What Are Our Modern Myths?
One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about stories that interest me. Lately, I have become obsessed with story. Its structure. Its form. Its purpose. Very little in my life has had as much an impact on me as compelling, emotional stories. Be it a book, a lecture, a movie, whatever. Good stories move me nearly as much as real life experience. So much so, that for the first time in my life, I’m going to write some of my own.
When I was younger, I started to wonder if perhaps my obsession was unhealthy. Is it normal to lose a whole weekend to reading? Did I really watch Star Wars 75 times? Is this just escapism? For an introvert, burying yourself in a book for 6 hours is easy. Going out the front door to talk and play with the other kids, not so much. It wasn’t until after college that I stumbled upon the first person that gave me an understanding that my love of—and addiction to—story was not only normal, but the most human of reactions. That person was Joseph Campbell.
I never had the opportunity to meet Joseph Campbell. I discovered him one day, through the PBS series called The Power of Myth. Anyone who has seen video of Campbell can attest to the fact that he is a magnetic speaker. His love of his craft and passion for teaching comes through the tv screen. And if your like me, when he starts retelling mythic tales of religions and civilizations from bygone eras, you eat it up with a spoon. Why is that?
According to Campbell, human beings naturally crave an understanding of the mysteries of life and myths(i.e. stories) are gateways and clues to those mysteries. Myths are stories that help us relate to our common struggles in life. Birth. Death. Growing old. Conquering our fears. One of my favorite quotes of Campbell illustrates this very well:
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.
So if my love of storytelling, art and literature is rooted in a natural craving for myth. What are our modern myths? I can think of a handful that impacted me growing up. All in the world of fiction. The Star Wars movies. The Lord of the Rings books. The Arthurian Legend. Comics. Why did those tales resonate with me? I believe it was because they were rooted in mythology that is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. Deep down, human beings(and their motivations) haven’t changed all that much.
And today’s myths? I think they are harder to find. And I have a feeling that it is a problem with our culture today. Setting aside religion(that is a longer, much more involved discussion), I wonder what myths are moving our young people. Which stories are reaching them? Moving them emotionally. Giving them a sense of what it means to be alive. What do you think? What moved you growing up? What moves you now? Would love to hear your thoughts.
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The images above are from the five highest grossing films of all time: Avatar, LOTR The Return of the King, Titanic, Toy Story 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I’m not holding these films up as the end all be all, but as an example of stories that obviously had a wide, international reach.