By Rick McClatchy
Throughout these past few weeks there has been a lot of news about the new Star Wars Episode VII. Star Wars is a cultural event that has captured the attention of millions of people as it has broken all sorts of box office records.
Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic commented,”‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter’ are the two most successful movie franchises on a per-film basis in history, and they both hit a really similar sweet spot. Tell me which story is a saga about a boy whose parents are gone, who seems at first ordinary but is asked to learn a magical skill and go on a great adventure; makes close friends including a boy, a girl, and an old, wise adviser; and becomes a hero by killing a black-clad enemy involved in the death of his father. This story arc is Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero of a Thousand Faces.’ It’s fantasy, it’s drama, it’s aspiration, it’s relatability. It’s a fairy tale for kids that adults can adore. Lots of writers have tried to get this formula right, and I think you just have to throw up your hands and say, ‘Look, George Lucas and J.K. Rowling got it perfect.’”
I appreciated his analysis by using the work of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) who taught literature at Sarah Lawrence College. He studied and wrote about the mythical stories of the journeys great heroes. George Lucas used Campbell’s insights to guide the plot of Star Wars, which as you see has its parallels with Harry Potter and even with the other great hero journeys that have been popular, e.g. The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Hunger Games. Campbell talked about three big steps in the hero’s journey which one finds in multiple stories (there are many smaller themes he discusses too):
- The departure on the journey, which begins with a call to a purpose that the hero might struggle with at the first.
- The initiation and the discovery of a gift or personal insight which enables one to fulfill his/her purpose.
- The return or resurrection to a new life.
The interesting thing is that Campbell reminds us that often the stories of real heroes will follow a similar line as well, e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed. The great Christian writer and theologian of the past century, C.S. Lewis, brought this insight to the Christian community stating, “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”
To be quite honest with you I am more emotionally moved to a transcendent awareness while watching some scenes in the Lord of the Rings than by reading the Gospels. How can that be? What’s wrong with me?
I think it is due to two major things: 1) an over-exposure to the Gospel stories, and 2) primarily, I’ve been reading the Gospel stories in a dissected manner, looking for bits of doctrinal truth statements rather than seeing then as exciting epics about the hero Jesus who is called to go on a daring journey to fulfill his Father’s wishes, and just when it seems all is lost by his execution, he is resurrected.
I feel confident that the first readers of the Gospels read them this way, and they were emotionally moved to a new way of life as they too joined in the epic journey with the resurrected Jesus.
Rick McClatchy serves as the field coordinator for CBF of Texas.