Tuesday, July 13, 2010

sympathy for the minotaur

NSFW WARNING: Today's Gameblog installment includes a tastefully-rendered classical depiction of a minotaur's weiner.

For a long time now I've been meaning to read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After all Star Wars was deeply influenced by it [citation needed] and Uncle Gary makes a big deal about it in either Role-Playing Mastery or Master of the Game, I forget which.  Campbell is one of the philosophers featured in the excellent non-fiction comic Action Philosophers Giant-Sized Thing Volume 1, which I recently re-read.  The section on Hero is so awesome that I photocopied part of it and glued into my copy of Encounter Critical for easy reference.  And then last week I stumbled across 'A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces', which started life as a internal memo at Disney that directly influenced the making of the animated feature film The Lion King.  The Practical Guide contains the line "Christ, Hitler, Mohammed, and Buddha all understood the principles in the book and applied them to influence millions."  Clearly I need to read this book.

So I just started on Hero but I want to talk briefly about one of the first illos in the book.  Dig it:

Heroic victory? Cold-blooded execution?  Mercy killing?

This depiction of Theseus slaying the minotaur dates to about 470 B.C.  When I first saw this picture I was deeply moved by the expression on the minotaur's face, which seems to combine both bovine innocence and all-too-human fear of mortality.  This creature isn't a bullock-headed smashing machine; it's a wretch, a hideous abomination born of another's sin and confined to a hell of human design.  Why does it consume the flesh of it's victims?  Perhaps only because that's the sole food with which it is provided.  It barely looks any bigger than the bare-faced youth who easily overcomes it with a little gumption and a largish knife.  Based on this illo, D&D has the minotaur all wrong.  It doesn't stomp around using brute strength to destroy foes with sadistic glee, this minotaur stealthily stalks it's victims in the labyrinth, murdering them out of sheer survival desperation.

Anyway, that's what I take away from this ancient scene. 

As a side note, what is that thing in the upper right corner?

The only thing I can come up with is that the minotaur was wearing a jaunty little bonnet, which has just flown off his head in the tussle of battle.