Monday, October 15, 2007

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

"Stories are signposts to help the world choose between the darkness and the light." ~Arago

Angel, from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series, said it this way:

"Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel, but that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, or what we've done, or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be. To show it what it can be."

I talked last post about how the heroes and archetypes of myth recur wearing (as Joseph Campbell says) new masks in all times and cultures. They live the same stories over and over again because the stories hold truths we need to hear.

Here's one about (Campbell again) The Hero With a Thousand Faces:

Once there was a young person named Arthur/Moses/Frodo/Clark Kent/Luke Skywalker/Buffy Somers/Harry Potter who was raised as a commoner, not suspecting his noble heritage. She met a wise old man named Merlin/Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi/Giles/Dumbledore who revealed her true destiny. Granted a weapon of great power called Excalibur/the Staff of God/the One Ring/super powers/a lightsaber/a wooden stake/a phoenix-and-holly wand, he went forth to fight the forces of evil.

The clearest truth in the story is that no matter what our situation we are all greater and nobler than we think. We're worthy, we have a purpose, as the Desiderata says we "have a right to be here."

Young heroes, wise wizards, objects of power, monsters and villains are archetypes that surface in most stories (or is there only one story?) The hero doesn't have to be fantastic. He can be a private detective, his magic kingdom the mean streets of Los Angeles and the dragon may be a corrupt corporation. The swords, rings and wands are icons, symbols of power.

There are more vital truths hidden in myths and fairy tales and popular culture, and many more examples of their recurring patterns. But in order to fully appreciate them we have to include some myths that a lot of people take seriously. Before I get there I'm going to have to digress next post and talk about myth and religion.

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