It’s Midnight and I’m Thinking About Good, Evil, and Heroes

Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry Machines

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.

 

hero2

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.  ”

T.J. Akers

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10 thoughts on “It’s Midnight and I’m Thinking About Good, Evil, and Heroes

  1. We’re a lot alike in this aspect. I love the hero journey as well. The idea of going on an adventure, a quest, something to be overcome–I used to despair as a kid that I’d never get to do anything like what I’d read in the fantasy novels I was reading. Now I know that, much like what Sam Gangee said, Adventures are nasty, smelly things that make you late for breakfast. 😉 And really, life is an adventure all it’s own. We all need to be heroes.

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  2. I agree with everything you said. (And may I say, I cut my reading teeth on my parent’s large collection of The Peanuts comics. Not quite the comics you were referring to but I wouldn’t be the obsessive reader I am today were it not for those anthologies.)

    It saddens me that the younger generations don’t understand the gratification that comes from tackling a problem over and over again and finally solving it. Of waiting for something impatiently and finally being rewarded. Good books can do so much to counteract today’s culture – teaching all the things that are drowned out in our media-driven world.

    As for your closing line, I heard that the most recent Superman film slightly failed in that regard.

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  3. Thanks for your comments. I enjoy insightful responses to a post.

    I’m a long time fan of Superman, and Superman stories are a tough sell in our jaded world, but I liked the ending of the movie. Superman made a decision in a difficult situation. I couldn’t point a finger in accusation of him, given the situation. Nolan set the character up for a life time of regret, always wondering if “there was another way”. This makes the character very human, and far less sanctimonious when he objects to easy answers in the future. Sometimes its not a hero’s success that shapes him\her, as much as it is a hero’s regret. For me, the ending genuinely humanized the character in answer to a common complaint about Superman being too perfect.

    Enjoyed your response.
    T.J. Akers

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    • That’s a really nice perspective to have. I absolutely loved Superman Returns and when I heard the negative comments on the most recent installment, it made me want to avoid the movie. Now my desire to see it has been restored. 🙂 Regret and mistakes do so much more to form character than easily tripping down the path laid ahead.

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  4. There’s a saying that people identify more with failures and flaws than success and popularity. I use that as much as I can when I build characters! But they also have to have amazing gifts and go on crazy adventures that people can idolize. (and not be late for tea of course, Lisa Godfrees)
    And whatever way you became a reader is just fine. Be it comic books, or badly written literature, it’s all good. It’s what you do afterward with your reading (and writing) ability that counts.

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  5. And that’s why kids still love heroes. Every human being is born with the yearning for life to be fair and just. That’s why a lot of kids’ stories have a definite good guy and a bad guy. Evil MUST be beaten.

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    • The one thing I do like about the newer comcs and that is the fact that they’re willing to show heroes as flawed. Yet they’re still out there trying to do what’s right.

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