What kind of stories will you tell your children?
Hi Yo Mythos Away
White Horses, Black Hats, and why Tonto matters
an exploration of the mythic imagery in the Lone Ranger, past and present
“You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”
Yes, I liked Disney's Lone Ranger... enough to see it several times. Yes, I like Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Pirates of the Caribbean (all of them), Clayton Moore, and especially Jay Silverheels.
And Silver. All dozen or so of the Morab/Tenneessee Walkers, Thoroughbreds, Morab/Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses who have played him.
Yes, I grew up with the Original: Clay and Jay and good ol' Liver Lip (Clayton's favorite “Silver”).
No, I don't care if you think I have no taste. If you're curious why I found the Disney film (and its background canon) fascinating , read on...
And yes, this is One Big Spoiler. I'm assuming you've seen the film, or don't want to see it (in which case you probably wouldn't be reading this). This is my attempt to pick apart the stuff that resonated with me, the archetypal images underlying the humor, the extravagant tall tale, and the gritty, dusty, western reality.
“What kind of stories will you tell your children?”
“They're just stories, right?”
“Up to you.”
The first line, remembered perhaps imperfectly, spoken by an Onondaga leader at a public program in Gettysburg some years ago. I forget the precise context, but the words stuck. I write, I commit art, it's all aimed at telling stories. Native peoples, particularly, have had a marginal to awful representation in mainstream culture's stories. The Onondaga are one of the Six Nations of the Haudeenosaunee, better know to most as the Iroquois. Another of the Six Nations is the Kanien'kehÃ¡:ka or Mohawks. The individual of that tribe best known to most of the mainstream culture is one winning lacrosse player, Golden Gloves boxing champion (2nd in the middleweight division in 1938), wrestler, stuntman, harness horse racer, and enduring Hollywood icon: Jay Silverheels, better known as Faithful Indian Sidekick, Tonto, to the Lone Ranger in the 50s TV series.
The second lines are at the end of Disney's Lone Ranger (2013). Johnny Depp's version of Tonto has been telling the tales of the exploits of himself and the Ranger to a kid who has come into a carnival to see the Wild West exhibit of which ancient Tonto is now a part (in a diorama labeled “The Noble Savage in his natural habitat”).
The kid says, “They're just stories, right? ”
Tonto replies, “Up to you.”
On an NPR (National Public Radio) interview, Reza Aslan (author of the book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”) explains that back in the day (before the Industrial Age, before science, before clock time, when all the world ran on “Indian Time”, before history was reduced to names and facts and dates) people listened to stories... and the scientific facts, and the historical facts and dates and precisely who said what did not matter.
What mattered was the deep truths the story revealed.
I present the story of a Lone survivor of a massacre of Texas Rangers.
The first radio shows were done in 1933. The West was tamed, or conquered, or invaded or something. The Virginian (the first Western novel) had already been published in 1902. Western serials were a staple at theaters (easy and cheap to film, and full of action). It is debatable whether it was WXYZ radio Detroit owner George W. Trendle or Fran Striker (writer) who originated the Ranger. Some say the character was inspired by Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes to whom the book "The Lone Star Ranger" by Zane Grey was dedicated in 1915. Hughes hunted down the gang who had killed Texas Ranger Captain Frank Jones in an ambush. The Lone Ranger may owe something to Zorro (book: 1919, first film: 1920), another western folk hero wearing a mask, albeit farther west, and farther back in time. In at least one incarnation, Zorro rode a white horse, not the iconic black, and Clayton (Lone Ranger) Moore has played Zorro too.
Where does this stuff come from anyway?
In the opening of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Elven Queen Galadriel says something like this: “...history turned legend turned myth.” (Maniacal Tolkien fan that I am, I should have that memorized verbatim, I don't...I can, however, sing Legolas' entire Song of the Sea in Elvish, but not well).
Elves. Archetypes. History...legend...myth. It started somewhere in Ireland: “A great battle took place between the Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Danann (ancient tribes of Ireland) on the great plain of Moytura in Cross.” http://www.lakedistrictheritage.ie/Cross/moytura.html This may be an actual historical memory of conflicts between bronze-wielding and iron-wielding peoples. As if in an epic game of rock paper scissors, iron beats bronze. Ireland sees several waves of immigrants and invaders, and by the time Christianity is in full bloom there, the De Danann have gone from being the Sidhe, the Faerie Folk With Whom You Do Not Mess, to fitting politely under toadstools and into field guides like Flower Faeries of the Wayside. They have gone from history, to legend to myth, to degenerate myth. Ultimately, Tinkerbelle waves her magic sparkly wand over Disney's logo.
The American West is our Faerie Tale. It is still within reach. We have books and journals and newspaper articles written in the time period, we have artifacts, photographs, and stories, which, while not exactly living memory, go like this; “my grandfather did...” We have real live actual Indians who can tell you their stories first person, and Cowboys who write poetry and Buffalo (raised on ranches) and (more rarely) Grizzlies and Wolves and Wolverines.
Yet it is still a Faerie Tale. Since the time of my grandfather's birth, and Tolkien's, and Jay Silverheels', it has gone from history, to legend, to myth.
The Lone Ranger, and Tonto, are archetypes straight out of that myth.
It starts with ...
The Man in the White Hat.
When I was a kid, westerns ruled, and you could nearly always tell who the Good Guys were, because they really did wear white hats while the Bad Guys wore black. This went out of favor somewhat in the 60s, when Adam Cartwright (Bonanza) and the Virginian, both good guys, wore black hats (perhaps to establish a bit of a rebel vibe). The Virginian still rode a white horse... though I discovered later, like many “white” horses, it wasn't. It was actually one of the actor's favorite Appaloosas (marbled, snowflaked or leopard spotted) with very few dark spots.
The White Hat. The White Knight in Shining Armour. The Golden Hero. The Sun King. Gawain (whose waxes and wanes with the advance of the sun across the sky). He is pure, he is shining, he is Virtuous. (See also: Superman, Captain America). He may also be a bit innocent or naïve (see: Luke Skywalker, Captain America sometimes, and most definitely Armie (Lone Ranger) Hammer). He is our best image of ourselves.
The original Lone Ranger had a set of values he lived by:
- That to have a friend, a man must be one.
- That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
- That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
- I believe in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
- That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
- That 'this government of the people, by the people, and for the people' shall live always.
- That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
- That sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
- That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
- I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.
And the White Horse...
What color was George Washington's (and the Lone Ranger's) White Horse?
The White Horse shines like the sun. Like lightning. He is visible among the horde even from a distance. He looks heroic. “A fiery horse with the speed of light...” He is Light, sun, day, vitality, illumination, resurrection, messenger of rebirth, Pegasus (by whose image all horses are ennobled). The Golden Hero (aka Superman, as opposed to the Dark Hero, aka Batman) needs a steed that reflects his own nature. He also needs one to stand out among the thundering equine horde in a quickly shot western with a very low budget (as most of the serials were). Most of the thundering equine horde is some combination of the two bits of DNA that give horses their colors; red (chestnut), and black. This horde of blacks and browns and bays and chestnuts, ranging from black to chocolate to mahogany to blood bay to foxy red, becomes, on a black and white screen, one big muddy mess of medium murk.
Horse Color 101: “All horse colors are built on only two base colors, black (E) and chestnut (e). Black is dominant to chestnut, and chestnut is thus recessive. That means that a horse carrying 2 black genes (EE) will be (homozygous) black; a horse carrying one black gene and one chestnut gene (Ee) will also be black (but heterozygous); and a horse carrying two chestnut genes (ee) will be chestnut (always homozygous). So if two heterozygous black horses are bred together (Ee +Ee), they have 1 chance in 4 of producing a homozygous black (EE), 2 chances in 4 of producing a heterozygous black (Ee), and 1 chance in 4 of producing a chestnut. Pretty neat, huh? Two chestnuts bred together (ee + ee) can only produce chestnut.” http://www.whitehorseproductions.com/ecg_basics1.html
No? Wait, there's more...
This EE ee Ee thing can be modified by pinto patterns (sabino, overo, tobiano, tovero, splash), and the leopard complex (Appaloosa, Knabstrupper breeds), grey, roan, dilution genes: (cream, pearl, champagne, silver) and the odd brindle, or somatic mutation, into a ridiculous rainbow of colors ranging from black and chocolate and burgundy to candy apple red to gold, pewter, iron, silver to leopard spotted, tiger striped, snowflaked, marbled, map-marked, countershaded, dappled, to blue, lavender, pink to sand to coffee with cream to white.
And we haven't even addressed zebra/horse (zorse) and donkey/horse (mule) hybrids yet.
It's all about the alleles.
“An allele is an alternative form of a gene (one member of a pair) that is located at a specific position on a specific chromosome. These DNA codings determine distinct traits that can be passed on from parents to offspring. The process by which alleles are transmitted was discovered by Gregor Mendel and formulated in what is known as Mendel's Law of Segregation.” http://biology.about.com/od/geneticsglossary/g/alleles.htm
The White Horse may be mythic but his color is pure mindboggling Science.
And one more thing, unlike most birds, mammals, reptiles and others (including humans), white horses are never, ever albino.
The “white horse” you see is usually grey, born as a normal horse color that acquires more white hairs (like aging humans) until the horse is white (anywhere from three years old to their teens). You can still see the dark underlying skin around the eyes and mouth, and the hooves are usually dark, unless the horse originally had white socks. Your White Horse might also be a Paint (a specific breed descended from Quarter Horse stock), a maximally expressed (read; all white) pinto (any breed with patches of white), or “few spot” Appaloosa (a breed in various patterns of leopard and egg spots, marbling and snowflakes) with almost no color. It might be a perlino, cremello, dunalino, or...
...(when is a black horse a white horse?) smokey cream (genetically black, with two dilution genes).
Silver (both of them) in the 50s TV series was white, you can see the pink skin around the mouth and eyes. Not sure where the white DNA came from, as the Morab part (Morgan/Arabian) tends to dark, solid colors (or, in the Arabian, grey). The white genes must have come from the Tennessee Walker and Thoroughbred sides. The ones in the Disney film were also white (not grey). The Thoroughbreds in the film had maximally expressed (read: all white) sabino (pinto) genetics. In some stills, you can see the spotted skin underneath the white hair.
What color was George Washington's white horse is a more complex question than you thought (it was most likely grey). The Lone Ranger's horse is a bit simpler. It's white. One of the many many kinds of white anyway.
Oh, and there are several horse colors that actually are silver (not white or grey): smokey cream (a black horse with a double dilute of the cream gene), silver buckskin (bay coat with one cream allele and one silver allele), silver (a modifying gene which affects black pigment), silver black, silver grulla and grulla (silver dun). The Akhal Teke breed inherently has “metallic” looking coats, some are silver.
Yin and Yang: White Horse, Black Horse, and the Pinto
The symbolism of The White Horse: They are often associated with the sun chariot ( there's that Sun King, Golden Hero thing again) with warrior-heroes, with fertility (in both mare and stallion manifestations), or with an end of time saviour, but other interpretations exist as well. Both truly white horses and the more common grey horses, with completely white hair coats, were identified as "white" by various religious and cultural traditions. From earliest times white horses have been mythologized as possessing exceptional properties, transcending the normal world by having wings (e.g. Pegasus from Greek mythology), or having horns (the unicorn). As part of its legendary dimension, the white horse in myth may be depicted with seven heads ( Uchaishravas) or eight feet (Sleipnir), sometimes in groups or singly. There are also white horses which are divinatory, who prophesy or warn of danger. As a rare or distinguished symbol, a white horse typically bears the hero- or god-figure in ceremonial roles or in triumph over negative forces. Herodotus reported that white horses were held as sacred animals in the Achaemenid court of Xerxes the Great (ruled 486-465 BC), while in other traditions the reverse happens when it was sacrificed to the gods. In more than one tradition, the white horse carries patron saints or the world saviour in the end times (as in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), is associated with the sun or sun chariot ( Ossetia) or bursts into existence in a fantastic way, emerging from the sea or a lightning bolt. (wiki)
Over and over, the White Horse is associated with The Hero, and with the Sun and Sky and Lightning.
I grew up with a bit more of the Black Horse than the White Horse: Fury (a TV western of the 50s), the Black Stallion (Walter Farley's books), Tornado (Zorro's horse). The Black Horse, the Rebel, the Outlaw doing good deeds, Robin Hood, Zorro, the Wild, the Untamed, the West, mystery, secrets, Night, ninjas, the Dark Sea, the deeps of the collective unconscious and the knowledge therein. In Irish myth there are pookas, shapshifters who appear as black horses, trickster figures who take you on a wild ride and leave you in a hedge... unless you know the polite way to handle them. In American history there are the Privateers of the War of 1812 whose wicked fast and agile schooners were always black. British observers (and sometimes recipients of the Privateer's commandeering skills) referred to them as “wild horses”. They were our version of Robin Hood, of Zorro. There is also Black Beauty, but he is not really a Black Horse, even though he is the right color... he is more of a Sam Gamgee, a Watson, than a Zorro.
I may have watched Zorro long before I ever saw the Lone Ranger on TV (I saw it all as reruns). Zorro's tale happens 50 or 60 years before the Lone Ranger's, in California rather than Texas. Zorro is a bit more of a Dark Hero, or perhaps a Trickster Hero (“zorro” means “fox” in Spanish, a trickster figure in many myths). Zorro rides the Black Horse by night (much like Batman) while the Lone Ranger rides in the sun (once more with Superman and Captain America). Both are masked (to hide their identity from the villains), but Zorro relies more on foxlike cunning and ninjalike stealth in his black gear on his black horse in the black night. On tricking the villains, and publicly humiliating them. The Ranger blasts across the landscape in a blaze of righteous light, striking fear into the hearts of villains in open daylight. But he has also been known to adopt disguises to do in the baddies.
Zorro and LR are a sort of yin/yang of western heroes. (And Clayton Moore has played both).
In one of the old black and white silent films, Zorro's black horse is balanced by the pale (grey, and one mostly white Appaloosa) horses ridden by the bad guys.
The Lone Ranger, in the TV series, and in the films, is the only one on a light colored horse of any sort, everyone else is riding solid bays, blacks and chestnuts.
But my first equine, a brown and white Shetland pony, was a pinto.
Tonto is the real yin/yang balance point, with his pinto horse, Scout; tobiano patterned, variously bay or chestnut based, except for one 50s toy that was palomino pinto.
Once more: Paint is a breed, pinto is a color pattern. The Scouts of the TV series and films were likely Paints, descended from Quarter Horse stock. All Paints are pintos, except when they are born without white spots (they're still Paints). Not all pintos are Paints, some are Chincoteague ponies, Rocky Mountain horses, Shetland ponies, Gypsy Vanners, Tennessee Walkers, Arabian cross, Mustang, Icelandic etc.
Pinto comes in a variety of patterns/genetics: tobiano, frame overo, sabino, dominant white, splash, tovero.
From a web forum... http://thecaveboard.yuku.com/topic/6464/t/Scout.html#.Uht3qBumjTo
I have a horse background and have watched Scout very closely throughout all the episodes. There were at least 3 Paint horses that were used for Scout. Two of them looked very similar. One had an almost all brown head and almost all white rump. I believe there was even a fourth horse at times. You can see this very clearly in the episode "Trouble at Tylerville". When Jess Tyler accidentally shoots himself and then rides to find a doctor. The LR and Tonto are riding to town to see Roy Hillman when Jess comes down the trail. They ride around the rock to not be seen. Tonto rides off on one horse and then as he rides around the rock it's a totally different horse. Then when they ride back around the rock after Tyler goes by he's back on the first horse.
In the episode "Outlaw Masquerade" Silver is wearing his breast collar for most of the episode, but when the outlaw tries to steal Silver and the horse rears - he's not wearing the breast collar. Then later he's wearing it again. They made that mistake several times throughout the series.
otrloneranger: Many thanks for your post and for clarifying the paint vs. pinto distinction. I do not have a horse background like you but I am observant. I agree that there were many Scouts. Yes, there was a 4th Scout, there was also a 5th Scout, maybe more. It's hard to tell as Tonto usually rides to the Ranger's right (speaking of the camera view).
There was one main Scout used throughout the run. He has a stripe of brown down his rear left leg. He is the first (original) Scout and appears in every episode that I've seen (not counting when Tonto was absent). He's being ridden in the first episode when Tonto finds the wounded Ranger. He also appears in the first LR movie in 1956. I can't speak to the 1958 movie as I've never seen it. (If anyone knows, let me know). The white stripe on his face goes slightly over his right eye. He appears to be a jumpy horse, especially when Tonto tells him "Go Scout, find the Ranger". He's obviously watching his trainer. He flinches a lot when men get too close to him or a gun is fired. I love this horse, even more than Silver!
A second Scout was used for occasional galloping scenes. He's used in "Rustler's Hideout" and Tom Kennedy rides him when Tom, the LR, and Fred Vance are escaping from the bad guys. He stands side by side next to Scout #1 in "The Renegades" as he was used as Chief Swift Eagle's horse.
I saw a one-time appearance by Scout #3 in Season Four (don't remember the episode). He had much more brown than white and was an obvious impostor.
otrloneranger, you're right that Scout #4 looked a lot like Scout #1. He first shows up very late in Season Four (only once to my knowledge). Starting with Season Five, he makes more and more appearances. You're right that one Scout will be used and then another, right in a sequence of scenes. I'm sure that TLR must've been filmed out of sequence because of this. In "The Christmas Story" there is an appearance by Scout #5. He is mostly white and has black or brown on his right side. He appears in pictures on various LR fan sites. At first, I thought it was a washed out picture. Then I actually saw him in "The Christmas Story". There may be others. As I say, it's hard to pick them out in so short a time. The emphasis definitely wasn't on Scout.
As I don't know much about horses, I can only hazard a guess. Perhaps Scout #1 was old so they used other horses as fill-ins. Or perhaps since they shot many episodes in one day, they brought in multiple horses, perhaps the riding scenes tired out the horses. The fact is though, that Scout #1 remained basically the only Scout, at least through Season Four. The others were fill-ins for scenes. Scout #4 was the only other Scout who was consistently used. He didn't replace Scout #1, but augmented him.
As a kid in the early 70's, I noticed this difference in Scouts 1 and 4. I'd notice that sometimes he'd have a streak down his left leg and other times he didn't. I thought maybe the scenes were flipped like in a mirror. As I watched closely, I realized that there were two horses. I couldn't understand why I'd see different horses in one episode. "A Message From Abe" is an example. Scout #1 appears in the opening scene and Scout #4 in the intervening scenes. After Lefty is shot, Scout #1 is back. Thankfully, now I have this forum to talk with others.
Wait, what does that mean anyway?
Wiki says: yīnyáng), which is often called "yin and yang", is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many natural dualities (such as male and female, light and dark, high and low, hot and cold, water and fire, life and death, and so on) are thought of as physical manifestations of the yin-yang concept. Yin and yang are actually complementary, not opposing, forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part; in effect, a dynamic system. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, (for instance shadow cannot exist without light). Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object, depending on the criterion of the observation. In Taoist metaphysics, good-bad distinctions and other dichotomous moral judgments are perceptual, not real; so, yin-yang is an indivisible whole. In the ethics of Confucianism on the other hand, most notably in the philosophy of Dong Zhongshu, (c. 2nd century BCE) a moral dimension is attached to the yin-yang idea.
Scout is a pinto, a yin/yang of dark and light, of opposing forces, of two cultures in collision and collusion. Pinto is camouflage (from a distance, pintos tend to vanish into a landscape, especially a desert landscape), it is caught between the worlds of red and white, as was the amazing man who rode him.
Silver and Windigos
In the Disney film, Silver the Horse is a mythic mystical spirit guide, functioning within the boundaries of the obvious tall tale style of the story. In one scene, on the roof of a burning barn, where Tonto and the Lone Ranger are trapped, they find a bemused Silver, come to rescue them. The Ranger says, “How did he get up here, fly?” Tonto gives him a withering look, “Don't be stupid.” Silver carries two riders and their gear through a burning desert while the Black Horse of the outlaws collapses and dies (there is some scientific basis for this, as every Iditarod musher knows, black dogs suffer overheating faster than white dogs). Silver chooses the “wrong brother”, he convinces Tonto of a Greater Plan than the mere humans are aware of (Nope, it's really THAT brother.) He rescues the heroes, he is in the right place at the right time to catch The Girl. Though he refrains from Pegasus style flight, he gallops across roofs, he does things no normal horse could. Much of the “magic” in this tall tale is left offscreen, to the viewers' imagination. It's an American tall tale, not a medieval fantasy. Silver is more than a mere mode of transportation; note how the Head Chief Bad Guy says that Since Alexander the Great, no man has traveled faster than the horse that carried him and now, with the railroad, that is all changed.
Hah! Let's see a train match Silver.
OK, there is the one to Hogwarts...
Google the Lone Ranger, you'll almost never find a picture of him without Silver.
Silver the metal figures largely in the film too, as well as in Lone Ranger canon. Silver ore has been mined, refined, smelted, and crafted since approximately 3000 BCE. Since that time, silver has been reputed to have mystical powers and has played significant roles throughout the world’s mythologies. These mythologies have varied throughout time and cultures, but the basic beliefs regarding the powers of silver remain the same. “The Crystal Handbook”, a New Age guide to minerals and crystals, describes silver as, “…a good metal for healing purposes because it is in tune with the energies of the body”. http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/students/silver/silver.htm
In the Early Irish Mythological cycle, Nuada, King of the Tuatha De Danaan, loses a hand in a battle, making him unfit for kingly duties by the laws of his people. He (and the kingdom) is healed when Master Druid Dian Cecht replaces the lost hand with one of silver. A slightly later hero of the same mythology, Lugh, has a similar fate. Nuada is sometimes referred to as Nuada Silverhand.
And Tonto is ultimately played by a guy named Jay Silverheels.
Born Harold J. Smith, his screen name came from his lacrosse nickname “Silverheels”, something to do with his speed and shiny sneakers. Wiki tells me: The French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf saw Iroquois tribesmen play it (lacrosse) in 1637 and was the first European to write about the game. He called it la crosse ("the stick"). The Mohawks, one of the six nations of the Iroquois, if you've forgotten, are Jay's tribe.
First there is the iconic Silver Bullet. As in, “who was that masked man? I don't know, but he left this silver bullet!” Silver is a symbol of purity. On the television show the Lone Ranger says he uses silver bullets as a symbol of justice, but more importantly, silver bullets serve to remind the Ranger of just how heavy a price firing a gun can be. One source also mentions that Silver was shod with silver horseshoes. Not too practical, according to hardness scales, (Mohs, Vickers, Brinell) silver isn't hard enough to stand up to the wear and tear horseshoes (generally steel) encounter. Silver has a (Mohs) hardness of 2.5, same as the soft and easily workable gold. Iron is 4.0, steel (a harder alloy) would be higher.
And as for casting silver bullets over a campfire... you need 1600 degrees F to melt it... then you have to have a whole wizard's set of alchemical equipment to keep it from solidifying before you pour it in the mold. (a fairly hilarious attempt by some gun guys here: http://www.patriciabriggs.com/books/silver/ranger/ )
In canon, the Lone Ranger has a silver mine. The Lone Ranger had a silver mine that he and his brother, Dan, had planned on using for their retirement. A retired Texas Ranger (who knew the Ranger's secret) agreed to work it for him and make the silver bullets. The Lone Ranger and Tonto would periodically visit the old Ranger and stock up on bullets and silver to use to buy goods. (This mine would be the basis of the fortune that built the Reid publishing empire in the Green Hornet.) http://www.endeavorcomics.com/largent/ranger/faq.html
The worth of silver: In the film, the River carries silver from the sacred mountain (and the mine). The Comanche know about it, but have no use for it (buffalo are far more useful, as you can get food, clothing, shelter and tools from them). Silver isn't much use to Madam Red, or any of the other settlers. For them, the aforementioned food, clothing, shelter, tools and water are the necessities. Especially water, in the arid West. The animated film Rango played this up nicely; in that tale water was the MacGuffin around which all the conflict erupted. Silver only becomes useful when you carry it into “civilization” where it becomes a means of exchange for things that are truly useful. It is eventually the Lone Ranger's sign of purity, idealism, and respect for all life, but it has another connection with the Villain. Tonto says: “Silver made him what he is, it will destroy him.”
Silver has always been proof against evil. And although werewolf legends differ according to time and culture, werewolves are never described as allies of the moon; rather they are helpless to its powers, forced to enter a night of unbridled hunger and aggression: raping, eating, and destroying those that would cross their paths. Thus, the idea of a weapon against these fearsome beasts arose. Werewolves, the unwilling servants of the moon were helpless to her earthly material, silver. (In Middle Earth, Tolkien uses "moonsilver" or "mithril" as a mythic element; magic runes, door wards and armour is made of it, and it is only delved by Dwarves). A sword or dagger fashioned from silver became a powerful bane against werewolves, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the idea of using silver bullets against the creatures appeared. (Granted, the idea was not a common one; few people could afford to have bullets smelted from silver. Using a silver bullet was not a common slaying-method until publicized by fiction writers and Hollywood). http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/students/silver/silver.htm
Silver and windigos: Tonto sees Cavendish, the Villain, as a windigo, an evil spirit in human form, a North American version of the werewolf legend (the European werewolf legend may have its roots in incidents of rabies). Note that Tonto is Comanche in the film; wiki says: The Comanche are a Plains Indian tribe whose historic territory, known as Comancheria, consisted of present day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Maybe he traveled a lot, because the windigo legend originates in a totally different tribe from the other end of the continent. Or maybe his use of “windigo” is a nod to Tonto's original tribal designation as a Potawatomie, an Algonquian speaking tribe of the upper Mississippi, “Neshnabe, akin to the Anishnaabe, or Ojibway”. The windigo was one of their legends.
The Indians of the northern United States and Canada have legends about a mythical being called the windigo, wendigo or witiku (often called by many other names as well). This creature was thought to be a human who had become a cannibal. Cannibalism then turned this human into a monster in more ways than one. This person would transform into a big hairy monster in order to eat even more people. This monster looked something like Bigfoot but was bigger, meaner and uglier. Usually, this was not a permanent transformation. The windigo generally became a shapeshifter to turn back into a man or woman at will, or it just transformed in the winter and returned to human when spring came. http://www.newanimal.org/windigo.htm
The wendigo (also known as windigo, weendigo, windago, waindigo, windiga, witiko, wihtikow, and numerous other variants) is a demonic creature appearing in the legends of the Algonquian peoples along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and Canada. The creature or spirit could either possess humans or be a monster that had physically transformed from a person. It is particularly associated with cannibalism. The Algonquian believed those who indulged in eating human flesh were at particular risk; the legend appears to have reinforced the practice of cannibalism as a taboo. (wiki)
Yep. Tonto must have done some traveling. And somewhere, he learned how to crank a campfire up to 1600 degrees F.
Oh... and the Potawatomies have a Crow clan...
“Depp, his face chalked up in Indian daubs (based on Kirby Sattler's painting I Am Crow), gets the job of cluing modern audiences into the Lone Ranger legend and, for that matter, the meaning of westerns. To the image of the taciturn Indian he applies the comic solemnity of Keaton, the silent cinema’s Great Stone Face, whom Depp explicitly revered back in 1993′s Benny & Joon. He has long been a master of what might be called the overplaying of underplaying — that blank, sometimes sodden stare that surveys the world’s awful idiocies and says, “If I expressed what I really felt, I’d always be screaming.” It’s an act of subversion that can also wink at audiences with a sense of complicity in their discomfort at a not-so-hot movie.”
Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/07/02/the-lone-ranger-lost-in-a-western-myth/#ixzz2avbgHvNU
Sidekicks: ...”those trusty pop-culture pals who forever trail in the shadow of alpha figures but often win the hearts of fans”... http://herocomplex.latimes.com/books/101010-the-top-10-sidekicks-of-all-time/
The Lone Ranger would be lost without Tonto. Literally, lost. Tonto is that iconic Sidekick who is The One With Local Knowledge, the one who can guide you across an unknown land. His knowledge of the land itself (gained from thousands of years of ancestors' wisdom) is critical for our Ranger.
This site gives us a wonderful Top Ten which places our favorite Faithful Indian Sidekick at #4...
“4. Tonto: One thing about radio shows, it’s best if your hero has someone he can talk to, especially if he roams the Old West where it can get lonely sitting around the campfire. That was the reason behind Tonto, the faithful Native American companion to Lone Ranger who began as a narrative aid but became far more than that as the Western masked-man mythology took hold of young imaginations across America. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker (the same tandem behind “Green Hornet,” in fact), and through the years, some have found the character to be offensive (most often due to his fractured, article-free version of English), but others see the brave hero as noble and an equal to the fellow who rides Silver. How big is Tonto in our collective memory? Well, “kemo sabe” was added to Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary in 2002. Actor Jay Silverheels is the definitive Tonto in the public memory...”
In this poll at least, he has beaten out Kato (Green Hornet), one of Dr. Who's Companions, Spongebob's favorite starfish, Cap'n America's buddy Bucky, Igor (from Young Frankenstein), and Mini-Me. He is beat only by Watson (no explanation needed), Robin (ditto), and Chewbacca.
Chewbacca, may, in fact, echo the Faithful Indian Sidekick, as Han echoes the Cowboy (complete with “white horse” in the form of the Millenium Falcon). And now all I can think of is chewing tobacco and wooden Indians...
The Hero Companion goes back farther than pop culture and superheroes, back, back back to the earliest tales told around blazing fires whilst predatory eyes gleamed from the gloaming. There is Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad, Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote.
The Sidekick supports the Hero, keeps him on course when he falters, grounds the Hero, often shows faith when the Hero loses it, often provides comic relief when the Hero is too serious, or is the “straight man” giving responses that enable the humor of the Hero. He gives the Hero someone to talk to, or, like Watson, narrates the tale, allowing the Hero to explain his actions.
...and when the Hero's Fatal Flaw surfaces, it is the Sidekick who saves the day.
It is Samwise Gamgee who really saves Middle Earth when the ring becomes too much for Frodo to bear. It is Watson's stability and solidity which balances Sherlock's dysfunctional brilliance, Watson is the journalist, the blogger, who tells the story, and he is the character we can all relate to. Sancho Panza is the grounded in reality opposite to Don Quixote's mad idealism. It is Chewbacca who provides a moral compass for cowboy/space pirate Han Solo. It is Donkey who helps Shrek relate to the world, and helps the audience relate to Shrek. It is Spock's intelligence and logic which provides the counterbalance to Kirk's gung-ho jock. And if sidekicks have sidekicks: Legolas the Elf (immortal, prince, really good with a bow, runs on snow) follows a mere short-lived human to the ends of Middle Earth, supporting the Man Who Will Be King, Aragorn... while Gimli the Dwarf overcomes racial and familial tensions to partner up with (OMG!) an Elf to save Middle Earth from impending doom... or get the ring into Mt. Doom.
In all, the Hero would be lost without the Sidekick.
But the Faithful Indian Sidekick is an archetype of its own...
The Noble Savage
Civilization, outlaws and savages: you think you know the definition, but like the Trickster Crow (or Raven) on Johnny Depp's head, the film plays with your ideas of who and what is savage, civilized, or outlaw. Tonto is called a savage, though he shows more compassion than most of the “civilized” folk. The cavalry (the Long Arm of Civilization) shows immense savagery “repaying” tenfold the destruction wrought by “savages” who are actually outlaws from their own culture. The outlaws show savagery to the extreme (well, you have to make your bad Guys bad).. The Lone Ranger becomes an “outlaw” when the law he has studied and held above all else seems to fall apart in a land he begins to see as savage. Tonto is a kind of “outlaw” himself, one outside any tribe or family (true somewhat to cannon), though he clearly has a connection to ideals and values larger than one solitary man. The representative of civilization and progress, Mr. Train Baron, turns out to be the biggest outlaw of them all (“This is what you might call a hostile takeover.”)
In the framing story in the Disney film, a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger (which has clearly just come out on radio... it's 1933) enters a wild West sideshow at a fair. There is the Mighty Buffalo, Lord of the Plains, the Growling Grizzly and last, but not least, The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat. There is a tradition of actors posing motionless like mannequins in the way Tonto does here, and of Native tribesmen joining Wild West Shows of the past.
And of the mainstream culture having absolutely no idea who these people really are.
A friend, whose DNA included both Italian and Onondaga once said if she published her book she was going to dedicate it to The Noble Savage, “because we were neither.”
That about sums it up. History turned legend turned myth. Like the DeDannan, Native America has been fairy tailed and stuffed under a toadstool. And it has only been a few lifetimes, not millenia.
And they're still here, grumbling about Johnny Depp's crow hat.
Wiki says: “The term noble savage expresses the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or "other" and refers to the literary stock character. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden's heroic play, The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used by a Christian prince disguised as a Spanish Muslim to refer to himself, but it later became identified with the idealized picture of "nature's gentleman", which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism.
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
During the late 16th and 17th centuries the figure of the indigene or "savage", and later, increasingly, the "good savage", was held up as a reproach to European civilization, then in the throes of the French Wars of Religion and Thirty Years War.”
“Ethnomusicologist Ter Ellingson believes that Dryden had picked up the expression "noble savage" from a 1609 travelogue about Canada by the French explorer Marc Lescarbot, in which there was a chapter with the ironic heading: "The Savages are Truly Noble", meaning simply that they enjoyed the right to hunt game, a privilege in France granted only to hereditary aristocrats.”
“In English the word "savage" did not necessarily have the connotations of cruelty we now associate with it, but only gradually acquired them. Instead it could as easily mean "wild", as in a wild flower, as it still does in its French and Italian.”
Stock figures and archetypes: "In France the stock figure that in English is called the "noble savage" has always been simply "le bon sauvage", "the good wild man", a term without the any of the paradoxical frisson of the English one. This character, an idealized portrayal of "Nature's Gentleman", was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism, along with other stock characters such as, the Virtuous Milkmaid, the Servant-More-Clever-than-the-Master (such as Sancho Panza and Figaro, among countless others), and the general theme of virtue in the lowly born. The use of stock characters (especially in theater) to express moral truths derives from classical antiquity and goes back to Theophrastus's Characters, a work that enjoyed a great vogue in the 17th and 18th centuries and was translated by Jean de La Bruyère. The practice largely died out with advent of 19th-century realism but lasted much longer in genre literature, such as adventure stories, Westerns, and, arguably, science fiction. Nature's Gentleman, whether European-born or exotic, takes his place in this cast of characters, along with the Wise Egyptian, Persian, and Chinaman. "But now, alongside the Good Savage, the Wise Egyptian claims his place."
So there you have it, the literary DNA of the archetype of the Noble Savage. Like all archetypes though, it can rapidly degenerate into stereotype...
...unless you pull it up by the roots and look at the earth it came from.
“How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations? I argue that we can’t–and that, to me, is why Tonto matters.” http://nativeappropriations.com/2012/03/why-tonto-matters.html
Think of Canadians. Ice hockey. Or moose. Of course you know that Jim Carey, Captain Kirk, and Dan Akyroyd are Canadian. And that kid who went Back to the Future. And the original Tonto. So you probably have a fairly rounded view of Canadians.
Think of Norwegians. Probably you think of something other than (highly incorrect) Viking helmets with horns. As a Viking Age reinactor, occasional sailor on the longship Sae Hrafn, and fan of the Thor who existed before Marvel gave him a big red cape, I have spent some time correcting Norse stereotypes.
If the only images we had of Canadians and Norwegians were ice hockey players and horned helmets, there'd be big trouble on both sides of the Atlantic. But we have plenty of other images to counter the odd incorrect or stereotypical one.
With Native America and Canadian First Nations we pretty much have one pop culture image: the guy in the feathered headress out west somewhere.
In the past.
How many of you would know an American Indian if you saw one? My guess is not many. Certainly not the bank teller who called security when an Indian woman -- a visiting scholar -- tried to cash a check with a tribal identification card. When asked what the problem was, the teller replied: ''It must be a scam. Everyone knows real Indians are extinct.'' from “Sorry For Not Being A Stereotype”
By Rita Pyrillis
When I was watching TV as a kid in the 60s, it looked like a snowstorm, everybody was white. Oh wait, there were a few black comedians and musicians. One Chinese cook on Bonanza. Diversity was not TV's strong point. Then Star Trek happened, and there was Uhura and Sulu and (OMG! We were in the middle of the Cold War) a Russian! And aliens! Diversity diversified somewhat after that... except for the obvious lack of Native Americans who weren't wearing warpaint on westerns.
I realized at some point that I had grown up with a limited image of Native America and went on a library quest. I found books by Sherman Alexie, N.Scott Momaday, Vine Deloria, Black Elk Speaks, poetry, political commentary, humor, history from another viewpoint (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Custer Died for Your Sins). I found some films: Powwow Highway, Smoke Signals (based on Sherman Alexie's “Lone Ranger and Tonto: Fistfight in Heaven), Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner ( a 2001 Canadian film directed by Zacharias Kunuk. It was the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut.), Whale Rider (centering on the Native people of New Zealand, the Maori).
I love westerns. I love the Lone Ranger, and the Disney film. Each, in their time period, tried to change the mainstream view of Native America. When Jay Silverheels became a star, he was portraying something unique: a Native character, in a hit series, who was a Hero.
Until Tonto, Indians in film had primarily been the Obstacle to Progress, Symbol of the Wild West Which Must Be Conquered, Icons of the Howling Wilderness, and Random Hordes Which Attacked Wagon Trains of Virtuous Pioneers.
Despite the (obvious from our Enlightened Viewpoint in the 21st century) political incorrectness of some of the Lone Ranger TV series' tropes regarding “Indians” and Tonto's fractured article free English, and despite the viewpoints of some viewers (including a lovely middle aged lady I encountered who was politically correctly appalled at the possibility of New Tonto being as stereotypical as Old Tonto), the series was a bit ahead of its time. It showed the Lone Ranger and Tonto as partners, equals, bretheren. They are less the opposites of the Disney film, and more alike in their square jawed, heroic, role model, clean living qualities. Tonto's fractured English might have made him seem stupid, (it didn't help Tarzan either) but if you are paying attention, you will see the error of that thought; you'll see the chemistry between the actors/characters, the way it is often Tonto who comes up with The Plan To Foil the Villains, and especially how Jay Silverheels owns the screen with intelligent Presence. He campaigned against the awful dialog, but was up against the Hollywood Machine, one man vs a monster. He inhabits the character with grace and dignity and intelligence (and awesome gymnastic physicality) in a time when his chances of getting roles beyond “Indian” were nil.
Still, Native America is Not Pleased. A Google search will net you a myriad of opinions. Native America, and First Nations Canada, is, after all, a continent full of varied histories, languages, cultures and viewpoints.
It's true that we need to hear their voices, telling their story in their way from their viewpoint. We need more like Chris Eyers (Smoke Signals), Zacharias Kunuk (Fast Runner). We need them to have a dialog (perhaps a loud one) with Hollywood. We need them to use youtube, social media, Amazon, to visit schools and tell the real story. To do more independent films. To be part of Hollywood and change it from the inside. The mainstream will change, but slowly, like a glacier.
One more thing...
Jonathan Wacks, who directed Powwow Highway, also directed 21 Jump Street, in which a young Johnny Depp honed his acting chops. Gary Farmer, one of the main Native characters in Powwow Highway, worked with Depp in Dead Man, a violent 1995 “psychedelic western” which oddly, contains some elements found in the Lone Ranger film.
...and there's a Tonto crape myrtle... it's red.
Put a Bird On It...
The Lone Ranger film makes use of much “bird in a cage” imagery, and often the bird is Raven, or Crow. I happen to be fond of ravens and crows, both the birds and the myths, (one of my own characters is “Bran”, raven shapeshifter, and I pictured Johnny Depp in my movie, of course), so I liked this imagery quite a lot, even though much of the internet was rife with “???!!!??? Whut??!!??” reactions.
The black bird soaring over the canyon as the Rangers ride into the ambush is a raven (wedge-shaped tail) though the call we hear is crow. (Raven as seer, as messenger, as scout... but not being understood by the Rangers). The bird on the spinner toy seems to be a crow. The large black bird on young Tonto's hand might be either. (must...have..DVD...now.) The bird on Tonto's headdress appears to be a crow; the painting it's based on is called I Am Crow, not by a Native artist. The props and costuming in the film seem to be generally historically based, and people of various cultures have used feathers and entire birds as headdresses (let me tell you about the snowy egrets I now see kayaking; they nearly went extinct because women of the 19th century liked to wear the plumes and sometimes the entire bird on their hats). This particular headdress was probably never seen by any Comanche, or any other Plains tribesman either. I did have a member of the Iroquois tribe tell me something about their gustoweh headdress. Owls are held in awe by most tribes, this particular person said, as I remember, 'we put owl feathers on our headdresses because we wanted (the enemy) to think we were crazy...' OK, that was just one guy's opinion, but it offers some insight into why birds on hats.
If you're the last member of your tribe, and the crow symbolizes that loss, and you're probably dealing with some PTSD, perhaps a bird on your head will warn away potential enemies, and suggest that you are crazy... like a fox... or raven.
Raven the bird has worldwide distribution, and so do Raven myths. Crow is pretty similar. In Europe, Crow and Raven are interchangeable, depending on who wrote down the myth. In America, Crow and Raven are separated more by geography. In Europe, Raven is the “totem animal” of gods and goddesses, in Native America Raven is demiurge and trickster.
- A Demiurge is a sort of Creator's helper, one who fashions and maintains the physical universe.
- The Trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously (for example, Loki) but usually with ultimately positive effects (though the trickster's initial intentions may have been either positive or negative). Often, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks (e.g. Eris) or thievery. Tricksters can be cunning or foolish or both; they are often funny even when considered sacred or performing important cultural tasks. An example of this is the sacred Iktomi, whose role is to play tricks and games and by doing so raises awareness and acts as an equalizer (Wiki).
Raven presents a paradox wherever one looks. Real ravens and crows are adaptable, intelligent, loyal to family and clan (for instance: young crows stick around and help raise the next brood, ravens are monogomous). Crows have been studied and found to recognize the faces of humans who have harassed them. Ravens are fine mimics; a mysterious “3...2...1”... followed by a realistic explosive noise, turned out to be some ravens who had been listening to park demolition and construction for weeks (Bernd Heinrich: Mind of the Raven).They are the Recyclers of Nature (omnivorous, they are part of the crew that cleans up roadkill). Odin (Allfather of Norse Myth and father of Thor) has two ravens, Hugin and Munin, Thought and Memory, who bring him news of the world (bird as messenger, a classic trope). He also has two wolves who walk by his side, perhaps a vestige of the days before the Norse became agriculturalists, back when they were more like our North American brethren and saw Wolf as One To Be Emulated not as villainous competition for their livestock. Wolf and Raven have a long association in biology and myth; where there are wolves, ravens often serve as scouts, guiding wolfpacks to potential prey, then sharing in the kill (Bernd Heinrich: Mind of the Raven, Ravens in Winter). Without wolves, ravens are far more cautious about their pickins. In Celtic myth, Bran Fendigaid or Bendigeitvran was the Celtic God of Regeneration. He was the son of the Sea God, Llyr and, maternally, the grandson of Belenos, the Sun God. In the Welsh Mabinogion, Bran was more of a king than a god in the Welsh myths. He was supposed to have been at one time king of Britain. It is said that Bran's head is buried at the site which now holds the Tower of London, and it is said that if the ravens living there ever leave, England will fall. In Irish myth the Morrigan is a Valkyrie-like goddess of battle, strife and sovereignty. She is known as The Battle Crow, and appears as crow or raven (in German, crow is called “death bird”). Morrigan can also take the form of a wolf (there's Odin again...) and a cow, which may tie her (as is typical of goddesses) to fertility, wealth and the land. She also appears as a trio of sisters, and many of the other Celtic goddesses are also linked with corvids of various kinds. The Valkyries themselves (daughters of Odin who carried off the heroic dead) were linked with corvids (whether ravens, the “chough” or something else is uncertain). In North American myth, Raven steals the sun moon and stars from those who are hoarding them, and flies them into the sky for all to see. He pokes at a shell on a beach in the Northwest and frees the first humans. He is also a complex character, sometimes hero, sometimes villain, sometimes both at once.
And in Don Quixote, the Hero says that King Arthur was not killed but turned into a raven. (Raven as Recycler).
In nearly all cultures, raven and crow were originally white. In one North American tale, it is Raven's carrying of the sun which changes the color of his plumage.
These sites detail raven and crow mythology; there is a vast flock of others... http://www.ravenfamily.org/nascakiyetl/obs/rav1.html
Spiderman. We pause to consider the sacred trickster figure Iktomi, the Spider Man of the Lakota.
When I first saw Johnny Depp's makeup for the Lone Ranger film, I thought of the Spiderman logo, the one from Marvel Comics. Raven on head, Spiderman logo on face...
Oh nooooooooooo, he's not, like, playing a trickster figure or anything...
The Trickster and the Fool
Then there's “tonto”, foolish in Spanish. Of course the originators of the Lone Ranger weren't considering Spanish at all when they came up with Tonto's name. There are several origin stories for the name (which you can google), at least one of which involved a caveman character from an earlier series, and the other involved someone remembering some actual Potawotamie (khemosabe is from a camp in upper Michigan, using the local Native language).
The fool is the classic sidekick. The Lone Ranger took this archetype quite literally, naming the hero’s sidekick Tonto. However, modern comedies love to employ the fool as the main character. I mentioned Ben Stiller above, but Ashton Kutcher, Adam Sandler, Jim Carey, and, of course, Will Ferrell are a few other examples. Nearly every film they are in, they play the fool. The fool is usually male. However, there are a few exceptions, for example, Dori in Finding Nemo and Melissa McCarthy’s character, Megan, in Bridesmaids (but you’ll notice Megan dressed as a man most of that movie). In medieval plays, they often wore masks. In animated films, they are a mask. Think of the Iguana in Tangled. http://thewritepractice.com/the-fool-2/ This blogger goes on to say: The fool provides comic relief by crossing cultural norms. He illuminates the true character of all those who come in contact with him and the Hero (in the Lone Ranger TV series, it is obvious that anyone treating Tonto disrespectfully will turn out to be a Villain). He is often the Hero's conscience. Last, the fool often acts as an explicit or implicit challenge to experience the kind of innocence and joy we had as children. We are all fools, and we all wear masks. The fool invites us—ironically, since they wear them—to take off our masks and live free.
In Lakota culture, the Heyoka is The Sacred Clown, doing things unconventionally or backwards.
The Heyókȟa symbolize and portray many aspects of the sacred, the Wakȟáŋ. Their satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way. Principally, the Heyókȟa functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Heyókȟas also have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame — they sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are.
In addition, sacred clowns serve an important role in shaping tribal codes. Heyókȟa's don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. Paradoxically, however, it is by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. This is because they are the only ones who can ask "Why?" about sensitive topics and employ satire to question the specialists and carriers of sacred knowledge or those in positions of power and authority. Their role is to penetrate deception, turn over rocks, and create a deeper awareness. (wiki)
When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm... you have noticed that truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping... as lightning illuminates the dark, for it is the power of lightning that heyokas have. Black Elk
Jay Silverheels' Tonto was pretty straightforward... sidekick perhaps, but a straight-shooting Hero cut from the same cloth as the Ranger. Depp's Tonto seems to me to be far more of a trickster, a heyoka, a sacred clown. I think it hit me when I realized that when he steals the train... he's driving it backwards.
The Bird in a Cage
We pause to consider one Jay Silverheels, the original Tonto, an accomplished lacrosse player, boxer, stuntman, son of a military major and tribal chief, member of a tribe who showed our Founding Fathers how democracy and women's rights worked. Tonto was something unique for the 50s; a heroic Native character. Harold J. Smith (his birth name) had a great deal of stereotyping and typecasting to plow through and he appears to have done it with grace and dignity, despite the limitations of the era. He adopted his lacrosse nickname (Silverheels) as his screen name... and used his middle initial as the rest.
Blue Jays are corvids, like Raven and Crow and Magpie and Rook. I read somewhere that Mr. Silverheels was quite the prankster on set, including randomly firing rubber bands at the crew. Clayton Moore devotes an entire chapter of his autobiography to his screen partner and friend. Surely Jay Silverheels was a bit of a bird in a cage; he was never able to totally break out of Hollywood's expectations of a Native actor. Still, he brought something powerful to an iconic character who might have otherwise been pure stereotype.
The Disney film gives us recurring bird-in-a-cage imagery; the toy spinner, the comment by Mr Railroad Baron to Rebecca (“I hate to see a bird in a cage.”), Tonto donning a birdcage in Red's (I still can't figure that one out... I has to Mean Something!)... the “GAS GAS GAS!” scene in the mine when the bird in a cage is actually a trick... Tonto himself caged, in jail, then doing some (cue mysterious music) woo-woo ju-ju thing which may or may not have been designed to just freak out the kid (or get his interest enough to let our Hero out of jail)... Tonto “caged” by his childhood trauma... John Reid caged by his ideals which do not match reality...
Note that the first image in the film is a balloon, floating free... and one of the last is the crow, flying away.
The Hero Journey
a long time ago, in a sketchbook far, far away...
...some friends and I visited the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, in Washington D.C. for an exhibit of props, costumes and other goodies from the Star Wars films. (We had already been to the one they devoted to Star Trek). In the displays, the museum outlined George Lucas' interpretation of the Hero Journey through the three first films. Lucas had studied the works of Joseph Campbell, a guy who studied myth, legend and faerie tale and made it comprehensible to the rest of us (Hero With a Thousand Faces, Power of Myth). Then Lucas brought it to the masses with Luke and Han and the rest. Here are my notes from the exhibit, with an eye to writing my own tales. http://www.swordwhale.com/2/post/2009/08/the-hero-journey-according-to-campbell-and-obi-wan.html
Also useful is Clarissa Pinkola Estes PhD's Women Who Run With The Wolves.
Googling Hero Journey will get you any number of elegantly drawn charts of The Journey. As a visual artist type person, I find this a bit more interesting and comprehensible than someone blathering on about it in writing. I shall, however, blather on a bit here anyway.
The Hero Journey is a basic story archetype. Tales ranging from Tolkien to Harry Potter to Avatar (yes, Avatar) follow this pattern; The Call to Adventure, Crossing the Threshold, Into the Labyrinth, The Dark Road of Trials, The Belly of the Beast, the Sacred Grove, The Enchanted Forest, The Heart of Darkness, Sacrifices, Hero Deeds, The Path to Atonement, The Hero's Return.
There are Mentors, Monsters, Obstacles, Allies, Enemies, Denizens of Dark Forest Who Might be Helpful or Dangerous Depending On Your Character, MacGuffins That Must Be Stolen, Random Dismemberments, Brides, Grooms, Gods, Goddesses, Wild Women and Men, Caves, Rescuers and Resurrections.
The Lone Ranger is no exception.
Trains and horses are the icons of the Western Journey, and here we have near magical equines and wayward trains forever careening out of control. Like any piece of “progress”, this new technology is a double-edged sword, opening up communication and transportation, bringing news and resources to a distant inaccessible place... and wreaking havoc on what is already there.
For the Ranger, the train he arrives on may be the Threshold. Or maybe it's the canyon he rides into as a young idealist in an oversized White Hat on the Black Horse of Mystery and the Unknown, not heeding the warning cry of the ravens wheeling overhead. Or maybe his threshold is the Plains style “burial platform” he wakes up on... “you've been to the other side, and returned, Spirit Walker.” Either way, by the time he dons the Mask he is a different man than the one who boarded the first train Into the West.
For Tonto, a train may also be a threshold: the one he's tied up on with the Villain, and where he meets the Ranger. His earlier life had a threshold as well, the burning of his village (in canon; by “renegade Indians”, in Disney; by Butch Cavendish's gang who ultimately dress as “renegade Indians”).
There are Mentors: Dan Reid the Brother, the Comanche Chief (who offers some sage perspective to the Ranger), and Tonto himself, slightly offbeat Guide on the Journey.
Obstacles abound; deserts, rivers, mountains, rock pillars, caves, deep water, the Cavalry, scorpions, Railroad tycoons, villains, wayward trains, villains, Comanches who are fed up with “progress”, villains, wayward trains, stuff that blows up, stuff that doesn't blow up, the vast wild landscape itself.
Hero Deeds. All I will say about Hero Deeds here, is that the Disney film is One Big Hero Deed. That was pretty much the definition of the original series, simple plots, hero deeds, save the day, ride off into the sunset. Hi-yo Silver, get'm up Scout.
But there are some other elements to the Hero Journey in the Disney film...
The Desert is the opposite of the Sacred Grove, the Enchanted Forest full of life. It is barren, devoid of life...
...or so it seems. Anyone who has studied deserts knows they are full of life, mostly hidden, secret. Traveling over one is like traveling over the surface of the ocean in a boat. You are on the surface, and only when a tall fin slices through the surface with a blast of released air do you realize what lies beneath. Like the ocean, a desert is a place you cannot live, only cross. A forest envelopes you, hides obstacles and enemies. In a desert, the view is vast, you can see to the horizon, you can see your enemies coming, you are tall against this horizontal world. There are no roads, no markers. There is a kind of purity here. It is the domain of the Sun, not the photosynthesizing sun creating green life, the brilliant, burning radiance of the Golden Hero's Sun. Backpacking on the barrier island of Assateague (a “desert” 40 miles long and less than a mile wide off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia) becomes a meditation, a bit of zen. The long horizontal lines of the sand and water, the apparent emptiness, the soft roar of surf on sand, shut out the chatter of the “civilized” world and the inner clutter of useless thoughts.
Been through the desert on a horse with no name; our Ranger drags the Villain back to justice (so he thinks) through a clean, but demanding, desert landscape. He and Tonto follow the Black Horse (mystery, night, the pooka who takes you on a wild ride, the Villain's Black Steed) into the desert to find the train tracks, the answer to a mystery.
The Cave, the Belly of the Beast, Jonah and the Whale; womb, tomb, rebirth and illumination, mythic underworld, the Collective Unconscious, the Unknown, often guarded by a labyrinth or supernatural being... Passing through the cave represents a change of state, also achieved by overcoming dangerous powers. http://www.symbolism.org/writing/books/sp/2/page7.html
The iconic image from the Disney film is the Lone Ranger and Tonto striding, as a team, out of the cave to collar the Villain. Unfortunately, this is a short lived image as conflict develops between them over how to deal with Cavendish. The Ranger takes a tour through the desert on a Horse With No Name (yet), dragging Cavendish behind, while Tonto remains at the mine... only to pop up in the Nick of Time to rescue our Ranger (Helpful Allies dept of the above Hero Journey list).
Tonto plays the Trickster again, in a change of costume, with his Raven symbol. He stops the oncoming train with the threat of mine gas, emerging from the cave a second time, alone... with a bird in a cage.
The Team is reborn.
East and West
The East possesses a general symbolism as the ancient world where civilization was born. In fact the middle east is known as the "cradle" of civilization. Ancient cultures and values are associated with the east and wisdom associated with the far east. The west represents the direction of scientific progress and advanced cultures. It has been the major direction of exploration by world explorers culminating with the discovery of America by Columbus. This symbolism has gained such a wide acceptance that one can talk of a western and eastern world view.
The western direction is universally associated with death. J.C. Cooper notes in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia, that it symbolizes autumn, the dying sun and middle age. In China, west symbolizes dryness and sorrow and the element metal, the color white and the animal the White Tiger. In Eygptian mythology, the "western lands" are the territory the souls of the dead make a hazardous pilgrimage to in their quest for immortality.
In America, the symbolism of direction has continually played out throughout our nation's short history. The north has represented the industrialized part of the nation while the south has represented the agrarian part of the nation. This dicotomy was greatest during the Civil War. The west has represented the new and undiscovered and less civilized while the east has represented the traditional and civilized. This dicotomy is seen most clearly in the genre of the American western film. A lawman from the east comes to tame a lawless town of the west. Soldiers from the east come to the west to tame the lawless native Indians of the west. Culture throughout American history is established in the east and then travels west. http://www.symbolism.org/writing/books/sp/2/page3.html
Great Falls and Leaps of Faith. This is a tall tale, not Greek Myth, so there are no flying horses. However, even the old TV series (like most stuff on TV that I remember as a kid in the 50s and 60s) had its Clever Animals. There were so many on TV then that they deserve an archetypal designation: Fury, Lassie, Bullet, The Littlest Hobo, Rin Tin Tin, Champion the Wonder Horse (inserting “wonder” into an animal's name guaranteed some sort of superpowers), Trigger, Buttermilk, Silver, Scout. They were Allies of the Hero, with superhuman powers (yes, really, dogs can smell stuff you can't even imagine, dogs are the strongest draft animal on earth, and horses can run faster than you), and intelligence that made me question why my animals didn't act that way (they weren't trained to do Hollywood tricks).
“Don't know if horse is stupid, or only pretending to be stupid.”
A mouse can fall down a mineshaft and live (it's small and mostly unaffected by gravity), an elephant would splash (ick!). Even large dogs can't jump off rooftops without massive destruction of bodyparts (cats sometimes can). Horses can leap over fairly tall obstacles in a single bound: The world record for the highest obstacle cleared by a horse and rider was set on February 5, 1949 by Huaso and his rider, Captain Alberto Larraguibel. The Thoroughbred stallion and his Chilean rider cleared a fence measuring 2.47 meters (8 ft. 1¼ in.) high. This record has stood for 60 years. (wiki)
Horses cannot jump off roofs, or onto them. They don't gallop along the roofs of trains or jump into them or run through them. Silver is clearly the Mystical Spirit Guide. One of the Hero Journey charts I found has a space, just after crossing the Threshold, called “Meeting the Mentor, Supernatural Aid, the White Spirit”. Yep, that sums it up. And remember, this is a tall tale, not a historical western.
When the Lone Ranger and Tonto climb to the roof of the burning barn (a leap of faith of its own) and find Silver, the Leap of Faith is literal. So are many of the other actions involving the mystical hero horse including the Ranger telling the villain to drop Rebecca off the train... because he has faith Silver will catch her.
There are of course many falls. LR and Tonto falling off the first wayward train, down the mineshaft into the water, off the handcar (I had to look that noun up by googling train car with teeter totter thing on it), Rebecca nearly falling on the bridge, the various Rangers falling in the ambush, the falling bandstand (with subsequent bandages and splints on the band members), the falling timber accidentally shot by the Ranger which takes out two villains, and the Grand finale of the train wreck to end all train wrecks as the silver train careens off the destroyed bridge carrying the Villain to his Doom.
Faith and Religion: one of the Lone Ranger's original tenets was: I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man. Very mid-20th century. While the film does not erase this quality, ( doesn't make him an atheist) it does set him up as having the strongest belief in The Law... which he then finds out is more complicated than he thought, and less trustworthy. On some level, he is finding, through the story, that he must trust and believe in something larger, represented by his “leaps of faith”, largely on the back of his “Spirit Guide” and his trust in his Hero Companion/Guide and that guide's apparent batch of crazy... like a fox... or Raven.
About that Redhead; Madam Red of the Scrimshaw Leg. Red hair has long been a symbol of the adventurer or rebel. In women, it was often associated with “witches”, ie; a female, in a male dominated world, with independence, wisdom, and knowledge outside the norm (often a healer or herbalist, or keeper of ancient female wisdom). There is a trope that they are fiery, sexy, headstrong. Perhaps. Red runs in my family too, and I have enhanced my own head of it. Movie Red clearly is one outside of regular society, a sort of outlaw herself.
Outlaws and Savages I already examined the Noble Savage trope, but this film plays with the concept of outlaws and savages all the way through it. Who is which? What is where? How is why is what? The Lone Ranger becomes an “outlaw”, in a mask no less, when the law he seeks to uphold fails him. The irrepressible Red is a kind of outlaw, a woman living on the edge of “civilization” making her own way in a world dominated by men. The Indians are called “savage” but demonstrate civilization, while “civilization” demonstrates savagery in treating other humans as lesser beings, in stealing land, in stealing the silver from a sacred site, in Mr Railroad Baron's “hostile takeover”. Cavendish's gang masquerades as Indians, with none of their values and all of the pure beyond-the-reach-of-the-law basest savagery of the human race. Both heroes wear their own kinds of masks, like superheroes of all times, to bring justice to a land which is not savage at all, if you understand it.
The reviews for the film have been varied, to say the least.
The common critiques go something like this: After a while you need a diagram to keep track of the shifting tones: gentle homage or up-to-date political correctness; cannibal violence or the light, smirky touch of the Pirates series. This need to both embrace and ironize so many western clichés sends the project stumbling, until it falls flat on its facetiousness. http://entertainment.time.com/2013/07/02/the-lone-ranger-lost-in-a-western-myth/#ixzz2avdJcWXm
I had no such problems with pace, length or tone. Or killer bunnies (an ode to Monty Python?). Or weird horses who climb trees. Or Johnny Depp's headcrow. I love Epic Motion Pictures, the longer the better. I love epic Books. I clearly write Epic Reviews. Or maybe it's just that I really like Johnny Depp's weird, quirky take on everything. Or his biceps. Or cheekbones, or something.
Maybe they needed a Tardis...
The critiques of tone and violence in this Disney film made me contemplate again the structure of myths, faerie tales. And the Pirates films. The first Pirates film singlehandedly brought back a dead genre; the Swashbuckler. There were folk who scratched their heads over the fantasy elements, but all in all, the supernatural worked for most of the audience (I thought it was brilliant, bringing a mere pirate flick into the Land of Myth). We have the same thing in the Lone Ranger; mythic elements, an American Faerie Tale.
We also have violence, in both films. As we do in Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, the Avengers, and every other comic book superhero film kids go see. The Conflict between Hero and Villain creates violence. The thing with Faerie Tale is that it is removed from the Mundane Muggle World.
We pause to contemplate the Utahraptor. My favorite dinosaur. Little kids love dinosaurs. It is a monster they can control (they love learning the names, as if they Remember that if you know the Name of something, you control it). It's real, it existed, but Utahraptor isn't going to climb through your window at night and eat you because it exists in that Long Time Ago and Far Far Away place.
Star Wars is that place. Star Trek is the (possible) future. Superheroes exist in an alternate universe full of mutants and crashing spaceships from Krypton and Asgardian gods (did anyone tell them it's actually Aesir?!?) and radioactive spiders. You have to board a special train to find Hogwarts... fall through a dimensional gate to find Middle Earth... and hop in Dr. Who's Tardis to go back in time and out to sea to find the monsters in Pirates.
The difference between Pirates and the Lone Ranger is that Pirates is removed in time and space. It is the 18th century, most of the action happens in exotic locals far far away, or out in that great mythic soup called The Sea. The word swashbuckler clues us into its other main characteristic: the violence is also removed from our gun-obsessed culture, Heroes and Villains use swords (arguably more violent than guns as a weapon, but they do require skill and facing your opponent toe to toe). The swords and cannons are rather like the magic in Harry Potter, or the superpowers in Avengers; not something the average crook on the street is going to use. There is a remove from reality.
The Lone Ranger exists uncomfortably close in both time and space. My grandfather was born as the Old West closed its epic doors, my father would have been 18 if he walked into that Wild West exhibit in the film. I have trod the paths of the West, ridden a working cowpony, listened to cowboy poetry, been part of the circle at a Native Sundance in North Dakota. A rock from the Dakotas sits on my desk. My wild mustang mare came from southeastern Oregon, I still have her daughter. The Wild West is right there, within reach.
The Lone Ranger is a myth, but not as far removed in space and time and imagery as our other ones. It is full of gunfights, a staple of The Western film, if not the reality, and something uncomfortable for us in our culture rife with gun violence, and conflict over the rights and wrongs of gun ownership. That may be the root of some of the criticism of violence and tone. That and viewers, and critics, expecting a straight-up realistic Western, which it is fervently not. Treating it as a Myth, as a Tall Tale still works wonderfully, lifting it into that realm of faerie tale, allowing us to have the archetypal characters and situations of legend, to tell larger stories than the ones limited by Realism. It simply has a different flavor than stories which are more obviously mythic, more removed in space and time.
As rogerebert.com says: As we watch this story unfold, we're not seeing "reality," but a shaggy, colorful counter-myth...
I found a few reviews which seem to have seen what I did in the film.
...in which our reviewer says, “Wait a minute! What bomb?”
This reviewer points out the strengths of this film. And reviews a lot of other stuff neatly too.
Even the Ebert folks liked it. But I've always liked Ebert.
- The film's poster image might as well have been a target. Too bad: for all its miscalculations, this is a personal picture, violent and sweet, clever and goofy. It's as obsessive and overbearing as Steven Spielberg's "1941" — and, I'll bet, as likely to be re-evaluated twenty years from now, and described as "misunderstood."
- Luckily, "The Lone Ranger" is more than the sum of its references, because Verbinski and his screenwriters wind them around the core of a vision. This is a story about national myths: why they're perpetuated, who benefits. As we watch this story unfold, we're not seeing "reality," but a shaggy, colorful counter-myth, told by a "Little Big Man"-looking elderly Tonto to a white boy at an Old West museum in 1933 San Francisco. Old Tonto is a "Noble Savage" in a glass case, surrounded by a Monument Valley diorama whose color and texture prepare us for the CGI-infused storybook landscapes of the film itself. Tonto wants to stop that boy from swallowing the official version of How the West was Won, and from reflexively trusting authority of any kind, ever.
Yep, that about sums it up. I'm sad that there likely won't be a sequel. Well, there's always Pirates 5.
And Jay and Clay, and good ol' Liver Lip.
Hi-yo Silver awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyy!
Horse carries me on the Journey...
When I was four, I bounced on my bouncy horse singing along to Happy Trails at the end of Roy and Dale's show. The bouncy horse was white. The real pony my dad got me, a shaggy vintage Shetland named Teddy, was pinto, a hairy little clone of Scout (three shades darker). I briefly had a black pony, named Fury, who had to be sold when my dad injured his back and could no longer train him. He died of colic at the farm he went to. At twelve, I outgrew Teddy and got a bay Arab/Thoroughbred cross (like Scout, minus the white patches) named Saraf. He carried me through 4-H and local shows and historical recreation (medieval). Then there was a “fiery horse with the speed of light”, a grey Arab/Welsh cross named Bazraf who actually did the hi-yo Silver rear. When he was killed in a traffic accident, friends handed me a check to adopt a mustang from the local BLM Adopt-A-Horse Center. Of course, I had to have The Black Horse. I did find her, an 8 year old mustang who had truly run wild her whole life (about 1/3 of the average equine lifespan at that point). I was the first to really handle her (other than BLM employees running her through chutes and onto trailers). She taught me far more than I taught her, became a trusty companion and teacher of newbie greenhorn riders. The rest of my horses have been bay, part of the thundering herd in the background, but each one a unique teacher on the Journey.