I love teaching literature because I always seem to garner some new inspiration after every reading. No matter how many times I read some of these great stories they always seem to have something new to teach me. This time around it was the great Odysseus that has provided me with some new things to think about — the grand idea of “going home”.
Epic heroes go on great journeys – they go far away to learn a lesson, to overcome personal failings, to change but they ALL come home and they all desperately want to. I’ve often stated that “the Wizard of Oz” is a modern day epic poem and it struck me more so than ever this time that it is. Odysseus wants to go home – he yearns to go home and yet the gods conspire against him. Dorothy wants to go home – her entire journey is based on the motivation that she wants to go home and yet she too must overcome meddling supernatural beings. Two great journeys — two great heroes.
Dorothy’s obstacles are the personification of her own fears and insecurities – she’s afraid she isn’t smart enough, courageous enough or loving enough to face the troubles in her own life. She literally runs away, refusing to face them. And yet, her journey through strange lands forces her to face those very fears and insecurities that she fled. However, like Odysseus she is singular in her desire to “go home”, exclaiming at the end “there is no place like home”.
Odysseus faces the same journey. He too has weaknesses – he is prideful, arrogant and selfish. He is forced to look inward to humble himself before the gods in order to return home. He doesn’t want to leave his home to begin this journey and as soon as the war is over he is eager to return.
These stories endure because of their great heroes. We, as readers, can identify with their weaknesses and we can identify with their longing to return. Home is eternal for all of us. Whether we grew up in a good home or a bad home there is a foundational quality about home. Home is a reflection of who we are at our core, it is a place of love, of acceptance, of security of comfort. To be dragged from this cocoon and harshly challenged to face our demons is frightening. As a reader we feel the vulnerability that Odysseus and Dorothy must be experiencing. The spiritual nakedness that they endure while on their journey makes us cringe. And when they return home – we are emotionally exhausted with them.
When we look at modern story-telling today – films, TV, books, music, etc So much of it is heavily influenced by this epic poetry format. In particular the theme of “going home” – this animal instinct to want to return to “the den” – to our emotional protection. And yet, we all seek to leave – we want to return better, we want to return improved, we want to return having experienced something we haven’t before.