Emotional Depth and Imaginary Heights: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Stories That Teach Us How to Love
I believe that the worth of a story, in any genre or medium, is dependent upon how much that story can reveal about our own souls, and ultimately, how much it can reveal to us about the Nature of Love. Even if it works in a roundabout way, or by exposing realities that fly in the face of that which should be, love is still the heart of the matter.
Love is often falsely made synonymous with romance, but in reality there are many complex forms of love. All of these variations must be built upon and grow out of other virtues, and can be made manifest in many ways, from steadfast loyalty in friendship to courage in the battle for a just cause. True love always extends beyond any form of isolationism and reaches out to bring others in, thereby changing our world a little at a time.
The following are just a handful of the fantasy and science fiction stories that illustrate different types of love and have impacted me as a person, and left me with a lasting appreciation for the fusion of emotional depth and imaginary heights:
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is the love of friendship that binds together the Fellowship in general and the hobbits in particular, as they traverse the very edge of doom. Frodo discovers the depths of devotion in Sam, who gives him the emotional strength to withstand the strain of his burden and pulls him up from the brink of despair. There are also the romances played out between Aragorn and Arwen and between Eowyn and Faramir, whose relationships are not mere emotional obsessions but are tested and purified by sacrifice and their submission to a good higher than their own personal happiness as the apocalyptic struggle rages around them. Finally, there is love found in the mercy Frodo shows the twisted creature Gollum which, although it initially seems to be of no consequence, ultimately proves to be the salvation of Middle Earth.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, which is laced through with Christian allegory, the focal point of the story is placed upon the sacrificial love of Aslan, the all-powerful Lion King, whose willingness to lay down his life for a traitorous human ultimately turns the tables on death through the power of Ancient Magic. There is also the familial bond of the Pevensie siblings, and their determination to fulfill the ancient prophecy and do right by the inhabitants of Narnia, even when defeat seems certain. Lastly, there is the love shown by the Narnians themselves for the old stories that have enabled them to cling to hope in each passing generation and give them the strength to rise up in defiance of the Witch upon Aslan’s return.
In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the depravity and perversion of the dystopian setting brings out the best and worst sides of human nature, pitting survival against humanity and life against love. The heroine Katniss Everdeen embodies this internal conflict through the complexities of her own personality, combining toughness and passion with empathy and vulnerability. Her sacrificial love for her sister Prim prompts her to take her place and volunteer as tribute to compete in the gladiatorial Hunger Games from which she knows she may never return. Katniss also shows compassion to Rue, a younger tribute who befriends in the arena, and she is in turn shown mercy by another tribute, Thresh. Lastly, it is her growing love for her fellow district tribute Peeta that prompts her momentous decision at the end of the games, starting a chain reaction of world-shattering consequence and transform her into the revolutionary “Mockingjay”.
In the Star Wars Universe created by George Lucas, Luke Skywalker rediscovers his Jedi ancestry and determines to master the Force and overthrow the Imperial regime oppressing the galaxies. However, when he learns that father’s true identity as a one-time Jedi who went over to the dark side, Luke realizes that only through sacrificial love will he be able to save both the universe and his father’s soul. The plot also emphasizes the virtues bound up with friendship and fighting for a common cause. Han Solo in particular, although initially indifferent to the world around him, is changed by his bond with the other characters, especially Princess Leia, and rises to the challenge of becoming an unlikely hero. Leia is also an important figure to Luke, who ultimately discovers that she is his long-lost sister, making their sibling relationship another layer of love that spurs him on to save their father.
In the original series of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, we again see an emphasis placed upon the mutual devotion of the crew members to their respective duties and to one other. In particular, the unique friendship shared by Captain James T. Kirk, Science Officer Mr. Spock, and Dr. Leonard McCoy is a hallmark of the series. Perhaps the most complex characters in the series is Spock, who, being half human, half Vulcan, struggles with his human emotions while striving to uphold the Vulcan philosophy of logic. Ultimately, however, he does sacrifice himself on behalf of the crew, staying true to both sides of his ancestry. In the broad sphere of the Trek Universe, there is also the emphasis on “infinite diversity, infinite combinations” which challenges racism and bigotry and champions unity through diversity.
In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the core theme is the search for the true transcendent, that one reality which is stronger than death. In the end, it is made clear that the embrace of death out of love transcends all else. The maternal love of Harry’s mother, Lily, is key to the entire unfolding of the plot. Her sacrifice on behalf of her son lives on in his very skin, and makes him immune to the attack of the Dark Lord Voldemort and enables him to eventually take on the powers of evil. Lily’s influence also is the driving force behind the actions of the mysterious and brooding Professor Severus Snape, whose tough mentorship of Harry is vital to the boy’s survival. Lastly, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the three best school mates from House Gryffindor, repeatedly demonstrate the power of friendship, loyalty, and courage while growing up during their years at Hogwarts.
There are many more examples of love being brought to the fore in fantasy and science fiction franchises, as well as stand-alone classics such as E.T., The Princess Bride, Merlin, and a long list of Disney feature films. Each one of us has our own favorites that touch us with particular depth and which we can relate through a particular resonance with our own lives. But all in all, it is a heartening reality that in an entertainment industry so often drowned by “sound and fury, signifying nothing”, there are still worthwhile stories being told, conveying the hope of the heart, and capable of helping us grow for the better.
By Rosaria Marie