Marie-Louise von Franz saved my life. It's that
simple, and that complicated.
I didn't meet her in person until 1976, but already in 1970 her
landmark book published by Spring Publications, The Problem
of the Puer Aeternus (a Jungian interpretation of The
Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery), had opened my eyes
to my personal psychology. Well, that's not entirely true; better
say she prepared me for what was coming, which is to say, I could
appreciate intellectually, with my thinking function, her analysis
of the mother-bound man, but I did not truly see its relevance
to me-from a feeling standpoint, that is-until I was on my knees
three years later. Then her words pierced my heart. Tough to take,
but her cogent comments on men who sounded suspiciously like me,
devastating as they were to my image of myself, offered an implicit
alternative to killing myself.
Needless to say, I took the alternative: I went into analysis.
I was in England at the time and my analyst was Dr. Anthony Stevens,
a great admirer of von Franz. He helped me to my feet and on his
recommendation I was accepted for training at the C.G. Jung Institute
I limped into Zurich in the fall of 1974, having abandoned my
wife and three young children in favor of my own potential renewal.
Marie-Louise von Franz was my beacon, but alas, she was already
fully booked. I shopped around and found another analyst, Dr. Richard
Pope, who was more than adequate for the likes of me, but that
is another story.
As it happened, I then fell in with a shadow companion. Fraser
Boa, a charismatic fellow larger than life, had also been accepted
as a trainee and was looking for someone to share a house. Fraser
had been a teacher for many years before he landed a job as assistant
producer on the film Murder on the Orient Express.
He was also Canadian, from London, Ontario, and he too had run
out of steam, reached the end of his tether and so on. Our dismal
state was echoed by others in training, which is to say we were
all there because we had run afoul of our own psychology.
Fraser and I rented a house in the nearby village of Egg. In German
this place-name is pronounced Eck, but of course eggs are ubiquitous
symbols of new life, which heartened us both. His sister, Marion
Woodman, soon joined us. She was a frumpy housewife then, just
as neurotic as the rest of us.
Fraser became a close friend of mine, our relationship enhanced
by the fact that Marie-Louise von Franz was his analyst. Somehow
he had wangled it. And thank goodness, because every time he came
back from a session with her we chewed over, for hours, what she
had said. We found separate living spaces after six months, but
the analytic sharing went on. I was continually in awe of Fraser's
account of von Franz's understanding of his dreams. He would tell
her a dream and stammer a few associations. She would come back
with a full-blown interpretation of what the unconscious was saying
to compensate his conscious attitude.
Well, my own analyst took quite a different approach toward me
and my material, bless him, but what I heard from Fraser was at
least complementary, and at best an analysis with von Franz, albeit
vicarious. Fraser died in 1992 without ever knowing how teeth-grinding
envious I was when he began to refer to Dr. von Franz as "Marlus," the
name by which she was known to intimates.
Marie-Louise von Franz was a frequent lecturer at the Jung Institute
on dreams, fairy tales and the symbolic importance of alchemy.
At the very first lecture of hers I attended, I was fascinated
almost as much by her dirty fingernails as by what she said. She
was a handsome woman of 58, in the prime of life. She had a brilliant
smile and was appropriately dressed. So what about those fingernails?
I did not realize then that my dominant sensation function obliged
me to focus on such outer details. Not to mention the fact that
my attitude at that time was sadly blinkered, limited to persona
Fraser, whose persona was quite as loose as that of von Franz,
enlightened me. "Marlus loves gardening," he said. "She was probably
planting bulbs or weeding before she came, or maybe she just forgot
to wash. Whatever. And so what? What you see isn't the sum total
of what you get." Oh yeah? This was news to me, but typical of
what I learned from Fraser Boa, an intuitive for whom time was
flexible and boiling an egg was a hero's journey.
During my four years in Zurich, I read everything von Franz had
published. Her fairy tale interpretations took my breath away.
Some of her lectures had been transcribed and were available from
the Institute in mimeographed form. Several were published by James
Hillman's publishing house, Spring, in the mid-seventies: Introduction
to the Interpretation of Fairy Tales, The Feminine in Fairy Tales,
Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Individuation in Fairy Tales.
I found these and others particularly valuable in amplifying the
meaning of images that turned up nightly in my dreams. I devoured
them and lamented the fact that they were not indexed. But not
Before I went to pieces I had been a freelance editor, and so
I set about creating indexes for these books, as well as for my
first love, Puer Aeternus. I photocopied my painstaking
work and sold it to other students and past graduates. Eventually
Spring bought the rights to these indexes and incorporated them
in subsequent printings. The benefit to me was twofold: I absorbed
von Franz's attitude toward the unconscious and I was able to pay
my tuition fees.
I had analytic sessions with Dr. von Franz on two occasions, about
a year apart. She lived and practiced in Kusnacht, a Zurich suburb,
in an unpretentious little house on the side of a hill overlooking
the Lake of Zurich. 15 Lindenbergstrasse. Her house-mate was Barbara
Hannah, an aging analyst, cantankerous as all get out but sharp
as a tack. (Her own biographical portrait, Jung: His Life
and Work, published in 1976, is still among the best.)
I had heard the story that they lived together because Jung had
decreed it on account of Miss Hannah's failing health. In spite
of Miss Hannah's reputation for being difficult, I saw only affection
between the two.
My notes from those years don't indicate why von Franz agreed
to see me, though I suspect Fraser had a hand in it. I do remember
the setting in her consulting room: simply furnished with a table
and straight-backed chair, two comfortable armchairs face-to-face,
and overflowing bookshelves. It was the same room she finally died
in, which I was invited to view twenty years later, just before
the Memorial Service. The only difference I saw was the addition
of a single bed and flowers everywhere, giving it the appearance
of a shrine. I also recall that she never billed me for those two
In 1976, when it came time for my Propadeuticum, the nerve-wracking
mid-term exams at the Zurich Institute, I chose von Franz to test
me on the psychological interpretation of fairy tales. I hadn't
met her personally yet, though I dare say she knew something of
me from Fraser's dreams. It was an oral exam. I was given twenty
minutes alone to read the synopsis of a fairy tale. Then I was
questioned by my idol, the Expert. In spite of having immersed
myself in her work, I didn't do well. I sweated, I coughed, I stuttered;
in short, I froze, completely complexed. I did not know the answer
to the simplest of questions.
After twenty minutes, Dr. von Franz sat back and eyed me. "You
are truly a mess," she said. "You are either a stupid ninny and
shouldn't be here at all, or you have talents as yet undiscovered." On
a grading from 1 (tops) to 5 (abysmal), a 3 was a bare pass, which
is what she gave me. I crept out of that room feeling very grateful
indeed, for it meant I could then move on to the Candidate stage
and start taking clients of my own.
Two years later she examined me again. In the interim I had spent
less time frolicking on the Niederdorf, Zurich's night-life district,
and more on why I was where I was. I had re-read von Franz's books
and I was intimate with Jung's Collected Works. I was as primed
for my Diploma exam on fairy tales as any horse is for the Kentucky
I was given a tale from the Grimm collection, "The Crystal Ball," and
six hours in which to write a psychological interpretation. I had
not read it before, but the motifs were familiar: crystal, eagle,
whale, castle, forest, giants, magical hat, wishing, sword, etc.,
and, wouldn't you know it, an egg within which was the treasure "hard
to attain." I wrote my head off and finished in time. The independent
examiner refused a mark, saying, "He must have cheated." Von Franz
gave me a 1 and penciled a terse note: "He knows his stuff."
In 1978, at the age of 42, I returned to Toronto as a certified
Jungian analyst. Fraser had been back for a year, and Marion Woodman
joined us in 1979. Thanks to the groundwork laid in Toronto by
James M. Shaw, who had founded the Jung Foundation of Ontario as
far back as 1970, we three analysts, the first in Ontario, all
had thriving practices. Still, I was restless. I had so much energy
I thought I might explode. Theoretically it's possible. E = mc2.
If you have no place to put your energy it could build up inside
until poof! - a burst of flame and at the speed of light you're
For some time I had been trying to interest publishers in my Diploma
thesis on Franz Kafka, The Secret Raven: Conflict and Transformation.
I had high hopes. The 100th anniversary of his birth was coming
up, and then the 60th anniversary of his death. But there were
no takers. I was frustrated. And then Marion and Fraser encouraged
me to publish it myself. "Why not?" they said. "You have the tools."
Well, that was true. I knew what was involved in making and marketing
a book. Yes, I thought, why not! Only I did not fancy being a one-shot
vanity press, so I invited manuscripts from other analysts. Marion
immediately offered her own thesis on obesity and anorexia, The
Owl Was a Baker's Daughter. Fraser helped me design a
logo. Then, on a sunny day in May of 1980, I plucked up my courage
and called Dr. von Franz at her home in Kusnacht, not forgetting
the six-hour time difference.
"Mr. Sharp?" she said. "In Canada? Oh, how are you? I have just
come in from the garden, It is a wonderful spring for tulips, don't
I readily agreed, though tulips were Fraser's domain, not mine.
"Dr. von Franz," I said. "I am starting a publishing house and
I'm interested in some of your unpublished seminars. I'm thinking
of Redemption Motifs in Fairy Tales, On Synchronicity and
Divination and Alchemy: An Introduction to the
Symbolism and the Psychology. I have mimeographed copies."
She said she was very pleased to be asked. What is more, she graciously
agreed to be Honorary Patron of Inner City Books. Those three books
of hers, published in 1980 (along with my own dear Raven and Marion's
Owl), have sold over 60,000 copies to date, not counting foreign
editions in nine languages.
In 1983 Fraser got a bee in his own bonnet. "I have an idea," he
said. "You can make books; I know how to make films. I will film
Marlus on camera interpreting dreams. Hey! What about it?"
"Not likely," I scoffed. "No analyst has ever done that, and she
My skepticism was ill-founded. "Marlus" agreed to Fraser's project,
on condition that the dreams she was to interpret were told on
film by the dreamers themselves, not by actors. "Without real dreams
told by the actual dreamers," she said, "there is no integrity."
Fraser started Windrose Films. He found people willing to recount
their dreams on camera. He took these to von Franz and he filmed
her interpreting them. The man I had known and loved as a scatter-brained
intuitive got all the details right. The result was a stunning
10-hour film series, The Way of the Dream. It
had its world premier, sponsored by Centerpoint in Cambridge, MA,
in 1985. Since then, it has had many showings around the world.
Time passed. I published more books. Fraser went on to film a
6-hour film series with Joseph Campbell, This Business
of the Gods. He bought a computer, and with a little help
from me on desk-top publishing he turned it and The Way
of the Dream into books (both still available from Shambhala
Publications in Boston).
Fraser's death in 1992 was a mighty blow. Von Franz sent a huge
bouquet to the church. I mourned his loss, as much as any Gilgamesh
would his Enkidu, but I continued to do what was right in front
of me. Every six months I sent von Franz a statement of her sales
and a check. She once told me that I was the only publisher who
ever paid her royalties without being sent a letter from her lawyer.
Periodically I wrote von Franz asking if she had other manuscripts
that Inner City might publish. My persistence was rewarded in 1996
when she offered Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales and
reprint rights to C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time.
And just six months before she died, she gave Inner City another
hitherto unpublished Zurich seminar, The Cat: A Tale of
Feminine Redemption, which is now available.
On the morning of February 17, 1998, I awoke to find a message
on my answering machine from Chuck Schwartz, an old friend and
expatriot Canadian, also an analyst, living in Devon, England. "Von
Franz has died," I heard. "I thought you'd like to know." Dear
Chuck. He had referred me to Anthony Stevens when I was in extremis
so long ago. During our time in Zurich, he and I and Fraser and
Marion were known as the "Canadian Mafia." Years later, when von
Franz's beloved bulldog died of old age, it was Chuck who gifted
her a new pup on her birthday.
There was a similar message via e-mail from Bob Hinshaw, another
friend and analyst, publisher of Daimon Books: "Sad news from Zurich.
Marlus died early this morning. She has been ailing for quite some
time and this was surely her deliverance."
I reeled. Oh no. I thought she would live forever. When I had
recovered from this fantasy, I phoned friends and posted notices
on the Internet. The response was immediate: heart-felt laments
for her passing, commiserations to me. More than one correspondent
noted yet another passing of the "old guard," those who had worked
personally with Jung.
The farewell service was scheduled to be held in the Reform Church
of Kusnacht on February 26. I am averse to travel, especially to
trips across multiple time-zones, and so for a few days I resisted
the idea of being there. But in the end I could not not go; she
was my patron, after all, and the inner urge to publicly honor
our association was just too great. And what a joyful occasion
it turned out to be: a simple service with three heart-felt valedictory
addresses and a Schubert concert, followed by a sumptuous buffet
and a seemingly endless supply of Swiss wine, all provided for
in advance by von Franz herself. About 600 of us mingled for hours,
consoling each other, greeting old friends and making new ones.
In the midst of all this, I had a sudden realization. This dearly
departed old woman, a self-professed thinking type who had often
publically confessed her difficulty with her inferior feeling function
- to the extent of having to memorize collective expressions of
sympathy, congratulations on weddings, etc. - had done this for
us. Well, if that does not betoken an integration of opposites,
I don't know what does. Thank you, Marlus, I thought, for your sotto
voce example of the coniunctio.
I left that gathering with Bob Hinshaw. We spent a somewhat raucous
evening in various establishments along the Niederdorf, discussing
what von Franz had meant to us, our student days and publishing
concerns. It was an appropriate end to a day that had begun with
a heavy heart - a confirmation that life goes on. Bob was one of
those who had encouraged me to be there, predicting that I would
not regret making the long trip. They were right.
So there it is. The world-wide Jungian community has lost a great
lady. I have lost a cherished patron. But the spirit of Marie-Louise
von Franz lives on - in her books, in those she worked with analytically,
and in the many thousands of others who have been helped or influenced
by her writings. Her legacy will surely be that she appreciated
Jung's message and did her utmost to further it. And more, for
she was not a mindless devotee of Jung. She made her own mark,
put her own inimitable stamp both on Jungian psychology and on
those she taught.
I miss her a lot. But her attitude toward the unconscious continues
to inform my daily life and my choice of books to publish, just
as it always has. She is a part of me, under my skin. I think of
her whenever I itch.