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99FFFF-990000: Scarecrows and Minotaurs: 09/06/18
This week I'm taking a break from thematic analysis to focus the category of road narrative protagonist, the scarecrow / minotaur. While scarecrows and minotaurs seem like completely different kinds of characters, and really more often than not, monsters or secondary characters to a human protagonist, they function as obverse and reverse of the same thematic coin.
A Scarecrow in its most literal depiction is a humanoid figure, usually male (or more precisely dressed in male styled clothing) made of rough material (burlap or canvas) and stuffed with hay, straw, or cornhusks. They are often associated with cornfields and feature in Halloween and horror stories but not always.
It's the not always that makes them interesting.
More broadly speaking, the Scarecrow is there to keep people and other creatures (crows, for instance) out of the fields. When the cornfield is serving as a literary barrier or shortcut for the road narrative, the scarecrow is often brought in as a horror element — a monster to catch or even kill trespassers.
But again, not always.
A few notable exceptions: Feathertop (Nathaniel Hawthorne), the Scarecrow of Oz (L. Frank Baum), Jack Pumpkinhead (L. Frank Baum), and Turniphead (Diane Wynn Jones). Feathertop, who serves as the stylistic prototype for Baum's Jack Pumpkinhead, is created by a witch to pull a prank on a high society party. Turns out, though, that most (maybe all) of the other attendees are also the witch's creation from previous years. He and Jack both have carved pumpkin faces and are brought to life through magic. The Scarecrow, meanwhile, is brought to life by usefulness. There wasn't any intentional magic used, just the sheer willpower of the Munchkin farmer who made him and his own desire to be as useful as possible. That though spirals into a free will desire to get down off his stick and explore the world with Dorothy (as well as get some brains). Finally, Turniphead, is a cursed scarecrow, made into the form to hide a prince and start a war.
The key thing about scarecrows, is that they are there to protect the cornfield (or whatever it is they have been placed in front of or in the middle of).
The Minotaur, meanwhile, derives from a single story, though there are many many retellings and pastiches. The Minotaur or Minos Bull is the half human, half bovine offspring of the Queen of Minos because of a revenge plot by Poseidon. The labyrinth exists to hide him away from the world. That he is also useful in disposing of pesky foreigners is a secondary "benefit."
Most of the Minotaur road narratives I've read so far have been with literal. There is David Elliot's poetic narrative that retells the myth from Asterion's point of view before and after his incarceration in the labyrinth. Steven Sherrill's modern day novels envision a now free Minotaur who has shed his original name and now just goes by the initial M.
But there are metaphoric minotaurs as well. The one that comes immediately to mind is Corwin and his siblings and extended family in the Chronicles of Amber series. They are a royal family who can travel between worlds via their ties to the "pattern" — a complex path that is somewhere between a maze and a labyrinth. For them, there is no escaping the pattern and for others, it can be (and usually is) deadly. Although they are not literally inside the pattern, they are so tied to it that they might as well be. It is that connection that makes them metaphorical minotaurs.
Scarecrows vs Minotaurs
The difference between these two is one of purpose and agency. The Scarecrow is there to protect the cornfield. The Minotaur is trapped by the labyrinth. Both can serve as "monsters in the middle" and both can be protagonists.
Comment #1: Saturday, September 08, 2018 at 17:28:14
I’m no longer blogging, but just perusing the Sunday Salon for fun. Glad I came across this post - really inciteful. I never would have made these connections. There really is so much more than meets the eye to myths and fairy tales. Really interesting!!
Comment #2: Sunday, September 09, 2018 at 18:13:00
Thank you for taking the time to comment. This post is part of a larger research project I'm doing for fun. I hope you take a look: Introduction to the road narrative project