Rudolfo Anaya’s, Bless Me, Ultima and Guillermo del Toro’s, Pan’s Labyrinth are two coming-of-age stories. Both the novel and the movie are full of events that contribute to the disillusionment of the main character’s childhood idealism and the realization of the real world they live in. Both protagonists absorb themselves in a mythical world full of fantasy and each receives exposure to religious theology and trauma by the violence of men. Despite the fact that Antonio and Ofelia have different familial role models and travel along different paths, their childlike innocence, disillusionment, and initiation into adulthood comes about through similar themes: myth, religion, and violence.
Bless Me, Ultima is about Antonio, the protagonist, who struggles with questions concerning religion and the local pagan myths. His mother, Maria, introduces him to Catholicism by sending him to catechism and church. Maria dreams that he will assume a role in her family and become a farmer and even a priest to lead her people. However, his father, Gabriel, expects him to become a vaquero and hopes this free spirited persona will travel with him to California. Ultima is Antonio’s most influential role model. She is a medicine woman who guides and teaches him tolerance and the importance of making his own decisions. Many other characters alter his viewpoint of the world. Some of these characters die, one is a murderer, and another introduces him to local myths.
The heroine in Pan’s Labyrinth is Ofelia, a girl trapped in the middle of a revolution and escapes in a world of fairytales through books and imagination. Ofelia’s mother, Carmen, is pregnant and very sick. Under the influence of her husband, she encourages her daughter to stop reading childhood fantasies and to obey her new husband. In essence, because her mother is so ill, there is a role reversal and Ofelia is more of a caretaker to her mother. Captain Vidal is Ofelia’s tyrannical stepfather who expects unquestioning obedience from her as well as everyone else. Since Ofelia lacks a mother figure, she establishes an attachment to Mercedes, the housekeeper and revolutionary spy. Mercedes in turn mothers Ofelia. Ofelia is most influenced by a faun, a mythical creature of the earth. This creature introduces her to natural magic, helps her by teaching her how to help heal her mother, and gives advice. He also tells her about the magical world that Ofelia is a part of via a past life and can join again.
In general, mythology and natural magic is common in coming-of-age stories, especially when the main character is untainted by traumatic experiences that lead to disillusionment. It is the nature of childhood to have more insight to their environment and open to myths that adults no longer entertain. The innocent tend to accept coincidences as magic. In Anaya’s novel, Antonio is very fascinated by Ultima and her powers as a curandera and does not seem to question her methods once she cure his Uncle Lucas....