Okay, now that we have chased away the Star Wars haters, can I be honest? I love science fiction and fantasy stories. The more epic in scale, the better. Does it take multiple books, episodes, or movies to tell the story? Even better! 60+ hours of gameplay just for the main storyline? Sign me up and take my nights and weekends for the next few months - I freely surrender them (okay, maybe not so freely anymore after marriage and kids, but a guy can dream, right?!)
There is so much to love about these stories and getting to be a part of them as they play out. For one, the purpose of their existence is to pull us out of our small reality and to get us to think bigger than our relatively provincial experience tends to allow of us. The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the massively influential saga that it is if Frodo simply has to melt the One Ring on the embers of his fireplace at home. Instead, he has to travel across foreign lands, gathering a fellowship of like-minded heroes to aid him in his quest. And we get to discover Middle-Earth, and dwarves, and elves and kings right alongside him. While reading or watching, we have to consider, at least in our imaginations, the possibilities of an entirely different world or universe in which we have no experience. C.S. Lewis also did this brilliantly in his famous series since we gain access to the splendor of Narnia through our own seemingly mundane world.
These stories also give us the experience of living alongside some larger-than-life characters, leaving us with the desire to find those people in our true reality. The wizened sage who seems to know everything and yet only dispenses wisdom just as it is needed with a twinkle in his eye. The surly rogue with the heart of gold, whose arrogance belies honor and a fierce dedication to his allies. The jokester who is always able to lighten even the dourest of moods with a well-timed witticism. Or the friend who refuses to quit, regardless of the difficulties encountered, even if their entire understanding of life is lost along the way. We are all better off for having known these characters, even more so if we can count among our real-life fellowship examples of these archetypes.
But possibly my favorite aspect in all of these epic adventure stories is the journey of the main character, through whom we get to experience most of the action. Inevitably, this is some green newcomer with little to no experience outside of the limited scope of their lives as the story opens. The massive events unfolding on a global or universal scale have had little to do with them until they are thrust into the middle of the fray - obviously because they have some incredibly important role to play in how the story will continue to be written. Frodo has to be the Ring Bearer. Harry Potter has no choice but to move forward as the Boy Who Lived. Luke can be the one to restore the Jedi to power where his father chose the Dark Side. Or he thought he could and failed, and now a whole new generation of fan gets to see a similar story play out for Rey...
What these ridiculously out of place characters deliver to us on their road to heroism, aside from the occasional whiny griping (I’m looking at you, Skywalker family!) is hope. Not hope of the “I’m ready to take on the forces of evil single-handedly” variety, but a hope that is almost born of naivety. For the sake of the world, something must be done. Without having carried the weight or experienced the losses the good guys have taken until now, our hero seems to make a simple decision. It needs to be done, so let’s do it. There is a matter-of-factness that is actually kind of refreshing, especially when contrasted to our own lives. How often does anything seem that simple? We are often mired in the questions of “what will so-and-so think?” and “what if it doesn’t work out?” It is hard to operate on such a level where a thing to be done is just accepted and carried out.
And yet, what resonates with us in those stories is that they are actually our stories. We get to be the hero. Sure, we start out extremely green and with no understanding of the forces arrayed against us. But with the help of some sages, a few good friends, and a smuggler or two, we grow and learn and carry on. We experience loss along the way, pick up our share of scars, and still, we carry on. Because we do live in an epic story, and we are on a great quest to deliver a blow to the forces of the Enemy. Those forces seem overwhelming at times, and it feels like we could be buried under them at any moment, but we have an advantage that Frodo and Luke and Harry don’t have. We actually know the end of the story! We can be assured that good triumphs over evil, that our journey is not in vain.
So, let their hope be your hope. Journey forth like the Fellowship leaving Rivendell, heading toward an uncertain future but knowing without a doubt that you were chosen for this moment. There is a task that needs doing, and you’re the one to do it. Once that errand reveals itself to you, step out in faith and hope. Hope for the next step, the next day. The path doesn’t need to be clear before you; the lack of obstacles wouldn’t mold you into the hero you need to be. But the hope can keep you moving forward. Because the e
vil Empire is vanquished and the King returns, and we get to say we played a part. We just need to choose hope.