Saturday, September 20, 2008

Did Hector Avalos ever exist?

I was recently reading the Legend of Avalos. For an online version, see here:

As a keen student of comparative mythology (e.g. Campbell, Eliade, Frazer, Frye) I instantly saw how the Legend of Avalos is a highly redacted pastiche of mythopoetic archetypes.

I. The Monomyth

1. In general, the Legend of Avalos represents a variant on the Quest. In particular, it represents the anti-Quest, with Avalos as the anti-Hero.

2. His grandmother represents the Heroine.

3. Harvard represents the Tempter or seductress.

4. He must traverse a major river (the Rio Grande) to reach his new destination, thereby recapitulating the life of Joshua (crossing the Jordan).

5. Moving from the country to the city represents a stock plot motif. Small-town boy makes good.

6. Moving from south of the border to north of the border symbolizes his downfall. In ANE cartography, east lay at the top of the map. Facing east, north would lie on one’s left-hand side. Hence, a northern reorientation carries ominous connotations (i.e. the hand of the devil).

7. His migration exemplifies the Journey motif.

8. His rags-to-riches story exemplifies the Cinderella motif.

9. His life-threatening illness exemplifies the Death-Rebirth motif.

10. His admission to Harvard exemplifies the Rite of Passage.

11. Admission to Harvard also represents the Temptation motif. His initiation (stock plot motif) into the cuneiform mysteries precipitates his fall from innocence and self-exile from Paradise.

12. His name (Hector) is a heavy-handed literary allusion to a Homeric hero from the Iliad.

II. Criteria of Authenticity

Is there a kernel of truth in the Legend of Avalos? To answer that question, we need to apply standard Historical-Critical techniques to authenticate his words and deeds.

1. On the face of it, it’s highly unlikely that a real person would exemplify so many archetypal motifs.

2. What if we apply the criterion of dissimilarity to the Legend of Avalos? Just as a Jesus tradition must be dissimilar to both the church and the synagogue to be deemed authentic, an Avalos tradition must be dissimilar to both the church and the academy to be deemed authentic.

But the various details of the Avalos legend all reflect stock characters and stock plot devices derived from Pentecostalism or academia.

III. Conclusion

Based on the criterion of dissimilarity, as well as multiple parallels with the literary anti-Hero, we’re forced to conclude that the Legend of Avalos is pulp fiction. The anonymous redactor cobbled together the narrative details from either reading comic books or watching B-movies—possibly both.


  1. "His rags-to-riches story exemplifies the Cinderella motif."

    It's worse than that. As Lewis and Childs point out, the Sargon Legend and the Moses Legend (allegedly) are examples of exposed-hero legends. The exposed-hero legend is, really, a species in the genus of a larger motif - the rags-to-riches motif. So the Avalos legend is related to the Sargon legend.

    Indeed, he was exposed by the Christian community after he apostatized, adopted by apostates, and has now become a hero for apostates. As Lewis says, which Avalos should know, these elements fit right in with the exposed-hero archtype. It doesn't have all 7 points, but neither did Moses or Sargon or the archtype.

    If Avlos asks the reason for exposure, it was due to shame and also to save his life (if he should return and his soul be saved, cf. I Cor. 5). Lewis points out that "shame and life-saving" are the two most popular, and probably original, reasons for exposure.

    So if we go back far enough, we can see the relationship between Avalos and the exposed-hero archtype.

    (But there's no water, so perhaps Avalos belongs in tradition B, and since he is familiar with Lewis I assume he's familiar with tradition B).

  2. “But there's no water, so perhaps Avalos belongs in tradition B.”

    But there is water. While that’s not stated in the Legend of Avalos, that’s implicit. The Rio Grande forms a natural (albeit partial) barrier between Mexico and the US.

    So his migration to the US also exemplifies the ordeal-by-water motif.

  3. Well that puts him back into tradition A!

    You've done some original work here. If I were you I'd make sure publishers include the Avalos Legend in the next edition of Lewis' monograph, along with the other 70 or so other examples of the exposed-hero motif he has in the book already. I mean, if Jesus can be included as an example of the exposed-heror motif, then certainly Avalos can since he has more in common with the motif than Jesus has.