Literatur | Philosophie | Sprache
Anusha Spescha, 2002 | Zürich, ZH
This paper proposes the comparison of two works of fiction, namely Homer’s Odyssey and the BBC’s Doctor Who, not on the basis of adaptation, but on the basis of similarities in creation, structure, and content in order to work out a more complex understanding of both works and their respective cultural significance. The Odyssey is the second oldest work of western fiction that circulated as an oral epic for centuries before it was put into writing. Doctor Who is an ongoing British science fiction series produced since 1963 and a cornerstone of British pop culture.
The numerous possible topics of comparison were organized according to the following aspects: parallels in creation, structure, and content. This allowed for significant insights: By overlaying the ancient and the modern versions, they act as foils for each other. This process highlights nuances whilst also driving home that many of the demands we have for popular fiction have not changed through the ages, simply because they fulfill basic human needs.
This paper posits that there are significant and meaningful parallels between Homer’s Odyssey and the BBC’s Doctor Who, despite them being very different works of fiction. It argues that these parallels help us not only understand what makes stories popular but also allow for a more complex understanding of both works and their respective cultural significance. The parallels analyzed expand beyond the corpus of the two texts and encompass elements of the respective work‘s backgrounds. These also include aspects that, when observed in isolation, may be considered medium-specific.
Parallels were identified during intensive study of the source material and their respective secondary sources. This paper offers a close reading of the source material while applying methods similar to Elisabeth Bronfen’s approach of visual readings or crossmappings. In analyzing the cultural impact of older works of fiction on today’s society, it also deploys elements of media-archeology.
Three examples may illustrate the breadth of comparison offered:
‘Parallels in Creation’ finds the author discussing similarities of audience inclusion: The singers of tales adapted their material according to audience expectations and reactions. Likewise, Doctor Who re-works repetitive motives during its circular seasonal ‘telling’. The show adapts to changing audience reactions throughout the decades.
In terms of structure, it is possible to posit a similarity in function of the ‘epitheta ornantia’ and the signature musical themes—thus showing how, while the form is medium-specific, their functions are not. Both help identify characters while at the same time reminding the audience of past scenes and their tragic or comedic implications—they may even hint at future developments and help stitch together the fabric of the text.
‘Parallels in Content’ offers a chapter about a central ‘dea ex machina’ in both stories: the Goddess Athena and the personalized time- and space machine ‘TARDIS’. They are similar as characters but also analogue as storytelling devices.
The work aims to present innovative approaches and original thoughts. It is based in textual analysis supplemented by other disciplines including aspects of media-archaeology. As both this and crossmapping were applied intuitively for much of the paper—the author only discovered these methods after having finished most of the work—a more theory-based approach could have been beneficial.
The paper does not insinuate that the creators of Doctor Who were actively inspired by the Odyssey. However, no story is born in a vacuum. Any tale will, whether intentionally or unintentionally, be inspired and affected by those that predated it. This paper does not attempt to completely explain the complex process that propels textual, auditive or visual formulas through times and from medium to medium, but the number of parallels that were discovered strongly implies a connection of these two stories across the ages and the insights that were gained show this kind of comparison to be worthwhile.
Perhaps the formulas for popular story-telling have not changed that drastically over the last two millennia, because they fulfill similar basic individual and communal needs. The nature of storytelling and its importance with respect to being human would be a fascinating further field of discussion.
Würdigung durch die Expertin
Anusha Spescha presents an innovative reading of Homer’s Odyssey, one of the oldest works of Western fiction, and the contemporary television series Doctor Who by analyzing parallels in creation, structure, and content. Offering a combination of close readings and media archeology, she identifies significant similarities between these two works of fiction, importantly also of aspects that, usually, are dismissed as medium-specific. Thus, her project not only adds to our understanding of both works, but also sheds new light on their respective cultural and transhistorical significance.
Sonderpreis Aldo e Cele Daccò – European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS)
Kantonsschule Wiedikon, Zürich
Lehrer: Ulrich Seyfried