This is the sixth card of the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck. It may look unfamiliar to many, however, though it is a very traditional image for this card. For most, however, the Tarot deck is a tradition that only goes back as far as the early twentieth century when Pamela Colman Smith drew the cards for the famous Rider-Waite deck, based on instructions from the occultist, Arthur Waite. Since that time virtually every new deck has been a variation on this one, a fact the disigners of new decks--the "Cute Puppy Tarot Deck," or whatever, prefer not to play up. Before that time Tarot decks had suit cards that were stylized rather than pictoral, and were much closer to playing cards, except for the Major Arcana, which can easily be removed. In fact, in Spanish speaking countries there is a playing deck much closer to the Tarot deck than the deck familiar to most Americans.
In his reworking of the Tarot, Waite not only creates pictures for the previously stylized suit cards, but in some cases radically redesigns cards of the Major Arcana. His pictures are never arbitrary, but are based on the traditional sense of the card's meaning, which makes reading much easier for the untrained. (Many familiar with card reading use the standard playing deck, though for the typical new-ager, seeing significance in, for instance, the eight of clubs is rather a challenge. The new pictures for the Major Arcana, of course, are presented as a return to a more "correct" version. Mr. Waite has a lot of occult knowledge, but like most people of his era, he did not have enough sense of archetype or enough faith in intuition to see the value of traditional symbols not particularly occult. His change of the death card from a picture of a skeleton reaper mowing a field of heads and hands to death as a horseman has met widespread resistance. It is the least copied of all of Waite's cards.
Another Major Arcana card that Waite radically redesigns is "The Lovers." A traditonal version is pictured above. Waite claimed that the cupid was a cliche and the hunchback irrelevant, and eliminated them both. The cupid, of course, is a cliche, but that does not mean that it is insignificant to the picture. As for the hunchback, anything seemingly so obviously and absurdly irrelevant must have some reason to have gotten there in the first place, and then to have remained. That is the subject of this essay--why the hunchback is there. The answer to that question, of course, requires the answering of a larger question--what is the archetypal significance of hunchbacks in general, and especially in relation to matters of love.
Can we say the hunchback is in contrast to the cupid? That is, is he the enemy of the lovers driven to hatred by his own unlovliness--that would be clear, simple, and logical, which makes it highly unlikely as an explantion of myth or archetype. Besides, he does not look malevolent; in fact he appears rather pleased. The expression shows more clearly on the actual picture than on its reproduction here.
We will take a different approach. What other famous hunchbacks are there, and are they always in the company of lovers? The first to occur to me, though probably not the most famous, is Aminadab in Hawthorne's "The Birthmark." Inconveniently for my argument, now that I reread the story, I discover that Aminadab is not a hunchback, but rather a crude trogladyte--in Hawthorne's words, "a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace." He belongs to the same generic group of dwarfish, earth-elementals as hunchbacks, however, so I will continue with him for the present. Further, though Hawthorne does not give him this physical trait, he is closely related to others in film and literature who do, such as the Igor of the film, Young Frankenstein.
(None of this, by the way, has anything to do with actual hunchbacked people. We are not talking of real individuals, but the inhabitants of the collective unconscious).
In this story Aylmer, a scientist, austere and idealistic, but afflicted with hybris, marries a woman of almost unearthly beauty and purity. She is almost, but not quite perfect, for her perfection is marred by a small, faint birthmark on her cheek in the shape of a hand. Although Aminadab declares it her most beautiful feature, it becomes an obsession with Aylmer, the one earthly imperfection that completely spoils her beauty for him, and he determines to remove it, whatever the danger or difficulty.
After a long and difficult operation the scientist succeeds, though his wife, freed from all connection with the earthly, dies, thus becoming pure spirit. Alymer is left in despair, and the story ends with Aminadab's hoarse, chuckling laugh, and Hawthorne's editorial comment, "thus ever does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demands the completeness of a higher state."
Aminadab backwards is bad anima, which means bad spirit. There is ambivalence, however, about Aminadab's bad anima; there seems to be an aura of evil about him, yet the only evil, if it is an evil, is committed by the scientist. Further, he is part of a dichotamy: "with his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man's physical nature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale intellectual face, were no less aft a type of the spiritual element." (Hawthorne apparently thinks we aren't smart enoough to understand his symbols without explanation.) Hawthorne is here putting him in the class of people like Sancho Panza and Dr. Watson who are not evil, but who represent the more physical, less intellectual side of human nature. To Hawthorne, the source of the bad anima is the fact that Aminadab recognizes only the physical, while virtue requires that one regret the physical side of existence, even though wisdom tells us that we must come to terms with it.
Is man's physical nature evil? About that we are ambivalent. Man was good, or at least innocent in the Biblical state of nature; was his nature, nature in general, corrupted by the fall--Augustine says yes, Pelagius, no. And ever since we have divided ourselves philosophically along those lines. Since most of us are not philosophers, however, most of us tend to hold both views simultaneously, however mutually exclusive they seem to be.
No doubt I assumed Aminadab was a hunchback partly because the archetype suggests it, but largely by association with Igor, the hunchbacked assistant to another idealistic and austere scientist from the same era, Dr. Frankenstein. Igor was not in the original novel, nor in the first movies; once he appeared, however, he seemed less an addition than a previously overlooked feature, and in the parody, Young Frankenstein, he is a central character, the earth-bound assistant with the bad anima.
But are dwarfs and hunchbacks archetypally the same--not entirely, for though Igor could have been merely a dwarf, we could not have had "Snowwhite and the Seven Hunchbacks." However, conceptions do overlap. For one thing, being hunchbacked is likely to create the appearance of dwarfishness, because it does reduce height. Further, the two traits often appear together--the poet Alexander Pope and the actor Michael Dunne are examples. And the dwarf of tradition is often pictured as bowed from carrying a heavy bag. As an earth creature it is appropriate that the dwarf should look toward the earth. Ovid tells us in the first book of the Metamorphosis that man's nature retains some particles of the heavenly essence, and for that reason only, he of all the animals is designed to look upward. The hunchback, however, looks down, and the dwarf, even when not bent under a load, is apt to be working in the earth, or working with the substance of the earth, like Regin the dwarf/smith in Wagner's opera.
The dwarf as smith is a common conception both in folklore and Norse myth.
Both dwarves and hunchbacks share another trait--deformity, the one in size (and often in build), the other in build. Both Wayland, the semi-divine metal worker of Norse myth, and Vulcan/Haephestus, the smith-god of the Classical world are lame. The latter is the only one among the Classical divinities with a physical defect.
We have a dual sense of ourselves--first as an archetypal pattern apart from mere matter, and second as a physical being.Deformity assaults out sensibilities because it radically violates the form, that which sets us apart from mere matter. Most deformities, at least, can be looked upon as a deformity of the part; the hunchback's deformity is central to the whole structure. Is physical nature, then, deformed? Before considering that question, I will return to the matter of dwarfs, hunchbacks, and precious metals.
The moneylender of tradition is stoop shouldered if not hunchbacked. The Shylock of stage tradition was presented as stooped, red-haired, and long-nosed. The connection between red hair and earthiness will be discusssed in a later essay, "The Myth of the Chained Maiden." The long nose, a typical feature of the traditional dwarf, is of course phallic in association.
The relationship between sex and money is perhaps not immediately apparent, but it exists, and it provides the dynamic behind the work of many novelists. Some decades ago, Harold Robbins made a whole career of writing second rate best sellers with the money+sex theme. And, recall, The Merchant of Venice is primarily a love story. Sex, of course, is one of the lower functions, and the phallic nose indicates that the lower functions predominate visibly, and in what should be the higher part of the body. The propaganda value of picturing Jews as long-nosed as well as stoop-shouldered is not the implication that they are Eastern in origin, but that they are hoarders of gold, that is, their attention is downward, like the dwarf of the Ring Gold, in Wagner.
Down is a direction we have very mixed feelings about; the fundament is the realm of corruption as opposed to the firmament; yet we must get down to fundamentals (get our shit together, some might say) before we can accomplish anything. The association between gold and excrement is well known in psychology, and is the symbolic center of Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend, with its wealthy gatherer of garbage and excrement, "The Golden Dustman."
But is nature deformed--here our attitudes are ambivalent. To be natural is good; to be "a natural" is very bad. If one is "simple," he is either a very sensible or a very foolish person. "Simplicity" is a virtue unless possessed by a "simpleton." "Lewd," "vulgar," and "clown" were all originally terms given to simple country people.
Shakespeare reflects this paradox. A persistent element of his comedies is the forest retreat. The virtuous, but flawed characters are driven from city and court to the forest where they form a more virtuous and natural society. The villians then follow, and there, in the heart of nature, the good and bad sort themselves out, and all return to court, renewed, reorganized, and revitalized. And yet, they do return to court and city. The Tempest is set on an island paradise. However the hero Prospero turns all to artifice, and the only "natural" in this world of nature is the deformed monster Calaban.
The Winter's Tale is similar. A princess, Perdita, is lost as a child and grows up as a shepherdes, pure, simple, and natural--the pastoral ideal. Her fosterfather and brother, however, produced by the same environment are utter bumpkins. There is no sense that Shakespeare sees any incongruity. On the one hand, they are simply what we would expect of shepherds; on the other hand, she is. The king goes in disguise to a country festival and is overwhelmed by Perdita's purity and beauty, but is shocked and outraged to discover that his own son intends to marry her. And, finally Perdita is discovered and lifted from the degradation of her idyllic existence and elevated to the court, which the play has pictured as far frm idyllic.
The Tarzan books, too, represent the paradox. Is Tarzan better or worse for his acquaintance with civilization--both, the books suggest--more subtle and conscious, but therefore weaker, and stronger, and weaker . . . This is not an ambivanlence that exists merely in literature; it pervades our whole attitude about nature and civilization. After all, were nature not deformed, we would not need civilization and education to correct it; and if both are merely social mistakes, why do we not abolish them?
Paradoxically, nature is also the ideal of health and fruitfulness--the Jolly Green Giant and Tarzan are examples of that fact. The hunchback is a creature of earth, and so of nature--is therefore deformed, handicapped, and to be pitied. His hunched back is undeniably a disability. It will therefore come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the twists and turns of myth that the hunchback is a being of almost superhuman strength and agility, that he climbs, clambers, lifts, leaps, and scurries tirelessly. The most famous example of this quality is, of course, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet other hunchbacks of film and story are nearly as agile.
The archetypal hunchback is also malevolent and dangerous. Again, the first example that comes to mind may or may not be technically a hunchback; he is called a "deformed dwarf." He is the persecutor of Little Nell in Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop, Daniel Quilp, the most gleefully inventive of all Dickens' sadists, whose name is appropriately a cross between "quirt" and "whip." He too has the typical strength, agility, and tirelessness. Recall that Igor took sadistic pleasure in baiting the chained monster. The most memorable and sadistic villian in the TV series, The Wild Wild West was the hunchbacked dwarf, Michael Dunne who, in spite of his physical frailty, managed to convey the energy and agility, if not the strength of the archetype.
We might suppose that it is spite and envy that typically makes the hunchback of story so malevolent, as is the case with Homer's hunchback in the Iliad, Thersites, but apparently not. The hunchback is more often not malevolent and cruel in a sour, grudging way, but with real verve and enjoyment. His delight in suffering has an almost innocent exuberance. His cruelty is the cruelty of nature itself. Nature is cruel--is innocence? We know too well that it is--innocence is good and it is cruel, not simply a literary paradox, but a real one. To the extent that vice is something learned, nature is virtuous, as is Perdita; but to the extent that virtue is something learned, nature is wicked and cruel, as is the hunchback. If a child is raised up in the way he should go, he will turn into an upright person rather than a crook, or crookback.
But what do hunchbacks have to do with lovers? First, the hunchback represents nature--one side of our paradoxical view of it, the view that nature is the brute condition we must cultivate, educate, moralize ourselves out of. And yet, howeever crooked, cruel, imperfect nature is, we can not afford to get too far from it, for it is the strong, vital base of our being.
But lovers? I had always assumed that Igor, Aminadab, and other such beings existed as shadows to the scientist, physical nature as opposed to spirit and intellect, but the figure on the Tarot suggests that there is also an association with the scientist as lover. What has already been said, however, suggests an explanation. Love is spiritual--or is it? On the one hand, we associate love with the upper half of the body--head, heart, eyes, soul, emotions; on the other hand, with those lower parts of the body which are not very nice, but are none the less fundamental.
Love we tend to think of as the most purely human emotion, yet making love is a pleasure we all too obviously share with t he animals, and we do it in very much the same way. Sexual intercourse, like the production of urine and excrement, is one of the lower functions, and appropriately uses the same organs. When philosophers like Epicurus or Mill speak of "higher pleasures" they mean those involving the upper half of the body. In fact, stripped of its mystique, the act has a rather absurd, even a deformed quality. Recall Iago's words in Othello, "The Moor and your daughter are making the beast with two backs."
Without the hunchback, love would be pure spirit or pure Disney. Devotion, spiritual exaltation, all that is fine stuff; but as long as we're flesh and blood, the crass fundamentals will have their due. How much better off the scientist of Hawthorne's story would have been if he had given Aminadab his due instead of the last laugh.
Although the hunchback as an archetypal figure is inseperable from, and is clearly a subspecies of, the archetypal dwarf, he, unlike the dwarf, is nearly always associated with stories of love. And, far more frequently than the dwarf, he is a lover, himself, sometimes successful. Cousin Laymon, the hunchback in Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Cafe, has little difficulty winning the love of the heroine, though he later deserts her for her estranged husband. Richard III, in Shakespeare's play, claims that because of his deformity, he cannot be a lover (I, i, 11. 14-30), and yet shows considerable confidence in his abilities later when he decides to woo Lady Anne:
For then I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter.
What though I killed her husband and father?
The readiest way to make the wench amends
Is to become her husband and her father:
The which will I . . . (III, i, 11. 153-157)
Although imagined at times far apart, in different settings, for different literary traditions, and by very different authors, Richard III and Cousin Layman are alike and typical in their energy, agility, amorality, and maliciousness. The hunchback is a very stable conception.
An attempt at a more realistic presentation is Little Herr Friedman, of Thomas Mann's story of the same name. The title character is presented as delicate and sickly rather than as animated with an abundance of the life force. The story, however, is about love, as stories of hunchbacks inevitably are. Herr Friedman, knowing that he can not lead an ordinary physical life, puts all that aside and attempts to live entirely through t he arts and aesthetic pleasure. In stories of hunchbacks, however, the life of the body will have its due and, as we could have predicted, Herr Friedman does ultimately succumb to physical attraction. He falls for a woman who has given him some encouragement. She rejects him, and that fact destroys him.
By far the most famous hunchback is, of course, the hunchback of Notre Dame. In this story both the hunchback and t he priest who has raised him are in love with a gipsy girl. The girl, herself, loves a fickle soldier, whose desertion of her in her time of need contrasts very poorly with the heroic defense the hunchback gives her. The hunchback, as a purely physical creature, is ennobled by his ove, since it puts him in touch with the higher functions; the priest, as a spiritual being, is debased by his love, since it places him in touch with the lower functions.
The hunchback lacks the usual maliciousness, but he can hardly be considered a part of the moral order, and in several scenes he shows the traditional capacity for violence and cruelty. His last act in the story is a murder; he hurls the priest down from the top of the cathedral. The reader does not greatly blame him, partially because the act has considerable justification, but also because we don't really consider him morally responsible. He is strong and agile as well, and his clambering among the spires and gargoyles of the cathedral is one of those memorable scenes that transcends its contexts, that has all the emotive force of myth.
To conclude, the essential quality of the hunchback is a deformity so central that it cannot be ignored. If we refuse to see ourselves in the hunchback, we see only a figure of evil, like Richard III. If we look farther and see ourselves in him we are touched by a terrible and profound humility, and a pity for him, for ourselves, for all things sentient enough to aspire beyond the limits of their substance, for all like Little Herr Friedman. And finally, out of pure humility and knowledge of unworthiness comes exaltation of spirit, comes the Hunchback of Notre Dame whose claim to the love of the gipsy girl is ultimately the most valid, because only in him there is no claim to worthiness.