The tragedies that have come down to us from the ancient Athenian stage often feature as prominent players gods and demi-gods … and such unseen forces as Fate and Destiny.
Prophecies are a frequent device, as they are in the Bible.
Even in real-life, oracles such as Apollo’s at Delphi made pronouncements that the Greeks took with deadly seriousness—and many in fact proved true.
The wooden wall alone shall preserve you.
Either Sparta will fall or she will lose a king.
In other words, the Greeks believed (and the Book of Ecclesiastes concurs) that man was by no means in control of his destiny. Unseen forces were always at work.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Which brings us back to the classic Western we started talking about a few weeks ago—Shane.
From the moment the gunfighter enters the Valley in the movie’s opening sequence, invisible forces are taking a heavy hand in the action.
In truth, the story’s dramatic power comes from our sense of the struggle between these forces, more so even than the surface clash between the cattlemen and the sodbusters or between Shane (Alan Ladd) and the black-hatted gunslinger Wilson (Jack Palance.)
What are these forces?
The first is Shane’s past.
He is a gunfighter. We recognize this at once from his fringed buckskin jacket and trousers (definitely not the garb of a farmer or rancher), the silver buckles on his horse’s bridle, and the .44 on his hip.
The second is Shane’s aspiration for the future.
He wants to hang up his guns.
His dream is to live a normal life—settle down, find a wife, raise a family.
Shane never verbalizes these hopes overtly. But in the audience we grasp them at once, and we become emotionally involved.
The movie gives us several early “save the cat” moments, as screenwriting guru Blake Snyder would say, where the gunfighter displays kindness and empathy. We like him. We’re rooting for him. In the audience we want Shane to realize his dream.
In other words, we are pulling for one of the unseen forces against the other.
What exactly is the other?
It consists of the decisions that Shane has made and the experiences that he has lived throughout his life up to the moment he enters the Valley. The movie gives us no specific information about these. We are left to fill in the blanks, which we do of course with ease.
Shane seems to be about forty. It is highly probable, we in the audience imagine, that he has been in the business of killing for at least twenty years.
That’s a lot of history.
It looms over the story-in-real-time like a Damoclean sword.
The movie asks, Can a person change? Can an individual step away from a lifetime lived as one type of man and become a different kind?
And more importantly, Will the world let him?
In a Greek tragedy, the playwright might have employed an oracle to make this dynamic clear. A blind seer would have made some pronouncement about Shane’s future.
Or warring gods on Olympus might be contesting his fate.
Or he may be ensnared in a web of multi-generational family intrigue, compelled by events to live out some saga originated by his father or mother or grandfather and grandmother.
But because Shane is modern, and because he’s quintessentially American, the destiny that holds him is of his own making.
It consists of the decisions he has made over long years before he rode into the Valley.
For the story to work, we in the audience don’t need to know the specifics of these decisions. Did Shane fight in the Civil War? Is that where he first learned about guns? As a youth, did he have a chance to marry and settle down but elected instead to strap on a six-shooter? What enemies have shaped him? What friends?
The sum of all this constitutes the unseen force against which Shane struggles—and which ultimately overcomes him.
The weight of Shane’s past, coupled with a love he experiences in the present, compels him to strap on his gun and face the hired killer Wilson. And this act, even though he triumphs in real-time, ineluctably forces him to abandon his dream and ride away from the Valley.
There’s no living with a killing, Joey. No going back from it. Like it or not, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks.
The unseen force of Shane’s past holds him despite every noble and honorable action he has taken in the present to overcome it. In truth, it is these noble and honorable actions that bind him even more tightly.
A man’s got to be what he is. He can’t break the mold. I tried. It didn’t work for me.
This is real drama, and it represents a truly deep understanding of human life and the mortal condition.
We’ll take next week’s post to examine these unseen forces from another angle—the dramatic device of the character of little Joey (Brandon deWilde).
[P.S. re the prophecies above:
[“The wooden wall” refers to ships. When the Persian army and fleet came to attack Athens in 479 B.C., the citizens abandoned their city (which king Xerxes promptly burned) and chose instead to confront the invader at sea. Their victory in the Battle of Salamis preserved Western civilization.
[The prophecy about Sparta losing a king likewise proved true, when Leonidas and the Three Hundred delayed the Persian advance at Thermopylae by sacrificing their lives—and gave the allied Greeks time to rally the greater defenses that would in the end prevail.]
There’s a web of forces, all right. Seems like the challenge of being in this world of forms is “how does one align oneself with one’s place in that web?” That dichotomy of fate vs free will. Thinking of Forrest Gump and that floating feather of fate that led him down the path of a fulfilling life without apparent “will” or direct action on his part to make things happen.
Contrast with Shane, whose will and desire, as powerful as it might have been, were inconsequential in the face of what fate had intended for him.
Maybe “playing the game of trying to figure out which it is for US” is part of the bargain we agreed to when opting to enter this world of forms.
I think this comes down to “fighting resistance”. If we just let life take us where it will, I believe we are bound to subconsciously go where we know – likely repeating our parents’ story. In order to write our own script, we have to do precisely that, write it out and stick with it by repeating the same actions that will take us there day after day. We are in the end what our habits and daily actions are, which in the end paint our lives for us.
I’m in the mold of playing many games of “Freecell Solitaire” before I get down to my writing. I will break out of this. I will read a story grid article or listen to part of a podcast or on Wednesdays, I’ll start here.
I am still amazed at Pressfield’s writing prowess. Just brilliant! One can feel every word, as if it’s carefully hued.
Hello, Steve, Shawn and Callie , I am Marco Taves, loong time fan of you guys, Nice to meet you!
first time sailor here! …first time commenting. I always remember from Steve that a gun recognizes another, \i have a 6th feeling that the line comes from the same Shane movie Steve talks about here. Maybe Im wrong and its a shame, but…
If I talk about unseen forces and that I have Seen with my Own Owl Eyes. The Eye of Athena my Auntie and and Thundera my Sister, you guys and all the fans of Steve here will dismay falling back on the ground like the comics carachter <> from Argentina always dismay back on the floor at The End of Every Single joke and every single story of Condorito. So better you fans and all brothers and sister do not try to see to far and to fly as high as a Condor, the king of the Skyes.
I dont like Cowardice, so I despise Sparta and the Spartans, Cowards they are! Traitors of the Light , cowards! their cowardice shaped sword is not allowed to be even painted on vases os Athena. sparta is the weakest bullshit ever.
Sincerely, Steve would be an even better writer if stop from diving in to the dark deepness of military shit, both nowadays military bullshit and greek historic military bullshit.
I love Steve, Shawn and Callie!
And Love you all brothers and sisters!!!
now that I see, I think is not the same one movie with the line ~a gun recognizes another~ and I was mistaken, a misconception, sorry.
Now I remember the movie you talk about here in this post yes, …
well someone forgot to mention that we didnt know for sure if the bright pistol good cowboy guy slept or did he sleep or not with his good friends too good wife?
thats an angle of the movie I have analised and made some analogies about, even…
specially the angle of the good wifes background character building
firstly I want to say sorry that I was not reasoning well when I wrote these comments on this page, I have some mental disorder, I am not sure, maybe bipolar, for sure I have some kind of ocd, not the kind of cannot touch something without gloves, a common kind of ocd, in my case it is the kind of having some phisical regular movements when I am worried about something, its look like a superstition at first , maybe, but is common knowledge of being the mental disorder, it is related to bipolar too, I have it in some form, for times I am happy and work and for times I am depressed and dont want even to wash clothes, sometimes depression can get so strong, I can consider it a crisis, and that what happened the recent times with me, I was even for a few hours in a mental hospital, but I didnt really got much help there, and I am Sorry, Mr. Sean Crawford, I was unpolite in my comment, I am sorry, I apologize to you, it was the depression crisis, I should and I will try to look for medical help, automedication is not a good advise, sorry for my lack of reasoning when making my comment, I have to try and I am better now, to be more stable and normal in my mental trips, sorry, and I will take some medication for my problem, because I see it is not only the bipolar and ocd , I had some hallutinations, I went really crazy, as you expect a crazy walking barefoot on the streets talking to the trees, that kind of crazy, but I am better now, I had a worring time for my family too, but I am back to normal, no hallucinations, but still some confusion in my mind due to the hallucinations but much better now, thanks for the understanding and sorry if I have been unpolite, please, and in my case stay a little away from the computer and spend more time with my family and things like this, having healthier habits overall will help me a lot too, thank you very much, Mr Pressfield, I am really sorry about the unpolite and even stupid line I said that sounded like I could give advise on what Steven Pressfield shoud or not choose as a genre for him to write, he is a working writer , not a dabbler amateur high on drugs like me, and with this drug addiction problem I have, but I am much better now, I sometimes think it was not so serious, but I reason well sometimes and I realize cigarrete and drugs are not good for me, So , Steve, please, seriously, disconsider and disregard what I said in the comment I wrote above, you like greek mithology, I was stupid and I was in middle of a depression crisis, so please, undrestand, Steve, and disconsider that unpolite and unreasonable comment, sorry, sincerely, thank you very much 🙂
This is great stuff. Many thanks as always,Steve!
Excellent. Thank you for being an inspiration!
My fellow writers, despite the myth of the hard-drinking, short-on-sleep manly writer, I think it is important that we honour our health. To coin a slogan, “With a sound mind in a sound body, the muse comes to play.”
If the doctor prescribes you medication, then stay on the medication.
If the doctor prescribes you medication and you just accept, you are Stupid, you have No Freedom, you just eat the hostia of comungation on your knees like the kids abused by the bishops and priests, you are incult and uncultured for Not Looking and Seeing that You can read better and Write about the freaking medicine for YourSelf then any moneymaker motherofagun son of a gun doctor…
Plus, You Can Write
Your Own Medicine
And here a forbidden word:
Your Own ~Destiny~
But I Am The One Who Writes
No forbidden words for me
As I Am The One
And I write and you write and we write…
Our Own Dream
We Write Our Own Dream
Just to fucking clarify that shit here:
In case you or some other son of a mother did not read Clearly ;
Read it fucking Clear Now!
Pay fucking Attention!
Read it and Learn it And Fucking Know IT !!!
I am The One !
did you fucking get it?
I am The One !!
I … am … The One !!!
And just a little clarify for Steve:
´early “save the cat” moment` is what it looks like for those who dont see in the dark…If there was any ´Shrek Cat` cute face saves cats ass, first, It was the superior power making the cat atacker blindly illudedly believe he was the attacking side ( Lol ) so , at the same time , as Steve said himself, it was Early, as Early as when I was 10 years old, because from when I was 10 years old On, My friend…
I am The One on Power
I am The One
I Am The One
Steve and I have a problem, its like a drug, It is a drug…
I have this and my canadian friend too for looking at topless in Nerja beach at Spain…cannot get your own owl eyes rid of that vision… It`s a Drug
It`s a Drug… this sentence… can make you see… the Vision Beyond Reach…repeat it your mind to dissipate the clouds easily as easy as Easy as a piece of cake with cherry on top and chantilly Easy cheesy like cheese cake at sunny day outdoors…
so grrek mithology and therefore fancy fantasies with godesses off all kinds are something I and sounds like Steve too too, cannot get our owl eyes away of so…
That sea battle, there was a ship of a male guy in the atacking fleet, they said (the puxa-sacos de sempre) that the guys ship was the most imponent or they may even said the most beautiful, an obvious lie shamefully said by all puxa-sacos altogether…what a straight face for lieing…but ok…
There was the female commander who changed the flag of her ship according to the sea circus happenings development along the arena time, she didnt make any plans for the circus time righ, she had 2 flags prepared, 1 of the atacking state, anothe flag from the defending state…
she changes the flag during fight to do and to get done what she needed to do and needs to get done too
She is the One
On power above xerxes or dario or fckng leonidas or Pericles or the pithonisa of Delfos
I forgot her name, honestly, this is the truth, well… This is True 🙂
thanks 😀 😀 : D
I thought I remembered her name, Aspasia, and then I was wrong, as usual…but before I check google I remembered the mathematician female greek, Hepatia, and the , before check google, I rememberd Aspasia was actually the wife of Pericles during a Golden Age of human civilization, but I was not 100% sure , and , for me, if I am not 100 sure , for me, that means exactly, and sure, that I am 0% sure…It is 100% sure or 0% sure, for me, there is no other option…
so I went to check if Aspasia was the wife of Pericles, as I know for 99% sure…
I was wrong…She is not the wife of Pericles, they are lovers, they could not get married by some obsolete Athenas law (human made law, Athena the godess is not stupid and dont make stupid laws, so it was just a “golden” age of “some” civilization in humanity, by far by far by far away That was not The Golden Age…It is starting now, 50 days around ago…
So this proves that 99% sure equals Wrong and can equal Right at the same time but does not equal 100% sure…
until it equals…
Now I am 100% sure (if we trust wikipedia, so it is only 99,99 sure so it equals 0% sure in absolute knowledge terms but in relative mental experiment generalized to reality it equals , we can say it equals 100 sure) that The Godess who was appearing there as a female navy commander was not name Aspasia nor Hepatia so…I make a memory strengt to try to remember her name but I can not so I dont fight with mother nature and go to google, ok…
And I see her Name and Title…
… Artemisia 1 …
Number 1 (Artemisia One)
in my opinion…
have spanish siesta my case
no more to add in my opinion here…
when I was 10, the same year I was by the Iguacu Great Waterfalls at a erm and aislated from the city little village neighbourhood away from the lights of the city…you will see is hard to find a place where you can see more stars in the sky as Paraguay you can See even the milk spread lightclouds light purple whiteish coloured clouds of The Milky Way…
AND that night I Marco Mark I see it I saw it and I see it…
With My Own naked Eyes
And Once I read Steve here at his corner saying that we do things for Art, because if we were to do shit for money we would be doing Pornography, Right Steve! You write it somewhere in the archives of your writing corner, I see it I saw it and I know it…
And rightaway I thought, I got it, that this was an idea from mother nature directly to me, by the hadwriting of Steve, that I needed some money to eat or whatever, and I could do something with erotic or porn to make fucking money besides make a living…
And as Steve wrote, maybe years ago…and he is A One who writes…I am doing porn stuff to make fucking mony
Who left the garage door open?
My first day on this website and my first blog read here. Ummm…. interesting string of dialogue. Regardless, glad to be here. Can’t believe I didn’t look up your website before now. I’m a huge fan of the War of Art. Just read the chapter in Tribe of Mentors that sent me here.
I saw Shane in a film critique class I took in high school. The struggle against ones self is real. Unseen forces may be at work, but recognizing that is half the battle, right? Then change can begin to occur, even for a gunslinger.
Looking forward to following you here and getting my weekly read!
The forces that be just don’t see
While your nights turn into my mornings
the days into nights
The sorrys into fights
The Donnellys Must Die
For two reasons:
They were black.
And they were Irish.