My most popular blog by far has been “Reaching Kids through Star Wars.” Those of you who commented are going to be sorry you got me started. Let me pull up my soapbox, and wax passionate on the role of fantasy/mythology in society. I advise you to put on your crash helmet; I get a little manic about this stuff, and the ride might get a bit wild.
I believe that life was meant to be filled with wonder and happiness. The necessities of day to day life are not supposed to weigh us down so heavily that we take no joy in living. There is so much in the world that is truly amazing that a person should never run out of things to give them that “Holy cow!” feeling. Though we shoulder adult responsibilities and mature in our understanding of the requirements of survival, we should still, each of us in his or her own way, identify those things that are our “Wow!” things and make sure we have a healthy dose of them on a routine basis. Life is supposed to be a great gift, not an evil curse. The best way to make that happen: 1. develop a common moral code to take the chaos out of society; and 2. raise the next generation to be better problem solvers than we are.
“That is fantasy,” you say? Uh…no it’s not. That is truth, and fantasy is crucial in helping us achieve it.
Fantasy shows us possibilities, both good and bad. If we train our children to understand it, to take it seriously and learn its lessons, then they will see that, just as Luke destroys the Death Star, just as Frodo destroys the ring, even the smallest person can make an important difference in the world. They can also understand the inevitable outcome of the quest for power for power’s sake; that is, those who are greedy for power always end badly, even if they do a lot of damage before they fall. Children need to realize that as cool as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman (and others) are, what is really important about them is putting concern for others ahead of concern for themselves. Their heroism comes not only from their super powers or super toys, but from the moral fiber that drives them to use their special abilities for the greater good. Although it is not a hero quest but a fairy tale, Cinderella in all of its forms it is a morality play about not judging a book by its cover, and for my own, personal satisfaction, Bullies Beware!
For seven years I coached elementary school teams in a program called “Odyssey of the Mind.” This program comes up with several “problems” every year and participating groups form teams to solve the problems and present their solutions in competition. (If you’re curious, check out their website odysseyofthemind.com.) It is great fun as children’s solutions are astonishing in their creativity and optimism. In their minds, there is no such thing as impossible. That is the kind of person you want on your team if you have a problem that requires thinking outside the box. NASA is always one of their sponsors because NASA needs a new generation of creative problem solvers; after all, what are they going to do if they have a square filter that has to fit in a round hole? (see Apollo 13)
Fantasy doesn’t just encourage imagination; it gives birth to it, it nourishes it, and like any good parent, it sends it out into the world exceed the previous accomplishments of every person who has come before. Do we need math and science? Absolutely! But what would we be teaching if no one had said, “Geez, wonder what kind of great creatures live out there in that ocean? Bet there are sea serpents and stuff.” or “Hey, Joe, do you think that moon is really made out of green cheese? What do you suppose is up there?” Science, math, history, literature, art, music–all of the disciplines play an essential role in our success as a culture and as a species, but none of them would exist without imagination. Is fantasy an important thing? Fantasy is THE important thing.
And let’s all say, “Amen.”