Post by Napoleoff (INTP) on Sept 13, 2018 22:23:31 GMT
September 12th Entry - Fehérlófia
In this post I will talk about Fehérlófia (Son of the White Mare), a Hungarian animated film released in 1981 (production 1979-1981) when Hungary was part of the Soviet Union. It should be noted when reading the following essay that "Hungarian" is an exonym and that the ethnic Hungarian people call their tribe "Magyars"; in order to help draw out the threads of their development as a people I will mostly be using the term "Magyar" to refer to the people and "Hungarian" to denote their language.
Marcell Jankovics (expressed as Jankovics Marcell in Hungarian), born October 21st 1941 in Budapest (during World War II when nationalist Hungary was allied with National Socialist Germany), is a Hungarian graphic artist, film director, animator, author, book illustrator, cultural historian, writer and politician (in 2003 he became a member of the cultural section of Hungary's ruling party Fidesz party). In 1955 he began attending the prestigious Pannonhalma Benedictine Grammar School, an ancient hilltop college founded in 996 by Grand Prince Géza of Hungary. In 1960 he joined Pannonia, the largest animated film studio in Hungary. He received an Oscar nomination in 1974 for his animated short movie Sisyphus. In 2011 he released his magnum opus Az ember tragédiája (The Tragedy of Man), his animated epic based on the 1861 Hungarian-language play of the same name written by Imre Madách (Madách Imre in Hungarian).
Fehérlófia opens with the note, "In memory of Scythian, Hun, Avar and other nomad people," intimating the folk belief held by the Magyar people about their own origin as a nomadic steppe people. Modern scholarship on this matter tends towards the idea that the Neolithic 'Urheimat' (German for 'original homeland') of the people who would later become the Magyars was somewhere in the region of the Ural mountains or beyond them in central Asia. Hungarian is notable among European languages in not belonging to the Indo-European language family but instead belonging to the Uralic/Finno-Ugric family of languages which also includes Finnish, indicating that the Magyars may share a geographical origin with the Finns (it should be noted that depending on conditions language does not necessarily follow genes since any people can speak or stop speaking any language, but the linguistic similarities between these two peoples provide a good indicator that both groups came from the same general area).
Whether or not they began as horse lords, it seems certain that these people at some point developed a relationship with the horse, and in Fehérlófia it is the White Mare who gives life to the hero Treeshaker and who weans him to adulthood, symbolizing how the collective life of the nomadic people to whom the film is dedicated was nurtured on the unforgiving Asian steppe by their close relationship with the horse. Current theories on the domestication of the horse put its origin somewhere in the central Asian region in the 3000s or 4000s BC. Climatic changes between 2600 and 2100 BC caused the spread of swamps on both sides of the Urals forcing some groups of inhabitants to leave their homelands, and it was also around this time that the linguistic unity of the Finno-Ugric languages dissolved and they began to diverge, resulting in new languages around the turn of the millennium in 2000 BC. It has been theorized by historian László Kontler that certain Magyar myths and folklore such as the "sky-high tree/world tree" (égig érő fa/világfa) can be traced back to the united period before this forced movement of people out of the Urals area caused Finno-Ugric linguistic dissolution and divergence to happen. If this is correct it means that the theme of the tree in Fehérlófia is drawing on ancestral folk memory which originated in central Asia from shamanism similar to that still practiced by Mongols, Tuvans and other kindred steppe peoples, which has been practiced for many thousands of years so this is one definite perennial theme in the film. The world tree is shown in one shot in Fehérlófia growing out of the White Mare's head like antlers; this concept is typical of Uralic and Siberian people, wherein the world tree grows out of a reindeer or a horse and often carries among its branches the Sun and the Moon.
The turbulent circumstances of the birth of Treeshaker to the White Mare inside the tree after the world turns dark in Fehérlófia reflect the turbulent and precarious existence on the vast Asiatic steppe of the primordial ancestors of the Magyars and once again how the assistance provided by the horse raised their people from its infancy. More than a millennium after the aforementioned climatic changes that caused the movement of people resulting in divergence of the Finno-Ugric languages, the climate changed again between 1300 and 1000 BC, a process which caused the steppe to expand northwards by about 200-300 kilometres and forced some of these groups to develop a nomadic lifestyle. Around 800 BC a wetter climatic period started which compelled the nomadic Ugric peoples to migrate further south to follow the grasslands, a migration which separated them from the northern Ugric groups which in turn resulted in the development of the distinct linguistic predecessor of the modern Hungarian language.
The succeeding period between 800 BC until about 700 AD is an obscure period in the story of the Magyars because long stretches of this period were characterized by great flux and the movement of nomadic peoples westwards, and all that archeologists can apparently divine about the peoples involved is that they were generic nomads with cultures mostly indistinguishable from each other. It is possible that the Magyars were driven into Europe from Western Siberia in the wake of the Huns' migration to the west and it is even possible that they mixed with the Huns and Scythians (the stag and the eagle, popular motifs in 10th-century Magyar art, have close analogies in Scythian art). Regarding the White Mare in Fehérlófia, I have found a possible parallel in an illustration in the medieval illustrated chronicle, the Chronicon Pictum/Chronica Hungarorum in which Attila the Hun is shown entering the Carpathian Basin on a white horse.
In their time spent in the vast Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea during this period, the Magyars probably mixed culturally and interbred with the Bulgars, Alans, Onogurs and other nomadic groups in the region. Towards the end of this period the Magyars also had contact and a unsure period of alliance with the Khazars before moving further west to the lands between the Dneiper and the Danube, from which in the 830s AD they fought in alliance with the Bulgarians against the Byzantine Empire. They then moved further west and raided the Slavs and Central Europe, fighting against Frankish Carolingian lords of East Francia before finally sweeping down into the Carpathian Basin and settling there, in the area of present-day Hungary, in the years between 895 and 907 AD. The relationship between the Magyars and the Avars is blurred but there is a sense that Avars were assimilated by the Magyar invaders of their current homeland. Given the general lack of informative detail about the early origins of the Magyars and given that they are now a settled people, it is fascinating how the self-conception of the present-day Hungarian people is still informed by these primeval stories themes and motifs from their time as nomads and possibly before, many of which Marcell Jankovics incorporates seamlessly into Fehérlófia along with Christian ideas and imagery (there are numerous Christ-child, Virgin Mary and otherwise hagiographic images in the film even though they are never explicitly designated as such).
Jankovics also includes themes of modernity, urbanization, communism, mechanization and in the case of the last dragon an inventive little motif, repeated in his more recent film "The Tragedy of Man", of individuals fusing into one building-like entity and then fighting; I see this imagery as symbolic of how indivduals and their humanity are co-opted by and subsumed into certain inhuman collective ideologies like communism, neoliberal globalist capitalism and such. The part before the ending credits where Treeshaker walks behind the moving foreground of a passing black cityscape with strange radio-interference ambient music playing is a bit haunting and weird but that's a minor quibble in an otherwise-uplifting, deep and serious film. The communist environment it was released in probably has something to do with this strange ending.
One quirk of Magyar storytelling is that instead of "and they all lived happily ever after," Magyar stories end with "and they all lived happily ever after...until they died." Fehérlófia is no different. To Western eyes raised on happily-ever-after Hollywood movies this seems bleak, but perhaps we should view it differently. Polish culture, Russian culture and other cultures around that general area of the world often have very bleak melancholy elements to them; maybe this is the realist inheritance of hard lives lived in hard conditions for many hundreds of generations (for example on the Asian steppe in winter).
The central themes in Fehérlófia are undoubtedly traditional and perennial. They include the world tree which is the most obvious one, the Old Father (or All-Father, he also has one eye like Odin) archetype, plus the archetypes of the three wives and their differing characters which have already been described by Ken in his piece on Fehérlófia.
The number three appears in the film many times; there are three wives, apples, palaces, dragons, heroes and so on, which might be an integration of the trinity/triune God into the structure of the piece. The trinity at the top of the world tree is common in Magyar symbology. There is also the number 77 in the tree; 77 crows on 77 branches and 77 dragons on 77 roots. I do not know what this symbolizes but perhaps one of my readers will know.
There is the idea woven into the film of the Fall caused by the women through their curiosity violating the divinely-given law, which the story in Fehérlófia has in common with those of Pandora and Eve. In our present time of spiraling disorder we can see clearly the terrible consequences that have resulted from people, not least women, disobeying the laws of nature and of God; when his request is ignored and chaos unleashed, the Old Father weeps rain from the sky, crying for his creation. Some of the animation shows what look like distorted yin-yang symbols in which the dark female element takes a mouth shape and is about to envelop the light masculine element, symbolizing the threat posed by the darkness and chaos; the idea that it is through the disobedience of the female that order unravels and disaster comes and that it is the male whose duty it is to restore order; thematically-speaking nothing could be further-removed from the unrestrained feminism seen in much of modern film.
The character of Treeshaker represents the masculine hero archetype and I think his life arc in the story has ethical and teleological significance as well as the obvious Savior-figure theological significance. The symbolism of his name is that the telos of a man is to "shake" the world tree and put things right in the world, following and bringing everything into alignment with the divine law which was violated at the beginning of the story. The tree, which we have found out in our organizational research is not only a static symbol but a living narrative, can be seen to represent life itself and the ideal way humans live in society with each other, but at the start of the film it is upended when the figurative Pandora's Box is opened. Ethically, along with the lesson about following the divine law the story also contains a lesson about rewards for right conduct; notice how the weakest and most cowardly of the three brothers, Stonecrumbler, ends up with the worst wife of all (the harlot), how the second-strongest, Ironrubber, ends up with the second-best wife (the well-meaning but hysterical woman), and the strongest, Treeshaker himself, ends up with the ideal dutiful fearless golden wife. Not only that, but what I have just described may also contain a "might is right" element in which the strongest enjoys a natural advantage, which is as far from a left-wing motif as you can get. Of course Treeshaker's strength is only possible through proper nurturing by his mother in his early years, a message given to the infant Treeshaker specifically ordered by the Old Father (God) to take to his mother; this could symbolize both the divinely-implanted instinct of the infant to seek nourishment from his mother and the divinely-ordained duty of the mother to provide that nourishment.
I felt real sadness when the White Mare died after carrying out her duty of nourishing Treeshaker, but she did it so he could leave the protection of the hole in the tree and put the world to rights so she was only doing what a mother should do. In this sense the White Mare is the archetype of the ideal mother, giving her life's blood for the good of her offspring and the world in general, and her self-sacrifice only makes sense if the offspring continues the circle of life (which is symbolized by the many circular images in the film; including the ancient ouroboros symbol of the cyclical nature of all things) by carrying out his or her duty in the world; why sacrifice for a worthless ungrateful child? The idea of duty and of giving your life for your children's wellbeing instead of aborting them for your own convenience is the diametric opposite of leftist ideas of how a woman should be.
In Fehérlófia there is also the perennial theme common in world mythology of "katabasis," namely the "going down" into the underworld; the epic convention of the hero's trip to the underworld. From Wikipedia: "The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or with heightened knowledge. The ability to enter the realm of the dead while still alive, and to return, is a proof of the classical hero's exceptional status as more than mortal. A deity who returns from the underworld demonstrates eschatological themes such as the cyclical nature of time and existence, or the defeat of death and the possibility of immortality."
The perennial theme of "katabasis" (or catabasis) is seen in Treeshaker's journey to the underworld to rescue the princesses, a voluntary undertaking of pain and suffering for the sake of redemption and restoring order to the world again by putting everything back in its proper place. A handful among many, many mythological instances of katabasis are: Odysseus' visit to the land of the dead, Heracles' journey to Hades to capture and bring back Cerberus the multi-headed hound who guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving, multiple instances in Ovid's Metamorphoses including Orpheus' entry into the Underworld to try to bring back his dead wife, Enkidu's journey to the Underworld in the Epic of Gilgamesh and Baldr's imprisonment in the Underworld in Norse mythology. The Harrowing of Hell (Descensus Christi ad Inferos) when Christ triumphantly descended into the realm of the dead after he was crucified to bring salvation to all the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world can also be seen as an instance of katabasis.
One way in which katabasis can be shown to be relevant to human life is in the innate redemptive or purifying power of suffering. Suffering properly understood and approached leads to spiritual progress and an increase in wisdom; there can be value in your trials and difficulties if you have something to show at the end of it all for having stood up for righteousness and goodness all the days of your life. Fehérlófia ends with the hero escaping from the Underworld on the griffin's back, and with him and his brothers marrying their respective princesses and going to their respective palaces at the top of the tree, and with the world tree turned upright again and the Old Father restored to his rightful place in the heavens.
The manifest beauty of these traditional and perennial ideas that we see presented in Fehérlófia is a standing reproach to the squalid ugliness of the twisted morality and misguided ideologies that we see currently tearing our world apart, and is matched by the beauty and imaginativeness of the film's animation. I am sure there are many aspects I have overlooked, and in order to do justice to the depth of meaning and the implications contained in this relatively short film I would have to write a whole book. The fact that it ties together so well might be something to do with the innate power or appositeness of the tree symbolism that forms the centrepiece of the whole film. Fehérlófia is at once the story of a people, the Magyar's nomadic kindred, and of all people and peoples. This lovely little film made me a better person, and it is appropriate to show to children.
I give Fehérlófia five stars out of five.