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Time Travelling with Max von Sydow – A blast from the past, err… future

Millennials might not know about Max von Sydow’s legendary acting career. The Swedish-French actor has starred in films as diverse as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), The Exorcist (1973) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957)

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) via Flickr

In 2016, von Sydow reappears in another medieval style drama, Game of Thrones.

Spoiler alert for Game of Thrones, season 6 ! 

Playing the role of the Three-Eyed Raven, von Sydow leads the young Bran Stark through a mystical adventure of destiny fulfillment.

In the scene below, Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven journey through time to witness an incident that shapes the noble Hodor’s life… and death.

The young Hodor is mysteriously struck by an ailment (while his future self is being devoured by evil creatures) Image via

The adult Hodor is a gentle giant with a disability. He understands what others say but can only speak the word “Hodor.” He is a loyal companion to friends but seen as a ‘simpleton’ by foes.

Because the past and present are linked in a temporal loop, Hodor’s adult death retroactively causes the onset of his boyhood disability.

Before his death disables him back through time, the youth speaks perfectly. But the event of his death ripples back to adolescence, causing him to undergo something like an epileptic fit. And this brings on his speech impediment.

The Three-Eyed Raven and Bran “time travelling” while in a mystic trance

The only word Hodor speaks as an adult is also the name everybody calls him by, “Hodor.” This is a portmanteau of a repeated cry heard just before his death:


In his final hour, Hodor sacrificially holds a wooden door shut to prevent evil creatures from killing his friends. His friends survive but the wily creatures hack through the door and destroy him.

This development left me spellbound. The implications are grand. Especially when we consider that time is relative. And not just in sci-fi but in science.

The Hodor cycle got me thinking about how people struggling with difficulties, psychological or otherwise, could actually be doing some kind of noble service in ways – and on other levels – that we are only dimly aware of.

Most MDs and psychologists would probably dismiss this as “unscientific.” And fair enough. But can we fully understand the human predicament from the perspective of a microscope, test tube or brain scan?

I don’t believe so. And it would be equally unscientific to ignore alternatives, no matter how far-fetched, without giving them a fair hearing.

Bran Stark and the adult Hodor via



Sci-fi, Myth and Many Possible Worlds

Dr. No and other videos by MC via Flickr

Dr. No and other videos by MC via Flickr

Science fiction is still frowned on in some literary circles but that perception is quickly changing.

Back in high school, when writing about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I still bought into the notion that sci-fi is less worthy than the so-called classics.

Luckily I had an English teacher who saw things differently.

Mr. X, as I’ll call him, was a bit of an outsider with the rest of the English department. His eclectic  interests would have him critiquing the newspaper like a university professor might or, perhaps, telling us how to get a date with an absolute stranger.

I think the principal even had some auditor sit in his class to check him out. (This was the late 70s to early 80s and my memory is a bit fuzzy). I do know that he didn’t stay at that high school very long. But in retrospect, he proved to be far more influential than most other teachers.

One day Mr. X noticed that I had a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and I made some joke about ice-nine. We then got onto Frank Herbert’s Dune, which he handily summed up with a glint in his eye. The idea of spice mining and subterranean sand worms seemed to point to something important, something just beyond my adolescent awareness.  Later, I learned about Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, but that wasn’t until age 19, when the river of my teens began to flow into the numinous sea of adulthood.

Over the years, not all of my teachers were quite as open-minded as Mr X. Some have been quite hostile to sci-fi, as if pedantic NeoMarxism or, perhaps, esoteric Old Testament studies represented the ultimate in intellectual activity.


Sci-fi and I go back a long way. Childhood summers at Georgian Bay afforded endless hours to read, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint’s The Blind Spot, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and characters like Alfred Bester’s time-traveling Gully Foyle captured my imagination every bit as much as the natural beauty around me.

I still watch a little bit of sci-fi TV and movies. Admittedly, sci-fi characters can sometimes come off a bit thin. But any weak character development is usually counterbalanced by an exceedingly rich cosmology. Where else can you time travel, walk through walls, battle cybernetic stooges, talk to aliens, juggle parallel universes and throw lightning bolts from your fingertips?

In contrast, the cosmologies of many so-called literary classics pale in comparison. Mystique aside, Shakespeare’s Macbeth (“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”),† Dante’s Inferno (which sent several Popes to hell) and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene seem almost banal when compared to the far-flung worlds of sci-fi.

And more recent TV shows like the Reimagined Battlestar Galactica make it increasingly difficult to say that sci-fi lacks character development. BSG is almost entirely about character development, be it human or Cylon.

Historically, a great deal of ancient mythologies more closely resemble sci-fi than do the bulk of Middle Ages and Renaissance literature (with notable exceptions). The Hindu god Siva, for instance, emits a burning death ray from his third eye, not unlike the phaser beams of Star Trek. And classical Greek myths tell of equally formidable powers, where weapon and tool technologies like Thor’s hammer and Athena’s shield take center stage.

Granted, neoclassical artists recast ancient Greek, Roman, Hebraic and Christian themes. But I think it’s fair to say that, on the whole, they were more interested in creating detailed masterpieces instead of developing the ancient cosmologies that they drew upon.

Did ancient mythology serve a similar psychosocial need as today’s sci-fi? The scholar of religion and myth, Joseph Campbell, thought so. He notes that the box office smash Star Wars follows the mythic cycle of the hero. George Lucas (Star Wars‘ creator) actually consulted with Campbell to ensure that the movie would resonate with established mythic patterns.

However, there are obvious differences between the ancients and civilized mankind. This is especially so when we consider the social and political involvement of the average citizen. In ancient Rome, for example, not paying homage to a deity might cost you your life. And 21st century technologies combined with our increasingly sophisticated thoughts have taken today’s sci-fi narratives to a whole new level.

Sci-fi arguably has another advantage over other art forms. Its apparent distance from everyday life allows for meaningful political critiques. Here, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the hideous Borg collective of Star Trek come to mind.

For some, sci-fi might seem like so much fodder for the geek squad. But no matter how hard one tries to stick their head in the sand, movies like Star Trek, Avatar and Super 8 still gross more at the box office than other, so-called ‘cultured’ films.

So what, exactly, is this telling us?



The Tempest, however, reveals that Shakespeare can, in fact, deal with extremely subtle fantasy. But this isn’t surprising, considering that most consider him the best writer, ever.