There is a power in storytelling. Our stories have the power to tell us the truth about the world, and reaffirm that truth in ways that change our behavior for the better. They can teach us things that are untrue, be they ugly fantasies, self-deception, false ideals– in this way they can be our undoing.
I’ve found myself watching a number of popular animated films lately. Wreck it Ralph, The Sword in the Stone, Cars, Pinocchio, Brave, Howls Moving Castle, and my all-time favorite animated film, How to Train Your Dragon.
I’ve noticed some patterns in the more modern stories. Perhaps they reflect the culture and values of today. This would be unsurprising. I intend to suggest something more radical, perhaps? My suggestion is that not only does that which is popular appeal to the masses, but that there are truths that can only be discovered through storytelling. While I do not believe in an axiomatic world, in which a single, or even a few axioms, can describe and work out all the problems of our world, I certainly do believe that there are fundamental components to human nature. Anthropologists, theologians, philosophers, and scientists may (and do) disagree on this point.
I am certain that the best of stories speak to us something true about ourselves– not you and me as individuals, nor society at large (which one, eh?)– but rather both at once. And these best stories will rise to the top. They will consistently be the stories that become timeless.
Of my favorite animated film I will say that the appeal it has is one of an individualistic culture. Hiccup, the main character, finds a way to be his best self– and in doing so, he also serves his community. He is a naturalist, an animal lover, and an engineer. His talents are in his ability to build and create, and his inquisitive nature and problem-solving ability. These, in the end, transform his way of life first, and then transform those around him.