The Power of Myth

I remember Star Wars.   Back in 1977, no one had ever seen fast-paced storytelling hooked to “2001” level special effects, dynamic soundtrack  and a real sense of fun.   It was everything SF fans loved from Space Opera, delivered in a way we’d never seen.  People camped out overnight to see it, EVERYONE in the science fiction community was talking about it.   And when you added the mythical resonance…just wow.  It spawned clubs, a felled forest of tie-in novels, billions of dollars in sequels, and an avalanche of toys.


It was, and remains, a cultural event, even after all this time, and all the changes and deaths and technological upgrades.  It matters.


Myths matter.  We look at the tale of Luke Skywalker, a simple farm boy who turns into the galaxy’s greatest warrior, who with his corrupted father will one day take down the Emperor himself.  We watch that, and dream.


Science fiction fans tend to be intelligent, friendly, enthusiastic…and wounded.   It is no insult to suggest that the more time you spend immersed in fantasy, the less likely you are to be happy with the “real” world. You find in those stories the romance, adventure, belonging, and empowerment lacking in your real life.


When people thought the fans were insane, and asked me “why?” I think back on what was, to me, the most important scene in the movie.


Remember: Luke Skywalker is flying his X-Wing in a desperate assault against the Death Star, a battle station the size of a moon.  Darth Vader and the defense forces are hammering them, killing them two at a time, while Luke tries to get into position to drop a torpedo into a vulnerable vent.


Meanwhile, Grand Moff Tarkin is positioning the Death Star to blast the rebel base to kingdom come.  The entire sequence is set to driving John Williams music, and executed with the most stunning effects ever seen onscreen at the time. Overwhelming.


Luke is in the trench. The Death Star is moments from firing.   All seems lost, and suddenly there is a voice in Luke’s head: his dead teacher Obi-Wan Kinobi, saying “Luke.  Trust your feelings.”


And he does.  Shuts down the computer and uses “The Force”, a quasi-mystical power that connects him to the universe at a level deeper than conscious thought.  Fires. And blows up the Death Star just in time.




I was stunned.  Metaphorically, what they had done was something magnificent.   The rapid pace of all that input, all the threat, was pure Future shock overload.  In the midst of all that carnage, all that speed and explosions and massive scale, human effort seemed to mean nothing at all.


And at the height of the driving chaos, a voice whispered: trust your feelings.

Even in the midst of the cold and violence and impossible scale…the human heart mattered.

We mattered.   I mattered.


That was the power of myth, of storytelling. To connect us with a fictional character, to put that character through the wringer and take them to a moment of impossible stress where all hope is lost. Defeat. The “Dark Night of the Soul.”


Then show that the way through the Dark Night, the way to the next level of your life is…faith.


Faith that within you is greater strength than you have ever known.

Faith that your companions will not desert you, that your teachers were right to say you had a spark of excellence in your heart that you can fan into flame.

Faith that whatever creative force you believe in would not set you along a heartfelt path unless within you, somewhere, you had the power to do it.


Faith. That’s what gets us through. Along with commitment, decision, action, role models and allies, and a realistic knowledge that progress demands tolerance for pain, fear, and failure.


That path, that truth, is why stories, myths, legends are not frosting, not trivial…they are part of what make us human, and every culture in the world has created and nurtured them, taught them to their children in the desperate hope that when the shit hits the fan…and it always does…they will remember the stories of great heroes, of their ancestors, of men and women of courage and capacity…and drag themselves back up and try again.


I’ve lost count of the men and women who have told me that Batman, or Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Captain America, or Luke Skywalker, or whatever, inspired them to be better people, stronger people, helped them through crisis of adolescence or adulthood.  Those who say stories don’t matter are lying to themselves, or to you.  Perhaps they are the lucky ones, who internalized the stories that make us strong at such an early age that they are part of the core DNA that drives every breath, every thought, every action.   They are lucky. But they are not wise, if they don’t understand.


I’ve spent my entire adult life writing millions of words, dozens of books, all metaphors for finding strength, clarity, puzzle-solving, loving, living, and sometimes dying.  Put the deaths of my mother and father, the failure of my first marriage, the love of my children, the glory of healing my heart and finding myself deserving of a good woman…all these things and more, I’ve poured into my work.  Because I believe it matters.


And it does.  If you are a creator, you are my tribe so long as you strive to speak your truth.  If you are a teacher, I hope some of my words have helped you raise up seekers to be strong and true to their hearts.  And if you are a fan…bless you.  We need you.  To understand, and patronize, and let us know there is someone out there who hears us.  God, do we ever need you.  And love you.  Without you, we’d have no reason to do the thing we must.




Steven Barnes

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