Category Archives: mythology

Tools of the New Ancient One: Symbols and Easter Eggs in Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange began with a Wonder Woman trailer (among others) emphasizing how long Marvel is making us wait for a superheroine movie. At the same time, The Ancient One, Strange’s mentor, does a decent job bringing us this archetype; many of the symbolic tools she passes to her protégé are likewise strikingly feminine.
She begins the film in complete control (much like Wonder Woman in all we’ve seen of her). With spinning circles of golden light that she wields as blades, she decimates the foes led by Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius. Further, she has complete control of the world around her, bending and warping reality to entrap them. Finally, she ends the fight by summoning a golden wheel of spinning fire and walking through her portal without an extra breath spent.

Magic leaves sparkler trails when the characters gesture their way through spells, forming shields or whiplike weapons or cool patterns just for the showy hell of it. It makes the air crackle like a sheet of ice when they travel to the mirror dimension, which is like our dimension, only less easily damaged in fight scenes. Magic warps reality itself in Doctor Strange, making buildings fold in on themselves and streets bend and curve in impossible directions, twisting and turning like the world is a Rubik’s Cube in the hands of an impatient child. It allows rooms to stretch out like elastic, then snap back into shape. (Willmore).

Saffron robes suggest enlightenment and, with the hood drawn up, mystery. She’s cool, in a way Doctor Strange longs to become.Meanwhile s bald woman is surprising, suggesting an androgynous hybrid.

“Look, she’s a chameleon in everything she does,” says Feige of Swinton, whose credits include Snowpiercer, Trainwreck, and 1992’s Orlando, in which her character transformed from male to female. “She has this amazing [ability to] harness of this androgynous sense. So, we use the term ‘her’ and ‘she’ in the film but, other than that, it’s very androgynous. Because it doesn’t matter.” (Collis)

The androgene, in myth, is a magical person, with skills and wisdom of both genders. Thus She will teach Doctor Strange how to use his hidden feminine side, all while battling male foes on the battlefield. When EW asked Swinton whether she is playing a man or a woman, the actress responded, that “I wouldn’t know how to answer that one. I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder” (Collis).

Her perfect poise, supported with dramatic music, then switches to more popular tunes as Strange appears in his operating room. This dramatic juxtaposition emphasizes their contrast: She has devoted her life to serving the world, but he is still very much part of it, seeking fame and material success. When he’s crippled, Pangborn sends him to Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, a place of “gurus and sacred women” where he can learn magic.

Casting a forty-year-old white woman as “The Ancient One” of Kathmandu subverts all expectations. When Strange meets her, she’s quietly serving tea, while he logically assumes the seated elderly Asian man is the ancient one. She corrects him with a self-aware smirk. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has told Strange at the gate, “Stephen Strange, might I offer you some advice? Forget everything that you think you know.” However, Strange is still surprised over and over.
Of course, casting Tilda Swinton (however excellent a job she does) is a problematic moment of whitewashing.

It is absolutely unsurprising that Swinton is terrific in the role — embodying ageless beings is one of her many strong suits, from her gender-switching, century-spanning turn in Orlando to her patchouli-scented vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive. But not even the rewarding sight of a mischievous, hairless Swinton informing the film’s self-centered protagonist, “It’s not about you,” can obscure the point that Doctor Strange has missed. The film doesn’t actually get away from the cliché of a white guy soaking up Eastern wisdom and turning out to be a more gifted practitioner than the people it originated from. It just scoops out and replaces the character who’d traditionally be the source of all that wisdom, rather than figure out a way to improve and deepen him. In doing so, Doctor Strange ends up treating Asianness like it’s a lifestyle choice rather than having anything to do with culture or race. (Willmore)

Destroying the themes of the “Tibetan-mystic-hidden in-the-mountains,” stereotype by subverting age, costume, and gender rather than race would make a much more progressive statement. Likewise, Wong, while an amusing character who now has a much less subservient personality, was mostly left out of advertising and trailers. This when Daredevil fights hordes of faceless ninjas and Iron Fist also has disturbing racial questions makes the MCU seem more than a little backwards.
In fact, the entire movie has cultural stereotyping throughout: “It calls upon a classic kind of Orientalism, blurring culture to revel in a vague sense of Asian exoticism without bothering with specifics, and, more pressingly, without the people,” Allison Willmore explains. As she adds:

The worst of those half-steps is also a matter of visuals. Kamar-Taj is a mishmash of Asiana — it’s in Nepal, but its residents like clothing that’s Japanese-inspired, especially in the combination of robes and the obi-like sash favored by the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Ancient One pupil gone wrong. Strange, upon arriving, is shown a book in which an MRI chart is placed alongside a chakra and acupuncture one. The latticework panels that line the walls look like chinoiserie, while the courtyard seems modeled after a Buddhist temple. The saffron garb the Ancient One is first spotted in seems to recall those of a Buddhist monk as well, though it’s not religion she teaches, per se — more a new way of looking at the universe. Christine, when she re-encounters Strange, muses that it sounds like he’s joined a cult, and Kamar-Taj does, at times, feel like a particularly demanding meditation retreat.

Of course, the institute continues to subvert expectations: its students come from many races, especially the Black character Mordo, who’s generally front and center. Later, Mordo hands Strange a card with Shamballa written on it, but denies Strange’s guess that it’s a mantra he should meditate to, saying, “It’s the wi-fi password. We’re not savages.” Wong, who actually has a quirky sense of humor, listens to Beyoncé.
Nonetheless, Strange is instantly skeptical of the Ancient One’s teachings. She shows him a chakra chart beside an acupuncture chart and an MRI, emphasizing that each artist has part of the puzzle – spiritual knowledge is as valid as science. Of course, Western medicine is notoriously skeptical of acupuncture and Strange complains that he’s seen the Chakra drawings in gift shops (a valid complaint, as the deep spiritual practice has gone mainstream). He insists, “I don’t believe in fairytales about chakras or energy or the power of belief.”
If these stories are all about a chosen one who can save the world, the Ancient One is the chooser. She eyes a skeptical Strange. “You wonder what I see in your future? Possibility.” When he dares to shove her in anger, she then pushes his astral form out from his body.  Strange is still skeptical, demanding, “Did you put mushrooms in my tea? Was my tea drugged?” However, she responds calmly that it’s “Just tea. With honey.” She needn’t use magician’s props because she’s already magic incarnate. As she explains, she had to show him a deeper reality. “You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?” She also opens his third eye, through only her touch. After she pushed him through a tangle of alternate dimensions, overwhelming in their majesty and horror, he’s convinced. “Magic sends the movie’s title character, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), spinning through the cosmos, through black-light multiverse dimensions, and through the pupil of his own giant eyeball. The look is a little bit The Matrix, a little bit Inception, a little bit Dark City, and all acid trip” (Willmore). First he’s hurled into space, overlooking the planets, with a gently flapping butterfly. These delicate creatures symbolized the soul, but Strange cannot grasp it before he tumbles away. There’s a dark world of purple, a magical one that’s blue with psychedelic colors. Glowing blue crystals suggest the heavenly serenity he lacks but that awaits him.
Through the trip, she maintains complete control, hauling his body back for a moment to examine it, then throwing him back into the cosmos. She narrates, like the overarching form of god – a mother who can pick up and put down that baby as she pleases. At last, he returns, stunned. She smiles, “Have you seen that at a gift shop?”
He falls at her feet, humbled and gasping. “Teach me.”
She considers for a moment. “No.”
Her people throw him out, and he must humble himself at her door, accept that he knows nothing and show his determination before he’s finally welcomed. In a vivid symbol, his watch is as shattered as he is. Since it’s from Christine, it symbolizes her love, which Strange holds onto even though it’s destroyed. Watches symbolize man’s preoccupation with time – they are artificial and Strange keeps his all locked in a drawer, suggesting a control over these trophies. When he approaches Kamar-Taj, it’s shattered, emphasizing that he will have to throw away such physical controls.
Mordo describes the Ancient One as unpredictable and “merciless yet kind” – a host of contradictions indicating her multifaceted nature. The mentor understands the workings of the universe in a way the untried hero does not. In many ways, becoming a spiritual tutor is more of a women’s role, and especially appropriate for the mature man. The elderly Dumbledore, Gandalf, or Obi-Wan teaches the young hero to use his powers but also shows him how to grow up. Strange is already grown, and all his training has focused on the physical world of prestige and control. He knows science and has built a reputation based in his accomplishments. Thus the spiritual woman can introduce him to his untapped mystical, self-effacing side.
When their lessons begin, she opens a classic protective circle with the nine sephirot inside. Etz Chiym, the Tree of Life, is the symbol at the heart of the Kabbalah. It encapsulates creation, existence and the return to the Divine in ten spheres called sephirot and the twenty-two paths through which they interrelate. The sephirot are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) reveals himself:
Keter, the Divine Crown
Hokhmah, Wisdom
Binah, Understanding
Hesed, Mercy
Din, Justice
Tif’eret, Beauty
Nezah, Eternity
Hod, Glory
Yesod, Foundation
Shekhinah, God’s Presence in the World

They emphasize a path to enlightenment through selflessness and awareness of the universe – traits Strange most needs to acquire. The shape is also connected to the World Symbol – the entire world order (consisting of spheres) held together by “a mysterious, unseen central force that the Hindus called Maya – the Goddess who created the material universe” (Walker 63). The World Tree of Thor’s Norse mythology has a similar image.
The most basic magic is the portal, a fiery wheel conjured with a double-circled finger ring. Circles are particularly feminine symbols, suggesting the lifecycle. “The universe begins with roundness; so say the myths,” Walker says. “The great circle, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon, the zero, the wheel of time, the infinite womb; such are the symbols that try to express a human sense of the wholeness of things” (2). Gauntlets, wristbands (seen later) and rings accentuate the acts of the hands – symbol of active power. Thus the physical power is augmented with the spiritual, something that confuses Strange, who’s certain his shaking hands are stopping him from achieving the latter.
Hands are a masculine symbol, indicating the worker and emphasizing his effect on his environment. Strange has loss the full use of this physical tool and thus must replace it with mental and spiritual ones. When the Ancient One has Master Hamir show that he can do magic with one hand missing, she teaches that physical power is not the only form of strength. She thus teaches him to surrender his will rather than trying to impose it on the world. She also abandons him on Mount Everest, a place higher and physically mightier than he is, to emphasize he will not win with physical gifts.
When Mordo spars with Strange, he orders him to defend himself, and Strange creates his first weapon – a glowing cord stretched between his hands. In ancient myth, cords bound the earth to the heavens and people’s minds to their reason. Ropes thus emphasize interconnection and bonds between body and spirit. The Fates spun a lifeline for each person, and the Egyptian goddess Hathor bound sinners in glowing ribbons. They can also represent the umbilical cord, connecting each person with the divine mother. In Greece, “Ariadne’s thread leading Theseus through the Labyrinth (into the darkness and out again) represented the rebirth journey” (Walker 130). Strange is operating under the Divine Mother’s guidance and also trying to connect with the people around him, leading himself at last in a journey of rebirth.
The Ancient One also offers Strange the Mirror Dimension, where he can train without affecting the physical world. Once again this is a feminine symbol of her power and spirituality, one Doctor Strange uses under her guidance:

Rather than a sign of vanity, this mirror was a divine soul-catcher, or passage to the spirit world, as it was considered universally. Amaterasu’s mirror is her shotai, her god-body. When she bestows it on her grandson, earliest emperor of Japan, she says, “My child, when thou lookest upon this mirror,
let it be as if thou wert looking on me. Let it be with thee on thy couch and in thy hall, and let it be to thee a holy mirror.” Today it is the most sacred image of her at her shrine at Ise.16 Celtic women were buried with their mirrors, as a gateway to the afterlife, and Buddhist and Christian teachings describe
a future in which we can see beyond the shallow reflection of our current existence. Snow White’s stepmother seeks her mirror’s advice as from an oracle, and some magicians trap their victims as “slaves of the mirror” forever. In Egypt, the word for life and mirror is the same (ankh). One reflects the other. In fact, the ankh symbol is an image of the goddess, round head over outstretched arms and upright body. It became known in Egypt as a symbol of sexual union, feminine circle and male cross united. Thus it came to represent immortality, worn by the gods to show their eternal life. (Frankel 47-48)

Mordo tells Doctor Strange that nothing more is known about her “except that she’s Celtic” and really, really old.
While Strange is most closely associated with the Book of Vishanti, the plot begins when the villains steal an incantation taken from the Book of Cagliostro, a magical text penned in the late 18th century that gathers mystical knowledge from countless sources. Books obviously symbolize the intellect and all the wisdom Strange must aquire, so he reads as many as he can. Nonetheless, Strange finds the juxtapositions of science and the occult frustrating:

Dr. Stephen Strange: [on magic] This doesn’t make any sense.
The Ancient One: Not everything does. Not everything has to.

The Ancient One teaches him that he must start over – study and practice his skills as he did through all the years of medical school, but this time take a different path. Instantly, Strange starts cheating the system, learning how to use the mystic Eye of Agamotto to tamper with time. His teachers are aghast, telling him he isn’t just warping time but breaking it and could be stuck in a time loop forever.
The eye as a protective charm is seen most as the Middle Eastern Hamsa/Hand of Fatima or witches’ Evil Eye. Barbara Walker describes the eye as the judging stare of the crone, or the essential eye contact between mother and baby – a formative image that lingers with the child long into adulthood. “So many ancient traditions identify the birth-giving goddess with the All-Seeing Eye that there might well be an archetypal connection” (308). The Hamsa (a protective hand with a blue eye in the center) uses this magic to ward off evil forces. Thus Strange’s long-prized amulet connects him with the mystical feminine side of reality. Its green light suggests the mystic and arcane. The design remains similar to that in the comics, albeit with the addition of the Seal of the Vishanti over the top of the eye. Steve Ditko in fact drew inspiration from the real world charm The All Seeing Eye of the Buddha, which protected its wearer against evil.
When there’s an attack, he stumbles through a portal into the New York Sanctum, wearing the Eye of Agamotto. He fights the invaders with his cord, but they transform the building around him, suggesting a command over reality itself. He summons light wheels like those of his teachers’ but they’re clumsy. He hasn’t yet mastered the magic. Only when he fights them using the world as a tool – switching the portal to different locations – does he succeed. He fights them with a kind of torch with a bowllike cauldron on the end. Kaecilius smirks. “You don’t know how to use that, do you?” Of course, the is another feminine symbol, combining the bowl of the womb with the flame of enlightenment — Strange can’t yet master either. Kaecilius smashes him into a display case, where the Cloak of Levitation escapes and protects him.
A cloak suggests disguise and concealment – feminine attributes in folklore. Red is often the color of the mature woman, the mother, brimming with life energy, while his tunic, blue as the sky, suggests spiritual enlightenment. In classic art, the Virgin Mary wears a blue cloak and red robe – the reversal of Doctor Strange. The Cloak of Levitation shields Strange from blows and drags him to the weapons room where it pulls him away from swords and spears of physical, masculine battle, in favor of a more defensive straightjacket.
With Kaecilius entrapped, the men talk and Strange discovers Kaecilius has an agenda much like his own – to end mankind’s suffering and death. When he calls life “little sparks,” Strange must accept that they think the same way. Nonetheless, he defies Kaecilius, insisting, “The Sorcerer Supreme defends existence.” When his enemies wound him, he portals back to Christine and gets her help in healing him as he fights on the astral plane. Nonetheless, he blends his old world and new, using the defibrillator to power his astral self.
At last the cavalry comes and Strange flings himself, Mordo, and the enemies into the mirror world. To his shock, however, they are stronger there. The heroes are losing, tossed around a shifting reality, until, suddenly, the Ancient One joins the fight. Instantly, she takes control, creating a swirling stable patterned floor underneath them. Her symbol is reminiscent of the Celtic triquetra, three circular arcs enclosed by a circle, reflecting a protective Pagan or Christian trinity. Her glowing circle weapons become fans, a feminine image of defense and concealment. At once, Mordo realizes she wields the power of darkness as well as light. However, Strange realizes that everyone compromises, that her knowledge of darkness has made her more equipped to fight. This lesson appears in stories of Hulk and Daredevil, but Mordo rejects it. Meanwhile, the Ancient One fights valiantly, but is defeated.
Strange brings her to the hospital, and finally humbles himself to ask Doctor West for help – he’s learning to let go. When he sees the Ancient One’s astral form float away as his team operates, he follows. Under a sky full of stars and snowflakes, with flashes of lightning, they talk. Winter signifies age and death – an ending to things. Lightning is conflict, magic, emotion – all the things Strange stands poised to embrace. Stars suggest the infinite. There, the Ancient One tells Strange he must choose between medicine and magic. She also must tell him, “Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all…It’s not about you.”
He takes this lesson to heart for the final conflict. He uses the Eye to save the innocents around the Taiwan Institute, then fashions himself, not a weapon but a simple protective device. His green armbands of looped time break all the rules, much as his teacher did. Like her methods, they’re effective. They suggest the arcane power of magic combined with the simple human magic of his long-shattered watch, now restored to a stronger, if different form – like himself.
Using his own cleverness and instance on breaking rules, he flies off to confront the smoky-headed Dormammu. The image for this head is actually Cumberbatch’s, emphasizing that he’s the tiny voice of reason and altruism within, battling his monstrous, selfish greed. The world around them is purple with bruise-colored spheres like a wound…or like dark magic. This is the enemy’s stronghold, where the hero has no power. Thus Dormammu kills him over and over. Sometimes the hero’s task is to endure, weaponless, to sacrifice all he has to save innocents. This Strange does, dying over and over to prolong life on earth, saying only “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain,” until he wears down the villain with his passive resistance. On a few occasions, he defends himself with golden shields, suggesting a new mastery, but each time, he dies. He’s at last learned to surrender his will, saying “I could lose again and again and again forever.” At this, Dormammu finally gives in.
Returning to earth, Strange does not kill Kaecilius and his goons, but gives them what they always wanted — eternal life as part of the one they worship. He has saved the world as mastered the powers of his master, the Sorcerer Supreme. Nonetheless, he sets aside the Eye of Agamotto until he’s ready. Since it’s an Infinity Stone, this suggests setting aside entry into the MCU multifilm conflict, though his time will come soon enough.

If you enjoyed this analysis, do check out more with The Avengers Face Their Dark Sides: Mastering the Myth-Making behind the Marvel Superheroes https://www.amazon.com/Avengers-Face-Their-Dark-Sides/dp/0692432450
Easter Eggs

• Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales #110 in 1963, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. His origin story only came in his fourth appearance, in Strange Tales #115. The movie plot is about right.
• In the comics, the book was stolen by Baron Mordo so he could use its power to defeat the Ancient One. In the movie, Kaecilius takes his place, but Mordo makes the journey to villain through the film. In Strange Tales, Kaecilius is one of Mordo’s disciples. Here he takes Mordo’s place as villain, while Mordo gets a more extensive origin story. In the comics, the book contains the knowledge to control time. In the movie, it explains how to use the Eye of Agamotto to achieve the same end.
• In the comics Christine Palmer is actually the name of one of the Night Nurses (there have been three). Another Night Nurse is Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the ER nurse who ends up helping out the various members of the future Defenders during their shows.
• The song playing while Strange has his life-changing car crash is the psychedelic rock classic “Interstellar Overdrive” (1967) by Pink Floyd. The band featured artwork from Strange Tales #158 on the cover of their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), which featured the Living Tribunal.
• Some of Dr. Stephen Strange’s prospective surgical patients include an Air Force colonel injured in a suit of armor. The timing is wrong for Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine. But it might be the soldier who was injured testing Justin Hammer’s Iron Man armor back in Iron Man 2, shown in the courtroom scene. Strange rejects an elderly woman to preserve his statistics and is also told about a young woman with schizophrenia and an inhibitor chip who was struck by lightning. This last might be significant — Lodestone and Nebula have had implants to either control or enhance them.
• Dr. Nick West, who in the movie has a rivalry with Doctor Strange, is based on Nicodemus West, a doctor who, in the comics cannot save Strange’s hands after his car accident. West is a prominent character in The Oath (2007), a popular five-issue Doctor Strange miniseries by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, which heavily influenced the tone of the movie
• The scene where Strange wakes in the hospital bed is framed in homage to this cover shot comes from Brandon Peterson’s run on Doctor Strange, which shows the car crash origin.
• A few throwaway lines from the Ancient One recall some of Strange’s comics titles. She refers to “the language of the mystic arts,” and Doc is known as the “master of the mystic arts” in the comics. Her title is Sorcerer Supreme, eventually his own.
• Wong connects Strange to the larger Marvel universe when he explains, “Heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.”
• Avengers Tower appears in its rightful place as part of the New York City skyline.
• The Ancient One’s home of Kamar-Taj has always been part of the story, though it wasn’t named until much later in the comics.
• When Strange is finally allowed to stay with The Ancient One, Mordo hands him a piece of paper with “Shamballa” written on it. Mordo deadpans that it is the Wi-Fi password. It also nods to the famous Doctor Strange storyline “Into Shamballa”, in which Strange was given the chance to shepherd in a golden age for mankind, but at a cost so severe he couldn’t bear to pay it. This reflects the theme of this film – the cost of power.
• Many theorize that Ejiofor’s role is a combination of Doctor Voodoo, the Houngan Supreme (like a Sorcerer Supreme, but for Voodoo), and Baron Mordo.
• Wong first appeared in Strange Tales #110, as a stereotypical servant, who could fight but not use magic. Here he’s been updated with more of a personality, a position of authority, and Sorcerer powers.
• Trying to break the ice with Wong, Doctor Strange asks if he just has a single name “like Adele” and then proceeds to mention Bono, Eminem and Drake as well as Aristotle, getting in piles of pop culture. When the pair meet again, Strange compares Wong to Beyoncé, a comment Wong ignores, then later he’s seen listening to her on his walkman.
• The Book of Vishanti is “off limits” to Strange until he steals it from Wong. In the comics, The Vishanti are a trio of benevolent Gods from the multiverse. Agamotto was appointed by the Vishanti before ascending to become one of them.
• An Extra called Clem So with long white hair also appears as one of the sorcerers – he was in Guardians Of The Galaxy in the prison, with the artificial leg.
• One of the mages at Kamar-Taj is Tina Minoru (played by Linda Louise Duan). She is a link to The Runaways comics universe, since she is the mother of teen heroine Nico Minoru. Tina wields the Staff of One, which she eventually leaves to Nico.
• Master Hamir – the sorcerer with one hand – is an allusion to Hamir the Hermit. In early issues of Strange Tales, he was the Ancient One’s personal servant and later the father of Wong.
• Mordo wears the Vaulting Boots of Valtorr — Valtorr is a powerful mystical entity Strange invokes repeatedly in the comics.
• The Living Tribunal may not have a staff, but his existence is set up here. In comics, he’s powerful enough to battle the Infinity Gauntlet.
• The Book of Cagliostro comes out of the Steve Englehart/Frank Brunner Doctor Strange comics
• Doc’s Sanctum Sanctorum at 177a Bleecker Street with its distinctive window with the Sanctum rune appears. From the very first story it was listed as being in Greenwich Village, a more bohemian and dangerous place in 1963 than currently.
• There was initially going to be an Easter Egg specifically pointing to The Black Knight. The New York Sanctum includes the Black Knight’s headwear.
• The Crimson Bands Of Cyttorak is a spell that sends red coloured bands of energy out of Strange’s hands like whips to bind his enemies. His magical cord weapon seems reminiscent of this.
• Doctor Strange was given the Cloak of Levitation by the Ancient One at the conclusion of his second battle with Dormammu (in Strange Tales #127), and he kept the look ever since. the Eye of Agamotto is his best-known accessory.
• Doctor Strange and Mordo’s outfits are closely modelled on their traditional comic book looks, from the former’s white streaks in his hair, blue belted tunic and flowing red cape to Mordo’s green robes.
• The Oath echoes the movie scene in which Christine Palmer operates on Strange while speaking to his astral form. Both star Palmer, though in the comics, she’s Night Nurse.
• From Doctor Strange’s first appearance he’s doing astral projection. The astral plane fistfight is right out of Strange Tales #111, in which Strange and Mordo battle, knocking each other through walls and so forth.
• The Ancient One is first introduced in Strange Tales #110, as Doctor Strange consults with him before taking on a case. The Ancient One in the comics does draw power from the Dark Dimension – his name is often uttered in various spells and incantations by both Doctor Strange and The Ancient One.
• In Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner’s A Separate Reality, the Ancient One gives Strange a mysterious metaphysical pep talk then dies.
• While the smoky-headed Dormammu didn’t appear until Strange Tales #126, he was mentioned all the time and is Strange’s most well-known foe
• The Eye of Agamotto, which can manipulate time, is finally revealed as the Time Stone, one of the Infinity Stones — only the Soul Stone now remains unaccounted for in the MCU.
• The Master of the New York Sanctum is referred to as Drumm. This is Daniel Drumm, the brother of Jericho Drumm, Brother Voodoo, a heroic sorcerer in the Marvel comics.
• When he prepares for battle, Wong is seen grabbing a kind of magical staff, in fact, the Wand of Watoomb.
• Strange’s original artist – Steve Ditko – gets homages with some of the art, especially The Dark Dimension. The tiny Doctor in the world of strange connected spheres is all him.
• Strange slams into the side of a bus on which Stan Lee is reading Aldous Huxley’s 1954 essay, The Doors of Perception, an account of using mescaline, which is a hallucinogen similar to LSD. This references the trippy quality of Steve Ditko’s early work on Strange, and the sixties counterculture it foreshadowed.
• There are a significant number of similarities between this film and the animated Doctor Strange film from 2007. In both, Dr Strange is taught personally by the Ancient One about reality warping, and by Wong, and the Ancient One’s disciples travel the world. Strange also has a female “sidekick,” with Gina Atwater instead of Christine Palmer. In both, Baron Mordo is black and develops a resentment for what Strange and his fellow Sorcerers have become.
• The facial capture for Dormammu was performed by Benedict Cumberbatch, while the voice was provided by an unidentified British actor.
The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea,” said Derrickson. “Because no one understood Dormammu better than Benedict did. I also wrote that role to be a kind of ultra-inflated version of Strange. He is an ego run amok; he is this cosmic conqueror where everything, where literally everything in the multi-verse is about him.There’s something interesting about this confrontation of this little, tiny guy who has this power of time and this monstrous conqueror who is trapped by a clever gambit. There’s something about that worked well, and I didn’t think anybody to interact with Benedict than he, himself.” (“13 Coolest”)
• In the comics too Strange and Dormammu are forced into a pact when Strange helps save the demon from the Mindless Ones and Dormammu is forced to agree not to ever attack Earth again.
• When Kaecilius and his associates are banished into the Dark Dimension, they transform into blob-like, one-eyed creatures known as the Mindless Ones. These extra-dimensional creatures with no will of their own attack many Marvel characters. They may appear in films to come.
• The warnings come after the instructions repeatedly…and at the film’s end, there’s another warning – this one about distracted driving.
• Thor appears in the first post-credits scene and sets up Thor: Ragnarok, as he searches for his father, Odin. Strange did team-up with Thor in an early story involving Loki.
• The second post-credits scene shows Mordo’s development as a villain. In the comics, Mordo is Doctor Strange’s rival, introduced in Strange Tales #111, with an origin story in Strange Tales #115.

If you enjoyed this analysis, do check out more with The Avengers Face Their Dark Sides: Mastering the Myth-Making behind the Marvel Superheroes https://www.amazon.com/Avengers-Face-Their-Dark-Sides/dp/0692432450

Works Cited
“13 Coolest Doctor Strange Easter Eggs, References, and Trivia.” IGN, 26 Oct 2016 http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/10/26/13-coolest-doctor-strange-easter-eggs-references-and-trivia?page=1. Web.
Collis, Clark. “Tilda Swinton Says her Doctor Strange character’s Gender Is ‘in the eye of the beholder’” EW, 30 Dec 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/12/30/doctor-strange-tilda-swinton-ancient-one. Web.

Frankel, Valerie Estelle. From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend. McFarland and Co., 2010. Print.
Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. Harper, 1988. Print.
Willmore, Alison. “The Incredible Visuals and Unfortunate Orientalism of “Doctor Strange.” BuzzFeed, 27 Oct., 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/doctor-strange-review. Web.

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Greek and Roman Myth in Harry Potter

All pantheons of ancient mythologies have similar archetypes: There’s Zeus, Odin, or Enlil, the father god. Demeter, Hathor, or Chicomecoatl, goddess of the harvest. The Hogwarts teachers as they sit along their long table reflect these archetypes, from Dumbledore to Professor Sprout. Dolores Umbridge might be Eris, Goddess of Discord. Slughorn is rather a Dionysus figure, obsessed with hedoinism and selfishness. Dour Snape, always excluded, has many correspondences to Hades as he lurks underground. At the same time, Many names and identities come directly from the Greek/Roman tradition: Argus Filch is guardian of the gates at Hogwarts, Minerva is its font of wisdom. Hermes, Percy’s owl, shares roots with Hermione Granger. At the same time, there are many less known gods and goddesses of the classical tradition:

Pomona Sprout is named for the Roman goddess of fruit and agriculture.

Aurora Sinistra (Professor of Astronomy) shares a name with the Roman goddess of the dawn.

Remus Lupin is named for the hero-twin born of a wolf who founded Rome. Remus was sacrificed before his side could win.

Hagrid replaces Silvanus Kettleburn, whose first name is shared with a Roman forest god similar to the Greek Pan.

Helga Hufflepuff, like Vesta, humbly guards the homestead.

Sybill Trewlany is a sibyl, a Greek seeress or prophetess.

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Dark Arts professor in book four: Alastor was an epithet, or honorific nickname, of Zeus, which described him as the avenger of familial bloodshed and other deeds against nature. This is the perfect name for an Auror, avenger of the innocents killed by Death Eaters. It was also an epithet of the Erinyes, like a living breathing curse. Alastor, in Christian demonology, had a simialr meaning, as a kind of possessing entity, echoing Moody’s “possession” in book four.

Merope Gaunt, mother of Voldemort, was sister of Phaeton and one of the seven Pleiades, star nymphs in the sky. She married King Sisyphus.  Her name is interpreted to mean “with face turned” from meros ops, referring to the fact that her star faded from the cluster of Pleiades out of shame for her husband’s crimes. Another Merope out of Greek myth includes the daughter of King Cypselus of Arcadia and wife of King Cresphontes. When her husband is murdered, she runs away with her son Aepytus and trains him in vengeance…but nearly slays him by mistake, thinking him the murderer. At last, she succeeds in punishing her enemy.

This name also belonged to the adoptive mother of Oedipus, branding every Merope as an innocent victim but the close family of some very bad men. Sisyphus tried to cheat death and live forever. Oedips defied the gods’ natural laws by killing his father and marrying his mother, and Phaeton nearly destroyed the world when he tried to fly the sun god’s chariot. All three of these men defied the laws of the gods in unholy and unnatural fashion, and all were punished.

Andromeda Tonks and her daughter Nymphadora:  Greek nymphs were beautiful, magical maidens, known for shapeshifting to become part of nature, from tree nymphs to ocean nymphs. They were generally helpers of heroes rather than heroes themselves. Andromeda was   beautiful princess rescued by the hero Perseus, who mostly furthered the hero’s story rather than her own. This suggests that her Muggle husband Ted was a true hero.

Quirinus is an early god of Rome state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus, Janus of the spear (quiris). Janus was the “two faced god,” and Rowling’s character echoes this perfectly, with Voldemort on his back. The tarot symbol or Celtic hallow of the spear echoes the elder wand in the series. Quirinus was originally most likely a Sabine god of war.

Alecto Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Alecto “the implacable or unceasing anger” is one of the Erinyes, or Furies, in Greek mythology.

Amycus Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Amycus, the son of Poseidon and Melia, was a boxer and King of the Bebryces.  When the Argonauts landed on the coast of his dominions, he challenged the bravest of them to a boxing match. Polydeuces, who accepted the challenge, killed him. Likewise, Amycus Carrow challenges the brave Gryffindors to fights all the time.  Upon the tomb of Amycus there grew a laurel, would make people fight when they encountered it. Thus he’s like a male Eris or Fury.

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The Mother Daughter War Reenvisioned: Snow, Glass, Apples

Snow White is the conflict of mother and daughter as one grows toward marriage and queenship as the other steps aside. This forces a conflict and reintegration far more profound than the epic battle of father and son. “Snow, Glass Apples” reverses the traditional pattern, casting the young princess as a murderous werewolf and leaving the heroic queen to try to save the kingdom from this threat.

The Grimms’ stepmother is clearly threatened by her daughter’s beauty and the fear that the daughter will supplant her. She neglects the kingdom to peer selfishly into her mirror each day and reduces her vision to the two of them, valuing only herself and the need to be uniquely desirable. More frightening still is her demand for Snow White’s heart. Eating one’s enemy is far more intimate than any other form of possession; by consuming Snow White’s youth and beauty, the queen hopes to absorb them.

Gaiman’s stepmother, by contrast, looks outside the two women’s relationship to see the needs of the kingdom, as trade and the population are slowly dying from Snow White’s destruction. This innocent side of the queen has become a killer. The queen takes her heart and protects it, guarding it with berries and garlic to save others from Snow White’s power, rather than taking it for herself.

At the same time, like the original story, the two women are inextricably bound as they desire the same men and prey on each other, Snow White biting her stepmother and the stepmother keeping Snow White’s heart, until they’re bound like two sides of the same self, innocent and evil, light and dark, nurturing and devouring. The greatest tragedy is that the people of the kingdom, like those who read the story, assume the stepmother must be the monster.

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Buffy and the Warrior Woman’s Classic Quest

I just wrote the book Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey (Feb 2012, McFarland). And why not—it’s an obvious place to go. A long list of authors have analyzed Buffy’s becoming the Chosen One, refusing and then accepting her calling, and finally descending into death (twice!) to return stronger than before, with a deeper wisdom of adulthood and its costs. In these steps, the hero’s and heroine’s journeys are basically the same. But there’s really more going on.

There’s the hero’s quest, in which Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker battles his dark father, sacrifices his life, and returns stronger than before. There’s the lesser-known classic heroine’s journey in which Snow White or Psyche faces the evil stepmother and sacrifices her life to save her loved ones. And there’s the warrior woman’s quest, which blends both in a fascinating story arc. This is Buffy’s journey.

There are many warrior women: Eowyn, Artemis, Mu Lan, Annabeth of the Percy Jackson books, Xena, Elektra. The 2010 Alice in Wonderland, long hair flying over her shining armor. The upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman. And now Katniss of The Hunger Games has captured our hearts. These heroines ride and fight beside men, often dressed as men, like Alanna of the Tamora Pierce books. They follow the hero’s quest with male mentors and male weapons, fighting to defeat the dark lord and save the world. Yet after they succeed, they feel a discontentment, a lack of something. She has outfought all the boys and, in doing so, has become a boy herself. The heroine sets out again, this time questing for her lost feminine side. She battles the wicked stepmother and child killer, once more sacrificing her life, but this time to protect her most innocent self, the little sister Dawn Summers or Primrose Everdeen.

My study follows Buffy’s path as she defeats the male monsters of the patriarchy (the Master, the Judge, Angelus, and the Mayor) and then finds something is missing. She turns to other mentors than fatherly Giles: Professor Walsh, the “evil mom,” Dracula, the deep, mystical masculine and dark mentor, the savage First Slayer. All of these encourage Buffy to accept that death is her gift, that she needs the dark energy of the unconscious rather than the shallow masculine world of the everyday.

All this crystalizes in season five when Buffy gains a new sister to protect. The heroine’s journey is about rescuing loved ones: Meg Murray’s father and brother in A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline’s parents, and Katniss’s family and friends in The Hunger Games. Even Twilight’s Bella becomes a powerful shield when her baby daughter is endangered.  In season five, Buffy harnesses her new dark-born powers to accept that death is a gift and to save Dawn. She also battles the first of the female Big Bads, Glory. This blonde goddess is fashionable, flippant, and spoiled, like Buffy’s season one cheerleader self she must leave behind to become a good adoptive mother. After Buffy returns from death in the culmination of her heroine’s quest, Glory is succeeded by Dark Willow and the First, once again, Big Bads that mirror Buffy and try to slay the innocent while Buffy struggles to protect them.  Buffy finally grows into a leader, but also surrogate mom for an entire household of young slayers. At last she remakes the world, redefining it as a place of feminine power, where an army of her chosen ones can defend the helpless and take back the night.

While the hero always gets a sword (as Buffy does when she battles Angelus) or a knife (echoing Buffy’s stakes), heroines fight with tools of life and perception—holy water like Lucy’s healing potion, or a silver amulet like Buffy’s cross. Silver, seen in Artemis’s bow or Galadriel’s ring, is associated with mirror magic and sight because of its clarity. It’s also a symbol of purity and protection. The heroine is also known for a distance weapon like a bow—Katniss in The Hunger Games has a silver bow, then later a black bow of fire and death. Buffy too frequently shoots a crossbow.

Buffy’s ultimate weapon, of course, is the scythe, echoing the crescent moon and the ancient axes wielded by the priestesses of Crete. It is the death weapon, casting Buffy as the mature slayer, no longer a sweet princess clinging to her daylight powers. She rules the night and knows that death truly is a gift. And she pulls it from the stone, establishing herself as the one true slayer, the mythic hero coming to remake the world.

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The Downside of Horcruxes

o all those readers seeking to construct their own Horcrux, a font of deadly evil allowing the creator to preserve his life unnaturally, beware!  Such meddlings in works man should not know split the soul asunder and mar the perpetrator for all time.  They also so don’t work!

The following addresses a number of flaws in the Horcrux system, as demonstrated throughout literature and folklore.

Even the evil Overlord (eviloverlord.com) notices the futility of such a system, commenting thusly:

The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.

Well, with such a brilliant observation to start us off, let’s examine some scenarios:

Sauron creates a set of rings tied to his power, whose bearers must serve him. He then forges the One Ring, placing much of his power in a single alluring object.

Upside: When he’s defeated, he isn’t permanently destroyed and returns within a few thousand years.

Downside: Anyone can use it! Boromir, Frodo, Gandalf, Galadriel, and even Sam contemplate using Sauron’s power to destroy him and forge a new empire.  Further, Sauron doesn’t notice Frodo has it, doesn’t notice the ring’s in Mordor, and doesn’t notice it’s being destroyed until it’s too late!

Davy Jones in Dead Man’s Chest removes his heart so it won’t pain him with emotion.

Upside: He’s safe from harm and emotion.

Downside: Jones turns into an unfeeling tyrant and neglects the job he’s entrusted with.  Worse yet, people dig the heart up from its predictable buried location, and the East India Company controls him and forces him to do their bidding.

Numerous ogres, giants, and basilisks in European folklore hide their hearts inside an egg inside a chicken inside a swan inside a wolf…you get the idea.  These are tale type 302, “The Ogre or Devil’s Heart in an Egg” with 260 versions around the world.

Upside: The hero can’t kill them

Downside: The hero always sneaks off and kills all the animals (which are mostly just hidden and flee rather than fight). He then can destroy the heart or trade it for the princess, or occasionally both. An intensive character study, evesdropping, or inteligence from a disgruntled slave generally reveals the location. (See Drink Down the Moon by Charles de Lint).

The Graeae of the Perseus legend pass a single eye and tooth around.

Upside: The three witches can share them and squabble over them equitably.

Downside: Perseus steals them for bargaining chips.

Medusa’s head petrifies heroes at a glance.

Upside: Instant weapon

Downside: Perseus kills her so he can take her head. Additional downside: many games and derivative works suggest showing Medusa a mirror and watching her turn herself to stone.

Dracula relies on a coffin with special earth where he can retreat each night.

Upside: He can’t be killed by conventional methods

Downside: bloodsucking, harassing young ladies in nightdresses, fear of sunlight and all the other unnatural side effects.

Many wizards place their power in a single item.

Upside: Sharing power with one’s buddies, additional strength and concentration.

Downside: The power frequently ends up in the wrong object: (See

“The Frying Pan of Doom” or Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot or The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede.)

Other Downsides: Often the villain steals this object. Thus, he can hold it for ransom, control the wizard, slurp up his magic, or do other unpleasant villanies.

Some creative wizards place themselves in an item.

(Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, The Mage Winds Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey)

Upside: Extended life past the usual expriation date.

Downside: As a “person” no longer living, the wizard can be overly controlling or insensitive with those still alive. Eventually, the wizard must recognize the need to let go. In Sourcery, the wizard’s young son refuses to take orders from his staff any longer and rejects it. Lackey’s magic sword (Need) is helpless without someone guiding her. She tends to fall asleep and be unable to commnicate if her bearer isn’t magically gifted.

Better yet, place someone else in an item

Upside: Extra power and/or advice

Downside: Slaves of lamps and mirrors are known for conforming to the letter of the order and not the spirit, or for betraying their masters as soon as possible. MOre than anything, they want freedom, and can only be strung along for a time

Sending one’s power into an animal familiar

Upside: Unique perspectives and skills (and occasionally cravings)

Downsides: Terry Pratchett’s frequent “borrowing” suggests a person who travels in an animal too long will lose all grasp of humanity, as does Mercedes Lackey’s exploration of bondbirds. Jennifer Robeson’s Cheysuli books add that if your animal companion dies, you die.

Splitting yourself into twins

Creating an unnaturally powerful offspring

(See Hart’s Hope by Orson Scott Card or The Fionavar Tapesrty by Guy Gavriel Kay)

Upside: As an heir, he can continue your legacy. Or in a pinch, he’ll make the most powerful sacrifice you’ve ever seen.

Downside: Frequently this magical child rebels against his father and helps the opposition.

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Gallery of Heroes who Tried to Cheat Death

Voldemort is determined not to die. However, he’s hardly unique. His mission is shared by characters throughout literature and myth…let’s see what happened to them all.

Gilgamesh:

Tries to stay awake long enough to become immortal, but fails through human weakness.  Is given a magical plant as a consolation prize, but he fearfully hoards it and a snake eats it.  He’s left sadder and wiser.

Sisyphus:

When he offends the gods, death’s servant, Thanatos, comes to collect him.  Sisyphus chains up death so no one can die, but this causes great suffering in the world. Eventually, Sisyphus relents. On his second attempt to cheat death, Sisyphus warns his wife not to give him a funeral or make offerings to the gods. Once in Hades, Sisyphus begs Persephone to let him return to life long enough to rectify this mistake and thus escapes.  The third time, Hades collects him in person. For Sisyphus’s arrogance, he’s forced to roll a boulder up a hill throughout eternity, only to watch it crash again to the bottom.

Eos:

This Greek Goddess of the dawn, is enamored of a mortal named Tithonus (a prince of Troy and the elder brother of Priam). She bears him away to her eastern palace, and begs the gods to grant him immortality. They assent, but she neglects to request eternal youth. Tithonus grows older and more bent through the centuries, until he becomes so crooked and small that he shrinks into a cricket, forever chirping dryly around her beautiful palace.

Achilles:

That one vulnerable spot on an invulnerable body. Never works– someone always finds it and clobbers it.

Dracula:

His coffin with special earth and supernatural powers give him unnatural strength and immortality. Still, he’s a creature of evil, doomed to feed on the living to prolong his own existence. In the famous novel, a group of heroes track and destroy him.

Voldemort:

His Horcruxes make him immortal, with all six heavily guarded pieces standing between him and death. However, his soul is so fractured he’s no longer human. Unicorn blood, likewise, preserves one through a cursed half-life that most judge undesirable.

Urshima Taro and visitors to Fairie:

When they return from their charmed, timeless lives, they find hundreds of years have passed and all their loved ones have gone. The price for this magical, timeless world is never being able to return.  Often, their ancient bodies can’t sustain them and they die. Notably, a Star Trek episode featuring suspended animation found the same result. (The Neutral Zone).

Death Wish, Requiem for Methuselah, New Frontier:

Several Star Trek episodes have addressed characters alive for centuries who only want to die, since life has nothing left to offer them.

The Holy Grail

Drinking from it can preserve people from death or allow them to live forever.  Few drawbacks, rarely pictured as evil or unnatural. The largest flaw is its inability to be found.

The Philosopher’s Stone

Creates an elixir that makes people younger, prolonging death.  Few drawbacks, rarely pictured as evil or unnatural. The largest flaw is its inability to be found.

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Hercules and Harry

All heroes travel the same journey.  Still, Hercules and Harry share a startling number of parallels, as both have their greatest foe try to kill them in the cradle, but accidentally offer them a great source of power.  The chart below is not the exact hero’s journey, but an indication of the trials each hero must endure as Hercules attempts his 12 tasks, and Harry journeys from lessons to Horcruxes to Hallows.

Hercules Potter Series Deathly Hallows Skill tested
Labor One – Nemean Lion

Hercules wears its skin for the rest of his labors..

Harry’s first major test is battling the troll. The reward (Hermione’s friendship) is something he carries forever. The first villain in Deathly Hallows is Voldemort, trying to stop him from escaping. Test:

Courage

 

Labor Two – Lernean Hydra  Hercules needs his nephew Iolus Fighting the Hornback (book 4). He swoops and dodges the reptilian creature, with outside help from his broom. Likewise, he sneaks through the Ministry to get to Umbridge. Test: Cleverness

 

Labor Three – Cerynitian Hind   He has to capture it alive Harry learns potions and transfiguration, all very delicate work.

 

The sword has a gentle doe guardian, testing his courage but not threatening him. Test: Care and Caution

 

Labor Four – Erymanthian BoarHercules’s teacher Chiron accidentally killed. Loss of Sirius and other friends. Harry must face the last tests without guidance. Dumbledore is accidentally killed while Harry is questing with him for the Horcrux. Test:

Loss of the mentor

Labor Five – Stables of Augeas An endless, impossible task Homework and classes. A wizard his age creating a patronus is deemed impossible, but Harry perseveres nonetheless. Endlessly waiting in the tent and traveling in search of Horcruxes Test: Patience
Labor Six – Stymphalian Birds Shrieking swarms This echoes the horde of keys guarding the Philosopher’s Stone. A giant deadly snake in Godric’s Hollow Test: Dexterity
Labor Seven – Cretan Bulls  Facing the vast empire of Minos, traveling far away Entering the Ministry, Knockturn Alley, the Hall of Prophecies, the graveyard, and other menacing places Camping in the countryside

 

Test: Exploring through adversity
Labor Eight – Mares of Diomedes

Hercules rescues Alcestis from death

Harry battles the basilisk to rescue Ginny, and then frees Dobby.

 

Rescuing the lady from the ministry (and getting the locket)

 

Lesson: Defending the weak
Labor Nine – Belt of Hippolyte

This mission calls for tact: the queen of the Amazons surrenders the belt freely

Harry convinces Cho to join the DA, and finally wins Cho’s then Ginny’s affection. Harry persuades Kreacher to trust him and to retrieve the locket.

 

Lesson:

Tact and relationships

 

Labor Ten – Cattle of GeryonHeated by the Sun, Hercules bends his bow at Helios himself Defiance of Fudge, Defying the Ministry Harry resists all the ministers of magic and their representatives, the highest authorities. Test:

Battling unjust authority

Labor Eleven – Apples of Hesperides  Hercules wrestles Antaeus, who gets his powers from earth, and kills him in midair He exploits Umbridge’s greed, Wormtail’s honor, Voldemort’s superiority, and more to defeat them. Harry uses the Horcruxes, Elder Wand, and his mother’s protection (which are all supposed to safeguard Voldemort) to defeat him.

 

Test: Exploiting the villain’s power to destroy him.
Labor Twelve – Hound of Hades Facing Fluffy, the three headed dog, guarding the path down to Voldemort .

 

Self sacrifice in the Forbidden Forest Test: Facing death in the deepest pit.

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