Our mythologies are an evolutionary advantage. From Persephone to Cinderella, from David and Goliath to Superman, our fictions create a framework for our experience. In them, we find resilience, optimism, hope. There is no Illuminati conspiracy going back to the Illiad, creating a means for social control through myths. Our taste for mythology, for stories that give us metaphors to understand our darkest experiences, is the absurdity that Camus’ speaks of when he concludes that it takes an absurd man to look at the uncertainty around him and choose life anyway. Our myths are how we survive.
So maybe it isn’t what Camus had in mind, but he’s dead and I’m not, so I’m going with it.
Pop songs, Psalms, romantic comedies, they all teach us to persevere. They show us that others have gotten through somehow, and that we can to. Godzilla names the beast we wrestle with and creates a world in which it can be defeated. The Odd Couple gives us a framework for change, for starting over. The Last Unicorn voices our trouble with time, makes patience seem reasonable even if all you’re doing is second-rate magic for a wicked king, and says it is okay if the journey you are on doesn’t take you where you wanted to be.
How else would we get through lost jobs, broken hearts, funerals, and screwed up brain chemistry, if it weren’t for Psalms 23:4?
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Our mythologies teach us resilience. They give us a reason to believe that Persephone can survive the underworld and return to her mother; that scrubbing the cinders from the chimney isn’t the last thing we’ll ever do; that the wicked may triumph temporarily, but nothing lasts forever, not misery and not the triumph of the usurper. The little guy can win against the odds. We can do the right thing reliably, even when it is impossible.
The fictions that last, the ones that people go back to again and again, help us believe in a better tomorrow. How else would we survive, if we didn’t first believe that surviving was both possible and worth the effort? And how would we believe that, if there weren’t stories to show us how?