Beginning my disquisition with the words of the legendary Walt Disney seems only pertinent and apt, for this man has left a legacy of fairy lands, pixies, giants, unicorns, wizards, dragons et al, a scrumptious lavish treat for us to feed upon for centuries to come. Today, we all have our heroes: Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Peter Pan, so on and so forth.
In the movie, bedtime stories, a quintessential example of contemporary fantasy, Skeeter, the character played by Adam Sandler, says, “your dreams are only limited by your imagination.” This has, in all likelihood, been my provocation to contemplate over the subject of myths, legends and fantasies.
There is indeed some food for thought in the fact that during our brief sojourn called life on this orb called earth, we are treated with a palatial smorgasbord of fantastical stories. One might argue that we tend to become escapists from the harsh realities of life and hence we seek comfort, relief, assuagement in these tales with perfect endings, utopian worlds and ultimate victory. Firstly to refute this notion, let me borrow words from Alexander, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”
Further even if this argument were to hold true, what is wrong with the idea of escaping from reality, or cocooning ourselves in a shelter? Being in a place where you’ve been isolated from the horrendous reality and superficial people, basking in the bliss of a happily-ever-after story. Believing in tales which reinforce our belief in happy endings, fulfillment of wishes, the possibility of unalloyed bliss. Belief! Hope! Because that’s what keeps our will to live alive. And for so many of us, this belief becomes our fodder for survival. So “I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” (John Lennon)
But before launching into a subjective discourse, let’s have an idea of its lexical meaning. Myths may be defined to mean a tale/narrative of supernatural characters or for that matter any traditional story. Legends are an episodic, traditional narrative that reaffirms the commonly held beliefs and heroes. The Brothers Grimm defined legend as folktale historically grounded. Fantasy connotes imagination unrestricted by the confines of reality or the purview of rational/logical deductions. Magic, wizards, fairies form a pivotal part of this.
There’s a thin line between fantasy and reality which is constantly rendered porous or pervious. Myths and fantasies perform the intrinsic function of keeping us rooted to our past and our tradition. Having said that, I do harbor unalloyed abhorrence and condemnation for any myth which has been deployed with the motive to palliate, to excuse, or justify human slaughter or disgrace or ignominy. Nonetheless, we strongly feel closer to the divine, our deities. In more instances than one, we seek solace and answers in our mythological scriptures.
As Joseph Campbell writes: “In the long view of the history of mankind, four essential functions of mythology can be discerned. The first and most distinctive – vitalizing all – is that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being. […] The second function of mythology is to render a cosmology, an image of the universe that will support and be supported by this sense of awe before the mystery of the presence and the presence of a mystery. […] A third function of mythology is to support the current social order, to integrate the individual organically with his group; […] the fourth function of mythology is to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization.”
Another point that deserves to be brought to the fore is that which reiterates the theory of thin line between reality and imagination as stated before. It goes on to signify that what seems ludicrous or unconventional by virtue of its belonging to a different, probably archaic, era, might in fact be as relevant, applicable in present state. Who knows, myths and fantasies may even be harboring the infallible solutions to bandage the present imbroglio that enmeshes us in its insidious claws.
Jeff Bridges brings us to the vantage that commands an excellent view of the indispensability of these elements in our lives, “Myths are wonderful tools that we’ve had, oh, for eons now that help us navigate the situations we find ourselves in.” Notice that? It’s this possibility, this probability, even though meager, that myths and fantasies can work magic because of which we tend to believe them.
Further, it is human psychology to be enthralled and spellbound by the mysterious, the enigmatic, and the cryptic. R.A. Salvatore echoes and reverberates my fear in his words “No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith.” Also, believing in myths and fantasies, reading them, watching them, learning them is perhaps, the best way to satiate this hunger for mystery.
Legends are primarily stories and sagas, which deal with the facets of heroism. For James Christensen rightly expresses in words, “If we forget our legends, I fear that we shall close an important door to the imagination.”
Myths and fantasies are stories that express meaning, morality or motivation, whether they are true or not is irrelevant/inconsequential. And one cannot come to deny that we’ve all grown up to believe in tooth-fairies, happily so! A large chunk of humankind, after all, literally feeds on fables for a life.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan