The major religions, when seen as a whole, represent among the most powerful and influential stories in history.
My husband loves Christmas and everything associated with it. Christmas music (he has a playlist that can last days without repeating), Christmas movies (there seems to be a never-ending stream of them), Christmas food (well, except for sprouts) and so on.
But he is not religious.
What is it about Christmas that is attractive to people who have no religious connection to it?
Anatomy of Genre
I’m reading The Anatomy of Genre by John Truby and gave an overview of the genres in a previous post
According to him, the Christian religion, and all religions, can be viewed through the lens of genre.
In particular, religion and the horror genre go hand in hand.
Horror expresses the story of religion. This is the story of how we defeat death, how we avoid a horrible afterlife and find the promised land of life ever after.
One of John Truby’s key ideas in The Anatomy of Genre is that in order to be a successful storyteller you need to learn to transcend the genre that you are writing in.
One way to do this is to combine multiple genres into a new form.
Christianity can be seen as a combination of the Myth genre and the Horror genre. They bookend the life of Jesus.
Myth is the oldest story form and the most popular.
Christmas is the origin Myth of Christianity. The hero, Jesus, is born in a stable to Mary and Joseph.
The human side of Jesus is part of the theme, which is a God of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The Myth genre is about going on a journey, leading to oneself. It asks the question, What is your destiny?
It involves the birth/rebirth of the hero. It is the story of the transformation of the soul and the stages of illumination.
Of the archetypes of the Myth genre, Jesus is a teacher
- Teacher — passing on knowledge so that people can live better lives and society can improve
But his followers want him to be more of a warrior and rebel
- Warrior — practical enforcer of what is right
- Rebel — taking action against enslaving system
His need is for his teachings to be at the forefront, not the man himself. He wants people to listen to what he has to say, not idolise who is saying it.
The story world of Myth has magical powers. In the story of Jesus it is the miracles that he performs.
The divided story world of the Christian story is the Roman warrior culture (kill or be killed) and the culture of love preached by Jesus.
Beyond Jesus as hero, we have his disciples as allies, but including his false-ally Judas.
The ultimate villain is satan.
Jesus’ mentor is God.
What creates the religion of Christianity is Christ’s horrific death. It’s when Christianity becomes a Horror story.
In many religions, humans make sacrifices to god to make life better for everyone (and in the Old Testament of the Bible).
In Christianity, the god makes a sacrifice of his only son in order to make their lives better.
Jesus discovers that he is a king, and that the health of the kingdom depends on him. He has a vision of the new morality for society which he lays out in the sermon on the mount.
Jesus battles with satan and is crucified.
Three days later he rises again.
He has defeated his greatest opponent and so demonstrated how man can achieve immortality.
I don’t know that my husband is connected to the Christian story, but he is connected to the symbolism of Christmas.
Lights — lighting up the darkness. He is afraid of the dark. In Australia Christmas is in the summer and the darkness is less of an issue, yet he loves to hang lights outside, and inside.
Christmas Tree — the evergreen tree. Each year he has more baubles on the tree, as he collects them over the years, often when on holiday. They hold memories.
Gifts — who doesn’t love a gift? One of the great things of Christmas is being able to give gifts to those we love and see their joy. He is an excellent giver.
How does this help me to tell a good story?
Two great stories that also combine Myth and Horror spring to mind.
The first is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis which parallels the story of Jesus and his betrayal. It is a favourite of mine since childhood.
The other is the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. This starts with the birth of the hero, and ends with him sacrificing himself to defeat the enemy.
There are many other stories that follow similar patterns. They are among the most popular stories of all time. By learning about their underlying genres, and how they combine them, maybe it can help me write a better story.