As early trailers for Star Wars Episode VII ‘The Force Awakens’ are released, fever rises amongst fans worldwide.
It is the “originals” that most of us consider to be the greater films, Episode IV, V and VI, released in 70s and early 80s, for many of us, films of our childhood.
Will the new films meet our expectations?
So significant were these films that they have marked a generation. The first release, Episode IV was entitled “A New Hope” and ever since then the galaxy long, long ago and far, far away has been a second home for many.
And a source of hope.
Why so significant? Why do these films, along with the recent success of Harry Potter books and films, and the enduring greatness of Tolkein’s books and films, rank so highly in the charts for commercial success?
Why have they imprinted themselves so profoundly on the popular psyche?
Surely entertainment value alone cannot account for such significance!?
Joseph Campbell building on the work of Carl Jung, examined myth and narrative in the context of psychological theory. The ‘hero journey’ he defined, common to epic narratives, aligned with the human subconscious or dream journey, taking the voyeur through trials, to wholeness and health.
Unlike his contemporary, Bertrand Russell, Campbell praised the work of narrative to inspire hope.
Bertrand Russell, however, renowned 20th century philosopher and staunch atheist wrote in his paper, A Free Man’s Worship :
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair …………
In Russell’s philosophical view, facing the reality of our insignificance is the healthiest and most real human endeavour, one more developed than any submission to gods of natural forces or ideals. To him any other belief was self-deluding fancy.
Yet in the midst of such modern and post-modern thought, fantasy and science fiction narratives [arguably modern myths and legends] continually call us to believe.
Deeply philosophical and spiritual in nature, these stories have us asking such questions of our existence as:
- Why is there something, rather than nothing?
- How can I know the world?
- Do humans have intrinsic worth?
- What is the significance of human suffering?
- Do we have anything to hope in beyond this life?
Narrative calls the viewer/ observer into a journey with the protagonist or hero, a journey which bestows upon the hero great worth and responsibility.
This worth, whether via royal or supernatural endowment, enables the hero to triumph over difficult and dark trials, with a promise of hope of restoration beyond.
Joseph Campbell concurs with Carl Jung and others, that such a journey which restores the protagonist to “hope” is in fact the healthiest course for the human psyche.
But is this simply a case of “the benefits of religions for the atheist” as Alain de Botton would say?
Is it simply that, while “hope” is good for the soul so to speak, one cannot simply surrender a scientific or rationalist framework and so simply admire “hope” from afar?
Anaïs Nin recorded in her diary in 1943:
Stories are the only enchantment possible, for when we begin to see our suffering as a story, we are saved.
Believing we are, like the characters we love, simply part of a grand narrative – is ultimately redemptive.
But, one simply cannot BELIEVE in cosmic hope against all evidence or simply because it is of temporary benefit to emotional health!
To Russell, hope beyond death is a false hope and so truth and freedom, he concludes, can be found in stark acceptance of this finite existence:
Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.
Unless one finds an ounce of empirical evidence for the breaking in of dream into history, and of narrative into real life!
Scholars consider the Christian narrative to make such audacious claims through the historical birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
An earlier post attempted to excavate some of the historical evidences for the validity of this claim by first century eyewitnesses. For the sake of brevity, we will not here seek to repeat.
Nevertheless, in the Christian narrative, as C. S. Lewis writes, “myth meets history”. No longer a theoretical hope, nice-to-believe but incongruent with lived experience, “myth broke through into time and space” endowing humanity with intrinsic worth and showing ultimate reality, God to suffer with us. This process, turned back death and sorrow and restored life.
This truly is A New Hope!