Before I dive into this, I should give the uninitiated of you a little background of myself. I was an Archaeologist for a few years, and studied for just about as long. My favorite cultures of study were the Mayan and Aztec. This led me to learning about the Popol Vuh.
The Popol Vuh was a set of stories that included their creation myths and, my favorite, the story of the twins (I could read the Wiki article, but doing this from memory is more fun for me). In it, the Twins go through a series of adventures that drag them through the land of the dead and back to the land of the living after a series of adventures and pranks against the various gods. (One of those stories has one of the brothers getting his head removed and they replace it with a cabbage and the cabbage transforms into the twin’s head. No issues. So, either magic cabbage or the kids were magic. I think it was the kids being magic.)
Anyway, I have a point to all of this. To succeed in their quest, they had to die, travel through the underworld, succeed, and escape the underworld. A lot of other cultures have similar stories of passing through the underworld to accomplish a goal. And I have a theory that this happened in Moana.
Yes. Moana, the Disney movie. With the Rock.
I have a 2 year old who is in love with, what she calls the movie, “Maui Time!” So, I have seen this movie more times that I have watched any movie I ever had to do an essay on in college (looking at you “The 6th Day”).
Moana’s goal is to leave the island with the Heart of Tafiti. If you watch it like any 2 year old or person with a passing interest, you will watch as Moana leaves the island, gets swept up by the ocean, wakes up on a tropical island where she finds the demigod, Maui. Other stuff happens that I’ll get to later.
Ok, so this theory of mine is that she doesn’t find any of the gods and underworld stuff, and she wouldn’t have ever found them, until after her ship gets capsized, exactly like happened to her father and his DIED DURING THE CAPSIZING friend. Then she mysteriously wakes up on the correct island and the demigod that she was looking for is there.
So, here’s my story. When Maui lost the Heart of Tafiti, the ocean brought it to the world of the living. Moana found it, and she was quested with returning it to him. Except he is in what I will henceforth refer to as Level 1 of the Spiritual Realm. Her boat capsizes because she has no idea what she’s doing on a canoe. She drowns and is spirited away to Level 1 of the Spiritual Realm where the spirit of the ocean has more power and can help guide her unconscious spirit to the right spot. Great, part one is done. She has found Maui. There’s arguments and then they meet a few things that she’s never seen in the land of the living, like the coconut critters. They fight them and then he takes her to the gateway that leads to the Realm of Monsters, or as I will refer to it, Level 2 of the Spiritual Realm. They literally have to dive into this deeper level of the spirit world in order to get his Hook, which disappeared along with the Heart. In other words, this is evidence that when Maui lost them they both ended up in different worlds.
Alright, the rest of the movie happens and they end up fighting the firey goddess and lose because of, in my opinion, a lack of communication. Maui ducks out and Moana is set adrift in the middle of the ocean, where we get a third level of the Spiritual Realm. This one is the “land” of the dead. It’s more “ocean” of the dead, but that’s kind of the theme of the movie. Anyway, she gets spiritual guidance from a lot of ghosts, but mostly her grandmother.
The grandmother is a little bit of a conundrum for my version of this story. When she dies, you see her spiritual manta ray surge under the wave as Moana pushes past the reef. This doesn’t mean that everything else doesn’t happen, but it shows more of a spiritual presence in the living world than I am normally comfortable with in this theory, as Moana needs to leave her world to enter the world of magic…but there is magic when her grandma does that. It works, vaguely.
Anyway, grandma and a bunch of old dead guys give her the confidence she needs to succeed. She fights the evil god, gets her friend back, and restores the Heart. Watch the movie for detailed spoilers on that part. After she meets the god, she gets a boat that, essentially is identical to the one she left on. I don’t know if that’s important. She takes the boat and sails back home. We don’t know how long that takes.
When she gets home, her family rejoices that she’s still alive and she takes the time to share her Wayfinding mastery with her people and help them explore again.
In this last bit, I feel the movie glazes over her return because we’re past the climax. Obviously, the ocean spirit and Tafiti are responsible for her return to the land of the living. No small feat, but I think the ocean is the only medium that could have returned her and her knowledge from the gods.
If you’ve seen the movie, you can see that my interpretation is a little darker than Disney would have wanted to portray. Moana dies, travels through multiple levels of the underworld to retrieve the knowledge to save her people (sailing), and saved two gods to return the world to balance, before returning to the land of the living.
Her head was never replaced by a cabbage, but a giant crab with a New Zealander accent tried to eat her, so to each their own.
Where am I going with this? That’s a great question, and I am glad you have stayed with me this long to ask.
Wouldn’t it be cool if this kind of journey through the underworld was mirrored or told through the eyes of a New Englander and Lovecraft?
“But Matt,” I can hear you say, “isn’t that The Statement of Randolph Carter? Or The Silver Key? Or literally any story with Randolph Carter in it?”
To which I answer, Shut up! Yes, that is something that Lovecraft more or less already did, but his wasn’t nearly as fun, gory, or written by me, as mine would be. The Carter story was also something more personal to the main protagonist, as it should be, but my idea is that the story would have more world ramifications.
Think about it. Random book nerd learns of the coming cosmic apocalypse. He knows that he needs to stop it and he thinks he’s found the item, a black shard of something that seems to shift shapes. He discovers a crypt under the local library. Breaking in at night, he makes his way into the crypt and finds the remnants of a ceremony that has already happened. The clock is ticking and the dominoes have been tipped. He sees a carving in the stone wall and runs his fingers over it, reading the R’lyehian text out loud. Nothing seems to happen, but he hadn’t expected it to anyway. Then he hears a growl, turns, and is attacked by an alien monstrosity with teeth everywhere. He’s knocked unconscious in the struggle.
He wakes up deeper in the caverns but has no idea where. He swears he thought he was going to be as good as dead. The monster surely wanted his throat, but he seems fine. Then he sees a marking on the wall and realizes that he’s actually closer to his destination than he thought he would be. That’s when he meets an old professor he thought had passed years ago. Obviously not. Together they work toward solving the mystery and come across horrors that our hero never imagined coming across before.
Yeah, that could be fun. I think I might try fleshing something out in that regard. Maybe a novella.
Anyway, thanks for sticking with me through this lengthy explanation for a fun idea. If you know of anyone else who has already done something similar to this, or other ancient stories that follow a similar structure, please share them in the comments.