is telling us what Lamb is thinking, and sometimes Lamb thinks about what Tommie is thinking, and sometimes he thinks about what might be happening back in Chicago as Tommie’s parents look for her, but we’re always inside Lamb’s head.  That is very important for how I interpreted the book.

Another thing that affects the way I perceive Lamb – I despised him from the beginning. Even before he abducted Tommie. Even when his intentions seemed kind. I despised him because of how he treated his girlfriend. He was manipulative and creepy and a liar. All he wanted was sex, and although he claimed to have qualms of conscience about his behavior, that’s ALL he had. Small qualms. These qualms didn’t stop him from manipulating her, did they? Qualms of conscience don’t make someone a “good” person. Listening to qualms makes a person “good.” Behavior is what I’m interested in, not whether a person feels guilt or not. The fact that he feels guilt proves that he’s not a sociopath, but he’s still a jerk. Just because he rationalizes his behavior, does not mean his rationalizations are justification. We need to interpret his rationalizations with skepticism.

Yes, he rationalized his original interest in Tommie as helpfulness. But let’s think about it. The very first time he met Tommie, he grabbed her arm and threw her in his truck so hard that her head hit the window. She was terrified. Yes, he rationalized that he was helping her to see what could have happened. She shouldn’t have approached him – a stranger – because he could have been dangerous. He rationalized that he taught her a lesson. But the fact that he was willing to frighten her like that was the first hint that his behavior towards her was driven by darker urges. Yes, perhaps this time around his rationalization had some grain of truth in it. Perhaps she did learn a lesson. But was that lesson his to teach?

Lamb’s rationalizations continued throughout the entire book. I never interpreted them as anything but rationalizations. So I was rather surprised when I read in some reviews that they interpreted his intentions as good. Let’s think about this. 

Rationalization 1) Abducting her in front of her friends taught her a lesson about approaching strangers and about shallow friends. – We discussed this above.

Rationalization 2) Encouraging her to skip school and lie to her parents in order to hang out with him didn’t corrupt her, because she was already doing those things. – Well, if he really cared, he wouldn’t encourage her to skip school and keep secrets. That’s sleazy, creepy behavior. 

Rationalization 3) Abducting her and teaching her to be a woman was helpful, because she needed that experience…it would help her break out of that awkward phase in life and burst into the world with new confidence. She’d look back with fondness on him. – Now this is where the rationalization gets sticky. I interpreted these flash-forwards to be rationalizations taking place in Lamb’s head. BUT, if you interpret these flash-forwards to be accurate or from the point of view of Tommie, I can see where you might (as some people apparently do!) think that Lamb helped Tommie. In the interest of not being narrow-minded, I tried to look at it from that point of view. But, no. The story simply makes more sense to me if I interpret these flash-forwards as rationalizations in the head of Lamb. And Lamb is rationalizing because he knows he’s hurting her. In fact, it’s clear he knows he’s hurting her, because there are other scenes in which he’s crying and telling Tommie that if she ever hates him, she should kick his balls in. Doesn’t that show us that he knows he’s doing wrong?

Some reviews actually suggested that Lamb loved Tommie, and that his intentions were good. But he knew he was hurting her (or else he wouldn’t break down into tears and tell her to kick his balls in, and he wouldn’t rationalize). He was consciously lying and manipulating her. (It’s clear that these were conscious acts, because in one scene he pointed out to his girlfriend that he makes people say and do things.)  So, I’m convinced that Lamb knew he was hurting her – why would he act that way if he loved her? That’s not love. Love is selfless. That’s a darker sort of obsession. That’s acting on urges. Love can be an obsession, but we shouldn’t assume that obsession is love.

Finally, some people questioned whether Lamb had actually slept with Tommie. There was nothing that directly said he did, but I felt it was implied. He definitely kissed her, saw her naked, and slept in the same bed as her. Furthermore he got kicks out of letting Tommie watch him having sex with his girlfriend, which is a form of molestation in itself. So, yes, how far he went is still a question, and I’m glad I didn’t have to read that one last detail. But I made my own conclusion about the issue – and it wasn’t good.

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

    Reason for Reading: This was one of my planned reads for the social justice theme read in February.

    When Arnold “Junior” Spirit accidentally breaks his rez-teacher’s nose, he gets a piece of unexpected advice: get off the rez before you lose your spirit. Junior decides to go to the all-white high school in a farm town 20 miles away from the reservation. He consequently deals with racism from the whites and hatred from his reservation friends, while fighting the usual teen problems of making friends, succeeding in sports, hiding his poverty, and impressing the girls. This book is hilarious and tragic at the same time. I loved the cartoons drawn by Junior…and I loved his dry, sarcastic humor. The characterization was fantastic – I really felt for Junior during his troubles. But you can’t read this book and expect some fuzzy-happy picture to be painted of reservation life. This book is gritty and realistic. Even rather depressing at times. I was really touched at Alexie’s honest portrayal of the life of a reservation kid. I look forward to reading more of Alexie’s books in the future. 

    Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

    Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

    Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1941. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years.

    Mafatu is afraid of the ocean because he almost drowned when he was a boy. But in his culture, fear is scorned and laughed at. Mafatu feels that he must redeem his good name and prove that he is not afraid anymore. He climbs in a boat and goes on a voyage, but he soon finds himself shipwrecked on an apparently-deserted island. There, he keeps himself alive by making all of his own tools, weapons, and a new canoe. He battles a tiger shark, an octopus, and a boar. He defies the cannibals when they return to their island. But will he be able to return home? This was a cute book, and I enjoyed the adventure – though it’s very short and all the adventure is packed in at a very unrealistic pace. Regardless, I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. I think a young reader might find this book fun. It’s appropriate for someone reading at maybe the 3rd grade level. 

    Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

    2012 Book 58: Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork (4/5/2012)

    Reason for Reading: Autism Awareness Month

    My Review 5/5 stars
    17-year-old Marcelo has an Asperser’s-like condition. He has lived a sheltered life until the summer before his senior year of high school, when he is pressured into working at his father’s law firm for a summer. Marcelo learns many “real world” lessons—some sad, some uplifting. This was a wonderful little book. Although I really felt bad for Marcelo when he had to learn some of his life lessons, I also felt that it was good for him to learn these lessons. These mixed feelings of compassion for Marcelo’s situation made this a memorable book. There was one fleeting moment in this book where I felt that Stork had packed perhaps a few too many lessons into too small a space…but other than that the book was perfect.