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RE: [mythsoc] LOTR: A Story for Grown-ups

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  • Elizabeth Apgar Triano
    I guess I missed something: who has whined about LOTR s lack of adolescent hormones? thanks, Lizzie Elizabeth Apgar Triano lizziewriter@earthlink.net amor
    Message 1 of 4 , Jun 30, 2004
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      I guess I missed something: who has whined about LOTR's lack of adolescent
      hormones?

      thanks,

      Lizzie

      Elizabeth Apgar Triano
      lizziewriter@...
      amor vincit omnia
    • Liz Milner
      He s a Grail knight, said University of Maryland English professor Verlyn Flieger, who specializes in myth. Like Galahad, the Round Table knight who finally
      Message 2 of 4 , Jul 4, 2004
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        "He's a Grail knight," said University of Maryland English professor Verlyn
        Flieger, who specializes in myth. Like Galahad, the Round Table knight who
        finally succeeded in his quest for the Holy Grail, Armstrong grew up without
        his natural father, who left his mother when he was a baby. Like many an
        ancient hero, Armstrong's will to succeed has been forged in fire:
        testicular cancer, which invaded his lungs and brain and nearly killed him
        in 1996, when his pro cycling career was starting to flower.

        Starting today, the 32-year-old Armstrong is engaging in the ur-contest:
        against himself. "That is the more interesting and psychologically difficult
        battle," said Flieger. "He's battling against his own record. And he's
        battling against his own body as he approaches the point where his strength
        is not up to the task."


        For the full story see below:

        Tour all about blood, sweat, gears
        Event tests cyclists' ability, endurance and sportsmanship By Sarah Kaufman

        Updated: 9:36 p.m. ET July 03, 2004At a time when elements of Broadway and
        Vegas have invaded so much of the sports world, there is something classic
        about the Tour de France.


        The three-week-long bike race unspools today on a path toward certain pain,
        physical punishment and hazards of all sorts that are unmatched in
        athletics.

        Like completing the Appalachian Trail or running the Iditarod, riding in the
        Tour is at once very simple and richly metaphoric. It is heavy on steak,
        light on sizzle. It is exquisite self-flagellation, whose redemption comes
        in a commingling of anguish and glory.

        The Tour is decidedly medieval. With its platoons of the strongest and
        steeliest cyclists, astride the finest two-wheeled steeds that modern
        engineering can devise, traversing mountains and misery in equal measure and
        adhering to a code of honor that governs everything from bathroom breaks to
        what to do if your key rival crashes (wait politely for him to get back on
        the bike, of course), the Tour resembles nothing so much as a heroic quest
        from the days of King Arthur.

        Sure, most of the competitors are anorexic-looking, hollow-cheeked fellows
        with wan white chests and baby-smooth legs, wearing flashy Spandex and
        oversize insectoid sunglasses. To many, they may look more like large crop
        pests than warrior princes.

        But stick with this for a while. Throw five-time winner Lance Armstrong —
        the fatherless Texas boy who vanquished cancer on his way to becoming a pop
        icon and possibly one of the greatest athletes of all time — into the mix
        and you have so many parallels to mythic hero tales that fans need look no
        further for their 21st-century action figure.

        Perhaps this is why the Tour has fascinated Europe for the past century, and
        its fame is growing steadily here. It is the most storied contest in a sport
        that runs on technology (one of Armstrong's bikes incorporates materials
        used in space satellites). Yet it follows an ancient formula, where men are
        called to venture into open country and prove themselves against their
        rivals and against their own weaknesses. Tackling the slopes of the Pyrenees
        (during the race's second week) and the Alps (in the third), riders will
        crack, get dropped, slip backward, fall over sideways. Others will claw and
        grind their way up to the finish, only to face the same pain, fear and
        difficulty the next day, and the next.

        "It's a mirror-like reflection of real life," says Bob Roll, a former pro
        bike racer and a Tour commentator for cable's Outdoor Life Network. "It's
        like a soap opera unfolding. . . . It's a melodrama that guys are actually
        going through. Once you identify the strengths and weaknesses, you go
        through it with them."

        No rider makes his way to the finish at Paris's Arc de Triomphe alone.

        Teamwork is essential to the race: Eight pack dogs surrounding the alpha
        male. Bike racing is about working through pain, and beating back the wind.
        Riding six- to eight-hour days on the open road, you need your buddies
        around you as human windshields.

        If the team leader is a knight, his teammates (known by the French term
        "domestiques") are his squires. There's a feudal sense of hierarchy on the
        teams, designed to keep the leader in the best winning position throughout
        the race. This is especially true on Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team,
        which adheres to an all-for-one strategy. If deep within your domestique
        heart lies a grain of ambition to steal a Tour win away from Armstrong, you
        belong somewhere else. (Two of his chief rivals this year — the American
        Tyler Hamilton and Spain's Roberto Heras — are former teammates who defected
        to lead teams of their own.)

        On the Armstrong Express, your job is to suffer deeply each day to protect
        one guy.

        The teammate in front is battling wind resistance; everyone behind benefits
        from a 25 to 30 percent reduction in effort by riding in his slipstream. As
        lactic acid builds up in the muscles of the man heading into the wind, his
        thighs begin to burn. When he can no longer keep up the necessary pace, he
        fades back, and the teammate next in line takes his place.

        For much of the race, Armstrong rides relatively coolly a few men behind.
        Only at decisive moments in the mountains does he "attack," accelerating at
        a pace that tears the legs off his competitors. If he's thirsty, hungry or
        needs a rain jacket, designated teammates drop back to the team car to load
        their pockets with supplies.

        Domestiques are part mule, part Marine, fueled by loyalty to their leader.

        "A lot of being a domestique goes against what America sees as the elite
        athlete," said Ted Butryn, a professor of sports sociology and psychology at
        San Jose State University. In this country, the typical professional sports
        star is admirably self-indulgent — holding out for a contract, negotiating a
        deal, celebrating in the end zone. Compare this with the domestique, who
        gets respect in the subculture of cycling but is completely anonymous beyond
        that. "Where we're socialized to succeed, to work hard, what if your success
        is predicated on somebody else succeeding?" Butryn asks.

        Postal team member George Hincapie said recently: "I'm not really there for
        the recognition." He was in the Pyrenees and he had just finished a six-hour
        training ride so punishing that his speech was slurred. "I love the sport
        and I appreciate that I get to do it for a living."

        Hincapie, who is the only teammate to have squired Armstrong through all
        five Tour wins, marks his achievement in small, personal ways.

        There was the day last year when Armstrong's handlebars caught on the straps
        of a feed bag dangling from a fan's hands and he slammed to the asphalt.

        Doubts about Armstrong's fitness had been gathering throughout the race, but
        he went on to win that stage, thanks to Hincapie, whose push into the wind
        had brought his leader to the base of the Luz Ardiden peak in such good
        fashion that he could go on to conquer it. Hincapie slogged across the
        finish some 20 minutes behind. Armstrong, shaken but victorious, was already
        on the podium, acknowledging the comrade who had helped put him there.

        "I was going through the crowd," Hincapie said, "and I pointed to him,
        yelling at him — and he was pointing to me. It was funny; we both knew he
        had just jumped from not being sure of himself to being sure of himself —
        and being the same old Lance."

        Brotherhood — and fealty — alive on a Pyrenean crest.

        Tour de France history is full of examples of heroic exertion and gallantry.
        To be sure, there are also rats and opportunists and selfish
        "wheel-suckers," those who take up real estate in the slipstream and never
        pull at the front. As in many endurance sports, doping allegations and
        suspicions have dogged some of the favorites. (Armstrong included — an
        accusatory book has just been published in France by two journalists,
        British and French, though they acknowledge they have no proof of drug use
        and Armstrong, who is tested incessantly, denies the rumors.) Just in the
        past week, four riders have been forced to pull out of the Tour because of
        suspected drug use.

        But no other sport boasts a champion like five-time Tour winner Eddie
        Merckx, the Belgian considered to be the greatest cyclist of all time for
        his unmatched stream of victories in races besides the Tour.

        Merckx's 1975 attempt at a sixth Tour win was plagued with disasters. During
        one stage a spectator socked him, injuring his kidneys. Doctors advised
        Merckx to stop. He refused. Two days later, he touched wheels with another
        rider and crashed. Nose smashed and jaw broken — and wired shut — he sucked
        food through a straw for the remaining days of the race. Yet he wouldn't
        quit, even though at his daily news conferences, the whole dais would be
        shaking because Merckx, racked with pain, was shaking.

        "Journalists followed him everywhere, waiting for him to retire," recalls
        veteran cycling commentator Phil Liggett. "And he said, 'You can forget it.
        I'm not giving up, even if I can't win the Tour de France. You will say that
        the guy who wins only did so because I abandoned.' "

        Merckx soldiered on, heaving himself into second place behind Frenchman
        Bernard Thevenet.

        In the process, said Liggett, the vanquished winner "made Thevenet look
        fantastic."

        In its best moments, the Tour highlights honor as much as it does brute
        strength. A worthy contender pauses for the opponent who crashes, so as not
        to gain advantage purely because of luck, an icy patch, melting tar, etc.
        This happened a few years ago when German rider Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's
        greatest rival, ran off the road and flipped over his handlebars. Armstrong,
        already wearing the leader's yellow jersey, waited for him to catch up. Last
        year, Ullrich returned the favor after Armstrong was downed by the errant
        feed bag.

        And if the Yellow Jersey needs to pull over to answer nature's call? You do
        not choose this moment to attack. It simply isn't done — you risk being
        pelted with water bottles and dragged back to the peloton (as the mass of
        riders is called) for verbal flogging in half a dozen languages. One needs
        friends in the peloton. Best not to tick them off by flouting decorum.

        Besides, it's just not sporting.

        Lance Armstrong, as anyone glancing at a magazine rack lately knows, is
        hoping to achieve what no man ever has: a sixth Tour victory. That sixth
        heavy chalice — the trophy given to winners, along with about $400,000 — is
        the Holy Grail of cycling.

        Who better than Armstrong to attain it?

        "He's a Grail knight," said University of Maryland English professor Verlyn
        Flieger, who specializes in myth. Like Galahad, the Round Table knight who
        finally succeeded in his quest for the Holy Grail, Armstrong grew up without
        his natural father, who left his mother when he was a baby. Like many an
        ancient hero, Armstrong's will to succeed has been forged in fire:
        testicular cancer, which invaded his lungs and brain and nearly killed him
        in 1996, when his pro cycling career was starting to flower.

        Starting today, the 32-year-old Armstrong is engaging in the ur-contest:
        against himself. "That is the more interesting and psychologically difficult
        battle," said Flieger. "He's battling against his own record. And he's
        battling against his own body as he approaches the point where his strength
        is not up to the task."

        What if he loses? Judging by precedent, Armstrong can still win in the
        public eye. Loss humanizes a hero. We like flawed heroes, as long as they're
        more hero than flaw. (Mike Tyson, for example, has the proportions all
        wrong. Babe Ruth got them right.) Losing, in fact, would put Armstrong in
        company with the legendary knight with whom he shares most of a name:
        Lancelot. It was gifted, charismatic Lancelot who first got close to the
        Grail. Faulted by God for his moral shortcomings — messing around with the
        king's wife — Lancelot was granted only a vision of the Grail, and not the
        prize itself.

        Yet Lancelot's story is an enduring favorite. Torn between his passion for
        God and for Guinevere and his desire to excel, Lancelot became a knight for
        the ages. "We like him because of the failing," Flieger said, "because the
        failing is married to his heroic effort and to the conflict within him."

        Divorced in December, Armstrong has been inseparable from rocker Sheryl Crow
        for much of the past year. Has she been too distracting? The love affair
        will undoubtedly be factored into any failure. Armstrong may have more in
        common with Lancelot than he'd like.

        Yet as his perseverance in the Tour de France has shown us, he is perfectly
        suited to attempting what no one else has ever done.

        This is exactly what we look to heroes to do.

        © 2004 The Washington Post Company
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        Tour de France
        July 3-25
        • Armstrong plays it safe, is third overall
        • Notebook: Armstrong crows about Sheryl
        • Other champs support Armstrong
        • Lai: Lance no lock for 6th straight
        • Ullrich: Not just duel between me, Lance
        • Borges: Crow is inspiration enough
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        • Bondy: We take our best star for granted
        • Celizic: Lance not greatest ever — yet
        • Guts and Glory: The Armstrong story
        • Anatomy of a Champion: Armstrong's body
        • Top of the Tour: Best riders ever
        • Tour de Lance: Race map, riders to watch
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