“I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.”
– Orson Scott Card, from the Introduction to his book Ender’s Game
Last Fall Joss Whedon gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly. He’s best known as the writer and director of the 2012 mega-hit movie, Marvel’s the Avengers. Among other things he is also know as the man behind the T.V. shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
When it comes to his personal outlook on the world and life in general, Whedon has expressed that he’s pretty pessimistic. In the EW interview, he was reminded that he once said (and he agreed he still believes that) “I think the world is largely awful and getting worse, and eventually the human race will die out.”
While I don’t share Whedon’s cynical world outlook, I totally agree with his thoughts when it comes to storytelling. He ended the EW interview with the following:
“My stories do have hope because that is one of the things that is part of the solution—if there can be one. We use stories to connect, to care about people, to care about a situation. To turn the mundane heroic, to make people really think about who they are. They’re useful. And they’re also useful to me. Because if I wrote what I really think, I would be so sad all the time. We create to fill a gap—not just to avoid the idea of dying, it’s to fill some particular gap in ourselves. So yeah, I write things where people will lay down their lives for each other. And on a personal level, I know many wonderful people who are spending their lives trying to help others, or who are just decent and kind. I have friends who are extraordinary, I love my family. But on a macro level, I don’t see that in the world. So I have a need to create it. Hopefully, that need gets translated into somebody relating to it and feeling hope. Because if we take that away, then I’m definitely right. I want to be wrong, more than anything. I hate to say it, it’s that line from The Lord of the Rings—‘I give hope to men; I keep none for myself.’ They say it in Elvish, so it sounds super cool.”
I take Inspiration wherever I can get it – finding it in stories, throughout Pop Culture – in books, music, movies. One thing Joss Whedon does really well is populate his stories with characters that are fun and that I care about. Many are superheroes or people who perform extraordinary deeds. But they still have flaws; they are people I can relate to. That’s the big attraction for me in fiction, characters that are compelling and that I can identify with.
This past week I finished reading Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella and then I watched the movie, Field of Dreams, based on the book. I can’t decide which I like better. The movie had a much stronger focus on the main character Ray Kinsella and his relationship, or lack there of, with his father. In the book, where there’s always more detail, Ray dealt more with questions of whether or not he was doing the right thing; if he making a mistake. It touched more on his apprehensions and fears.
Seeing very little of my father when I was growing up because of my parents divorce, I am attracted to movies that deal with father/son relationships. For me, these kinds of stories helped to renew my focus on being a good parent for my daughter. And I have always struggled with a fear of failure – making mistakes.
Characters in fiction often play the role of mentor or muse, to motivate and inspire me to step out and go beyond what I may think I’m capable of achieving. It’s is a wonderful experience when a writer expresses a thought so beautifully, and you feel like it was written just for you. I absolutely see myself in this passage from Shoeless Joe, where Ray Kinsella thinks about his lack of skills on the farm – “Each spring I hire a retired corn farmer from Iowa city to help me. Machines of all kinds are mysteries to me. I regard them as minor deities and attempt not to understand them but to please them.”
I am so very thankful I live in a world of stories, of wonderful tales, and the creative people who think them up. As Joss Whedon said, “We use stories to connect, to care about people, to care about a situation.”
To paraphrase Frank Zappa a bit, “So many [movies and] books, so little time.”