Flight of Eagles

The album Piece of Mind (1983) features two songs wich deal with eagles: “Where Eagles Dare” and “Flight of Icarus.” But these songs are not connected to each other. They are based on two sources which could not be any more different: a spy thriller and a Greek myth. What is more, they are written by two different songwriters (Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson). Yet I say that these songs are connected by a shared metaphor which exceeds the simple bond of “being on the same album.” I will first discuss both songs in context to the originals they are based on and then show how two texts which are based on so different originals can suddenly share the same metaphor and talk to each other.

Daring Eagles

“Where Eagles Dare” is based on the novel (1967) and film (1968) of the same name. As both novel and screenplay were written by the same author (which means that an author was lucky enough to write the screenplay for the film adaptation of his novel by himself), Alistair MacLean, I will focus on the film in the following. Moreover, the film is a classic and much more popular than its precursor novel.

As I have mentioned above, “Where Eagles Dare” belongs to spy fiction, meaning that it is a film featuring crossing and double-crossing, a surprising turn, and a sabotaging traitor. None of this can be found in the song. The song turns the mission of the agents more or less into an ascent, the climbing of a mountain. Although the fire shots at the end are still there, their main problem is now to climb an inaccessible mountain. This change of narrative, meaning exchanging the difficulty to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold against the difficulty to climb a mountain, puts a different emphasis on the “eagle.” Now, the eagle is quite literally an eagle, a bird who flies high up and builds his nest on top of a mountain. Those who accomplish to go where the eagles live have proven their bravity and accomplished their goal.

Icarus

Icarus is an ancient Greek myth. Icarus and his father Daedalus are captives on an island. In order to flee the father devises wings. This bold plan works, just that young Icarus grows reckless and flies too high, too close to the sun. The wax that his father had used to bind the feathers of his artificial wings together starts to melt. Icarus falls to his death.

The song tells another story. As it is well-known, here, the father has wronged his son and (indirectly?) killed him. The chorus seems to urge young Icarus even on, he is supposed to fly even higher, to fly closer to the sun – and, to be like an eagle. Again, it is the eagle which can reach the regions which are inaccessible to humans. Again, it is the eagle which excells the human being. But now, the human fails and does not accomplish what the eagle has done.

Juxtaposing Songs

Both songs are in juxtaposition to each other. When the soldiers succeed to become like eagles, Icarus fails; when the betrayal and sabotage has been erased from the original in the case of the spy movie; it has been added to the greek myth. Yet, they have one thing in common. Both changes put more emphasis on the eagle. When the eagle does not face sabotage anymore, but only the difficulty of the high mountain when it succeeds, it is confronted with sabotage when it fails. The changes made to both original texts bring them closer together and allow for the same use of the metaphor of the eagle. The eagle represents the successful conquest of regions (almost) inaccessible to humans. This refers to physical height as well as victory over the opponents (the Nazis in case of the agents and the angry Minos in case of Daedalus and Icarus).

These two songs represent a dialogue between Harris and Dickinson who discuss the same topic (success versus failure) with the same metaphor (the eagle). Significantly enough, for Harris success is represented in climbing (or a parachute jump at best), while for pilot and aircraft fan Dickinson it is flying. Still, even if the way to achieve the (artistic) height might be different, they still have the same vision – to be like an eagle and to go where no-one else can go.

Sources

  • Harris, Steve. “Where Eagles Dare.” Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind. EMI, 1983.
  • Smith Adrian, Dickinson, Bruce. “Flight of Icarus.” Iron Maiden. Piece of Mind. EMI, 1983.
  • “Where Eagles Dare.” Hutton, Brian G. (dir.), MacLean Alistair (screenplay). Winkast Film Productions, 1968.
  • The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Daedalus.” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Daedalus-Greek-mythology [06/22/19]

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