Because I have to work for a living, much of my writing is done between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. So this would have been written very late (or early) as usual.
The topic of good and evil has always fascinated me ever since I was four years old and teaching myself to read from comic books. Yes, I learned to read from comic books before I “learned” to read in the first grade. My teacher was fascinated at how “intuitive” I was in my reading, but if I ever told her what I was reading at home, she would have ranted about my choice of reading material. Teachers have come a long way since then, and so has the comic book. Going back for another BA and a Masters allowed me to explore the heroic ideal that I loved as a kid. The advantage I had this time was that I came understanding from a more “grown up” perspective that life isn’t fair. What I learned from classmates half my age was almost as instructive as reading the Odyssey in its original language, or Beowulf.
In our consumer driven culture, fed on instant gratification and information at the the touch of a finger, few young people seem to understand the value of pursuing goals grander than themselves and the value of self-sacrifice for no personal gain. Whether its Superman or Beowulf, Ben Grim or Perseus, without understanding hardship (central to hero’s journey) one doesn’t learn to value strength, justice, accomplishment, or sacrifice for the greater good.
My mother went through the Great Depression as a kid, my father was a WW2, Korean War, and Viet Nam veteran. I cannot speak to the issues of Civil Rights from a personal perspective, but there are those that faced harsh treatment, and they overcame. They faced great evils in their generation, and as a culture, they triumphed. I do wonder about millennials, individuals who have never lived without a cell phone, a computer, and green bars on their phone where ever they go.
I personally believe that there are evils yet looming that my kids and grandkids will have to overcome. The evils of unchecked power by government (Fascism?) and the challenge of understanding that just because science can do some things doesn’t mean science should (remember the atom bomb? Now our government traces every call and bit from our cell phones and computers without warrants in the name of public safety. Should they be doing that? Shades of Facism?).
Heroes are needed more than ever. You can laugh at Superman or the Avengers. As a long time reader of those comic books, I for one enjoyed the movies. Heroes (and the heroic journey) are as important now as they were when I grew up. A child needs to learn that monsters can be overcome, even though it may be hard and require much sacrifice (The Fellowship of the Ring). Stories can provide this.
I want to paraphrase a paraphrase of GK Chesterton Quote. Neil Gaiman, in the beginning of his novel Coraline, paraphrased a GK Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten ”
I would like to offer my own version of that paraphrase. Hero stories are more necessary, not because they tell us evil can be beaten, but because they show us that evil must be beaten. In that struggle, the true hero cannot compromise. The hero understands that the victory doesn’t come by imitating evil, because once the hero imitates the villain, evil has won already. ”