Op-Ed: To hear the life of Joan of Arc on audio is to be mesmerized Special

Posted Mar 3, 2017 by Jonathan Farrell
To say that Joan of Arc had much at stake is a pun but it also says that this historical figure followed her calling to a bitter and tragic end. Yet, her story is as inspiring today as it was when word got out that a young woman was aiming to save France.
Kathryn Harrison s 2014 book  Joan of Arc - A Life Transfigured   is mesmerizing on audio. Very inte...
Kathryn Harrison's 2014 book "Joan of Arc - A Life Transfigured," is mesmerizing on audio. Very interesting, even if well-acquinted with the Joan of Arc story and legends.
What is it about this story of the teenager who emerged from obscurity to become not only a hero but a saint? Often referred to as La Pucelle d'Orléans Joan of Arc transcends the medieval landscape to become something much larger that endures well into our time, the 21st Century. One of the most recent movies about her life was 'The Messenger' from 1999.
New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Harrison provides some of the most up-to-date insights into this remarkable story that continues to inspire. In her 2014 book, "Joan of Arc, A Life Transfigured" Harrison provides comparisons and background information that gives us more reasons to be in awe of this legendary figure.
After learning about similar daring women in history such as Toypurina, an Early California rebel, this reporter was skeptical of being stirred by yet another account of Joan of Arc. As noted by the NY Times, by the time of Joan's official canonization in 1920, there were over 12,000 works written about her.
Many works of art, plays and movies have been made about Joan of Arc. Still, what pulled me into Harrison's book was the way she presents the details. Listening to her book on audio is mesmerizing.
Even when I think I had heard enough about this saint, there is always something I didn't know or had not pondered before. It is said that when Joan lead her troops with a banner in hand, butterflies followed. Or how much she influenced people like writer Mark Twain. Religious feelings aside, I think what makes Joan of Arc compelling is the tangible written accounts taken directly from the time in which she had lived. Not even The Bible has that type of tangible direct connection. Most of the Bible, as serious scholars and scientists point out, is a translation of a translation, a copy of a copy. But the actual transcripts of Joan of Arc's life, as they were recorded at her trial are still with us, preserved from that time of the 1400s.
Published by Doubleday in 2014  Kathryn Harrison s book about Joan of Arc illustrates the power of s...
Published by Doubleday in 2014, Kathryn Harrison's book about Joan of Arc illustrates the power of symbolism and meaning down thru the centuries.
Courtesy of Doubleday
This I think is what brings it closer to an audience. And, while over six centuries have past since her execution by burning at the stake, the fact that she was a real person and we have the tangible evidence in our midst gives it credibility. What provides her story with the ability to endure and continue, I think is the symbolism.
Whether it is George Bernard Shaw's Joan, Fredrick Schiller's Joan or Mark Twain's understanding of Joan, the capacity of her story to be illustrated from many angles is based upon the symbolism and meaning people pull from it. Interestingly, while Joan's life lends itself to cinematic epic, few films about her have ever truly captured her entirely. Even the most recent film, 'The Messenger' with all that we currently know about Joan, did not accurately portray her. Even, the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert made note of that in his review.
Some films like the one by director Otto Preminger in 1957 were a box office flop. Yet, even those films have some sort of strange auspicious aspect to them. Preminger's film was the debut for an aspiring Jean Seberg, who 22 years later tragically died in France from a drug overdose. Some speculate Seberg committed suicide after years of harassment and defamation by the FBI. Seberg's (then unconventional) support of civil rights through groups like the Black Panthers and Native American schools, lead the FBI to open an investigation against her.
Yet even with this inability to fully capture Joan of Arc's story accurately on film, just the reference to her in a film gives it a point of reference, everyone recognizes right away. Three films pop into my mind. While they are not about Joan of Arc, they use something of her to add to the meaning or sentiment of the script. The three films are: House of Wax, 1953 with Vincent Price, The Miracle of the Bells, 1948 with Fred MacMurray and Frank Sinatra and the Hammer Films version of Phantom of The Opera with Herbert Lom. In these three films the use of Joan of Arc gives a contemporary witness to the enduring symbolism of Joan.
In the 18th, 19th Century (and into the 20th Century) Joan of Arc was the symbol for the artist. The artist who was revolutionary for his or her own unique sense of vision or calling and who ultimately paid the price for it in some way. In all three films I mentioned, the artist dies. And for all you Phantom of The Opera fans out there, apart from the even more famous Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, check out the Hammer Films version. This Saturday matinee type of film from 1962 is a gem, in its own right. What is even more amazing to me is not only the subtle use of Joan of Arc as artistic symbolism but the musical score in the film itself is noteworthy.
For Harrison it seems to me, the most powerful element of Joan is her youth, her emerging womanhood and her virginity. Harrison explains in detail the significance of 'La Pucelle' and what it meant to be a woman in Medieval times. Many of Harrison's works are about women at the center of something.
Still, even with the narrow ideas about women in Medieval Europe, Joan survives and not only is transfigured but transcends. That's if you follow the rich symbolism that Harrison refers to. The review of her book in the Washington Post mentions how Harrison jumps back and forth. If you are not at least acquainted with other works about Joan, Harrison's fluid back and forth points of reference can be confusing. The review from the NY Times sees it as a strength. Harrison is using her ability as story-teller more than that of a scholarly biographer. Yet, she says close to factual accounts.
Questions still remain, were Joan of Arc's voices real? Was she counseled by angels? Our high-tech digital age has lots of science to shed more light upon this 19-year-old who lead armies, but killed no one. In this age of information, forensics and digital technology, no doubt more about her life can be revealed. It puzzles me though, how the most recent movie 'The Messenger' depicts Joan as a blonde, when in real life she was brunette. Harrison's book confirms this. How the 21st Century will embrace the 'Maid of Orleans' only the advancing decades will tell. To learn more about "Joan of Arc, A life Transfigured' and about author Kathryn Harrison, visit her web site.