Save Me–Why We Still Need Mythic Heroes

Somebody save me
Let your warm hands break right through
Somebody save me
I don’t care how you do it
Just save, save 
Come on
I’ve been waiting for you

                                            Remy Zero

Planet Earth needs saving. Or so the endless noise on the news networks and social media will have you believe.

Whether or not it’s something you believe, there has been a lot going on in the past two years (or more) which is enough to strike despair into the hearts of even the most ardent optimist. 

The pandemic, war, censorship, corruption, volcanic eruptions, soaring inflation, plastic pollution, or even 9-hour long exorcisms, all seem to support this idea. So do the marketing messages behind them. 

Marketing of any kind is based upon the assumption that you need to be saved. From the plaque building up in your arteries to the mattress you haven’t changed in a decade. 

All around us are messages we need to be saved from our problems, our selves, and even our own opinions. 

But who is coming to save us? 

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

There’s marketing for that too—a long line of self-help gurus telling you to save yourself. 

Childhood trauma? Heal yourself. Job burn-out? Go work for yourself, we’ll show you how! Stuck in a rut? You can make the life you want for yourself with a ten-week course. 

To an extent, this is true. The world you see and experience is mostly a construct of your own beliefs. And some of the self-healer and self-helpers really are worth their weight in gold, so don’t think I’m knocking that industry for a moment! 

Eliminating false beliefs and changing your mindset by self-forgiveness or changing how you talk to yourself does wonders to improve yourself. 

Saving yourself is another matter. 

What happens when the paycheck just doesn’t stretch far enough? Or when you have multiple depressive episodes of increasing severity back-to-back? What happens when your healthy coping mechanisms just don’t work this time around? 

I had the latter happen to me recently and I can tell you most emphatically that I could not save myself. 

The hard truth is that you can change your outlook on life, but you cannot wish away world events or chronic illness even if attitude is half the battle. 

Photo by Maria Pop on

Our ancestors knew this all too well. Heroes and their stories were a form of escape, entertainment, and a way of coping with the harsh realities of the world. 

The original legends and myths which survive from the ancient world—and even the later ones like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Song of Roland were written for adults. Not children. This fact escapes most people walking Planet Earth today.

If anything, the old tales were more like The Witcher or The Children of Hurin than they were like anything Disney every portrayed. The heroes were tormented in life and lost. Geralt in The Last Wish could be any one of us having a dark night of the soul. Hurin could be any parent who has had to watch their child suffer from mistakes, wars, illness (Turin’s descent into madness is an awful lot like PTSD), and a world which grows more and more evil with every passing day. 

Yet, for all the relevance of the mythic hero from any age of this world, and for all the pop culture they inspire, there is still a tendency in modern society to dismiss the fictional myths as nerdysilly, and, that most terrible of worlds unrealistic.

Photo by Roy Reyna on

Our constant consumption of heroic stories says that we do. Even if all these tales do is allow us a brief respite from current events. 

The latest political darling won’t hold your hand during your next panic attack but escaping into the latest Star Wars movie can help you escape for a little while. An activist won’t be around to raise awareness about your toxic work environment or your hopeless search for fulfilling work. But a couple of hours in Middle Earth with Frodo or Aragorn can help you face the orcs in the office another day. Or inspire you to break free and do something else. 

The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal.

G. K. Chesterton

Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces points out part of the reason the heroic figure is so popular is we see a bit of our own life story in the journey of the hero. The hero starts with nothing and ends up with everything. He suffers, he bleeds, he gets frustrated, and he nearly gives up just before he pushes through and completes his task. 

He is, as Chesterton says, normal. So, what is does in his extraordinary adventures is therefore also normal in a sense.

So much for being unrealistic.

We may not have enchanted swords, mutant superpowers, or even well-honed battle skills with a holster full of potions, but we do have real-world tools to fight real-world monsters. 

We suffer like the hero does, we have a quest to achieve in our lifetime, and we have monsters we need to slay be they trollocs, orcs, or leshen.

The hero’s journey and the hero-figure himself at least tells us it’s possible. It’s possible to set out to find your purpose, it’s possible to make someone else’s day a little brighter, it’s even possible to change pajamas before going back to bed after spending a day stuck in a depressive episode.

Heroes don’t fight our dragons for us—they show us how to fight our own. They show us there’s more to life than toxic work cultures, egotistical bosses, endless lockdowns, mandates, and fear. 

We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten who we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We still need heroes and we still need the escape and encouragement their extraordinary stories give us. Because they help us remember who we are–they help us remember we are more than the world around us.

Who will save you? 

Ultimately, the answer is that the hero will—even if it’s only to show you the light at the end of the dark. Even if it’s only to show you that you have hidden strength in you to survive another week, another day, another hour. Even if it’s only to let you leave a cold hard world for just a little while. 

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