“Stories are the only enchantment possible, for when we begin to see our suffering as a story, we are saved. ”
— Anaïs Nin
Of Gods, Men & Overmen, part 3-The Tales of Men
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Through the millennia, since our first proto-ancestor walk-crawled his way from the oceans to check out that ‘cool new thing they call land, you gotta try it dude, it’s really awesome and not full of proto-sharks and shit trying to eat you every goddamn second; I’m thinking about taking the whole family there, you know?’
Sure, we’re gonna have to grow a new set of lungs just to live here along with a lot of really disgusting bits in order to cope and the living conditions might be kinda shitty at first glance, but the kids are gonna love it!
All the way up to our glorious monkey predecessors, to our epic war with the Neanderthals and through the Ice Age
| I tol’ you man: SAPIENS DON’T SHARE FOOD!|
We’ve clawed, invented, eaten, farmed and fucked our way across the eons, all the way to…well…today. We made up gods, set up societies, introduced and adjusted our gods to societies and kept on going, on and on and on, until we turned into an ecological disaster to rival the Ice Age ourselves.
Now there are seven billion of us and we’re shaping our environment according to our whims and things look on the up and up, don’t they? I mean, barring complete and utter societal disaster or the self-extermination of our own species.
|We came real close to that more than a couple times|
Our only limit is the sky and the quickly depleting resources of our home planet. And even then we might find a way around that, even if that means driving our population all the way back to the astonishingly low number of 10,000 that were left IN TOTAL by the end of the Ice Age.
But this is not an article that aims to give you an abridged version of human history in its entirety. This article is instead about mankind’s stories. In Part Two, I talked about the gods of man and their necessity, as well as the role of mythology. But to understand fiction, you need to go a step further.
Because if gods are the mortar keeping a society together (at least in its early stages), then stories, in general, are the foundation that is set at its base, allowing for the bricks to be set upon.
There are two functions to every story: The first one is to uphold societal norms and perpetuate the current society’s paradigms. This is pretty much the hard core of every religion ever.
|Yes, it is overly simplified but then again, this is the Internet. And no one comes to the Internet expecting overwrought religious arguments on some guy’s blog now do they?|
The second one is to supercondense the knowledge and wisdom of every previous generation in a form that will allow future generations to more easily absorb it. Every story (every good one that is) is a product of its time. It represents the fears, ideas, hopes and aspirations of the age it was spawned from.
|Every great story does the exact same thing but without actually adhering to the specific traits of the age that spawned it.|
Stories are, in a way, a sort of indirect telling of history. The tone, the style of presentation, the morals, they all point to the ways of thinking of the peoples that were there at the point of its inception. Take for example, Red Riding Hood.
|AHAHAHAHAHAHA! No, not this one; definitely not this one.|
The original story (considered to have been put to paper sometime during the 17th century), was the tale of a young girl who ventures out into the wilderness, where she gets tricked by a beast, thus giving him both the information he requires to devour her grandmother, as well as to set up a trap and get her too.
There is no crafty lumberjack to serve as a rough and rugged deus ex machina. The girl has gotten herself and her grandmother killed. End of story.
Red Riding Hood was a story that pretty much told children exactly how horrible and dangerous the woods are and how you should not fall victim to your own naiveté, or you will be exploited by strangers. It was a tale that taught children to fear the unknown and to be always wary.
But as the world got better and our perceptions changed, suddenly so did Red Riding Hood. The Brothers Grimm (despite otherwise being insufferable, childhood-crushing cunts with the magical power to shape minds through their stories) changed the tale so as to not only include the savior-lumberjack, but also to present Red Hood and Grandma as the forest’s proto-Batmen, setting up traps and keeping the woods safe for everyone since.
Suddenly, the tale changed. The world wasn’t so horrible. Forests (despite the fact that they were still scary) weren’t as depopulated. You could count on the kindness of others. The world was more forgiving-though not by much-which meant that you had to stay vigilant. You got out of trouble for free once, and then you were on your own, kiddo.
This iteration of Red Riding Hood has remained the same for almost five centuries now because, despite its time of origin, it teaches a lesson everyone should heed: be wary, be careful, don’t talk to strangers but also count on the unexpected bravery and goodness of others.
It’s a story of conflicting points. On one hand, it tells you the world is shit and you are to blame. On the other it says: sometimes, good things happen to good people.
This fable’s purpose is to inject those messages subconsciously into a child’s brain, allowing it to slowly come to terms with this seemingly nonsensical set of rules that make up society. But there’s more to it than that. Every fable, parable and mythology serves to present a very basic concept of ethics as well. It uses archetypal characters that represent certain concepts, set in certain roles which they must play out.
Joseph Campbell presented those roles on his works in great detail, presenting the two main archetypes as:
The Hero is, for all intents and purposes, a symbol that represents good. Heroes, whether anti or reluctant ones, are creatures that are defined via their adventures, the mark they leave upon the world, but above all they are defined by their sacrifice.
The Hero has a goal. But to reach that goal, the Hero must give up his life, his identity and sometimes even more than that to achieve. He faces impossible odds but he succeeds, despite the cost, as long as he does not stray away from the path his morality has set for him.
But for the Hero to be a Hero, he requires someone to be his direct and exact opposite. Therefore he is in desperate need of…
The Antagonist exists as a counterpart and a complete and utter antithesis of the Hero. He represents Evil, or at the very least the antithesis of Good that the Hero represents. He exists so he can cause the grief required to push the Hero forward and in the end becomes the Hero’s final and absolute sacrifice.
Because you see, a Hero is not a Hero if he has no one to antagonize. To lose his Antagonist, to destroy him in battle or to thwart him once and for all, means that the Hero must lose his purpose, signifying the end of his tale.
The Antagonist also stands for everything that is opposed to societal norms. Be he a megalomaniac, a mad scientist, an evil wizard, he is always the thing that must be destroyed in order for the Hero’s society to keep on existing.
These archetypes have remained the same throughout the ages and have not been changed in any way, because they are the absolute definition of the conflict that takes place in the human mind. Stories just serve to give them a flare and to turn the anguish that is the direct byproduct of this conflict into a flashy fanfare, allowing us to come to terms with it much more easily.
For this great service, we have come to love our fiction. We have worked with it and changed it and transmuted it into all sorts and forms. We use it as a means to escape the crushing routine of our everyday lives and we find ourselves constantly wishing to escape into our fiction.
But do we, really? I found myself wondering that as I was having my mind blown to bits while reading through Warren Ellis’ Planetary series. I stumbled upon a quote, spoken by a mad scientist to a creature brought from a fictional universe he and a team of experts had designed and conceived so they could explore it:
|You sure do make me feel like an unispired idiot sometimes, Mr. Ellis.|
Meta-fiction references aside, this quote had me wondering: why are we so afraid of our fiction? What makes it so endearing and on the other hand, so damn dangerous? Why do we bother inventing it, remixing it and narrating it, if it makes us feel so uneasy?
Well, that’s probably because in its own way, it is way more real than your current life, am I right? I thought and realized that the little asshole that resides in my head was right.
There’s a certain flair and impossibility in the archetypes and in the mechanics of a story. There’s a clearly defined purpose, a goal that must be reached, a damsel that is distressed, an Antagonist to overthrow, a very specific burden to carry. Unlike the chaotic, jumbled mess of grey morality and bullshit limitations that is our life, there is order in the structure of a story.
To be in a story, means to have a clearly defined purpose. That is the gist of it. That is the glaring difference our life has to our fiction. We find ourselves thinking that we lack purpose or meaning, which is why we invent creatures that we can live out their roles, if only for a little while. We feel powerless against an uncaring universe, which is why we seek to escape.
But to provide the physical means to escape, you first need to cultivate the minds that will invent them. And how did we do that? By gradually turning our fiction into something common, popular and easily digestible, allowing us to come to terms with it and go from absolute terror into awe and then into gradual understanding.
|And thus, Man did invent Overman. And it was good.|
Stay tuned for Part 4.
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