The Importance of the Impossible
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Stranger than Myth

Posted by A.E. Marling in Fantasy: Modern Myth

Superficially, fantasy and myth seem like kissing cousins (winged, snake-headed, fire-breathing cousins), but how close are they really? First or twice removed? When Homer was known for his verse rather than his donut eating, people may have believed Cyclops did exist, that Hercules was a real person who did smother his family because Hera possessed him (nowadays we’d test his blood for traces of PCP).

I approached this topic on my tiptoes, and if I missteped, do not hesitate to sound the conch horns and release the Cerberus. Legend-spinner extraordinaire Angela Perry gave me the courage to take the plunge with the following pronouncement.

“Storytelling is how humans teach and learn best. Fantasy is the modern reinvention of myths and fables, which fulfill our basic need to separate good from evil, to explain the unexplainable. In our science and fact-driven world, we need it to keep that part of us alive.”

I can see an ancient (or modern!) Greek trying to scrape a living off a patch of rocky soil and taking solace in a yarn featuring a muscle man tackling a hydra without even having to reapply his deodorant. Fantasy stories also provide a much-needed reality vacation. Another person who believes in the importance of detaching oneself, even if only temporarily, from the problems of the day is Joseph Campbell, himself a mythical figure among mythologists.

Stories and myth informed cultures in ancient times, Joseph Campbell explained. They supported human life, built civilizations, tackled deep inner problems, delved inner mysteries and thresholds of passage, and provided guideposts of personal growth. Whether it’s Harry Potter confronting Voldemort, or Orpheus braving the Underworld, their courage inspires us, and we see parallels between their heroic journeys and the uncertainties we also will must surmount in life. We won’t ever have to fight the Forsaken like Rand al’Thor, but we may have to stand up to a bully or gird or loins and ask our boss for a raise.

“When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you.” -Joseph Campbell

The Myth Master also believed it important not to think of legends as fact-based because that dilutes the point: Stories are inner journeys that create resonance with outer existence, making it more meaningful. I feel that fantasy novels share this same power, along with others yet to be revealed in all their glittering glory. I will leave you, savage readers, with one last quote from a fantasy fan that seemed pertinent:

“If I had a choice between a Mercedes or Pegasus. Guess which I’m choosing?” –Terry

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