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St Johns Southgate

12 Nov 2015

Myth, truth and the power of story


On December 17, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will burst into theatres and will, in all likelihood, smash box office records.

Cinephiles around the world have been eagerly awaiting the latest instalment of the space opera that was dreamt up by George Lucas many decades ago. The buzz has been such that thousands of people purchased pre-sale tickets in the first minute they became available. Who does that? Who buys a movie ticket months before seeing the movie?

One of the reasons Star Wars has captured the imagination of more than one generation is because it was quite deliberately written to be timeless. Lucas was inspired by the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell on the archetypal hero stories across cultures. Campbell had mapped out the shared narrative structure behind many of the great enduring legends and Lucas used this structure to create a myth of his own – the Star Wars saga.

The great myths are great because they tell the truth. That might sound like a complete contradiction, but myths are powerful because they can strike right to the heart of the human condition. A classic myth speaks to our hopes and dreams, our need to overcome adversity, to be more than the sum of our parts, to look beyond our selfish desires and so on.

As many have noted, a work of fiction can teach us much more effectively than a textbook. Barack Obama recently said: “when I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.”

Jesus of Nazareth was an absolute expert in speaking the truth through story. Through the telling of parables, Jesus was able to challenge his audience to think. He required the hearer to absorb a narrative, to digest it, and then find its truth for humanity through that quasi-mythical exercise.

Story is so powerful because it wraps up a range of concepts and allows us to grasp their meaning as a whole. The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, for example, have become short hand for the myriad truths that they convey.

Jesus, even more so than George Lucas – dare I say – was a master storyteller and people keep on coming back to him to learn the truth through his stories and his story.

Even if you’re not all that keen on the idea of a supreme being or the supernatural, don’t push aside the human need for story. And if you feel like it, give Jesus’ storytelling a go. The parables are easier and cheaper to get your hands on than a ticket to Star Wars.

You don’t need to go to a galaxy far, far away to find real truth. It’s waiting in the bedside drawer of your hotel room, on your web-browser, or maybe even on your bookshelf.

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