Recently, when an acquaintance of mine heard our LITClub was reading The Iliad he said, “ I’m not opposed to books with war in them as long as the war has a purpose. I like The Hunger Games. I can see the need for the turmoil and killing but I see no purpose for the war in The Iliad.” I thought for awhile, wondering if I agreed.
Is war in The Iliad senseless?
Does Harry Potter need Hogwarts? Charlotte’s Web a barn? Winnie the Pooh a tree? The Iliad a war? Can we fully grasp the story of Les Miserables without the backdrop of war torn France? Without conflict there just isn’t a story.
Conflict is more than a stage for the actors. It reveals the inner workings of the character’s minds and emotions. We turn the page to find out what happens next, and we aren’t interested in the conclusion of some actions — we want to know what happens to the characters. When Superman flies around saving Lois Lane, we don’t stick around to find out if she gets saved. We stick around because we want to see her response and his. Conflict reveals the characters’ hearts and minds.
The Iliad is set in Ancient Greece. Achilles is the protagonist. He is robbed. He’s mad and bitter. He wants revenge. He swears a promise that he will not help his country win the war because his leader took what was most precious to him. He is willing to protect his pride and sacrifice a WHOLE country. When his leader Agamemnon apologizes and offers to give him what he stole and much, much more, Achilles refuses. His countrymen fight and they are losing badly. His best friend is killed. His heart is broken. He finally decides to fight in the war and help his country avoid defeat.
Could Homer have written a story about Achilles and shown us who he wanted Achilles to be without using a war? Of course he could have, but as the author he wanted a country’s well being to hang in the balance because of this one man. And isn’t that what we like in a superhero story?
What connections do you see between the meaning of stories and the conflict within them?
To read more about literary epics visit my friend, Kent Travis and read the post he wrote showing the influence mothers have on great heroes. Kent is the literature professor at Brookhill School. He’s one of those scholarly types that I don’t want to be compared to but they are absolutely necessary. You will find him very personable, knowledgeable and informative.