Friday, 13 January 2012

The hero of a thousand phases

I wrote this the week leading up to the Rugby World Cup Finals. Never quite finished it, but it seems a pity to waste it. Substitute Beaver Donald for Cruden for Slade for Carter, and it wasn't a bad shout!

A hero laid low
It is rugby world cup time. When ace All Black fly-half Daniel Carter was felled by an unexpected groin strain, I wrote to a friend:

I think this is going almost perfectly to the script - literally, the monomyth script, formulated by Joseph Campbell out of thousands indigenous of myths and legends, and used as the basis for many of Hollywood's greatest blockbusters. In it, a callow youth, let us call him Colin, wishes to escape the drudgery of life on the home planet. But then he receives the call ... his at the critical point his talismanic leader is laid low, the team suffer near fatal reverses ...

For my trouble, I was accused of smoking something. Undeterred, I elaborated:  

When, with one minute left on the clock, and six points down, camped on his own try-line, the said callow youth Slade intercepts a carelessly flung pass by a French fly half, glides between two colossal Catalonian oxes, flees like a demon horse over the advantage line, the ten metre line, the half way and surges into the French twenty-two, cuts in towards the posts only to unexpectedly confront the ogre Imanol Harinodoquy (who had been slow to pick himself up out of a ruck on the French 22 in a prior phase, and is accordingly well out of position, but happily for the French is perfectly placed to save the day) and then Slade fleetingly catches a glimpse of his fallen hero Carter, hovering ethereally in the stands, urging him on, and so hardened, with a sublime inside step, a heavenly outside step and then, on the five-metre line, with the great Gallic flanker still miraculously shading him, the most brutal fend ever to be delivered by a flyhalf to a forward, Slade crosses the try line under the posts, and converts his own score to finally return the Rugby World Cup to its permanent home - then you'll understand, my friend.

Maui snares the sun
I based my plot on Joseph Cambell's "monomyth", as revealed in his mighty The Hero With a Thousand Faces - in which Campbell distilled a common heroic storyline underlying the mythologies of hundreds of ancient peoples from Gilgamesh and Agamemnon to the Maori myth of Maui snaring the sun. These days, the monomyth is now pressed into the service of Hollywood screenwriters, but it applies to the drama of sporting conflict as well, as the fanciful passage above illustrates. (Fanciful? substitute Cruden for Slade and it might yet be next Saturday's script!)

Why do men find sporting conflict so compelling? Because it affords us the chance of just such a drama: a compelling morality play but with a grim and irresistable advantage: It is real: uncontrived, there is a real chance that the hero will lose; a good man may die: the elaborately woven narrative of myth may be rent asunder.

Welsh Warrior laid low
We have already seen just such a sequence: an outstanding Welsh Warrior, lain low early in the game by the harshest of Old Testament judgments and sent ringingly from the theatre of conflict.

Yet in their desperate hour his men did not yield, and gave no quarter: Without complaint, without rancour, the remaining warriors regrouped and redoubled their efforts, flew into every tackle, drove their opposition into the ground and nearly - so achingly nearly - pulled off the most heroic upsets of the tournament, losing by a point, and even then half a foot low and half a foot wide.

And so to the New Zealanders. What of their heroic record? Firstly, just look at photographer Mike Hewitt's wonderful image to the right: drink it in, for ten seconds, and try then to persuade yourself that this is a live sports photograph and not a Caravaggio altarpiece. Look at the composition, the heroic lines - the diagonals - the enraptured faces turned towards their quest.

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