In the wake of the ending of the nearly decade-long HBO phenomenon, Game of Thrones, many people are upset. It seems they are mostly upset for one (or both) of two reasons: 1) The final season could have been better or more believable (they contend); and/or 2) An eagerly anticipated yearly springtime event that spanned almost the last decade has now vanished from our lives.
I want to mostly attend to the second reason. Suffice it to say, with regards to the first reason, that a TV show with dragons in it is already, technically, not very “believable”. Something else seems to be at work here.
In a series of lectures regarding the power of myth, renowned professor of literature, and scholar of comparative mythology and comparative religion, Joseph Campbell, stated that we all need a living, guiding myth to be central in our lives, in one way or another. He conceded that, if you can imagine losing absolutely everything and everyone in your life, whatever it is that might give you the strength to persevere in the face of such meteoric loss, should give you some indication of your own personal, guiding myth.
Furthermore, Carl Jung, in his final work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, wrote that we need for our myths to be living and evolving, i.e., not stagnant or ossified. The more our guiding myths evolve with the times, the more they seem intimately connected to all of us, maybe even in a way that indicates that we ourselves could have some kind of personal relationship with the mythopoetic realm.
I will tie this all together– just give me a moment. When the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out during my adolescence, I had a hunch that something curious was going on. I felt that the Western world (and all who are a part of it, or who are influenced by it, regardless of ancestry or ethnic identity) was longing for some kind of living, guiding myth. I had the same hunch when I first dipped my toes into hmmm, shall we say, the Narrow Sea. Many of the story threads which tie into the thicker story braid that makes up the TV series are rooted in either mythological tropes from Classical antiquity (or from other regions or epochs), or, more or less, in actual historical events or themes, again, from either Classical antiquity, or from some other era of human history. “All fantasy should have a firm base in reality” (Sir Max Beerbohm) — at least one interpretation of this quote certainly applies here.
From a depth perspective, this makes the series highly resonant, insofar as it makes use of some pretty potent themes within the collective unconscious. Jungian analyst Marion Woodman wrote in, The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation, that all artwork that makes use of archetypal symbols or themes is typically more resonant and powerful than artwork that does not do this, and it tends to exude a numinous quality, as powerful, disturbing, or important works of art ought to do. I know that not everyone in the art world would agree with this, and I respect that. I do not claim to know what art is. But for the sake of the task at hand, let’s consider that the TV series, Game of Thrones’ manipulation of powerful symbols contained within the collective unconscious made it a much more resonant story. Let’s just allow that (for the purposes of this thought experiment), or consider that it may be true.
One of the key features of living, guiding myths, is that they make use of these kinds of powerful symbols, tropes, or archetypes. In this way, they grab people at a deep level– a very deep level, if we are talking about a guiding myth, so deep, that it can even become the cornerstone of our ongoing survival in a time of devastating loss. For many people in the West, that guiding myth is Christianity. (I use the word “myth” here, not to offend Christians or their religion, or to make any ontological or historical claims about the stories contained within the tradition. Consider “guiding myth” here to mean the tradition, story, higher entity, practice, or combination of some or all of these.) Also, for many people in the West, that guiding myth is not Christianity. In many ways, for the last 2000 years in the West, with the exception of some mystics, or some who have been considered heretics, there has not been a living tradition or lineage wherein it was considered acceptable for an individual (God forbid, a woman) to have a personal, living relationship with the Christian lineage, in a way that possibly caused it to evolve, or that possibly shortened the communication lines between the individual and the transcendent. And yet, people long for this. I would argue that every single human being longs for some kind of personal relationship with some lineage, with the transcendent, or, at the very least, some acceptable channel or road to the ecstatic or to rapture. The modern West does not offer many acceptable, legal outlets for this deeply human impulse, except church (mostly). Church is deeply resonant, powerful, healing and beautiful for some people. For others, it feels like they are looking for something else, and they really, for the life of them, cannot figure out what.
Enter Game of Thrones (among other things, about which I’ll write later). An opportunity to engage, weekly (only around the time of the Spring Equinox) with characters, heroes, heroines and stories that grab us at a deep, mythopoetic level. Often, a feature of a guiding myth is not only that it grabs us at a mythopoetic level, but it also provides us with characters or archetypes to whom we might be able to relate (in some way), be deeply concerned about, or maybe even want to aspire to be like. These are key features of religious stories as well, and also of any effective epic, chronicle, or saga. Placing each new episode on a Sunday evening is also an interesting choice. People often engage with their guiding myth on a weekly basis, often in a rejuvenating way, that sets them up for the difficulties of the week ahead– Sunday, or the Sabbath, would be an effective time for that.
This is all pure conjecture, but I do wonder if people got upset about Game of Thrones ending because they lost a guiding myth, one that felt alive while the show was still unfolding and slowly revealing itself. Also, it’s sort of the end of an era, isn’t it? What will the 20s bring? And what will be the guiding myth that get us through them? What is your guiding myth?