An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. (JK Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban)
As Joseph Campbell famously intuited, all True Stories share a basic narrative pattern. Campbell identified as the Hero’s Journey a model that all archetypal stories follow. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” (Campbell: The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 1949.)
The hero’s supernatural encounters are, clearly, not always “fabulous” in a good way; it is obvious that not all supernatural forces are benign. There are myriad examples of evil forces in the battle of Good vs. Evil, but I am thinking of three which seem particularly apt.
Before CS Lewis’ White Witch goes to battle with Aslan and the true Narnians, she assembles her followers, among them Hags, Ogres, Boggles and Werewolves. When JRR Tolkien’s wizard Saruman seeks to destroy Middle Earth, his army consists of the slimy and bred-for-war Orcs as well as the flying, undead Nazgûl. And then there is JK Rowling’s Voldemort, the Dark Lord. When Voldemort is finally restored to human form, he gathers to himself a host of Death Eaters, Dementors, and (these guys again!) Werewolves, among others.
Common among all of all evil forces, besides a taste for murder, is the emotional violence they unleash. One has had a sense of the worrisome seriousness of the situation, but then the day comes when Evil Itself swarms or swoops or rises up from the sewers in its full malignity. It is only then that the good guys realize what they are truly up against, and, dangerously, start to lose hope. We who read the story or watch the scene on the screen share this loss of hope, the despair, and the emerging, horrifying conviction that all is lost. We feel sick.
Here’s why I bring this up, just in case it isn’t obvious. Like many, the above paragraph is a pretty accurate description of my emotional state in recent months. Maybe for you as well. (If not, God bless you. Please reach out to us.) But the wondrous thing is that as soon as I realized the source–the archetypal truth–of my emotions, I began to calm down. We may feel sick, but Orcs and giant snakes are not, in fact, about to feed on our flesh. We are not about to be turned into stone; we are not back-to-the wall in a cavern, soon to be torn limb-from-limb by a broadsword. That’s good news, no?! There is, of course, the bad news. Gandalf is not going to ride in on his magical horse Shadowfax, driving the darkness back. Aslan is not coming to save us.
But there is this. There is this. Harry Potter was thrilled to think that his father had come to save him just when the Dementors were sucking his soul away. Just in case you haven’t read the story, suffice it to say that in a very complicated turn of events, it turns out that it was Harry himself who wielded the power, who cast the spell, saving himself.
You have the power to do good. You may be wandering in the dark forest and afraid you are lost forever. But remember that Campbell’s archetypal hero always gets lost and despairs but then fights himself (herself) and keeps going. Even better, for people of faith, hope and life are restored in a mystical combination of human effort and divine grace.
Do not despair. See the good. Be the good. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be a hero. Summon your own Patronus. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.