Heroes, heroism, and what all that entails, is a fairly common theme on this blog. It wasn’t until I read through Diana Wynne Jones’ essay collection, followed by The Wand in the Word, that I started to understand some of my impulses that drive me to contemplate such ideas, and to search for ways to bring them into my stories without even realizing it.
We as a society, especially here in America, are in desperate need of heroes. Not even real-life heroes, though those are (obviously) important, but heroes of mythical stature, for us to look up to and emulate without even knowing it. America is a funny land: we have absorbed so many cultures to make up this beautiful, multi-facted nation, and yet we haven’t embraced any of their myths – nor do most of us embrace the mythos of the Native Americans, which is beautiful and rich and deep.
Instead of myths and legends reaching back into a shadowy past, showing us heroes and heroines and quests and striving for a goal more noble, we have generations of Americans raised on Disney princesses and Power Rangers as children, vampires and dystopias as teenagers, gossip magazines and reality television as young adults. Not all of those things are bad – but they aren’t anything close to enough.
We have no King Arthur, no rich carpet of legend rolling out beneath our feet, for us to tread upon and absorb without even knowing it. The closest thing we have in this country to a cultural mythos are comic book heroes, and while those have their own value, they don’t have the weight of age behind them.
That’s not something I can change. I don’t have a TARDIS, I can’t pop back in time to create another Beowulf.
But I, personally, have a strong sense of the importance of heroes. As a kid, I fought imaginary dragons in my back yard. I believed in standing up for the underdog, even in my kindergarten class, wearing a pretty dress with my hair in two long braids, not letting anyone bully Thomas because he didn’t fit in. How did that happen (aside from my parents’ teaching)?
The books I read, the Stories I learned. What books did I grow up reading? Books by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Brian Jacques, Edward Eager, E Nesbit, L Frank Baum …
People say fantasy doesn’t matter? That fantasy books aren’t Real Books?
It is fantasy, myth, legend, the hero seeking to save others, the beauty of the quest through danger to achieve salvation, that will rescue this world from falling into utter darkness.
In the end, fantasy books are the most Real Books out there. They just might be the most important books you will ever read.
They are certainly the most important books I will ever write.