Whoosh! Issue 20 - May 1998

IAXS project #348
By Dee Simmons
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2297 words

Introduction (01)
Similarities In Characters (02-03)
Similarities In Circumstances (04-06)
Penance (07-08)
A Battle For The Soul Of The Protagonist (09-10)
Surrealism (11)
The Future (12-16)
Conclusion (17)

The Mariner Versus The Warrior Princess

One of my fave poems -- there once was a girl from Nantucket...

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772 - 1834, came from a family of modest means. He ran out of money in his third year at Cambridge and enlisted as a Dragoon until his friends found him and brought him back. He lived to be 60-something, and might have lasted longer had he not had a fondess for opiates.


[1] In 1798, Samuel Coleridge wrote an epic tale of a mariner forever bound by his conscience to atone for a crime committed in his youth. It is evident to many that this tale is reminiscent of the tale of Xena, Warrior Princess. Throughout the previous two seasons, and as the current season has unfolded, the theme of atonement for a crime committed has been ever present. The manner in which the writers have chosen to explore Xena's sojourn through her past, commission of her crimes, repentance, and atonement, in the third season's THE DEBT (52/306) and THE DEBT II (53/307), in many instances, directly parallels the sojourn undertaken by Coleridge's mariner, in "The Rime of The Ancient Mariner" [Note 01]. This presentation will limit its scope to the exploration of both the parallels and occasional divergences developed within the plots and character development of the "Mariner" and THE DEBT I and II.

Similarities In Characters

No I'm not taking any fishing tackle.  Not for several more
episodes, anyway.

Xena saddles up as she tells part of her tale to Gabrielle.

[2] The similarities between these tales begin at the introduction of the tales: "The Mariner" and THE DEBT (52/306) deliver their tales from the perspective of narrators who gradually divulge the history of their past experiences. Their stories are told for the benefit of their direct listener, that the listener might learn from their tales, but indirectly these tales are also told for the benefit of the larger audience. The mariner arrives, unexpectedly, at a wedding and proceeds to recite his story to one of the wedding guests. Similarly, Xena begins her recitation for Gabrielle, after the initial/obligatory battle scene.

[3] Coleridge states that by the force of the mariner's will, the guest is compelled to listen [Note 02] and presents the guest as enraptured: he "listens like a three years' young child" [Note 03]. Both the images conjured, that of an overwhelming will and that of an enraptured listener, bring to mind images of our heroines, Xena and Gabrielle. In both cases, the listeners are spellbound. The narrators, the mariner and Xena, chronicle events from their respective pasts, events which have transpired to result in the present circumstance of the narrators. Later the reader will come to understand that the mariner tells his tales to influence the life and actions of the wedding guest, just as the audience will come to understand that Xena is telling her tale in order to define the influences in her life for Gabrielle. It is this incomplete definition that does in fact influence Gabrielle's life and actions.

Similarities In Circumstances

[4] The circumstances and events of the two tales are similar: the mariner tells of sailors embarking on a shared voyage, until one individual, the mariner, deviates from the accepted protocol. Xena tells of a band of marauders embarking on a shared campaign until one individual, Xena, deviates from the accepted protocol.

[5] The mariner's offence is the murder of the albatross, "And I had done a hellish thing/ And it would work 'em (the mariner's shipmates) woe/ For all averred, I had killed the bird" [Note 04].

Xena's offence is the kidnaping of Ming T'ien. (Yes, Xena committed several offences, including: murder, attempted murder, illegal gaming activities and illicit possession and use of narcotics, but the kidnaping is the catalyst for the events that follow). Borias' response to the kidnaping, similar to the response of the mariner's shipmates, is outrage. The mariner has brought bad luck to the ship and its crew. Xena has brought pressure to bare upon Borias. She has united the dynasties of Ming and Lao: "You're insane...nothing brings royal houses together faster than kidnaped heirs..." [Note 05].

[6] Both of these offences, the killing of the albatross and the kidnaping, result in the offenders being punished by their compatriots. As punishment for his crime, the sailors band together and force the mariner to wear the carcass of the albatross hung around his neck. Xena's crime results in Borias's betrayal of her.


I might have lasted longer if you weren't kneeling on my chest

Messages from afar about past loose ends send Xena on her quest.

[7] The image of the offender burdened with a visible symbol of his/her crime is retained, but enhanced in character of Xena. Xena is burdened with a yoke (kitchen table?) around her neck. Unlike the mariner though, Xena's burden appears more psychological than physical. From the time of her acknowledgment of the messenger in the opening sequence of THE DEBT (52/306), to her pronouncement that the debt she owes will obligate her to kill, and again while in the dungeon explaining the extent of her debt to Gabrielle, Xena's look is pained, her tone distressed, her carriage sunken, and her words defeated: "She (Lao Ma) had such dreams of peace for her land and my soul; I ruined them all"! [Note 06]. The mariner's remorse is evident when he tells of his deed, but Xena's remorse permeates every aspect of her character and attacks her even through her sub-conscious, resulting in flashbacks of the most distressing events in her life.

[8] These flashbacks that haunt Xena are further reminiscent of the mariner's tale. While Xena relives Gabrielle's death, the mariner encounters "the body of my brother's son/ stood by me knee to knee/ the body and I pulled at one rope,/ but he said nought to me" [Note 07]. Xena relives the death of Callisto. The mariner encounters the reanimation of his dead shipmates, as they help him sail on. These subtle similarities between the two sagas are recurrent through out THE DEBT I & II (52, 53/306,307) and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".

A Battle For The Soul Of The Protagonist

[9] Other commonalities between the tales include: the battle between a male and a female entity for the soul of the offender, a flirtation with the surreal, and a prophesied journey towards the final destination. The battle between male and female entities occurs when the mariner is near death. The mariner initially believes that the female entity is Death, come for him. (Later he recognizes that Death is the lady's partner). When the battle is over, the female entity claims victory over the mariner's soul -- the female has proven to be the benevolent creature and thus he lives.

[10] This battle is well reflected by the hard won battle between Lao Ma and Ming Tzu for Xena's physical custody, and for what proves ultimately to be the custody of Xena's soul. As Xena prepares to die as sacrifice to Ming T'ien's perversity, Lao Ma's final victory is apparent. It is Lao Ma who stands beside Xena: "Stop willing, stop desiring, stop hating. To conquer others is to have power. To conquer yourself is to know the way..." [Note 08], and from this Xena follows the way to freedom.


Whose toilet paper lasts longer?  Let's find out!

Lao Ma throws out a bolt of silk and reels in Xena just prior the "air ballet".

[11] It is also Lao Ma who enables Xena and the audience to experience a surreal vision of tranquillity. Xena and Lao Ma partake of a fanciful air/scarf ballet during a time when Xena briefly lets go of her anger. Xena crashes to earth as Borias (and her hatred) reappear. This surreal experience is comparable to the experience that the mariner encounters with the "water snakes...the elfish light... their rich attire...a flash of golden light" [Note 09]. It is these shared experiences that allow both Xena and the mariner to fulfill their destiny (not to be confused with DESTINY [36/212]).

The Future

[12] The final journey for both Xena and the mariner toward destiny is foretold. The mariner's future, as a warning to others who would harm innocents, is predicted by the spirits who follow his journey: "the man hath penance done,/ and penance more will do" [Note 10], just as Xena's future is predicted by Lao Ma upon rescuing Xena from the hunt and later, is predicted again by Lao Ma: "Xena is capable of profound loyalty, Borias. She just doesn't know it yet..." [Note 11]. These predictions foreshadow the destination of the spiritual travelers, Xena and the mariner, but do not suggest the difficulties that the travelers will face in arriving at their destinies.

[13] The journey for each sojourner begins at the moment they are freed from their burdens. The relief of the mariner's burden is initiated by his ability to return to love and to return to prayer. This return to his spirituality allows the albatross to fall free of the mariner's neck and then the mariner's penance can begin in earnest.

[14] Xena's spirituality, her ability to be true to herself and humanity, returns as her burden is gradually lightened over time and exposure to Lao Ma. Lao Ma shows Xena her burden of hate: "You've been a dead woman for a long time now, Xena. I'm offering you a chance to live" [Note 12]. Then Lao Ma gives Xena the first opportunity Xena has ever really had to relinquish her hate and anger: "That was the moment. I could have done it right there. I could have let go and buried my hatred forever. That was my chance" [Note 13]. Finally, Lao Ma gives Xena ten years in which to learn.

[15] Xena acknowledges she has been slow to learn her lesson. Xena tells Gabrielle of the disappointment she has given Lao Ma in the past. She tells Ming T'ien she is learning to repair the damage she has left in her wake, and, finally, Xena kills Ming T'ien [Note 14].

The hazards of those new spring-operated hairpins

Ming T'ien is as dead as a doornail at the end of THE DEBT II.

[16] From this point forward Xena and the mariner merge again. Xena and the mariner have both told their tales to an individual, Gabrielle and the wedding guest, respectively. Each has told a tale that their listener has difficulty accepting. Each is now doing what they can to atone for their past.


[17] These tales are classic ones that are embraced by any accepting audience. Coleridge may forever be deemed classic literature to some, and Xena may forever be simply a cult classic to some, but from my own perspective, both are truly classics in any sense of the definition.


Note 01:
Wordsworth Poetry Library. The Works Of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Hertfordshire: England. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996.
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Note 02:
Ibid., (13, 16).
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Note 03:
Ibid., (15).
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Note 04:
Ibid., (90-93).
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Note 05:
THE DEBT (52/306), min 27, as spoken by Borias. Min. refers to the minute in the episode where dialogue occurred, after commercials are edited out. Introductory credits are intact.
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Note 06:
THE DEBT II (53/307), min 33.
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Note 07:
Coleridge, (345-349).
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Note 08:
THE DEBT II (53/307), min 36.
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Note 09:
Coleridge, (273-281).
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Note 10:
Ibid., (408-409).
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Note 11:
THE DEBT II (53/307), min 29.
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Note 12:
THE DEBT II (53/307), min 14.
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Note 13:
THE DEBT II (53/307), min 27.
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Note 14:
Controversial, I know. Some will suggest, and have suggested, that the killing of Ming T'ien is a regression in the development of Xena's character. I argue that the execution of a tyrant/a dictator/a murderer is justified and necessary. This, amongst other examples, is the loyalty that Lao Ma predicted: Lao Ma never condoned killing, while Xena, in the past, reveled in death. Xena has turned from killing as an "alternative lifestyle choice". She now views it as a last resort to protect the innocent. Lao Ma sent for Xena, knowing Xena would understand it as a call for action. Xena's loyalty and faith in the wisdom of Lao Ma directed her actions. Her own sentiment nearly prevented her from fulfilling her destiny, but ultimately, she realized anyone who relishes torturing his own mother to death is probably not a candidate for monarch of the year. (Okay, so she lied to Gabrielle... I am not over Gabrielle's betrayals this season, so I can forgive Xena this slip. I consider this to be parallel to the death penalty argument as a whole: those who believe in it believe in it; those that do not, do not. Since Gabrielle and Xena will never agree on the issue, Xena's had a long hard season. she simply copped out of the argument). Finally, if this had been a regression in character, I do not think she would have been able to stop at one execution... anybody else remember THE PRICE (44/220)?
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Dee Simmons Dee Simmons
I lead a fairly mundane existence, although it may be a little to the right of "traditional". I am a sailor, a student and apparently a Hardcore Nutball. (I used to believe myself to be "obsessive". I stand happily corrected, and wear my new title with pride). At 5 pm every Saturday, my world stops for an hour or three, and I get to laugh, cry, enjoy the odd sarcastic comment and just have a good time with XWP -- Promptly followed by endless hours of internetting re: XWP.
Favorite episode: I don't think that I could narrow it down to one episode, although I have to admit, DEBT II (53/307) has the only scene that had me standing on furniture yelling expletives at the Gabrielle, (Gabrielle hitting Xena "say it...") and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) is the episode I now use in my attempts to win converts. (If you have ever heard the idea... don't lose weight, fatten up the people around you, and you'll seem slimmer, you'll appreciate my belief that if everyone begins to obsess over XWP....)
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Slow learner, huh, Xena... I had the same problem with basket weaving..." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313); Rafe, handing Xena something she has asked for: "What do you say?", Xena: "Or else". KING CON (61/315).
First episode seen: THE LOST MARINER (45/221), followed by ULYSSES (43/219) (that's how you get a sailor to become a Hardcore Nutball)
Least favorite episode: KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)

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