A Story is Never JUST a Story

Okay this is just for fun. Don’t take this (or me) too seriously here.

Writing and storytelling is my chosen profession. I’ve studied the craft for roughly 40 years. One central thing I’ve learned is we humans are wired to receive and be influenced by story. I know that if I need to persuade you of something or sell you something, I’m much better off telling you a story than bombarding you with information (facts and data).

Jesus knew this. So do the best preachers and teachers. As do the best salesmen and propagandists.

Sometimes the storyteller isn’t fully aware of what he or she is selling. There are themes and agendas that can make their way into stories through psychological, subconcious, and even spiritual pathways.

I once invested several fascinated hours listening to Jordan Peterson unpack the biblical and Jungian archetypes embedded in the children’s story Pinnochio.

All of this, as my wife will attest, makes me always on alert for what script writers and documentarians are trying to sell me. We can’t watch anything on television without me dissecting the worldview, the assumptions, or the agenda of the creators. And a media creator without an agenda is the rarest of all birds these days.

Which brings me to a recent post of mine on Facebook about the trailer for Disney’s upcomng new children’s movie, Wish.

I know t will shock you to learn that I have some thoughts. But first, a couple of disclaimers.

  • I’m not a fan of some online folks who seemingly specialize in trying to get people worked up, freaked out, alarmed, or enraged about {the current thing.} I’ve been pretty focused the last few years on getting my loved ones and friends to chill out a little. So for every one distressing or alarming thing I post, I try to post 20 or 30 uplifting, heartwarming, or funny things.
  • Also . . . I’m not the guy who’s going to try to gin up a boycott. Sure, I quietly boycott a lot of companies and products that make it clear in various ways that they don’t want the business of my “ilk.” (I always wanted to have an ilk. Now it seems I do!) So I take them at their word. But I don’t need all my friends to join me in shunning them. I figure you can make those choices for yourself.

Having said that, I am a grandfather. And I have keen interest in what the popular culture is trying to sell my “littles” this week. So when the trailer for Wish popped up in a Twitter post this week, I watched it. What I saw stunned me. That’s not an exaggeration.

Before I continue, give it a watch.

Cute, right? Typical evil, powerful adversary being taken on by the unlikely protagonist. It’s as old a story as David vs. Goliath.

Actually, it’s a much older story than that.

Watch the trailer again, but this time mentially substitute the term “prayers” when you see “wishes” . . . and see if it doesn’t take on a different tone for you.

This isn’t David vs. Goliath. It’s Eve vs. God. (Seriously, Dave?) Stay with me, let’s break down the archetypes and symbolism here, Jordan Peterson style. Here’s what I saw in this two-minute, twenty-two second clip . . .

Exhibit A: The setting is an island off the coast of Spain. You have a King ruling a kingdom and a people called “Rosas.” The people are literally called “Reds.” In Genesis, the Hebrew word for “mankind” is a’dam (ruddy or red).

Exhibit B: The king has magical (supernatural) powers. And he loves to be adored (worshipped) by his subjects. (Is this a God archetype? And a patriarchial God stereotype, to boot?) Please note . . .

Exhibit C: All of king’s subjects send UP their wishes to the king so he can grant them. But not all wishes (prayers) get granted. The king’s explanation for this is that granting some wishes would not be in the best interests of the wishers.

Exhibit D: Our protaganist is named Asha. Asha happens to be a very important word/concept in the Zoroastrian religion that was prominent in Iran and parts of India before the Islamic conquest. In Zoroastrianism, Asha means truth or rightness or righteousness. The word/name has deep roots in ancient India and Iran, possibly rooted in myths about the cosmic conflict betwen truth and deception/lies.

Exhibit E: Asha is invited by the king to become an “apprentice.” An apprentice is a subordinate learner with delegated authority.

Exhibit F: Asha seems to learn that the king has selfish motives for refusing to grant everyone’s wishes. The King claims to be benevolent and have his subjects well-being in mind, but Asha seems to suspect that he’s really just holding out on everyone for his own vain purposes.

Exhibit G: Asha ends up under some sort of special, luminescent TREE. And there she interacts with a STAR. The brightest one in the sky. She sings: “So I look up to the stars to guide me. And throw caution to every warning sign . . .” We then hear her saying, “Last night I made a wish on a star. And the star answered!”

Exhibit H: The star comes down (falls?) and becomes her guide and empowerer in opposing the wicked king. (As you certinaly know, in biblical symbolism, “stars” represent both angels and fallen angels. And the leader of the fallen angels, Lucifer, is seemingly called a “morning star” in Isaiah 14:12. If this is indeed the veiled metaphor of the film, this chubby, adorable little star that becomes her new mentor (replacing the king) is the cutest “Lucifer” in movie history.

Exhibit I: Under the star’s direction, the newly empowered Asha begins to make “improvements” to the world. We hear the king say, “I believe I have just been threatened.” His queen asks, “Who would dare threaten you.”

Okay let’s sum this up.

Upon my first viewing I saw the metaphor of the Genesis account, but told from Satan’s twisted perspective. In Genesis a girl who had been invited to be the King’s image-bearer and apprentice is led to suspect that the King is holding out her and her fellow subjects. She questions his truthfulness.

A astral being appears and, at a tree, offers her what the King is deceptively withholding from her. Empowered by a different source of “magic” she will make everything better.

Of course, THAT is the big lie the first couple fell for and people have falling for ever since.

Am I imagining things? Perhaps.

Am I suspiciously imposing a narrative that isn’t there? Quite possibly! (But I think I come by my suspicions honestly.)

It’s only 2:22 out of a full-length movie. Will this analysis fall apart when the whole is revealed. I hope so!

All I know is that the Disney corporation has shown itself to be no friend of those who take the biblical narratives and revelation seriously as a source of truth and life. Quite the contrary.

I also know the enemy of our souls has a multi-milennia-long history of trying to portray our loving heavenly Father as precisely the kind of “king” we see in that trailer. Make of that whatever you will.

Again: My hope is that the trailer is tricking us into thinking the king is the bad guy. And that it will be revealed that the star is really the trickster here. It would make it a perfect and brilliant metaphor for the real Genesis story. But given that the folks who created Wish were behind Frozen, that’s a lot to hope for.

UPDATE: Here’s a reviewer for the San Diego Reader who saw precisely what I suspected from just watching the trailer. He says the movie “takes aim at the Judeo-Christian God.” Not surprisingly, the reviewer thinks this is a good thing.

And Amy Nicholson, a reviewer for the New York Times writes: “Oddly — and rather fascinatingly — this is a film about a spiritual revolution. Can Asha, a humanist, convince the islanders to reject the man in the embroidered robe who preaches that he alone is a conduit for miracles?”

Mysteries . . . Solved! Troubling Sayings . . . Clarified! Faith . . . Strengthened!

Have you ever wondered what Jesus drew in the dust when presented with “the woman caught in adultery?” Have you ever winced at Jesus’ seemingly brusque treatment of the Syrophonecian woman with the possessed daughter. Does Jesus really expect us to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand if they cause us to sin? Did Jesus Really call Satan “The ruler of this World?” Jesus Kills a Defenseless Tree? Why? What the . . . 

If we’re being real . . . not religious . . . real . . . we can all admit that, from time to time we read a verse or a passage in the Bible and say . . . “Wait . . . what?” Or, “What was THAT?” That is even true with the “red letters” in our Bibles. Yes, even some of the sayings (and doings) of Jesus are mysterious and, when we read them, they leave us scratching our heads. Those “red letter’s contain a lot of surprises. A few shocks. Even some scandals!

Get it here: https://tinyurl.com/NewestEBook

A Little Good News for Non-Fiction Writers About Readers

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

There is plenty of depressing news for writers floating around out there.

You may have seen the statistics about how fewer and fewer people actually want to “read” to absorb content online. Increasing numbers, we’re told, would rather push “play” on a video than have to read words to get information or entertainment.

Then there is the explosion in podcast consumption that parallels a rise in the popularity of audio books. This is primarily because of over-scheduled lifestyles in which you can’t read while commuting or running on a treadmill. But you can listen.

But the worst news I’ve heard is embedded in a statistic I’ve heard several people cite recently. It involves some variation of: “The average/typical non-fiction book reader only reads the first 20% of a book.” The usual takeaway advice from this is: “Put your best and most important content right at the front of the book so at least that part gets read.”

Now, sadly, in the book publishing ecosystem only the writer cares very much at all about whether a book actually gets . . . you know . . . READ. Everyone else’s concern is whether or not a book gets SOLD–and understandably so. The agent, the publisher, and the bookseller are completely focused on whether or not people BUY your book. To them, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the buyers ever read it or not.

Of course, we non-fiction writers do what we do because we long to inspire, inform, move, persuade, and illuminate. And we can’t accomplish any of those things if our books are bought but remain unread. Or even only the first 20% read.

Here’s the thing. I have no doubt that well-written fiction books get read much more deeply. And I’m confident that really good “page-turner” fiction books get read all the way to their exciting conclusions.

Well the same should be true of a well-crafted non-fiction work.

“Well-crafted” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that previous sentence. You seen I read a lot of non-fiction and the vast majority of it is not remotely reader friendly–neither in the way it’s written nor the way it’s laid out on the page.

There are many things good fiction writers do that non-fiction writers should adopt immediately. At some future point I’ll create a little course that lays those practices out. But in the meantime, just know that a large body of people really do want you to inspire, inform, move, persuade, and illuminate them. And they’ll read you cover to cover if you’ll only make it easier and more enjoyable to do so. That’s good news.