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NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

COURTESY OF DANIEL WALLACE

victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”7 His stories make him the hero he purports to be. Edward doesn’t have to go very far to get material for his stories. Many of them are bastardized versions of those of the Greeks and Romans – a difference in the novel and film, which depends more on stories about popular culture events, like a circus. The scene where Edward leaves his small town and ventures toward the city but has to prove his worthiness by getting through the mystical town “that had no name” and get past the notorious Dog, famous for biting off fingers, has echoes of a hero making his way in and out of the Underworld and facing Cerberus, the dog gatekeeper. Edward’s “three labors” (92) are reminiscent of Hercules’s tasks. First Edward works as a veterinarian assistant who must clean out the dogs’ kennels and cats’ cages – sounding a great deal like Hercules cleaning the Stables of Augeas. Second, Edward works as a girdle salesman and must fit the never-satisfied Mrs. Rainwater, reminiscent of Hercules having to obtain the Girdle of Hippolyta. Finally, Edward must face a wild dog terrorizing his neighborhood, as Hercules had to bring the watchdog Cerberus from the Underworld to the surface. Additionally, there is a giant who must be tamed by Edward, a Cyclops figure (who also appears in the film). On another occasion, he is compared to Mercury because he is “so fast it was said he could arrive in a place before setting out to get there” (78). In the war, he is “of course, a sailor,” much like Odysseus (101). On numerous occasions in the narrative, William refers to his father as “a god,” “divine,” and “godlike” (95, 107, 121), and William admits that he believes his father is immortal: “My father gave me early indications that he would live forever” (128). Along with mythic references, there are archetypes found throughout the novel: water is an important symbol of rebirth, blessings, and immortality. Water in the form of rain comes to the wasteland on the day Edward is born, and when he dies, he returns to the river as a sort of sacred fish. Beautiful women are associated with water, too, as the goddess figures who come to Edward during significant moments. The archetype of the journey is clearly evident, the all-knowing and all-seeing eye of the witch, duels between good and evil. The novel is packed with parallels to well-known myths and legends, and Edward is the hero of them all. Like all heroes, Edward is on a quest, but it is not for gold, glory, or to kill a dragon. For Edward, the purpose of the quest is much more personal, for Edward has crafted these stories of heroism for his son. During one conversation Edward has with William on his deathbed, he says, “‘Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal’” (20). This is an important clue as to Edward’s real purpose in storytelling, the point of his

LEFT Matthew McGrory as Karl the Giant and Ewan McGregor as Edward in Big Fish

7

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The Power of Myth (Pantheon Books, 1949) 27.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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