Story Power: Jung, Fiction, and Culture

So, you can’t read much by a Jungian, or about Jung, without stories. I just finished Beyond Order and will have a review up later. I went on and got a hard copy, too, so I can annotate (and in case the e-book gets disappeared.) I suspect one reason why I find Peterson’s way of framing things so useful is because he is looking through Story.

That’s not to say that I agree with him 100%. I had to catch myself several times and remind myself that 1) he’s Of a Certain Age, and 2) Canadian. And an academic to an extent, so how he interprets certain things in the US is going to be rather skewed. His larger point is more important than the labels he chose to use.

Which brings us back to story. The realization that almost all people use stories to frame and explain the world was an important step that Jung took. Now, some of the stories can get skewed in the extreme (paranoid schizophrenia) or have become dysfunctional in the long run (the eternal victimhood of Muslims as the reason for All The Things.) What can work in the short term as a survival method becomes counterproductive in the long run. Humans are story-telling animals, after all, and some stories are fantastic. Others . . . not so great.

Reading outside my usual fiction areas has brought that back to my attention. Some of the paranormal romances tell a toxic story, once you get past the hormonal trappings. Predatory male forcibly seduces woman, who in the process decides that it’s not just OK but great because they are soul-mates. And he overrides her attempts to step away and buy a little mental space to sort things out. Stripped of the fantasy romance elements, that’s a horror story. We won’t even go into the [censored] stupid idea that “strong women whine about everything.” Because that’s what defines a strong woman in a profession – her constant self-centered whining. Thppppth, as Tay Chan would so eloquently phrase it.

Which leads me to wonder what kind of person finds that an encouraging and inspiring Story to read lots of. It’s going to imprint. That’s not great for the people around our reader. I know stories leave marks, especially on younger readers who devour a lot of them. I imprinted on things like the Coloured Fairy Books, Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmärchen, Kipling, the Heralds of Valdemar, and early Robin McKinley. And Francis H. Burnett. And then H. Rider Haggard, and Talbot Mundy, and . . . One effect of this is that I don’t quite fit into modern behavior patterns and ways of thinking. Happily, my employer is willing to tolerate a bit of eccentricity as long as it doesn’t detract from my getting done what needs to be done.

When an individual gets locked into a non-functioning story, it can be bad for them and the people closest to them. When large swaths of a society latch onto a non-functioning story, real trouble starts. “All our problems are the fault of [group here].” Or the current version of “Labor is the sole source of value for goods. If those who do the work take over the factories and government, remove non-workers, and run the world, after a while, paradise will ensue.” [And people wonder why “We’ll get it right this time!” evokes terror in the hearts and minds of people who study history and economics?]

I decided which stories I want to tell. So I tell those. They are a bit out of step with the official popular culture, but I think they are healthier for me to write and for most people to read. Not that it keeps bad things from happening to characters, because victory has to be earned, not given. Cheap victory is cheap, and rarely lasts. Lord Ivan’s not going to be defeated by a teaspoon of crushed garlic and a picture of a tropical beach. It’s going to take more than a sternly-worded memo to get the infernal being stalking Lelia and her family to cease and desist. Chemotherapy kills some healthy cells as well as the bad ones, and makes the host sick for a while in the process. It’s not easy to give up stories that make us feel good in the short term.

Which is part of Peterson’s point. Stories that comforted a child become potentially deadly to adults. We need stories that grow with us, and that are True in ways that many pop-culture narratives can’t match. Because the Truth will set us free, even though freedom might cost us some pain.

Now, if Lelia can just find a black, respectful, obedient Familiar . . .


9 thoughts on “Story Power: Jung, Fiction, and Culture

  1. The power of stories is one of the reasons I like Sir Pterry’s works so much. He’s quite explicit about the awesome power of Narrativium.

    There was even a web comic and role playing game called “Fuzzy Knights” about the power of stories, and how the narrative can run roughshod if you’re not careful.

  2. I see your point about the “Soul-Mated Powerful Male and Strong Female”.

    But the problem is that the readers of such stories have already fallen fiction to another toxic story.

    IE That They Don’t Need Men.

    So, this “Soul Mate” story (no matter how toxic) tells them that Those Powerful Males Need Them (the women) and Won’t Desert Them. 😦

      • There’s also “It’s horribly wrong to expect and demand a life of worth, love, sex, family, a feeling of it being okay to be feminine, and to accept only the attentions of a trustworthy man who makes one feel sexy and feminine.”

        The “rogue male” forces the woman to receive all these blessings, in a sort of dream fiction way, and therefore she’s not less feminist/socialist/career-minded/levelheaded; and does not have to admit that her current expectations and standards stink.

        So the “rogue male” is not any kind of realistic criminal vampire pirate lord knight alien. He’s a shrink putting a gun to the head of the fictional version of the reader, forcing the person to treat herself nicely for a while. Except with fictional rape and murder and kidnapping and love spells and so on.

        • Nod.

          That’s why I believe the readers of these “toxic stories” are already victims of another Toxic Story. 😡

          And yes, if the readers of those “toxic stories” imagine that the real life predators will fulfil the fictional toxic stories, then they are in Big Trouble.

        • Another thing I’ve noticed: It used to be difficult to run across the non-consensual kind of “romance,” except in certain well-defined subgenres. And paranormal romances didn’t use to have a lot of that. But now there is a lot of it all over the place, and particularly in paranormal.

          Part of it is the change from noir to other stuff, by Laurell K. Hamilton and those who followed her trend. But some of it, I think, is just that there are a lot more women who have a specific kind of damage. “I couldn’t possibly accept my own desires, which is why I’m reading a lot of creepy romance novels” is a pretty specific kind of damage.

          That said, there are people who read this stuff because they think it’s hilarious. And I don’t think there’s a good market survey on “really dark sense of humor romance readers.”

          (I find even Gothics kinda creepy, and I’ve never been fond of the amnesia plot, even. Personally I like romances about nice people having fun together, and even talking. But there you go.)

  3. I took up some of your books on a recommendation of one of the overgrown children in your writer and shooter association. I liked the substance and style, because you were using tried plot methods and narrative concepts from classic authors that I enjoy. The piggy bank regards me with dread, because a Familiar trend (“dressing the pig”) will happen shortly. The stories keep getting richer and deeper because the narrative adds and removes characters, situations, values, life and death issues.

  4. “We’ll get it right this time!” Sigh… Hasn’t happened yet, and won’t in my lifetime anyway… Good stories DO give us a break from reality, if only for a short time.

  5. I think we’d be better off with more stories about Jack, and fewer of foolish princesses.

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