Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Whatever Comes

Missing from most discussions, scenarios, studies, predictions and even most stories concerning the future is one essential ingredient: adventure.

The word derives from the Latin, ad venio: whatever comes. Whatever the future is, it’s coming, and going out to meet it in a spirit of adventure is very human, and very attractive.

“The oldest, most widespread stories in the world are adventure stories,” writes Paul Zweig, beginning his book The Adventurer, “about human heroes who venture into the myth-countries at the risk of their lives, and bring back tales of the world beyond men.”

Right away, the adventure story recognizes a world beyond the ordinary human world, whether it is the world of nature or a supernatural world---and in many stories, it’s both at the same time.

“Our modern disregard for adventure reveals how thoroughly domesticated is the view we have come to take of our human and cultural limits,” Zweig comments a little later. “Man, we have decided, is the laboring animal whose ability to create value depends upon his infinite capacity to buy and to sell: his time, his work, his very life.”

Part of this view, Zweig says, is to consume adventure stories as nothing more than unimportant entertainment. But the soul seeks adventure, and adventure nourishes the soul.

When adventures become personally and culturally important, when the imagination goes on that journey, they become mythic. Such adventures take us out of the ordinary, even if they are inner explorations. In terms of the future, outer space is the vast unknown that symbolizes future possibility, but it is fascinating in itself: full of untold wonders.

Adventures of the past took heroes into magical forests, across oceans to strange islands, through jungles to hidden cities, atop mountains where monsters lived, and into the underworld. Where else on earth is there to go?

“We’ve now conquered the planet so there are no empty spaces for imagination to go forth,” Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers. “One of the wonderful things I think about the adventure into space is that the narrator, the artist, the one thinking up the story, is in a field that is not covered by our own knowledge. Much of the adventure in the old stories is where they go into regions that no one’s been in before.”

Campbell, who shaped many of our current ideas about myth, may have been something of a story consultant for George Lucas and Star Wars. But when he talks about the adventure in outer space, he echoes Star Trek.

This is appropriate. Star Wars is a kind of illustrated monomyth (Campbell’s description of what hero myths of many cultures have in common). The Star Wars saga is terrific and resonant storytelling with moral application to our world and even to our future, but it does not claim to be about the human future.

While many other adventures, before and since, have used outer space as their landscape, they have not really explored that other “undiscovered country---the future.” They often place contemporary figures in space, which in the best of these stories also has resonance, meaning and application to the present, and encourages viewers to identify with the characters. They have aspects of myth. But they are not mythologies of the future.

No comments: