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MYTHS ARE ur-memories, tales of our striving for one thing or another. The London Review of Books, October 11, 2018, discussed two English myths that even us ’Mericans recognize: St. George slaying the dragon and Robin Hood robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. There’s a wealth of aspects to consider, split into St. George’s Part 1 today and Robin Hood’s Part 2 tomorrow.
As its title indicates, the LRB’s “Brexit and Myths of Englishness,” by James Meek, discusses Britain’s apparent, though hardly a simple slam-dunk withdrawal from the European Union. We have enough problems of our own, thank you, so in the U.S. Brexit isn’t quite up there with things like our embarrassment with political mendacity, nepotism, and other matters.
Nevertheless, Meek’s article has its transatlantic implications. What’s more, it got me thinking of these myths in my own experience.
Process verses Event. Meek writes of these two English myths, “Robin Hood is a process; St. George is an event. Robin Hood steals from the rich, which is difficult, to give to the poor, which is trickier still, and has to keep doing it over and over; but St. George kills the dragon, and that’s it.”
“Before the dragon is slain,” Meek observes, “the people are tyrannised. They live in a state of misery, fear, and humiliation. When the dragon is slain, their problems disappear. The slaying of the dragon is quick, easy to remember, and easy to celebrate.”
By contrast, Meek notes, “Slow, complicated, boring Robin Hood-like achievements such as a national health service, progressive taxation, and universal education yield in the folk-narrative of England to St. George-like releases, often involving the beating by the English, or the British, of the non-English, or the non-British.”
He cites events such as “destruction of the Spanish Armada, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick against Germany in 1966. The vote on whether Britain should leave the European Union was sold to the electorate and bought by many as a St. George moment.”
Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup is probably even less momentous to us ’Mericans than Brexit.
Whatever. But Meek’s point is that “Robin Hood is justice; St. George is victory.” Another cogent one-liner, and admonishment, in his LRB article: “… the necessity of dragon-killing is so urgent it overrides any moral test for the methods used to carry it out.”
Pause here for transatlantic analogies.
St. George Lore. The earliest sources, in the 11th and 12th centuries, place St. George and his dragon slaying in Cappadocia, a Roman province in what is now central-eastern Turkey.
In the 13th century, the myth crossed the Mediterranean to Libya and the Golden Legend written by Blessed Jacobus de Varagine. Within another hundred years, St. George became the patron saint of England. In time, Shakespeare cited him in Henry V’s rousing “The game’s afoot” speech to his Agincourt troops.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men are all about income equality in medieval England. And, wouldn’t you know, some politicians in Indiana get all shirty about this. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018