Alchemical Storytelling for the Electric Mosaic: Making the Old New
Most people are idiots.
Tell them you are writing an entirely new story, and the first thing they want to know is how it is like the stories they already know.
In the profession, we call this “genre,” but what it really means is that most people are afraid of dragons.
“People think that people tell stories,” the narrator of the Discworld opines. “In fact, it’s the other way around. Stories tell us. This is why in a hundred worlds, the princess always marries the frog and the witch is always burned at the stake.” (I paraphrase.*)
Tell the story a different way, and people get upset.
People hate being shown themselves in the mirror, which is what stories do.
Everyone wants to be Snow White, nobody wants to see herself as the Witch Queen.
Except we are all the Witch Queen, looking in the mirror, begging to be seen as beautiful.
Just try it out here on the Internet sometime.
And see the Dragon looking back.
George Lucas wanted to be famous, so he used a story everybody already knew. Except they didn’t know they knew it.
Its original author called it The Faerie Queene.
George Lucas called it Star Wars.
But it’s the same story.
Short version: There is a young Knight. There is a Princess. There is a dwarf. There is an evil Wizard. And there is a Dragon. The Knight comes to the rescue of the Princess, whose parents have been enslaved by the Dragon. The Knight learns faith from an old hermit and fighting from an older knight whom he encounters on his way to fight the Dragon. The Knight kills the Dragon by stabbing it in the throat, and the Princess’s parents are set free.
Spenser’s version: The Redcross Knight is Holiness; the Princess is the One True Religion (thus her name, Una). Her dwarf is Prudence or Common Sense. The evil Wizard (Archimago) is Hypocrisy, and the Dragon is the Spanish Empire and/or the Roman Catholic Church. The hermit is Contemplation, and the experienced knight is Prince Arthur (Protestantism or the Church Militant). And, of course, the Princess has a Lion (Reason, Natural Honor) representing Henry VIII and/or the Natural World, while she is opposed by the False Duessa, representing Mary, Queen of Scots.
Lucas’s version: The Knight is Luke Skywalker; the Princess is Leia (dressed, like Una, in white). The dwarf is twinned as C3PO and R2D2. The hermit is also twinned, as ObiWan Kenobi and Yoda, while the assisting knight, Han Solo, is somewhat less than perfect, but still necessary for the young Knight’s training. The evil Wizard is Darth Vader, and the Dragon is the Death Star, which Luke Skywalker kills by driving his X-wing, a.k.a. sword, into its throat. The Princess is befriended by a lion (Chewbacca) and threatened by the monstrous Jabba the Hutt.
Even the Ewoks make sense if you realize what Lucas was doing. In Spenser’s version, Una is rescued by forest-dwelling satyrs, and the satyrs worship Una as their god. The Ewoks rescue Leia, Luke, and Han, but they worship C3PO (who is gold). In Richard Simon’s words: “Star Wars really is The Faerie Queene in modern dress.”**
Do you feel better now, realizing you already knew this story? Of course you do. We all do. Because there is only one Story, and we are always already in it.
Except some people lie to us and pretend there are other stories, with secrets to reveal, that only certain special people will have access to.
The Dragon loves this kind of story. The story that promises mysteries hidden behind a veil. The story into which only initiates are allowed.
Such stories come enveloped in much pomp and circumstance. Fancy robes. Secret handshakes. Pyramids of trials to overcome.
And then you find yourself at the threshold of the Secret Chamber... and you realize it’s the same story still.
The story of the Serpent who said, “God lied to you.”
The story of the ancient Enemy who promised, “You will be like gods.”
Most people are idiots.
And yet God loves us anyway. And keeps trying to tell us the Story that is True.
Draco Alchemicus is one version of that One Story. The same one told by Spenser and Lucas. The same one told in the Gospels. The same one the Serpent most wants you to believe isn’t true.
You don’t believe me?
*Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad (1991), 8-9.
**Richard Keller Simon, “Star Wars and the Faerie Queene,” in Trash Culture: Popular Culture and the Great Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 29-37, at 34.