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A Jungian Analysis of Walt Disney's "The Lion King"

Watch Disney's 1994 animation, "The Lion King", for a demonstration of Jungian understanding of archetypal principals at work in your life.

Then watch Dr Jordan Peterson's analysis.

Material for Jung Zoom Study Group discussion of the Lion King (meeting March 26th, 2019)

In my last letter I said that with the passing of older Jungian teachers, we must "dream the dream forward" and redefine the Jungian concepts to illuminate our own time, our own zeitgeist. Jung stated clearly that we must not rely on that which has already been achieved but must renew enduring truths. Like democracy, for instance, which will atrophy or be eroded if we don't actively participate in living it.

First of all, a personal story: I did my PhD at the University of Queensland and I chose C.G. Jung and Luce Irigaray as my primary interlocutors. My supervisors said I couldn't use Jung, that his thinking was “not respected in the academy” and that I should “choose a better thinker”. (!) I objected and persisted and they conceded, “Well, OK, you’d better argue your case very well". I was not their favourite candidate. Two chapters in my thesis focus on a modern (my/Jungian/Irigarayan) interpretation of the Fairy Tale “The Handless Maiden” and the university again had conniptions.

My personal experience is relevant because a Professor of Psychology has been teaching Jung at university for decades. Not only that, but his students love it. “I don’t quite know how I’ve gotten away with it,” he says. Prof Jordan B Peterson has reached an extraordinary number of people, and his teaching orbits around Jung (and philosophy, and literature, and myth) in a very similar way to Jung himself. He describes Jung as a brilliant thinker. (Thank you for that vindication - not that UQ is listening!)

Dr Peterson's lectures have had over 100 million YouTube hits. 100 million people listening to Jung? (And other foundations of psychology.) And growing exponentially! I’ve always felt that Jung’s teaching was not (only?) for his time, but I certainly think Jung’s teaching is "an idea whose time has come." What a great time to be alive!

Dr Peterson is a luminous presence among those teachers and thinkers. Like all good Jungians, he loves to work with myth and he has done an extensive analysis of Walt Disney’s The Lion King. Be warned though, Dr Peterson's views are contoversial! Some of your views are likely to be challenged! It is important that you think for yourself.

So this month I invire you to study the Lion King, and extract what you can. I begin with the idea of the making of a hero. But before getting to our study materials, let me pose a few questions:

What IS a hero?

What does it mean to act heroically, in our current time?

Is a hero simply one who stands firm in the face of evil? (Does evil exist?) One who speaks when others are silent? Or is there perhaps more to being a hero in our modern era? Something even more daring?

John Bucher is a renowned strategist, communicator, and cultural mythologist based out of Hollywood, California, and he writes on the subject of the modern hero in a blog at the Joseph Campbell Foundation A worthy place to visit.

John Butcher suggests that “perhaps heroes are those who cause us to keep coming back to the mystery—the mystery within ourselves, within others, and within our universe. Perhaps today’s heroes are those who continue to spark wonder, belief, and even hope at moments when those concepts seem so far away. When logic and scepticism have made cynicism a safe harbour, heroes are those who dare to forge out into the raging waters, whispering, “Yes, but what if…?””

Most importantly, says Butcher, “we spend more time in search of the hero that might come along to save us from our boredom, from our apathy, from our depressed state, than we do in considering that the face of heroism might lie within our own mirror." That the face of heroism might be in our own mirror, think of that.

So this is precisely about our own inner journey.

Now for the Study Questions:

  • Do you think you were subliminally aware of the symbology of the Lion King when you watched it as a kid? Or as an adult?
  • Which one figure or motif in the movie speaks to you specifically, personally and resonantly? How? What? Find examples.
  • What is it, for you, that brings the story alive through Dr Peterson's teaching style? Specific examples.
  • These study questions will also form the basis for our discussion.

Finally, finally, study material:

  • Watch The Lion King, 1994, before watching Dr Peterson’s interpretation. You might also like to watch the 2019 version - it has a different impact.
  • Watch Dr Peterson’s university lectures on the Lion King. There are several. One. Two. And you are likely to find even more.
  • THINK. Then bring your thinking close to your heart and think some more.
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