Many people say that we cannot learn from fantasy because it is not real life. I will have to respectfully disagree; many of the great literary characters of this genre have helped me become a better man.
I love the fantasy genre; it seems to evoke something deep within me, a sense of adventure or hint at what is possible for those who believe in the power of the light to overcome the dark. Whether it is full of magic, mythical creatures or great battles this is a genre that speaks to me. The messages I received from some of my favourite stories transcends the outer show, it is the essence of the characters themselves that speak so much to me.
1) The Hobbit
Gandalf places an amazing amount of faith in the Hobbit, a faith that many of his dwarf companions do not have. Over time Bilbo proves himself to be a worthy part of their team. He is the odd one out and in the beginning he feels it. Over time, embracing the qualities that exist within him, he is able to build trust by simply being himself but also taking courageous steps. The qualities that Gandalf sees in him, the ones he does not even see in himself, prove to be the very qualities that serve the adventure.
"Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that is the small every-day deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
Many of us feel undervalued in the world for the gifts that we bring. They are often invisible gifts, our compassion, our love, our strength, our wisdom, and our intuition. Our world all too often values the more visible qualities such as the warrior traits of the dwarves or the wealth of the kings. What if we began to place more value on the traits that are inherent within ourselves?
2) Name of the Wind
The character of Quothe could be a great inspiration to many. Though he finds challenges with making money along the way it does not stop him from going towards his dreams, something I can relate to deeply. Ever since a meeting with an alchemist he is inspired to become one himself, harnessing the magical powers that so obviously exist within him. The university costs money, both his parents are dead and his funding is limited. He fearlessly shows up at the university to present himself before the committee who decides whether or not he can attend. Yes, he worries about the lack of money and the fact that he is underage, but his confidence in his abilities are enough to earn him a place amongst the great alchemists of his country. The money also seems to find a way to show up, he is simply encouraged to trust.
At times his arrogance overtakes him and he makes more trouble for himself than he probably needs to, but many people have resonated with the depth of the character created by Patrick Rothfuss. And then there is the quality of the writing itself. This author evokes such awesome imagery with the words he uses, so much so that you are truly in the experience with them. You can feel the depth of despair in certain towns, the beauty of the music that Quothe plays, and the pain of the character who is retelling his past to willing ears.
3) Harry Potter
Harry is an ordinary kid as far as he concerned. He knows that he does not quite fit in with the bizarre people in his family. Most of all he is mistreated for his gifts, condemned by his uncle and teased by his cousin. It is only when he is taken on an adventure and shown Hogwarts that he realises he has gifts for the world, that the very things he his teased for are what will allow him to fulfill his destiny. He fits in by being himself. We witness him evolving from a slightly scared boy to a man with determination and a passion to do the right thing, the classic journey of the hero. His relationship with Voldemort is very symbolic of our own battles with the darkness that resides within and the sacrifices that must be made to overcome it. It is only through finding himself in a supportive environment with steadfast mentors such as Dumbledore that he can bring out his gifts. It is a reminder to all of us that in the right environment we too can harness the parts of ourselves that we maybe have been afraid to show the world!
4) Game Of Thrones
“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?'
'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
The genius of the characters in Game of Thrones is difficult to miss. We do not know who is truly bad and who is good, every character possesses traits that could be classed as good and bad. In some circumstances Jamie Lannister can seem like a loathsome #@$%, but in other places we read from his point of view we see that he is far more complex and still possesses human goodness. Even the seemingly good characters such as Caitelyn Stark have their dark nature that overcomes them as they commit foolish or unspeakable acts. She loves her own kids but is like the evil stepmother to Jon Snow, the son of her late husband Eddard Stark. This reminds me that each of us is the dark and the light and that the best we can do, as Joseph Campbell says, is lean towards the light. Some who grow up in quite evil environments are, with as much gusto as possible, leaning as much towards the light as they can from their lot in life. Then of course there are the Joffreys of the world, people with seemingly no redeemable characteristics and extreme cowardice behind a snarky demeanour.
5) The Ramayana
Any fan of fantasy is sure to enjoy the epic Indian text, the Ramayana. This is far from pure entertainment; it has deeply profound messages for those with ears to hear. We could look at it simply as a story about some kings and warriors but the yogic masters who wrote it had far greater purpose for it. Each of the characters represents the shadow and light within each of us. Many of them are personifications of the 5 elements - earth, water, air, fire and ether. The great monkey Hanuman is an embodiment of wind, or the air element, taking great leaps over the land and inflating himself to monumental sizes to tackle the enemy.
Then there is Rama himself, seemingly perfect, powerful and unstoppable, the kind of man each of us wishes we could be. He represents that part of us that is truly of the highest order, the part that we get glimpses of within our life. He accepts his role with dispassion refusing to succumb to the temptations of a lower existence. More than anything he exemplifies the king in his wholeness, the one who lives solely to serve his kingdom and is a powerful reminder to each of us as to what we could become.
I could go deep in to the symbolism behind this, but that is for another day. Read the Ramayana for yourself, if you have not already done so. Meditate upon the words, what wisdom do you glean from it?
These are just snippets of the wisdom I have harnessed from the likes of JK Rowling, George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Patrick Rothfuss and Valmiki (author of the Ramayana). There is much more that I could mention these are the points that stand out for me. And what I believe is that you will see something different in each of these stories for yourself. I would love to hear what captures you about them, what you have learned from them and how they have influenced your life.
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