The Power of Story

Jack Frost: The End Becomes the Beginning (The Guardians ...

“But this new component of the Guardians’ defenses, these ever-amassing stories, struck some deep and fearful alarm inside his [Pitch Black’s] dark heart. Spells, magic, jolliness, chocolate eggs, presents, elves, teeth – all the Guardians’ methods to fight his darkness were, to him, puny parlor tricks. But this power of story? He could not figure out how to fight a story.

‘A cow jumps over the Moon. A boy named Huck saves his friends,’ he would rant to himself. ‘Things that never actually happened! And yet they matter. They move people. Make them care. They give them escape. They give them hope. They make them less afraid!’ He simmered with the rage of the ignorant. ‘How do I fight something that isn’t real?

For more than a century he’d puzzled over this. As with most mysteries, when the solution came, it was simple. The clean, elegant cruelty of the scheme he was devising became vital to him. It delighted him. He lay in his prison, concocting his own story, a story of revenge. And this story had indeed saved him in a way. Changed him. Made him even craftier. This plan gave him new life and purpose. And for the first time he understood the power he was fighting. But his story would not be used to help or heal….

….This story would cause hurt. It would destroy.” – from Jack Frost: The End Becomes the Beginning,* by William Joyce

 If you have noticed a theme in these Inspiration posts, readers, allow me to assure you that it was not planned. Not on this author’s part, at least; Someone knew these items were coming and designed these articles accordingly. God has a sense of humor about these types of things. 🙂

For those of you who have not read William Joyce’s Guardians series or seen Dreamworks’ Rise of the Guardians* film, the above quote may be a bit confusing. Mr. Joyce has crafted a set of children’s novels around the figures of childhood. These would be none other than Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Man in the Moon, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and Jack Frost. It was so successful that Dreamworks made a very good film based upon it.

But the movie must necessarily leave out details that fill in the world of the books. One of those details is Mother Goose, the Guardian of stories. She is the one the villain of the series, Pitch Black or “The Bogeyman” – the being who brings fear to the world – is himself concerned about facing. Unlike the other Guardians, her power is based in something that literally does not exist.

Abby's Story | Now What? Strategies

What, after all, is a story? While we can trap it in paper, on film, or on the internet, none of these mediums are actual forms. A story is not a passing emotion, like cheerfulness. Nor is it a perishable gift, as chocolate eggs are. Fiction is ethereal; it is present but formless, powerful yet simple. Just as the wind has no substance and yet remains a force in the world, so do the currents of fiction swirl and caper invisibly about man in his day-to-day life.

And, as Pitch says, the power exerted upon mankind by stories is vast. Like Professor Tolkien, he notes that fairy tales offer men an avenue of escape, particularly from the element of fear, which he wields. They bring readers and viewers hope. They inspire them to care, move them to try harder to fight the darkness in their lives. Whether this darkness is poverty, illness, abuse, or suicidal thoughts does not matter. What does matter is that a good story brings light and thus chases out the darkness time and time again.

Fiction is one of the most effective bulwarks against the myriad evils threatening to swallow man’s being whole every single day. It is not the only protection, nor even the best. But like the optimistic sprite at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, it is often one of the first aids to reach a wounded soul on the brink of losing hope, something Ms. Helen Fagin ably demonstrated in the letter seen here.

This returns us to Pitch Black’s frustration with fiction. How can darkness overcome something so light it practically vanishes into the air? The answer, as he discovered, is simple: write a story that does not help, heal, or give hope. Instead create a tale which wounds, brings despair, and/or destroys the mind and soul of the listener as a poisonous gas sours the life-giving oxygen in the atmosphere and kills those who breathe it.

How is this done? We need only revisit the articles on Romanticism, Realism, and especially Naturalism to find out how to write a story which wounds rather than aids. Romanticism is what insists that the heroine must be stronger and better than a man at all costs, up to and including her personality and nature. Realism dismisses the spiritual aspect of humanity, denying his desire and essential need for his Creator. Man is the highest being in the Realistic view; there is no force or Person greater than he. Thus he must answer to no one but himself.

Both these visions of the world gave birth to Naturalism. Naturalism states definitively that humans are nothing but another animal. Man cannot be heroic, for there are no heroes among beasts. Virtue, religion, and civilization are artificial constraints meant to provide the weak with undeserved protection. Everything is a meaningless cycle of death after which man vanishes as do the flora and fauna. Thus the Naturalist protagonist may do whatever he likes, so long as it fills his appetites. Who can tell him, with a straight face, that he is wrong to do what pleases him? Who will punish him? His fellow men are as wicked as he. Once they realize that their will collapses, leaving him to his pleasures.

'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker': Rey Wields a Sith ...

The Star Wars’ sequel trilogy, unfortunately, brings these three dark prongs of fear’s revenge story into stark relief. Rey is the epitome of the Romantic view. A soulless and flimsy character, she is heroic without needing to strive for valor, able to take care of herself without the aid of anyone – even another woman. She has no flaws, no weaknesses, no womanly qualities, and no humanity. In the end, she is nothing but a lie wrapped in an ideal that can never be realized because it is a false model based in pure fantasy.

In accordance with Realism, the sequel trilogy treats the Force as a mere footnote. It is nothing but a magic field of energy that man, as the highest being in the galaxy, can master and wield effectively within a few days’ study. It does not guide any one character to other characters or ensure a balance favorable to the flourishing of life and virtue. It does nothing to maintain a life or to keep the plan for the cosmos and its inhabitants on track. The Force is just a force, something man can tame and put in a box under the stairs. It has no power but what man gives to it through his will.

From these conclusions is born the First Order. The First Order submits to the logical, Naturalistic deduction that there is no real Light Side to speak of. Only the Dark Side exists, as demonstrated so ably by the Galactic Empire. Whatever the First Order decides to do in following the Empire is therefore automatically right and good because it serves their appetite for power and control. The New Republic and the Resistance are simpering cowards, weaklings appealing to principles they do not truly believe. The New Republic actively avoids fighting the First Order so that it may gorge on its own corruption, while the Resistance has not the slightest reason to fight except to assuage their feeble conscience.

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa’s characterizations in the sequels only confirm this. Gone is the great hero who was prepared to die rather than kill his father. In his place stands a drunken, grumpy old man determined to die because he cannot face the fact that everything he believed in was a lie he told himself to evade the darkness roiling inside of him. Gone, too, is the smuggler who rose to become a hero, husband, and father. He has found he was lying to himself and the galaxy by thinking he could reach above his station. And so he proves to be nothing but a broken failure who cannot save anyone, least of all himself.

Long gone is the princess who disregarded her station in pursuit of truth, justice, and the Force. Now we find the Resistance led by a worn-out old woman who failed as a mother, a politician, and a Jedi. Though she still fights, the fire and belief that helped her to win the previous war has gone out. Darkness now stands over her puny light, pushing it toward the inexorable exit of death. She may leave the galaxy with her false pride and dignity intact, but only if she departs speedily and troubles the Darkness no more than she already has.

Trophy Unlocked: Rise of the Guardians - Doesn't Rise High ...

This is the story concocted by Pitch Black. It is a tale of woe and despair, of shade and fear, of meaninglessness and vengeance. Rather than fortify the soul against the winds of night, it tears the protective walls down and leaves a person “naked in the dark” with nothing to shield him from “the wheel of fire” that seeks to burn everything down to atoms so that it may remake the world in its own vile image. It counters the unreal with a similar – but worse – unreality. Fiction used to inspire, aid, and heal plays with light and wind to point out the truth, the good, and the beautiful. Fear’s tale is woven out of deceit, pride, and a desire to avenge itself on the Light it hates so passionately. Rather than praise the Giver of all that is good, it seeks to praise itself and set itself on that Throne which belongs to no other.

And in the end, that is why Fear’s story will lose. Anything founded on a lie cannot last. A lie, by definition, is a falsehood. It is a shadow cast to hide the truth, and shadows have no substance. They can affect items around them by lowering the temperature or the brightness of the day, but that is their only power, and it is temporary.

None of this is to say that an author should not trouble himself about fear’s tales. Quite the contrary. Where a tree’s shadow is often beneficial, the shadows cast by liars are harmful and must be driven off. If, therefore, future writers would create helpful and healing stories, they have to be aware of the shadows trying to choke them – from the inside out and the outside in – every single day. They have to know what the shades clawing at their work intend, otherwise they will never be able to fight them off.

Nativity, The – Limited Edition Art | Thomas Kinkade Studios

No writer will ever be successful in conquering him or herself alone. Nor will he or she be able to stand against Fear without help. There is only One Who can – and has – overcome fear, sin, and death. As we prepare for His arrival this Christmas season, let us pray that we never give in to Fear, which will lead us to write stories bent on bringing pain, vengeance, despair, and terror to our audiences.

Rather, let us pray that we may be able to write stories of healing, hope, wonder, and joy. Let us pray that we withstand the tests before us and that we hold fast to the One Who never changes, but is ever-faithful, more ready to help us than we are prepared to accept His help. Let us pray, in short, that we may become worthy Guardians of Story, able to stand against Pitch Black and his nightmares when they come for the tales we are charged with producing and protecting:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

God bless you, future writers. Have a Happy Advent and a very Merry Christmas.

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through it, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

If you like William Joyce’s novels or know someone who does, check out these stories by L. Jagi Lamplighter, Raymond Arroyo, and Richard Paolinelli. They will certainly make great Christmas gifts!

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