Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Mythology Matters

We went to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief last Saturday.  You see, Sadie is currently fascinated by centaurs.  When I heard a review of this movie that said that Pierce Brosnan plays one of these dual-natured beasts, well, I immediately told Jason that we had to go see it.  It was truly a romp in the tradition of Harry Potter or even, to a lesser extent, the Narnia flicks.  There is something infinitely satisfying about seeing fantasy films wherein your average kid encounters the extraordinary and supernatural and deals rather nonchalantly with the highjinks that ensue.  I guess it is just because kids are like that -- they do not spend an over amount of time analyzing the impossible.  If you've been around children at all, you know that, yeah, they just adjust to unforeseen situations with an alacrity that baffles adults.  And that is why kids' fantasy is thoroughly enjoyable.

I've heard that some children have been scared by parts of this movie -- specifically the ones taken from Greek mythology dealing with Hades, the underworld, Medusa, the Hydra, etc.  Sadie was not.  I guess that is because she's been spending a lot of time lately immersed in Greek mythology.  I cannot get the kid to read the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary, but she has no problem spending hour after hour poring over her D'Aulaire's.  What a goofball!

I, too, have a soft spot for Greek mythology.  One of the first movies I remember really loving was that great cheeseball concoction Clash of the Titans.  Aw yeah!  I remember talking that one over on the playground in first grade.  And the D'Aulaire's Sadie so loves in none other than my childhood copy.  Ah, the pagan gods . . . who doesn't love them?

Well, Sam over at Christianity Today's movie site doesn't.  He wrote, in the comments section for the review of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, "i cant believe this movie is rated so highly on a Christian website when it promotes pagan gods. Americanized "Christianity" at its finest [sic]"  Thank you, Sam, for not being shy.  Is his point valid?  Ought we to take this fanciful intermingling of modern life and mythology more seriously than I have?  Is there really some sort of danger in exposing not only my mind, but my daughter's as well, to pagan perdition?  

I think not, and here is why:  The Greek gods and goddesses are so obviously humans imbued with immortality and supernatural powers.  This is what happens when men sit down and try to come up with reasons for . . . well, for everything -- the universe, earthquakes, heartache, crop failure, love, etc.  When you want to imagine what happens after you die, it is far easier to imagine a place of darkness and dreariness than a place of eternal light and peace.  Were you to look for a prime cause, how easy it is to imagine someone just like you -- except bigger and more powerful -- moving the things in your life for his own amusement!  The gods and goddesses of ancient Greece are fascinating and amusing because mankind is.

BUT, contrast that with what has been revealed about the nature of the everlasting God.  What won over the pagan world to Christianity was not that preachers like Paul offered a monotheistic version of Zeus or Jupiter, nor a new sort of godless philosophy, but that they told people about a God of whose nature they could hardly fathom.  A God who made a perfect world and placed man into it, but chose, though it would cause Him the pain of betrayal to give His children free will.  A God who put into motion from the moment of that betrayal a plan to rescue those children.  A God who pulled an obscure idol worshipper close to Himself and promised that through him He would form a mighty nation, through which salvation would come.  A God who not only led this nation out of captivity like a blazing banner of glory, but tended to their needs with the care of a Father.  A God who, after years and years of human waiting, until only the most faithful still turned their eyes to His promises, put on the most defenseless flesh of all and stepped into time in the guise of an unborn child.  And that God who became Baby, Boy and Man walked this earth with a pulsating, tangible love that changed utterly the people who encountered it.  And that God willingly laid down His life in the most excrutiating manner possible, just so He could could finish that glorious plan of redemption and bring His children home.  And, lastly, a God who has given His Spirit to bolster and comfort the redeemed until He returns in glory.  

Now, seriously, you've read Greek mythology.  They were pretty self-serving and unconcerned with people (unless they wanted to come down and create some demi-gods).  They sat up there on Mt. Olympus and watched and hassled the folks down on earth at their leisure.  They got into fights and formed fickle alliances.  They were always kidnapping each other or nymphs or people and never gave the slightest care.  They are utterly hilarious to read about, but would you want to live under them?

I know that when Paul preached Jesus to the Athenians in Acts, they had, by then, abandoned the old gods.  Worse for them, they had embraced instead philosophy.  Never let philosophy lead you away from theology.  They had made an altar to the "Unknown God."  Paul made certain that they got to know Him pretty well.  Imagine, though, if Paul had had the privilege of converting the ancient pagans.  Don't you think they would have had such relief to come to know the true God?  

So, mythology matters because it makes an excellent foil to Christianity.  I cannot imagine that it could ever truly pollute the mind of anyone, especially a child who knows as many Bible verses as Sadie does.  And, mythology matters because it is part both of who we are today and from where our Western culture came.  And, mythology matters because it is a heck of a lot of fun -- the stories are great, the characters -- human and divine -- unforgettable.  If you like Greek myths at all, I highly recommend Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  A great premise that is almost completely realized in cinematic form.  I'm looking forward to the sequels.

A note:  Something that confused me during the movie is that one of the main characters is a daughter of Athena -- who was one of the virgin goddesses.  How this came to be was not explained in the movie, but I have since found that the books upon which the film was based said that Athena's children were born the same way she was -- fully formed from her brow, as she was from her father, Zeus's.  

Another note:  Perseus slew Medusa back in the day.  In this movie, for some unexplained reason, she is again alive with her snaky head, turning folks into stone.  I have not yet discovered how they finagle this one.        

1 comment:

Joelle said...

Sadie's reading choice cracks me up. But she always has walked her own path. :) As a child I enjoyed reading myths, fairy-tales, and fantasy (still do as a matter of fact). I've always enjoyed the ordinary kid in an extraordinary adventure story-line. I'll have to rent this one to watch with T. when it comes out on video.