cover image Maiden King

Maiden King

Robert W. Bly, Marion Woodman. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5777-5

The authors base their book on a hugely intriguing Russian tale of similar name, ""The Maiden Tsar,"" which they read from a mythological perspective that seeks to ""reunite the masculine and feminine"" principles. Principles because, as Bly points out, as concepts they do not belong to, or necessarily express attributes of, the female/male genders as conventionally based on sexedness. Those familiar with Bly's previous book on a similar theme, Iron John, or Woodman's Leaving My Father's House, will recognize the Jungian approach--archetypical, metaphorical--employed to demonstrate how we can achieve self-actualization only through an integration of these complementary principles. This book early on declares that no ""battle of the sexes"" exists in the metaphorical world, because when two people come together, whether of the same or other gender, four people are present--for the masculine and feminine are alive in each individual. The book itself is divided into two parts: first, Bly interprets the story, then Woodman does the same. Bly's is a virtual line-by-line reading, informed by his vast knowledge of art and literature--comparisons are made, other stories and characters invoked. Woodman's thematic approach discusses such topics as ""positive mother vs. Stepmother,"" ""power without presence"" and a ""journey into the unconscious."" In sum, Bly's analysis is largely literary, Woodman's psychological. The transcript of a conversation between Bly and Woodman closes the book in a fascinating kind of antiphonal last word. Those who think criticism has little application to real life may think twice after putting this work down. (Oct.)