Myth and the Superhero: The Divine vs. Science
Posted by LizzyBeth
I my last two posts I have looked at the nature of the heroes and how they help us understand our culture. I understand that each comic universe and set of heroes have a different agenda or aspect of the human condition that they wish to explore, so most of my comments are going to be generalizations or based on a particular comic that I am analyzing.
I wonder if our post-modern minds can actually understand the significance of myth or are we too inundated with notion that man is the measure of things that we cannot grasp the wonderment of supernatural divine nature of myth. I think that the comic-book world is the closest this modern world has to myth. But do we understand what that means? Most of the comic-book heroes are an augmentation from science but what about the heroes that aren’t?
I recently watched the movie Thor, which got me thinking about this. Superheroes like Spiderman, or X-Men are creatures of science. What makes them special is a scientific augmentation or mutation. Batman uses gadgets and science to defeat villains who are predominately created because of scientific environmental mutations. Science is the catalyst, the creator, the power behind these stories. These superheroes were created in the Age of Science and Enlightenment. Science is in a sense the religion or the divine source of power and authority.
But what about a superhero like Thor? Thor is not an invention of the modern, scientific mind. He is much older, dating back to a time of mystery, myth, gods, and heroes. How then is Thor to be measured among the scientists?
- I’ll be honest I haven’t read the comic books, so this judgement is based on the movie and Norse Mythology, which I do have some familiarity.
I watched the movie looking for how they handled the concept of the divine natures of the Asgard and its interaction with a modern world. But the superhero Thor is not a god. His people are described as aliens. There is no divine power to them or in them. “Magic is just science we don’t understand.” Thor says he comes from a place where magic and science are the same. It is the human nature that demands the scientific reasoning and not the Asgard. But the scientific is how we understand the world now. Nietzsche argued that man could not comprehend the world so in mankind’s primitive state he created the gods. This is definitely the mindset that the marvel universe has adapted. Thor’s people were perceived by the primitive Norse culture as gods and their great feats were done by magic. But now in this “enlightened” age we can begin to understand the the magic was just science we did not understand.
I don’t mind the scientific explanations. There is much to be said for taking a concept that is wreathed in mystery and putting it into a concrete form that we can understand. It is part of the purpose of myth to do just that: take the abstract and give it concrete understanding. Nevertheless, there is something “magical” and unexplained in the resurrection of Thor and dreamlike-all-knowing sleep that Odin is in for most of the movie. Science cannot explain those events and, fortunately, they don’t try. It is here that the Nietzschean philosophy breaks down. There are still things in this world and even in the world of superheroes that cannot be explained by science. Try as we might, science does not give all the answers.
I cannot help but wonder if something has been lost in the scientific exploration. There is no room for mystery. Jane Foster is not going to rest until she can figure out how to open the portal again. Her science is going to be her driving force, but there is something that the science will not explain…her faith in the promise that Thor gave her. He said he’d return. There is no scientific proof for that, no rational reason for her to believe and yet Jane will. Faith is part of the myth and mystery not science. Faith is the real power. Science would tell her that the portal is gone and there is nothing that can be done to fix it. Science would tell her that since she cannot recreate the experiment that she needs to come up with a different hypothesis and start over. Faith is an aspect of the divine. And though there is a trend to mask the myths of old with science (the Norse myths lend themselves well for this treatment), there is still an aspect of the divine nature of the myth that cannot be completely explained away – faith and the power over death.
I appreciate the retellings and the stories of the superheroes, however, I still prefer the myths because they don’t try to explain away the unexplainable or simplify the truth even if it seems impossible to the scientific mind.
About LizzyBethThere is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.
Posted on June 24, 2011, in Batman, Book Review, Characters, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Literary Criticism, Movie Reviews, Myth, Rachel Burkholder, Superheroes, Thor and tagged Divine, Myths, Nietzsche, Rachel Burkholder, science, Super Heroes, Superman, Thor, writing science fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.