Something to believe in

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom …

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …

However the story begins, we are a people enthralled by fantasy and science fiction. In fact, fantasy and science fiction are two of the biggest-selling genres of modern-day literature.

This month’s hot story is Potter-mania. Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels by British author J.K. Rowling. The first six books collectively sold more than 325 million copies and have been translated into more than 63 languages. The universal success of the novels has made Rowling the highest-earning novelist in literary history. The world waited, with bated breath, to read the seventh and final book in the series, which was finally released July 21, 2007.

If you are one of the few in the world who doesn’t know who or what Harry Potter is, I’ll give you the short story. Harry Potter is a great epic fantasy that incorporates magic, heroes, quests, mysterious creatures and the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, among other things, and brings all to life in a world that is surprisingly similar to our own.

Harry Potter is not the first epic fantasy to grab and hold our attention. C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars” are three other popular ones that come to mind. What is it about these fantastical stories and their characters that make them so irresistible and compelling?

On the surface, these presentations seem so bizarre and outrageous that one wonders how we can relate. Perhaps we have a need to escape for a time from the challenges in our life and have our soul entertained and refreshed. So we let our minds go to strange places and enter into enchanted lands where the impossible seems possible and the imaginary seems real. Perhaps we long for a hero on whom we can depend. Or we need faith to believe trials can be overcome and good really can conquer evil. Maybe we just want to believe that being happy ever after is a real possibility, at least for a little while.

I think it’s the heroes in these stories that capture our hearts. These heroes, who could be described as the most unlikely and not so obvious, teach us that heroes come in all sizes and are not limited to the strong, beautiful or famous. This is reassuring for many of us, confirming that we, too, can achieve greatness and save the world.

But greatness is not what our fantasy heroes seek. They have a noble cause and a selfless mission. They serve the greater good without personal ambition or need for glory. Our fantasy heroes remind me of Jesus’ words: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

Ah now, Jesus was an unlikely savior. He was probably considered by many of his peers as the least likely Messiah. After all, Jesus was a mere carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He spoke of peace and of loving your enemies. How could one with a battle cry of peace and love save the world from captivity and sin and its own destruction? Perhaps when all of humanity can answer this question, wars will cease and there will be peace on earth.

Given the universal appeal and success of Harry Potter and other fantasy epics, there’s something about these tales that strikes a chord around the world, crossing language barriers, with fans being children and adults alike. It seems we all have more in common with each other than we realize.

Maybe we’re just all hungering for more faith in our lives. Faith brings balance, security and certainty to our world. Faith turns doubt to trust and fear to confidence and expectation — faith in the Divine does this, that is. Maybe more of this kind of faith is what our unstable world needs most.