In much of life and literature there are themes and lessons to be taken away from them, only a few overlap and are universal. Love, I think, being the most prevalent and powerful across genres. In fact, I wrote about love’s power in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows here. Though love, and its many forms–friendship, brother/sisterhood, etc.–does not apply to all characters and sides to a story. Sure, the “good guys” experience and express love, but what about the “bad guys” (in the traditional sense, of course)? As direct opposites to the “good guys,” they wouldn’t share this emotion, so is love truly the most powerful thing there is? Depends on your point of view. Here, and in subsequent articles, I argue that there’s something more powerful, more universal, something that anyone possess no matter if they’re a noble elf or a mustache-twirling tycoon: belief.
I find belief to be such a seductive human emotion. To have a belief–to accept something is true or have trust in something–is akin to instinct for us. Everyone has a belief in something because the word is so similar to opinion, and everyone has an opinion on something. It’s another one of those charming instincts demonstrated by humanity. Be sure NOT to contain belief only to religion or the supernatural. You could believe the sun shining after a storm is special because it’s your birthday party and not simply weather; that your car is totaled in an accident and you escape unscathed because of angelic protection and not the vehicle’s safety features; that you managed to lose more weight than expected because of your trainer and not your own self-discipline.
I love how in each of the above scenarios, we humans are so ready to place belief–and, accordingly, the power–to somebody or something else. Why is it we take that one extra step to place purpose in that which is coincidence like the weather or a designed feature like automobile shielding? Is it to make us feel special, unique? Perhaps. What do you think? Belief isn’t limited to occurrences. We have beliefs for our preferred food and color; in our elected (or not) leaders, flags, countries, and agreed upon treaties. In one culture an animal (like a black cat) is revered as a god; whereas, in another it’s regarded as an ill omen. Beliefs shape and dictate how we view our community, those who live outside it, the world and our place in it.
I want to look at belief’s power in literature. How character’s beliefs reflect the author, reader, and real life. To get an idea of what of what to expect, consider the film The Skeleton Key (Ian Softley, 2005). Caroline (Kate Hudson) succumbs to the magic of Hoodoo because she believes in a supposed circle of protection against her pursuers. Turns out the circle is actually a cage to keep her in! Caroline would have been able to escape if she had kept her skepticism. “We’ve been waiting for you to believe,” Violet (Gena Rowlands) tells her. “It doesn’t work if you don’t believe.”
From all the ideas I have lined up, this will become a new series like Perusing Potter. A perfect place to start is with a fan-favorite narrative element: prophecy. The Power of Belief: Prophecy will address the role of fate, destiny, and predicting it in stories from as old as the Torah to Rick Riordan’s modern Greco-Roman pantheon, and how some characters live and die by them.
This quote from Varys in Tyrion ii, A Clash of Kings encapsulates my fervor for studying belief’s sway on the human condition:
“Just so . . . yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father? [. . .] Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or . . . another? [. . .] Power resides were men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
Power . . . yes indeed, Spider. The Power of Belief!
***This post is part of my The Power of Belief, a series delving into how belief shapes how we see our world, ourselves, and how we interact with others in reality and literature.***
*feature photo cred: Daniel Miessler [https://danielmiessler.com/blog/beware-alternate-meaning-loops/]