The Archetypal Quest – Comparing “The Epic of Gilgamesh” to “The Wizard of Oz”
The Archetypal Quest In almost every book you read, you will find that someone always has to go on some sort of journey or quest (Rice). If you examine each quest closely, you will notice that they are all very similar (Rice). When things are used repeatedly like that, they are said to have an archetypal pattern (Rice). The quest on which all these heroes go on is referred to as the archetypal quest (Rice). “The Wizard of Oz” focuses on a small-town girl living in Kansas. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” focuses on an arrogant king who rules the city of Uruk.
The Wizard of Oz and The Epic of Gilgamesh were written 5000 years apart, but they both contain the elements that make them archetypal quests. One of the stages in the hero’s quest is when they are introduces into their ordinary world (Rice). At this stage, the character is shown living their everyday life in their hometown (Rice). There are two types of characters at this stage (Rice). One is a character who had some sort of special birth and is usually more powerful than others (Rice). The other character is an unlikely hero that has an unknown background and is raised by someone other than their birth parents (Rice).
Gilgamesh from “The Epic of Gilgamesh” fits the first type of character. He is the king of Uruk and was created by the gods. The gods made him 2/3 god and 1/3 man. Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” fits the second type of character. She lives on a farm in Kansas and is being raised by her aunt and uncle (The Wizard…). Dorothy and Gilgamesh both are living in their ordinary world, which fits the archetypal pattern. Near the beginning of the story the hero must begin his or her adventure (Rice). This can be referred to as the hero crossing the first threshold (Rice). The character leaves his or her world and enters a new world (Rice).
The first threshold in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” is when Gilgamesh decides to fight Humbaba. It is at this point that he sets out on his journey to make himself more liked by his city. Dorothy crosses the first threshold when a tornado sweeps her house up and she lands in the Land of Oz. During this point, the adventure has started and there is no turning back (Rice). At some point in the story, the hero meets a mentor who is usually more superior than the hero and may have supernatural powers (Rice). This stage is sometimes referred to as the hero meets his mentor (Rice).
During this stage, the mentor helps the hero either by aiding them in battle or giving them very useful advice (Rice). Gilgamesh meets Shamash, the sun god, who helps him defeat Humbaba. Shamash is considered a mentor because he is more powerful than Gilgamesh and aids him in battle. When Dorothy lands in Oz, she is greeted by the Good Witch of the North (The Wizard…). She explains everything to Dorothy including where she is and that she just killed the Wicked Witch of the East (The Wizard…). The Good Witch of the North is more powerful than Dorothy and is a big help throughout her quest.
If it weren’t for the help of their mentors, the heroes probably wouldn’t make it through their quests (Rice). The hero usually has a specific reason for going on their adventure (Rice). This part of the quest can be classified as the call to adventure (Rice). The hero usually goes on their quest in order to gain a reward such as an elixir (Rice). Gilgamesh decides that he wants immortality when he sees his friend Enkidu die by the hands of the gods. Gilgamesh decides to travel to see Utnapishtim because Utnapishtim has gained immortality from the gods.
Dorothy’s call to adventure is that she wants to get back home as soon as she can (The Wizard…). The people of Oz tell her that she will have to travel to Emerald City to see the Wizard because he is the only one that will be able to get her back home (The Wizard…). Now that the heroes have had their calls to adventure, they have a reason to complete their quest. As the hero proceeds with their quest they are constantly being tested and have to conquer many difficult obstacles (Rice). They also gain some allies along the way that help them complete their quest (Rice).
This big section of the story can be categorized as tests and obstacles (Rice). Gilgamesh encounters various mental and physical tests and obstacles. He must travel the long journey to see Utnapishtim. He also must travel to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve the sacred plant. He encounters a mental obstacle when he finds out that he cannot gain immortality the way Utnapishtim did. He is also tested with the loaves of bread by Utnapishtim’s wife. Dorothy is constantly tested by the Wicked Witch of the West. The witch kidnaps her and uses poppies to try to prevent Dorothy from reaching Emerald City (The Wizard…).
Dorothy is also tested when she gets to Emerald City because she has to kill the witch and she finds out the wizard is only a con artist (The Wizard…). Dorothy gains three main allies on her journey: The Lion, The Tin Man, and The Scarecrow (The Wizard…). They help Dorothy get to Emerald City and eventually kill the witch (The Wizard…). These tests and obstacles that the heroes must encounter are all part of the archetypal pattern (Rice). One of the most devastating parts of the story is during the phase commonly referred to as the supreme ordeal (Rice).
This is when the hero touches rock bottom and faces the possibility of death (Rice). The hero may be losing an epic battle or may be trapped in the enemy’s evil lair (Rice). Gilgamesh touches rock bottom when he realizes that he cannot gain immortality the way Utnapishtim had. Utnapishtim explains that he survived a great flood and listened to the gods and then he was granted with immortality. Gilgamesh faces the possibility of death because he has not yet found a way to become immortal and realizes that he is destined to die. Dorothy encounters her supreme ordeal when she is trapped in the witch’s castle.
She has been captured by the flying monkeys and is separated from her allies (The Wizard…). The witch sets a timer determining the time for which Dorothy will die (The Wizard…). During the supreme ordeal, things seem hopeless for the hero but the hero always makes it through (Rice). At some point, the hero reaches their destination and must now retrieve their treasure (Rice). During this stage, the hero is said to be entering the belly of the whale (Rice). Usually he or she is entering the place where their treasure is hidden (Rice). This can also be the place where the final battle takes place (Rice).
For Gilgamesh the belly of the whale is at the bottom of the ocean where the flower of youth is located. He has finally located the treasure he has been searching for. As for Dorothy, the belly of the whale is in the witch’s castle when she has escaped and is face-to-face with the witch. Dorothy needs to kill the witch and bring her broomstick back to the wizard if she wants him to get her home (The Wizard…). Indirectly, the broomstick is the treasure that Dorothy has been seeking. The hero’s have now located the item that they went on a quest for.
After defeating the enemy or reaching their destination, the hero can now claim their treasure (Rice). This stage is referred to as the hero gains a reward (Rice). This is when the hero finally attains the reward for which went on a quest for (Rice). Gilgamesh finally gets the flower, therefore gaining immortality. He decides to take it back to his city to share with them. Dorothy gains the witch’s broom after she kills her (The Wizard…). This indirectly gives her the treasure that she wanted, which is to go back home. At this point many think that the quest is over, but there is still more challenges to come (Rice).
The hero must now travel on a different, shorter journey called the road back (Rice). Usually this road is filled with additional tests and obstacles (Rice). Gilgamesh travels on his road back when he departs for his homeland of Uruk. He must take a long journey across the ocean to get back home. Now that Dorothy discovered that the Wizard doesn’t have mystical powers, she must find some way to get back home (The Wizard…). The heroes must now overcome additional challenges to complete their quest (Rice). There is a point in the story where the hero once again faces death (Rice).
The stage known as the resurrection is a very crucial part of the story (Rice). During this stage, the hero has a physical or mental resurrection (Rice). The hero is blessed with new knowledge at this point (Rice). Gilgamesh experiences his resurrection when the serpent steals his flower. Gilgamesh stops on his way home to bathe and a serpent grabs the flower of youth and escapes. Gilgamesh now realizes that he is not meant to have immortality and develops a new view on life and equality. Dorothy has her resurrection when she accuses The Wizard of being a liar (The Wizard…).
Up until this point she has been taking orders from The Wizard and she finally realized that he was just going to keep sending them on more pointless missions (The Wizard…). She also has a mental resurrection and realizes that The Wizard is not what he appears to be (The Wizard…). The resurrection is a very important part of the story because it is the point in which the hero changes internally (Rice). The hero has been through his entire quest and now he must bring back his treasure to his home town (Rice). This stage is known as the return with the elixir stage and is usually the last stage of the archetypal quest (Rice).
The hero has attained his or her treasure and is willing to share it with his or her friends and acquaintances (Rice). Sometimes this treasure is a physical, concrete object, but other times the treasure is experience or new knowledge that the hero has gained on their journey (Rice). Gilgamesh returns to his city with new knowledge, the story of the flood, and much less arrogance. Dorothy returns to her home in Kansas with great amounts of experience and knowledge. Everyone tells her she was dreaming, but she claims that it felt too real to be a dream (The Wizard…).
This is usually the point in which the story comes to an end and the mission has been accomplished (Rice). Every adventure story that was ever written is built off the foundation of the archetypal pattern. Joseph Campbell was the one to point this out to the general public. Joseph wanted to know why all stories use this general layout. This is a question that many have asked themselves and that we still may not know the answer to today. It is unknown who first came up with the archetypal pattern, but what we do know is that is has lasted for over 5000 years. .
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