When the living world seems like too much, Jasper and his best friend Agnes always have each other. Dealing with pressures from school and their parents leaves them searching for understanding and love. When Jasper wakes up one morning and cannot find Agnes, an adventure to reunite begins with a dive into the swirling vortex of another land in the waters of Deadland. On his adventure, Jasper explores the underworld, meets interesting and dangerous people, and faces the demons within himself.
Themes and Resources
In further research and to provide our artists with context for the circumstances and environments of their characters, resources were provided about the difficulties they faced. These resources have also been provided here for context around these issues and ways that the community can recognize and help those in need.
- Drug Addiction and Withdrawal: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
- Child Abuse in Teens: https://safe-families.org/blog/2016/how-child-abuse-affects-teens/
- Effects of Divorce in Teens: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201511/how-parental-divorce-can-impact-adolescence-now-and
- Depression Symptoms: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007
Additional information has been provided by the show’s dramaturg, Rowan Gallagher to provide further insight to these characters based in mythology.
Show Synopsis *Spoilers*
Jasper in Deadland is an fairly experimental show that combines and alters the mythos of a myriad of ancient cultures, as well as many highly topical modern themes and situations. While fascinating, this kind of multifaceted adaptation can be very difficult to follow on a first viewing. This write-up’s purpose is to help you, the audience, follow the action should you get a little lost in the tessellated world of deadland.
Jasper parallels a few figures from mythology in the Deadland narrative.
First and foremost is Orpheus from the classic greek story and popular opera Orpheus and Eurydice. In the story Orpheus marries his true love Eurydice. Later that day she is bitten by a venomous snake and taken to the underworld. Orpheus is utterly heartbroken. He travels into the underworld and his song of ultimate grief touches each guardian he encounters until he reaches the palace of Pluto (or Hades depending on the mythos). Pluto agrees to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living as long as Orpheus never once looks back at her during the journey. Orpheus walks, singing his song all the way, back to the land of the living. However, as he feels the light of the sun on his face he turns back filled with joy only to discover that Eurydice has yet to cross the border out of the Underworld. She is dragged back into Pluto’s domain and she is never seen again. The story serves as a lesson in the finality of death and underlying weakness of the human spirit even in the most desperate times.
Another mythical parallel to consider is Jasper’s connection to Dante Alighieri the author of, and titular character in, Dante’s Inferno, the first installation in a much longer epic, The Divine Comedy. As the play suggests, Dante Aligheiri wrote an epic series of poems detailing his own descent through the nine circles of hell along with Virgil, a famous Roman poet. Dante Aligheri also wrote a number of sonnets about a woman named Beatrice who is the inspiration for the Beatrix. Beatrice is also Dante’s motivation for traversing the nine hells in order to be allowed into heaven where Beatrice lives after her death. Although as far as anyone knows today there was no such woman in the actual Dante’s life and she is likely based on a number of women Dante took as muses for the purpose of his writing.
Outside of mythology, Jasper has plenty of baggage to unpack and understand within the world of the show. He comes from a broken home, and he struggles with motivation in his school work and social life. It is more than likely that Jasper suffers from anxiety and or depression. His father has a history of alcoholism and substance abuse, a trait which Jasper despises. These issues often go untreated in adults more than kids and teens since it is easy for them to brush their symptoms off due to a lack of understanding or appreciation for their severity.
Agnes’ main mythologic parallel is Eurydice from the classic Greek story and popular Opera Orpheus and Eurydice. In the story Orpheus marries his true love Eurydice. Later that day she is bitten by a venomous snake and taken to the underworld. Orpheus travels into the underworld and his song of ultimate grief touches each guardian he encounters until he reaches the palace of Pluto (or Hades depending on the mythos). Pluto agrees to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living as long as Orpheus never once looks back at her during the journey. So, Orpheus walks singing his song all the way back to the land of the living. However, as he feels the light of the sun on his face he turns back filled with joy only to discover that Eurydice has yet to cross the border out of the Underworld. She is dragged back into Pluto’s domain and she is never seen again. The story serves as a lesson in the finality of death and weakness of the human spirit even in the most desperate times.
Agnes is also a direct parallel to the fictional character of Beatrice from The Divine Comedy by Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The character Beatrix in Jasper in Deadland is based off of Beatrice in Dante’s Narrative. In Dante’s Inferno the first installation of The Divine Comedy Beatrice is in heaven after her untimely death, and Dante traverses the nine circles of hell in order to gain access to heaven to see her again. Beatrice herself never really appears in The Inferno but she serves as a kind of divine motivation for Dante to continue on his journey. History tells us that there was no actual woman named Beatrice in Dante Alighieri’s real life, and she was likely based on a number of women who Dante used as muses in his sonnets and epic poems.
Outside of mythic parallels, Agnes has a lot to unpack in her life. She lived with her father and stepmother whose relationship looks perfect on the surface. Everyone sees Agnes as having a perfect life, but underneath she is being victimized by her peers and even her own father. Divorce can have massive psychological repercussions on kids and teens as well as the parents who are splitting up. As Agnes says in the script her father takes out his resentment on her physically and emotionally behind closed doors. It even gets to the point where she has to cover up bruises with makeup so she can appear normal at school. Then her peers turn around and express their jealousy of her perfect home life, putting her on a pedestal that is entirely fabricated in their own imaginations. She is trapped in an abusive home life, and she literally cannot talk to anyone about it, not even her best friend Jasper since he idolizes her situation more than anyone else given his own terrible home life. All of this makes it safe to assume that Agnes suffers from depression and or anxiety on a regular basis.
Madame Lethe is a spin on the Greco roman concept of naiads, or water spirits.
In ancient mythology it was believed that every river, stream, lake, tree, or rock had a magical spirit that lived within it, protecting the natural landscape from those who would abuse or defile them. These nymphs were often female in the mythos, and shared traits with sirens in some stories, though they were usually less violent towards mortals most of the time. There is the famous myth of Echo and Narcissus where the nymphs of the lake pined for the beautiful Narcissus, who stared into their lake admiring his own beauty. One nymph named Echo was especially enamored and when Narcissus was nearly drowned by her sisters, she rescued him from their clutches. She was punished for this by having her voice removed, only able to repeat what others said to her first. This legend goes to show that Nymphs can be volatile and complex creatures, some far more powerful than others.
If we are to accept that Lethe is indeed a form of Naiad raised to a higher power by the gods after her assistance in defeating the Titans, as she claims in the play. It makes sense that this once relatively weak spirit suddenly given power on the level of a minor god would hunger for even more influence. Nymphs are traditionally greedy creatures who protect their domain and covet that which others have.
In Egyptian mythology, Ammut is a demoness who lives in the Land of the Dead. She is the subordinate of Osiris the Egyptian god of the dead. After a harrowing journey down a treacherous river during which the deceased soul must remember and produce a number of passwords to make it through the many gates of the dead, their final trial is to face Osiris and Ammut in a final test of purity. The god Osiris removes the heart of the dead person and places it on a set of golden scales. Opposite the heart would be a single feather. These magical scales were used not to measure the weight of the heart itself, but the weight of regret that lived within it. It was determined that if the regret in your heart was heavier than a single feather, you were not worthy to enter the true afterlife. If the soul failed this final test, Osiris fed their heart to Ammut who is depicted with the head of a crocodile, the front legs of a leopard, and the hind legs of a hippopotamus.
Hel and Loki are both gods from the Norse pantheon. Hel and Loki are forces to be reckoned with.
Loki is the adopted son of Odin, and brother of Thor. Loki himself is actually a member of a far older race than the gods, the fire giants who ruled over Muspelheim the realm of fire. Loki was raised by the gods, and didn’t find out until he was older that he was not actually a member of the Asier race. As a result Loki has always had an issue with authority, and he is depicted as a trickster in many Norse tales. He often works against the other Asier gods as well as with them depending on what is in it for him.
Hel is the goddess of the dead in Norse lore. She is Loki’s daughter, and she rules over Helheim, an icy realm where the souls of the dead freeze for all eternity, should they die an improper death. She is usually depicted as half beautiful living woman, and half rotting corpse, split directly down the center line of her body. Hel is jealous and cruel, yet has been known to show softness to some if they manage to get through to her icy heart.
One prominent myth that is relevant to Jasper in Deadland is the Death of Baldur the Fair. In this story, Baldur, the son of Odin is killed by Loki despite the other gods best efforts to save him. Hel makes a deal with the gods to return Baldur to the land of the living for a price. This narrative parallels the greek myth of Hades and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice, and the story of Jasper in Deadland.
The Greco/Roman myth of Persephone and Pluto is possibly the best known story in the mythos. We see it represented again and again throughout modern media.
Persephone, the goddess of springtime and daughter to Demeter goddess of the earth, was picking flowers in a field when Pluto (Hades in the Greek story) fell head over heels in love with her. Pluto kidnapped Persephone and held her in the underworld trying to court her with little success. Persephone is told that if she eats the food of the underworld she will never be able to leave, so for months she starves herself holding on to the hope that one day she will be free. During her time in the underworld she sees something in Pluto that most do not, and despite her situation she begins to develop feelings for him, however she still wishes to return to her life in the sunny fields of the land of the living.
Eventually Persephone cannot keep herself from eating, and she eats six pomegranate seeds from the table of Pluto, officially dooming her to an eternity in the underworld. Meanwhile Demeter appeals to Zeus who calls a council of the gods with Pluto in attendance. It is finally decided that Persephone will have to spend six months each year in the underworld and six months above ground. One month for each single seed she ate. This is how the seasons are explained in the Greco/Roman tradition. While Persephone is underground, Demeter sulks and rages causing storms and snowfall. When Persephone returns to her life above ground, Demeter softens and the weather becomes mild as spring gives way to summer.
Eurydice is based off of the character of the same name from the ancient Greek myth and world famous opera, Orpheus and Eurydice.
In the story, Orpheus marries his true love Eurydice in a joyous wedding ceremony. Later that day she is bitten by a venomous snake and taken to the underworld. Orpheus is utterly heartbroken. He travels into the underworld and his song of ultimate grief touches each guardian he encounters until he reaches the palace of Pluto (or Hades depending on the mythos). Pluto agrees to allow Eurydice to return to the land of the living as long as Orpheus never once looks back at her during the journey. So, Orpheus walks singing his song all the way back to the land of the living. However, as he feels the light of the sun on his face he turns back filled with joy only to discover that Eurydice has yet to cross the border out of the Underworld. She is dragged back into Pluto’s domain before Orpheus has time to protest and she is never seen again. The story serves as a lesson in the finality of death and weakness of the human spirit even in the most desperate times.
The Virgil in our show is based off of the representation of Virgil who is present in Dante Alghari’s The Divine Comedy. In this epic poem, also known as Dante’s Inferno, this fictional representation of the famous Roman poet guides Dante through the nine rings of hell in order to eventually be reunited with Beatrice, the love of Dante’s life, in heaven. Virgil is realistic and sardonic in Dante’s narrative, showing Dante the horrors of the pit, while dealing with many of the obstacles in their way with relative ease considering their supernatural nature.
He was a scholar historically, and the casual way in which he encounters the creatures of the nine hells in The Divine Comedy certainly lends itself to this interpretation.
Little Lu is a cross between Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Lucifer. This is one of the only Christian centric figures we see in Deadland.
In biblical lore, Lucifer was once one of God’s closest confidants, and the most beautiful angel in heaven. When God created humans Lucifer was disdainful towards both their conception and the long complex plan God seemed to have for them. Lucifer tempted Eve, the first woman, to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and therefore meddled in God’s affairs. For this sin, Lucifer lost his wings and god banished him to hell, thereby creating his own antithesis.
Leatherface is the main antagonist in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror films.
Osiris is one of the most central gods in Egyptian Mythology. He only appears for a moment in Deadland, but it is clear that he is both well known and respected for the work he does as a god of the dead and musician in the universe of the show.
In mythology, Osiris is one of the sons of Amen Ra the king of the gods and god of the sun. After Ra’s death, Osiris took his throne and there was prosperity under his divine rule. However, this peace was not to last. Osiris’ evil brother Seth (pronounced Set) tricked Osiris into entering a magical sarcophagus which he threw into a river. Osiris was dismembered into thousands of pieces and spread across the desert. His wife and sister Isis, goddess of magic, searched for his pieces and reassembled them in the sarcophagus. Using her magic, she restored Osiris to life, but he could no longer live in the land of the living. He was exiled to the land of the dead, where he became the final judge that all spirits must pass through to enter the afterlife. In the lore, he removes the heart of a dead soul, and weighs it on a magical scale against a single feather. If the guilt in the heart is heavier than the feather, the soul is not permitted to enter the afterlife, and Osiris feeds the heart to the Demoness of Punishment, Ammut.
In Greco/Roman mythology Cerberus is a massive three headed dog that guards the gates to the underworld. He is loyal to Pluto/Hades and no other. Though, he has been known to let some mortals through the gates if they provide an offering.
For example, in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice he lets Orpheus pass through the gates of the dead because of the beautiful music he plays on his journey to rescue Eurydice. Depictions of Cerberus vary across media. Often he is no more intelligent than a normal dog. In other cases, he is extremely intelligent and capable of complex conversation and debate.
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