Why do we love fantasy so much? I don’t mean cosplay or Star Wars necessarily, fantasy in its broadest definition – something that is not reality. Why do we love the worlds and the heroes of fantasy that writers create? What is it about who we are and what our world is that has birthed this desire to make heroes? Katniss Everdeen, a conflicted teenage girl who becomes the Mockingjay – symbol for the revolution that eventually brings freedom to her world. Or Batman, the vigilante who saves Gotham city time and time again. The Hulk, Captain America, Superman, Spiderman, The Avengers, Thor, Wolverine, The X-men …. and the list goes on. As humans, we seem pretty adept at creating, resurrecting, sustaining and developing heroes. All of the old 2D MG comic book heroes have been resurrected in recent years, sometimes faithfully, others often not and they all have a strong fan following. Plot lines are dissected, critiqued and discussed heatedly and at length online. Are our heroes always perfect? Are they the ideal we strive for? Of course not. In many ways the rest of their non-crime-fighting lives read like something from a really bad soap opera and heroes are frequently making poor decisions in their personal lives. But perhaps this also is part of the charm? Who likes someone who is perfect? Their own perfection highlights our flaws. A hero who occasionally lets their friends down, or alienates the people who love them best is, well, they’re a lot like us. We sympathize. We root for them. Because it’s who we long to be. I know I may sound a little like a super-fan with a strong book/film-hangover, but stay with me a moment …
The physce of ‘hero’ appeals very directly to something that I believe is deep in every man and woman. The desire to be important, to be something other than what we seem. Because lets face it, how we seem is so very, very ordinary. Our lives are dull and mundane and consist of important but often boring things. We must pay the bills, earn a wage, listen to people we’d rather ignore, put up with things we’d rather not, do the dishes, hoover and go to parent-teacher evenings. Heroes do these things, but deep underneath, they have something that no one knows, a secret. This is not their real identity. This is not who they are. Oh, they do these things just like we do, but it’s a cover for the important stuff. Like saving the world, kicking bad-guy butt and generally being awesome. They are significant. Even though their worlds don’t know their identity, they are needed. They are important. Talked about. How many times, at the end of a particularly long day, full of intensely dull meetings, petty squabbles, poorly made decisions, awful traffic, with a house covered in play dough, pet hair and mud, dinner burnt, kids crying, homework assignments that all got returned covered in red ink with large D’s scrawled across the top; how many times do we long to grab a stranger and shout at them, or, whisper to the heavens through tears of frustration: “This isn’t me! This is not who I am! I am NOT this”.
But surely an over-developed desire for significance can’t be at the root of this veritable epidemic of make-believe heroes? Well, it isn’t. If we’re honest we’ll all admit that the world we live in is more than messed up, more than sick, it’s dying. Especially now when the greed of the “one percenters” has driven us into the quagmire of recession: homes repossessed, redundancies, hunger. Fresh wars every year to parade out in the headlines of the world, every year we watch misery and hunger troupe across our screens and every year we think it can’t get worse. In the West people work longer hours for less pay, and in general it has higher rates of depression and suicide … this is just in relatively safe places like America and Europe – [relatively safe because, you know …. Trump, Brexit, terrorism etc etc.] In Africa there are a plethora of elderly dictators clinging to power, bleeding their countries dry. The ongoing war in South Sudan, the yearly quota of bloodshed from the ‘dark continent’, the whisper of genocide with a side-serving of money-laundering. In South America, the drug trade that has taken thousands of lives will continue to take even more as politicians turn a blind eye. What about the Middle East where country names alone have become by-words for death, destruction and suffering … Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq? I could go on. And yes, I know, all countries have their problems, all cities have crime. And don’t get me wrong, there is still beauty, hope, joy … all these things. But, the big picture, well, it looks pretty bleak at the end of this year. Despite our best efforts, all we have done, said, marched about, written about, believed in, turned up for – well some days you wonder if its made any difference at all. In summary – We. Have. Tried. And. We. Have. Failed. To. Make. This. World. A. Better. Place. To. Live. Between increasing natural disasters and man made ones, this world is more dangerous now than when we first met it. And again, lets be honest, if any of us thinks about these things, even a little, you have to admit, the unknowns are scary. People have different reactions to things, some people cry, some people get mad.
They DO something about it.
They are not impotent.
They see evil and they pick up their weapons and they fight it. Every single hero we read about or watch has a crusade of some kind; some evil that they fight and seek to destroy. And we watch, knowing that we cannot make our world better, so we live through our heroes and cheer them on as they confront the darkness that eats like a cancer at their worlds. And while we do this, our world slowly rots. The temptation is to turn away, shrug, who are we to try fix this? [Besides we aren’t the problem – are we?] Who are we anyway? Boring, mundane people. Not heroes. We have no significance, so what do we do with this green-blue planet of ours that seems so full of pain?
Well, perhaps the first step is realizing that there is a blueprint for the typical hero story. And that this blueprint is tied to the core of who we were created to be. The idea that’s hardwired into the hero story and into our hearts – that we are more than we seem, is true. All that the world sees is a shell, an exterior, but philosophers and doctors alike have known for centuries that our physical self isn’t really the essence of what makes us human. We are immortal beings trapped in mortal bodies. We are more than we seem. Our job titles, relationships and history – these don’t even come close to charting the vast wildernesses of heart and soul. We were never meant to live only in the world of the surface – we were designed for the depths. The Hero that came to save the world from the unlikely place of a dirty Judean stable, knew this.
Truth is, there is a war on for this world and good versus evil doesn’t just exist in fantasy – fantasy is a reflection of reality. But the enemy that we face is so cunning, so sly, so evil, that he has us convinced that this battle isn’t real, there are no absolutes, there is no side, no single person or thing worth fighting for. So instead, we created a fantasy world where good fights evil to explain away this longing inside us. It’s a lie. We live in a war zone where the eternal destiny of souls is at stake. And, what’s more, we are called on to take up arms and fight, by fighting our own natures, opening our arms wide when society tells us to close our doors and hearts to others who are not like us. By seeking truth, loving justice and living humbly. We are called to live like our own hero did, to love the lost and seek those that are thirsty. To lay aside opinions and anger, to choose to respond not out of fear, but out of love. Because, really, the ultimate Hero saw that this world was doomed, and he came, in disguise, on a mission to redeem it. This mission wasn’t glorious or sexy, or cool, it was messy, complex and unexpected. And it all started with a young couple, miles from home in a dirty stable – Hope incarnate, the King of the upside-down kingdom, glory cloaked by human flesh: the rescue mission for earth.
So why do we love heroes so much? Perhaps because whether we acknowledge it or not, the typical hero story resonates deep within us, it strikes a chord of truth.