“Oh, you’ll protect them. But who will protect you?!”
Pitch Black says this to the Guardians near the end of Dreamworks’ film Rise of the Guardians. I wrote an article about the movie some time ago, but these words were not the focus of it. That post had a totally different message from the one I wish to discuss today.
Rise of the Guardians focuses on the Guardians of childhood: Santa Claus (North), Tooth Fairy (Tooth), the Easter Bunny (Bunny), Sandman (Sandy), and their new addition – Jack Frost. In the scene portrayed above, Jack has convinced a handful of children that the Guardians do in fact exist. This has helped North, Bunny, and Tooth to regain a certain amount of strength, since they lost much of their power when Pitch Black (the infamous Boogeyman) persuaded children around the world that the Guardians were not real.
The belief of a few children cannot restore the Guardians to their former capacities, though. They are now too weak to fight as they must to save the children. They intend to battle Pitch anyway, but the situation looks grim for the home team.
It is at this point when Jamie, the one boy who never stopped believing in the Guardians, promises that he will protect them from the Boogeyman (Pitch Black). Jamie’s friends, inspired by his courage, shakily join forces with the Guardians as well. As the Guardians and children face the onslaught of evil, they manage to turn Pitch’s certain victory into utter defeat.
Why is this so important? Why do I make such an issue of it? How many times, readers, have you heard the “elite” and the “learned” talk down the importance of stories, of heroes and villains? If I had a dollar for every snobby crack I heard someone make about good stories and great characters, myself included, I would be one of the richest people in the U.S. (Hey, I have not always liked certain stories, readers – I am human, not perfect!)
Fictional heroes are the equivalent of the Guardians in Rise of the Guardians. They not only “guard” the imaginations and (hopefully) the innocence of childhood, they guard the imaginations of adults as well.
Heroes are, by design, examples of virtue which we are meant to follow. They show us how attractive and healthy virtues such as courage, faith, hope, love, and honor are. They inspire us to dream, to choose the right path, and not in a didactic way but in a way that touches our hearts.
Stories are vehicles for truth. This is not simply factual truths, such as how to ride a horse or to hunt for medicinal herbs in a forest. These facts can be and often are woven into fictional stories, of course, and they are certainly helpful. But most of the truths we find within stories are philosophical and, at bottom, spiritual.
Yet many of us habitually skate on top of a story. Instead of looking through the ice to see what is below, we see what we wish to see reflected back at us. And so we tend to ignore what is truly below the surface of the tale we are reading/hearing/viewing.
This brings me to Jamie’s declaration that, since the Guardians are going to protect him and the other children, he will in turn protect the Guardians he loves. While recognizing their desire and natural right to protect him and the others, he also realizes he has a duty and right to protect them when they are attacked. Theirs is a tie that is mutually beneficial; the belief and love of children everywhere not only sustains the Guardians, it protects them by giving them the strength they need to do their jobs. It makes the circuit of power complete.
Sadly, the critics panned Rise of the Guardians as they have dismissed many movies before it. On one level, we could see this as a sign that the movie they have critiqued is undesirable. On another, we could see it as a sign that a great many people have suddenly and inexplicably lost their capacity to recognize a good children’s tale when they see one.
If you are thinking this second assesment lacks believability, I concur. That is why I take the third view; at least some of the critics liked this film and admitted it, while the majority of them panned it in order to serve their agendas. What agenda might this be?
Here we come full circle again. Remember when I said that fictional heroes were meant to be the Guardians of the Imaginations of children and adults? Well, if you want to destroy those perceptions, you have to go through the Guardians. The “critics” who regularly pan good movies like Rise of the Guardians seem bent on destroying those positive images. In order to do that, they have to tear down the heroes not only in this story, but in everyday life as well, so that everyone will be as miserable as they are.
This is why we must guard the Guardians. As Dean Koontz points out in his novel Ashley Bell, fiction “can deal with the numinous,” something that “nonfiction rarely does.” Fiction deals with “[T]he human heart and spirit. The unknown. The unknowable. Storytelling can heal damaged hearts and damaged minds.” Most poignantly, he also points out that writers can be “doctor(s) of the soul.”
Of course, as Marvel and other companies’ public dereliction of duty shows, not all writers want to be doctors of souls. Mr. Koontz’s stories are filled with human monsters who perpetrate evil on their fellows, and none are worse than those who use a pen instead of a scalpel. This is what the critics who wish to destroy imagination, wonder, truth, goodness, and beauty hate about stories.
If these critics who have chosen darkness cannot be happy, then they wish no one else to be happy. Therefore whatever gives everyone else pleasure – whatever reminds them of the truth, goodness, and beauty to be found in this world and beyond – must be destroyed. This includes good stories with great Guardians of the soul.
As long as we have heroes to inspire us, we will be better able to resist the carping critics’ myriad assaults. Take away the Guardians of Storyland – whether they are Captain Kirk, Odysseus, Robin Hood, or Captain America – and we lose one of our best defenses against those who would destroy our understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Some may think this harsh and cruel. While I certainly do not want to paint all critics of creative media with the same brush, I must point out that it is the fashion now for the “intellectuals” to praise trash and sniff at true art. This is not to criticize all critics. We are weak, fallen creatures, yours truly included. None of us are perfect. The fact remains, however, that there are those who want to destroy our innate love of goodness, truth, and beauty – and they usually like to use a pen or a keyboard when they go to work.
They attempt to tear down the heroes – portraying them as “villains in disguise,” if you will – with words. We have seen far too much of this these days, especially in comic book universes, where former heroic champions are being turned into masters of despair and darkness. (Yes, I am looking at you, Marvel!)
If this is what is going on, then how are we to stop it? We stop it by the simple expedient of saying, “I will protect the Guardians.” We need not use force to do this; permanent determination and a refusal to abide by or accept the proffered precepts of today’s real life Wormtogues is a very effective tactic. When they try to take our heroes from us, we must be like a bulldog holding tight to a beloved toy. We have to clamp down and not let go because these servants of Saruman will lose. As long as we hold tight, we will win.
Who, therefore, will defend these fictional defenders? Who will preserve the characters who are “there when we need them to be,” as Walt Disney said in Saving Mr. Banks? Who will see to it that the Guardians do not face Pitch Black alone? Who will say, “I will protect the protectors”?
That is up to you, readers. The Guardians’ purpose is to guard us, not to protect themselves. For, as I said previously, they get their power from us. Without our affection for and belief in the heroes of Neverland, they are but mirrors of us, pale reflections of reality. They have substance only when loved by us.
For those who think this is stuff and fluff, remember that a painting is a pale reflection of reality. Yet Dolly Madison risked her life to save the paintings in the White House, along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, before the British burned it to the ground during the War of 1812. If fiction means nothing, why then did the Christian monks of the Dark and Middle Ages preserve the fiction of the Ancients and write the Legends of King Arthur?
During World War II the Nazis stole plenty of art from the countries they invaded, and destroyed art created by those they hated – Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, etc. Under the Communists, the arts were degraded and used to promote the state, while real art that had survived for centuries was used to build troughs for farm animals. If art, though nothing more than a reflection of life, is meaningless, why have so many throughout history worked so hard to preserve it – or to destroy every trace of it?
The obvious answer is that art is not meaningless. It is not the be-all, end-all. But when it reflects the true, the good, and the beautiful, it is worth preserving. It is worth creating….
It is worth Guarding.