Fantasy fiction has always been something more than adventures with magic. This genre breaks the path into an inner world where people are tested by great forces.
I believe fantasy authors of all stripes are trying to do the deep work of creating new mythologies. The eminent late mythology scholar Joseph Campbell stated often that we live in an age with inadequate mythology. In his televised talks with Bill Moyers, he said, “The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe.”
He continued to explain that the psychological support offered by old myths and religions no longer functions for people of today. Furthermore, no new mythological forms are present to aid people in the rational and spiritual processing of their lives.
The profusion of fantasy literature in all of its forms is the result. Collectively authors and readers are exploring their imaginations and seeking to construct new guide posts that illustrate the challenges and stages of their lives.
For example, we live in an age suffering from vast ecological damage. Some old religions speak of end times and apocalypse, but waiting around for everything to collapse is not exactly functional.
The reality of this condition is at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Saruman’s devastation of a forest to feed his industrial fires represents the industrial revolution and its attendant war machine. The same goes for Sauron in Mordor, a pitted and blasted place where armies huddle in the rocky volcanic fume.
But a small band of courageous players confront this horror against all odds. In the end the evil power of Sauron consumes itself. It cannot sustain itself. This story informs us of this truth and offers a psychological template for coping with life in this reality.
According to Campbell mythologies are “a systematized organization of fantasies in relation to the values of a given social order. So that mythologies always derive from specific environments.”
Therefore I ask: What mythologies are being created from our society?
An example that offers mythological support to the people of today is the film The Matrix, written and produced by the Wachowski Brothers. In this techno fantasy, Neo is offered the choice to take the blue pill or the red pill. Blue delivers the bliss of the manufactured reality of modern society without thought or question. The red pill breaks him free from the machine-ruled Matrix but leads to a grim reality of privation and always being hunted. But at least these people are aware of reality. Their thoughts are their own. Their feelings are their own.
Fantasy like its better-educated cousin science fiction is well known for exploring social ills. I’m particularly fond of the cruel matriarchy depicted in R.A. Salvatore’s popular Drow Elf Trilogy. It’s not that I think that women would be evil if given mastery of society. Rather, I admired how the story showed the injustice and suffering that naturally follow gender-determined authority. And the main character in this story sustains his compassion and ethics despite constantly being encouraged to be otherwise. That is a good myth to live by.
All artists including fantasy authors are doing the work of projecting society upon the psyche and provoking us to imagine our best selves. Although it’s nearly impossible to snip a sound byte from the writings of Carl Jung, I find this quote by that extraordinary thinker very illuminating.
“Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present.”
With its magic, monsters, grueling quests, epic battles, and life-changing disasters, fantasy fiction provides inspiring examples. As a reader, I imagine being heroic. I imagine myself possessing the courage to walk into Mordor. Society may have serious problems, but solutions begin with my actions.
In our admittedly frightening times when many people are spiritually adrift and institutions are failing, fantasy authors construct stories to teach our spirits to persevere.
People are turning to genre fiction to satisfy their normal human need for mythological guidance. The prevalence of various fan conventions like comic cons, anime cons, and gaming cons reveals a widespread public need for a shared mythology. At conventions they gather around themes of common stories that speak to them with meaning. They costume and celebrate the creators of their favorite stories. From this teeming mythological multiverse, millions of people find community, inspiration, and courage to be themselves. It’s more than entertainment. If you merely find something entertaining, you don’t engage in cosplay and buy collectibles.
The conventions I’ve attended remind me of pilgrimages and festivals associated around temples in India. There is always a story behind what they are doing too.
The many thousands of stories produced by fantasy authors every year are fulfilling our natural mythological needs. Will any one of them rise to become a widespread myth? Not very likely. A few will resonate with large audiences and may fulfill mythological needs for a time. And then new stories will be created to reflect the needs of our ever-changing societies. But each story will serve a small audience in a meaningful way.
What myth have I consciously portrayed in my writing?
When I wrote the Rys Rising series, I was creating a mythic telling of a society experiencing its last days. The elites were unable and unwilling to recognize their own failings. It’s ultimately a story of watching everything change but staying courageous and striving to survive. Giving up is not an option. For me this is the story that reflects the life I face and gives me spiritual fortitude.
All nine of Tracy Falbe’s fantasy novels are available worldwide at her Brave Luck Books website. A free ebook copy of Rys Rising: Book I can be downloaded at http://www.falbepublishing.com/braveluck/free-fantasy-ebook-rys-rising.html
Her novels are also available online at many retailers.