Generational Myths

Scrolling through io9’s list of must-read new fiction, I followed a You Tube link to William Shatner rambling about David A Goodman’s new Autobiography of James T. Kirk. His preliminary comments include the idea (probably not original with him) that science fiction is modern mythology.

We do define ourselves by what we read (or watch). Among those who read science fiction, many Baby Boomers were caught up with Lord of the Rings or the late Terry Pratchett’s Ring World books (and some with Star Trek). Generation X would grow up with Star Wars. Millennials: Marvel Comic movies? But the principle extends beyond that genre.

Take the idea one step farther: to become a part of our generation’s mythology, the books or movies must come when we’re young enough that it integrates with our worldview. It becomes part of the lens through which we see everything else. Not only must the story fire our imagination, but it must be new enough (as opposed to re-discovering the mythos of a previous generation) that we can share the thrill of discovery with others—many others. Eventually, it comes to define us. Subsequent generations may read and enjoy the same stories, but the story doesn’t link them.

The fiction we read or watch may become as deep a part of who we are as events happening to us or in the real world around us. Sharing a myth is like sharing a love of country, religion or family. “We read to know we are not alone” is erroneously attributed C. S. Lewis.

What we read, watch and share does connect us. What story is foundational to you?

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2 thoughts on “Generational Myths

  1. I love this post. It checks with my experience. I was an early reader, the usual Wind in the Willows stuff. But the first book that really resonated was The Boxcar Children. I was 7. The book I’ve just finished writing is about survival. How do people survive? How do kids survive without parents? I was obsessed with orphans who walked by our house each morning and afternoon. They lived at the Methodist Home on Broad St. and walked to school. A ragged, loud bunch. Why didn’t their parents want them?
    Thanks for posting.

  2. Johnny Tremain did that for me. Since I’d just lived in Lexington, MA when I read it circa 1955, I could associate with much of the historical context. That story brought alive another time and place in a way which resonated with my soul. I suppose my lifelong love of history and historical fiction was born there.

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