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Reply To: The Hero of Yesterday Becomes the Tyrant of Tomorrow””


Spot on, jbonaduce! Your observations certainly strike a chord with my experience, John – though, truth be told, near the end of the sixties my interest in Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman was less hero-driven and more a function of erotic cusp-of-adolescence fantasies (one of the few sources, apart from indigenous peoples highlighted in National Geographic and lingerie entries in the Sears & Roebuck catalog, of the female form, with visible, relatively clearly defined breasts, accessible to a lad from a strict religious background).

When I was a really young child, in the primary grades, that absence of shadow elements you note in childhood heroes may not have been a bad thing: whether in comic books or on television in the 1960s, that might have been appropriate to my age (even the characters in the darkest of fairy tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm seem to lack emotional complexity).

I am reminded of this exchange from the Power of Myth:

CAMPBELL: A fairy tale is the child’s myth. There are proper myths for proper times of life. As you grow older, you need a sturdier mythology . . .

MOYERS: So there are truths for older age and truths for children.

CAMPBELL: Oh, yes. I remember the time Heinrich Zimmer was lecturing at Columbia on the Hindu idea that all life is as a dream or a bubble; that all is maya, illusion. After his lecture a young woman came up to him and said, ‘Dr. Zimmer, that was a wonderful lecture on Indian philosophy! But maya—I don’t get it—it doesn’t speak to me.’

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘don’t be impatient! That’s not for you yet, darling.’ And so it is: when you get older, and everyone you’ve known and originally lived for has passed away, and the world itself is passing, the maya myth comes in. But, for young people, the world is something yet to be met and dealt with and loved and learned from and fought with—and so, another mythology.” (from the chapter in the Power of Myth book on “The Hero’s Adventure”)

Though I may not have been ready for it as a child, I really appreciate how the Marvel franchise knocks it out of the ballpark in this area – every superhero is either struggling or has come to terms with their own shadow energies – and the film version of DC Comics follows suit (indeed, one might even say DC started this trend on the big screen with Batman, as far back as the Michael Keaton version).

And the sense that there are myths appropriate to different ages and stages of life certainly ring true for me. Here is Joe again, from the Power of Myth, speaking of his own experience of this dynamic:

Slaying monsters is slaying the dark things. Myths grab you somewhere down inside. As a boy, you go at it one way, as I did reading my Indian stories. Later on, myths tell you more, and more, and still more. I think that anyone who has ever dealt seriously with religious or mythic ideas will tell you that we learn them as a child on one level, but then many different levels are revealed. Myths are infinite in their revelation.”