Book Review: Snowy Tower, Dr. Martin Shaw
Book Review by Andreas Kornevall Author: Dr. Martin Shaw White Cloud Press Ashland, Oregon ISBN: 978-1-935952-92-3 Snowy Tower, Parzival and the Wet Black Branch of Language by Martin Shaw is an exceptional follow up to his first book: A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace of Wildness. Martin delivers an epic tale and offers us his insight and sharp-wittedness on topics as varied as climate change, language, myth and the soul. The story he unravels is that of Parzival, a medieval German romance, written by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach in the the 13th century. The narrative focuses on the Arthurian hero named Parzival and his quest for the Grail. But this story, with its symbolism as rich as a tarot deck, is not only a product of the fertile imagination of one thirteenth century court poet. On the contrary, as Martin Shaw’s commentary elucidates, this story is grown from a deep root of immemorial antiquity and offers us a vitality only felt when encountering real myth. The structure of the book is not unlike Robert Bly’s groundbreaking work Iron John. But this is not only a man’s story, women (Martin writes) with “their grief, deftness, humour, and courage, form a crucial framework for our whole journey.” We find in the beginning of the tale, young Parzival setting out into the world towards an unknown destiny. He leaves the nest. When he first encounters the feminine, he rescues her, he falls in love, and “deflowers her” (takes her virginity). But his act of chivalry and love is not fulfilled in marriage, instead he steals a golden ring from her hand. Here the story opens up the dilemma many young men have in confronting and taming the wild horse of their sexuality. The society’s perception of man’s sexual identity is veiled in shame, and it should not be underestimated what negative effects this has on young men. Thus, the beginning of a man’s self-discovery is first a recognition of his “shameful self”. Martin reminds us that the experience Parzival goes through is to the point today as it was then. On the subject of Parzival’s journey, and the characters he stumbles upon, Martin’s commentary is a word-hoard of fantastical imagery. Here is one of my favourites: “After five years’ wandering bewildered and aggrieved in the wastelands, his companions are a hag with the snout of a dog, claws of a lion, and tusks of a boar, and a pagan brother mottled black and white like a magpie.” This language takes us into the “genius of the margins” - this is not the language you would be taught in a creative writing class, we are not in the realm of minimalistic use of words here. Instead he is in service to the imagination, and he has no care to satisfy the modern reader who is wanting to “hurry, and get to the point.” His, opulent and wordy, language carries a resonant significance when we are in the realm of myth. Having worked most of his life with difficult youth’s and helping them through rites of passage programmes, Martin offers clarity on the many difficult experiences all of us need to face in our lives. The story taught me how to gain a sense of self-worth and discernment into my own back-breaking paths through life. As we stare out towards an unknown future wondering where our human culture is going, The Snowy Tower, through Parzival’s example, teaches us how to re-align our instinctive acts, with humility, compassion and sympathy, as only then can we receive teachings towards a spiritual revelation. And what does Martin tell us of the Grail, the mystery itself? This sums up most of his work and style as he writes: “Ah, surely you have read a hundred books already to tell you what it is. Burn them. Ride out at midnight due north and don’t stop till you fly off the very edge of the world. It may be there. Or it may be right where you are sitting now.” Yes, this book will make you ponder. Incidents are followed by incidents and the existential drama never flags between the pages. I expect many more book-gems will be coming out from his pen in the future. The mighty story of Parzival belongs to the perennial wisdom from the mythic lands, and it will speak differently to each individual who reads it. I recommend this book to all those lost at sea.