Sunday, the great Albert Murray, author, critic, social commentator, died at 97. He is one of my favorite writers and thinkers, changing the way I look at myself, my life and where I live. I went back into my archives and pulled out two quotes by the master, both from his book “The Hero and the Blues”…
“As he turns page after page, following the fortunes of the storybook hero, the reader is as deeply engaged in the educative process as if he were an apprentice in a workshop. Indeed, he is an apprentice, and his workshop includes the whole range of human possibility and endeavor. His task is to learn from the example of journeymen and master craftsmen such skills as not only will enable him to avoid confusion and destruction, but also will enhance his own existence as well as that of human beings everywhere.”
Nevertheless, the image of the sword being forged is inseparable from the dynamics of antagonistic cooperation, a concept which is indispensable to any fundamental definition of heroic action, in fiction or otherwise. The fire in the forging process, like the dragon which the hero must always encounter, is of its very nature antagonistic, but is also cooperative at the same time. For all its violence, it does not destroy the metal which becomes the sword. It functions precisely to strengthen and prepare it to hold its battle edge, even as the all but withering firedrake prepares for subsequent trials and adventures. The function of the hammer and the anvil is to beat the sword into shape even as the most vicious challengers no less than the most cooperatively rugged sparring mates jab, clinch, and punch potential prize-fighters into championship condition.
Heroism, which like the sword is nothing if not steadfast, is measured in terms of the stress and strain it can endure and the magnitude and complexity of the obstacles it overcomes. Thus difficulties and vicissitudes which beset the potential hero on all sides not only threaten his existence and jeopardize his prospects; they also by bringing out the best in him, serve his purpose. They make it possible for him to make something of himself. Such is the nature of every confrontation in the context of heroic action.