MYTHS ARE PUBLIC DREAMS;
DREAMS ARE PRIVATE MYTHS
At the forefront of this new “mythological resurgence” are the numerous films that present us with new superheroes on quests to fight society’s evils. We have Star Trek, Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the Matrix, the Dark Knight, Avatar, and many others. Now the “Avengers,” with a whole group of mythic characters, has emerged - refueling the idea that a new modern mythology is being created.
Is modern cinema creating myths for our own time?
In order to evaluate whether contemporary story telling is modern myth building, one has to appreciate the subtle difference between a “myth” and a “parable.” Both are stories and both are created by man. But a myth explains, while a parable instructs.
Author Ann Druyan wrote, “For most of the history of our species, we were helpless to understand how nature works. We took every storm, drought, and illness personally. We created myths in an attempt to explain the patterns of nature.”
A PARABLE is another similar, but distinct, type of story. Parables (and allegories) are purposely created stories that illustrate morals and instruct us in the standards of behavior, but were never assumed to be true by anyone.
Some stories are a combination of both myths and parables. The Bible is an example. The Old Testament tends to be more mythic; the New Testament tends to be more parable-oriented. This is not a judgment about truthfulness, but the drawing of a
between the purposes of each type of story.
George Lucas used Campbell’s work extensively to unify and focus the narrative of his Star Wars films. The hero’s journey included the call to adventure, leaving of the mundane world, a road with many trials, the temptation away from the true path, and final reconciliation with the father. All of the archetypal characters were there - the mentor, the oracle, the prophecy, and the failed hero.
There is no question that Star Wars and other contemporary films used mythic elements: heroes, journeys, conflicts, and reconciliation. But are they new myths? Or even myths at all?
We keep thinking back to our more conservative definition of a myth and a parable. A myth is a story that explains or rationalizes some aspect of a culture. They are, at some point in time, believed to be true by the people in the culture that use the myth as an explanation. A parable, on the other hand, is a story or journey that illustrates morals and standards of behavior, but is never assumed to be true by anyone.
In the end, both myths and parables can serve many purposes. Their fantastic and unreal nature, ancient or modern, should not prevent us from enjoying them.