Updated: Jan 30, 2022
Dragons brooding over horded wealth, their avarice seeping into the gilded mound; demons standing at the threshold of temptation, beckoning us over; the deeps of both the forest and the sea, veiling primordial mysteries that lurk, leering within.
The story of humanity is a story of the dark, our myth riddled with it and the trespassers that walk within. Yet the dragon’s lair is not where the dark is given life, merely the realm it inhabits when drawn from its source—from us.
Threaded through myth, and legend, and tall-tavern-tale is some essential quality of the human narrative. Some metaphor of the dark within us all, the shroud of it raveled within our minds, our stories shaping it.
The wyrm Fafnir sits upon his glittering horde; the succubus Lilith sings her siren song; the woodland labyrinth of Brocéliande waits, entraps, holds onto forever. Each trespasser of myth serves parallel to a trespasser in the asylum of our inner-selves, abstracted into a tale told time and again. A tale shared between us all, relatable for its familiarity, for that essential quality running from the first of the first elders, to the youth of days yet to dawn.
Sigurd’s desire to slay Fafnir is an abstraction of our courage; our greed; our desperation to die while daring—or perhaps just to die in a way too noble to be named suicide. The denial of Lilith, preening in place of a spouse, an abstraction of our will; our ethic; our faithfulness—or perhaps a tall tale told to convince ourselves that we wouldn't sate the desire to do what is wrong for the novelty of having done it. Arthur’s wayward trek into the suffocating forest Brocéliande an abstraction of the descent; the abyss; the insidious cruelty of having found a way in, and knowing nothing of the way out—or perhaps the withering, hollowing, all-enshrouding hopelessness we name depression.
Every legend and tavern-tale ever told serves to extract the primality of our humanity. The ego; the id; the shadow; dredged up and out from the swamp of our collective subconscious. The stories that linger in our bloodline, in the tales we pass from age to age, there you will find all our desperation, desire, uncertainty, and self-surety. There you will find the dragons and demons of the mind, hunting and harrowing us from ancestry to modernity.
In ancestry, story took the shape of myth. In modernity; fantasy.
The myth of modernity, fantasy is a threadwork of story shared betwixt and between generations; winding, twisting, unraveled, rewoven, founded in the trials heaped upon us by merely existing. It has become both the fabric of humanity’s collective curiosity, creativity, and consciousness; and a filter through which we sift the fears and trepidations that arise from them.
Instead of the Norse Fafnir and Sigurd; we have J.R.R. Tolkien’s Glaurung and Túrin. Instead of the Judaic Lilith; Patrick Rothfuss’ Felurian. Andrzej Sapkowski’s Brokiloén in place of the Celtic Brocéliande. Though the names shift, the settings stir: the dragon’s horde still waits. The succubus’ song still sings. The forest still gathers. All paralleling our inner darkness, reflecting the asylum inside us in which we keep the parts of ourselves we think better buried.
Why? Why did our ancestors take the inner monsters of mind and give them shape in story? Why do we continue to this day?
It is easier to fight something that dwells in the dark, if first it is drawn into the light.
The light provides shape, name, substance. It allows for the taking of some internal strife, and manifesting it in the world. Writing, drawing, painting, song; the artistic, creative endeavor has profound effects on an individual’s ability to understand, process, and move on from. Storytelling is the oldest of these manifestations, threaded through every mode and method of art we’ve ever contrived.
The act of telling a story—and learning to tell a story well—is the act of relating the human experience we all feel into an experience we can all share, comforting us in the knowledge that yes: sometimes we are low; sometimes we are hurt; sometimes we are lost; but in each of those times, we are never alone. We find camaraderie through the characters who walk through our imagined tales, representations of the hardships we all share.
Those characters’ that endure from age to age are those that come nearest to the core truth of this binding thread, the stories that persist those that give the greatest resolutions and catharsis for the troubles we too face. They represent the unified experience of humanity, acknowledged in the longevity of their endurance in the collective familiarity. Their trials are ours, their suffering understood, empathized with, their victory’s championed, their failures mourned, their hope, their ambition, their growth, all cloaked in the silhouette of our own.
They walk through our lives as Wayfarers; Knights; Peasants; Bards; Farmers; Thieves; Gentlemen; Gentlewomen. They are effigies of us. Guides for the path we all must tread. Lessons to be learned from through a masquerade of story, distanced and dampened by that which exists in their world and (insofar as we know) not in ours. Dragons, Demons, Dark Lords, all.
Tolkien sets the withering ache of trauma in Frodo when the Hobbit finds himself at the biting end of the Witch King’s blade. Though it is not the wound itself that carries the weight, but the lingering pain that follows Frodo long after his battle is done, forcing him even on from the mortal realm, voyaging into the West, where the Ainur alone might heal his hurts.
Rothfuss layers the bones of abandonment, of loss, at the feet of a too-young and too-certain Kvothe. His family, his friends, the only life he’s ever known in the Edema Ruh, slaughtered for a song they could not know was entirely the wrong sort to be singing. The boy breaks, finding isolation, survival, silence—a sign of the fractured, fragmented, and forgotten (and for the knowing—a sign of the seventh). Until one day he wakes from his somnambulant state, finding everything he could not face then, facing him now.
Aëros—of my own story—is forgetting. Everything. Everyone. He stands perched upon the rim of madness, the threshold separating his conscious mind from his unconscious, where the memories he can no longer recall are trapped. He wanders the world, searching for some revelation to help him recall why the forgetting began, desperate to remember before he loses the last of himself to himself.
The characters of fantasy, of myth, serve as reflection of ourselves. They face the dragon; the succubus; the forest—or what each represent. They face their trauma, their strife, their sorrow. At times they fall, succumbing. At times they rise, persevering, growing, moving on. They provide us a glimpse of our own story. An example from which to draw strength, wisdom, understanding when faced with the dragons and demons and darkness of our own world, our own lives. They serve as effigy to the human narrative—our narrative—a source of empathy, of connection. They may be fictious, but they’re founded on the truths we all share. Truths to which we are all bound. Truths for which we ever seek, groping in the abyss, making myth, forming fantasy, drawing the dark into the light, revealing the answers to our conflicts therein.