On mythology

21 December 2015

I wrote my first—and, to date, only—novel in two single-subject spiral notebooks when I was thirteen years old. It took place in the Star Wars universe, which is where I mentally spent most of my time then. I found it much easier than spending time in the world I found myself in by default. But even far-flung galaxies of the ancient past required some modification to suit my purposes, and rather than relying solely on the existing cast of characters, I created for my story a new character: a woman named Ari.

While I had immediately gravitated to Princess Leia as a cool, competent and courageous example of what I was not and would like to be someday, I already sensed that cleaving to her as a heroine was an act of desperation rather than design. What other choices did girls like me have? The landscape was bleak. Even then, I knew Leia was not meant for me, not really, not from the start. She was meant for the ones doing the rescuing. She was reflexive, reflective. She was a supporting character. It was from sheer force of need that we took her and turned her into a beacon. It was, quite truly, an act of rebellion, by the lost girls who took hold of her honor and refused to let go, because we knew we needed her, even if we didn’t yet understand why.

But gatekeeping and parades of metal bikinis will wear that hold down, won’t it? Men test you to see if you’re faking it, trying to worm your way into their club, and women dismiss you as either doing the same thing or simply not one to belong with them. So you hide away with pencils and paper and you create your own heroines, in a simpler world where that sort of thing can live. I created mine from scratch, from my needs, and while I lived with her, I was open to ideas and futures that suddenly seemed possible.

My love of Star Wars grew naturally out of my love of Greek myths, which I had treasured since discovering an illustrated encyclopedia of them at age eight. I couldn’t explain why I liked them so much, but I did, and memorized names and metaphors with a clarity and enthusiasm I never could muster for schoolwork. Later, I dug deeper into folklore, into fairy tales, into mythology. Over the course of years, it’s been my unofficial fascination, studying the complex web of the stories we tell, the stories we share, the stories we create. The stories we need. Mythology thrives best when we, collectively, don’t entirely, consciously take it seriously. It then has the freedom to breathe and grow and feed, and it runs rampant with our subsumed desires and dreams. We feed it, and it makes our oxygen, and we live all the healthier for our unaware comfort with this natural cycle.

But, to stay healthy, myths need tenders. Individuals who do take it seriously, who know how they work and how to tend to them. Historically, we’ve always known this. We’ve raised to exalted status wise men and women who tell the stories, from Homer with his recited verses to witches who know secrets to grandmothers knitting by the fire with more in their memories than their audiences have ever noticed. Shamans who bridge two worlds, who know how to tell stories to heal. Myths need tenders. Myths need new tellers, and fresh blood of new generations to keep the cycle going. Myths need to grow. Myths, most importantly, need to reflect the needs of those who feed them. This is how it works.

Except, that’s not the most important thing to know about myths. The most important thing to know about myths is that we can still create them.

The strange alchemy of growing mythology means that sometimes the stories you need will arise without you having to create them. You might have to wait more than twenty years for it to happen, but then, maybe, one day, there will be a Star Wars movie that gives you all these things you needed when you were thirteen, and even if you don’t need them anymore, maybe you do, and, without a doubt, someone else out there needs it. In the middle of all of it, is a strange sort of new lesson. You can’t always wait for someone else to tell the story. Maybe you’re to be the storyteller. Maybe you’re to be the myth tender. Maybe that realization is what opens up other people to the possibility and inclusion that comes from the right, needed stories. Maybe that’s how the whole cycle works. And, maybe, that’s how it all keeps going, in one form or another—even in the form of pulpy space movies.


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