By Tracy Falbe
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Making Myths Before Our Eyes
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 represents attempts to fill this void with updated mythological systems. 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 creates a mythological landscape for the industrial revolution and its attendant war machine. The same goes for Sauron in his Mordor, which is 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. The consumptive madness of a war-driven and industrial society cannot continue forever. Its evil can be recognized, resisted, and hopefully outlived.
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 those people who take the red pill are aware of reality. Their thoughts are their own. Their feelings are their own. They do not smile at lies and accept an illusion that saps the energy of their lives directly from their bodies.
These feelings reflect the perceptions of those of us who at least partially see the deceptions of our so-called civilization. To take the red pill means to break through the façade of what we are told is the normal state of existence. We cease to see the world as normal and right. We see its flaws and absurdities and realize that the system has not been designed for the maintenance or advancement of human happiness or well-being.
This level of awareness forever separates the person from the larger visible culture. It strips away the comfort of accepting conditions and events as described by the news media. It shreds the ability to share in the group think that delivers the sense of belonging to a tribe.
In this aspect, modern fantasy fiction and its better-educated cousin science fiction have taken on the role of social critic. Stories are used to expose the problems. Narratives build sympathy within the reader for characters undergoing plights of injustice. Readers gain through this experience the inspiration to withstand daily battles between good and evil and go forward with hope.
R.A. Salvatore’s popular Dark Elf Trilogy presents a memorable and popular example of literature exploring social ills through the fantasy. The broad strokes enabled by this form of story telling allow political and social conditions to be made painfully clear. I’m particularly fond of the cruel matriarchy depicted in the 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 because it shows a hero who heeds the call of his true nature and morality. He does not allow a corrupt society to teach him that cruelty is correct.
All artists including fantasy authors are doing the work of projecting society upon the psyche and provoking us to imagine our best selves or confront are worst inclinations. 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 or other religious locations around the world. There is always a story behind those events.
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.
About the Author
Tracy Falbe has been an enthusiast of fantasy stories since childhood. She was born in Michigan in 1972 and grew up in Mt. Pleasant. In 1995 she moved to Nevada and currently resides in Northern California with her husband, son, German shepherd, and black cat. Her hobbies include being a news junkie, archery, baking, and gardening.
In 2000, she earned a journalism degree from California State University, Chico. She considers writing a necessary activity that she enjoys. She has the most fun writing in the fantasy genre. She finds inspiration in history and likes to contemplate warfare before gunpowder and life without modern technology. Placing characters in an elder world fantasy setting fascinates her and allows her to explore age-old notions of bravery when combat was often done face-to-face. Magic is another story element that adds to the pleasure of writing in this genre.
Tracy’s first published work was the non-fiction title “Get Dicey: Play Craps and Have Fun” based on her years working as a craps dealer in Las Vegas. Since learning to read and write as a child, Tracy always knew that she wanted to write novels. The Rys Chronicles represents the efforts of many adult years.
The Rys Chronicles
Book I – Union of Renegades
Book II – The Goddess Queen
Book III – Judgment Rising
Book IV – The Borderlands of Power
Rys Rising series
Book I – Rys Rising
Book II – Savage Storm
Book III – New Religion
Book IV – Love Lost
Werewolves in the Renaissance series
Werelord Thal: A Renaissance Werewolf Tale
Journey of the Hunted: Werewolves in the Renaissance 2
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Stories of the fantastic let us imagine the broad strokes of our lives. This essay looks at how the modern mythology expressed in popular works of fantasy and science fiction resonates with the inner worlds of readers. Using examples from fantasy literature and film, the author considers how these stories enable people to cope with modern troubles such as environmental degradation and the warped reality presented by mainstream society.