An article that ran yesterday on GeekDad by Jim MacQuarrie made it very clear that, from the standpoint of professional archery, Hawkeye couldn’t hit the broadside of Tony Stark’s mansion. With my limited exposure to archery I can’t argue against what Jim stated and he makes many excellent points. What I can state is that, despite the fact that Hawkeye may be out-shot by entry-level elementary school students, it is OK from the standpoint of storytelling. Storytelling is a lot bigger than the depiction of skills in a story. Now, I could go into a lot of silly arguments about how Hawkeye is using his archery skills in the heat of battle and under numerous other special conditions so maybe the mild loss of accuracy comes with the territory. Sounds like a great Mytbusters episode to me and I am not big on speculation. What I want to focus on is storytelling, myth throughout history, and why we continue to pour our money out for expensive movie theater tickets and the latest Blu-Ray box sets.
The heart of what I want to talk about is a field known as comparative mythology. According to the author of The New Comparative Mythology, comparative mythology is “the systematic comparison of myths and mythic themes drawn from a wide variety of cultures.” This is at the heart of many of our stories and why the same ideas show up again and again. To me, a particular quote of interest comes from a 19th century book on comparative mythology where the author states, “Few things are more strange than the persistency with which impressions received in early youth remain fixed in the mind, although they may have no foundation whatever in fact.” This statement is as timeless as the myths themselves. It could be an ancient Egyptian boy learning of the resurrection of Osiris, the Japanese girl learning of the creation of death by Izanami, the medieval student learning about the raising of Lazarus, or my own children watching a regeneration of The Doctor.
What is considered by many experts to be the seminal work on comparative mythology is The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and the follow-on documentary series and novel The Power of Myth. In The Power of Myth, George Lucas is interviewed and discusses how Joseph Campbell’s works impacted the genesis of Star Wars through the idea of the journey of the hero. Neil Gaiman stated in an interview with Wild River Review that:
I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true — I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.
These stories and themes from a diverse set of mythology resurface again and again and are alive and well in modern media whether intentionally, such as through George Lucas, or by the sheer weight of myths, such as through Neil Gaiman. My thoughts go to a young Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or Harry Potter who lost their parents and believed they were not special or important in any way only to discover that they are a part of something greater. Did you know Hawkeye was orphaned as well? Just like Batman, Superman, Annie, Huck Finn, Remus & Romulus, and many others who fit the archetype heroic character of the orphan.
The story of The Avengers isn’t about how well Jeremy Renner trained as an archer. While it would be great if his actions were as detailed and accurate as the characters in Brave or The Hunger Games it would also be great, from my perspective, if space were depicted more accurately in science fiction and we didn’t hear all of the sounds of the phasers from the perspective of the vacuum of space. To the trained eye, inconsistencies such as these can be distracting, as I am sure many of the ancient sailors saw plot holes in the story of The Odyssey, but they don’t take away from the actual story being told. I suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride.
We may all have a bit of hero in ourselves and I would hope that folks, particularly the geeklings out there, that are energized and excited about archery, are taken to a professional setting, such as Jim’s group at Pasadena Roving Archers, and learn more about the strength, patience, and determination it takes to be a great archer. Who knows, our next great real-life orphan hero, like Nelson Mandela, Edgar Allan Poe, or Marilyn Monroe before them, may be out there now and watching The Avengers may inspire them to the greatness for which they are destined. It could inspire many of us to find the hero within. That is why I don’t mind if Hawkeye couldn’t hit a running Thor for all the cars in Tony Stark’s garage.