This is a rant. It’s a rant because, sometimes, you’ve heard something just one too many times. And sometimes, things link together in my head.
I had a conversation with a friend the other day. He was shaking his head over a girl he was seeing. She called herself a fantasy fan…but she had never read Joseph Campbell! HOW?!
I am a huge fantasy fan. I’ve never read Joseph Campell. And I lost my temper.
Because I have been told, over and over again, that my education is incomplete unless I’ve read X. I’m not a TRUE fan of a genre unless I’ve read Y, and I’m just not a nerd at all unless I’ve been blown away by Z.
My friend stated that Joseph Campbell is important because he felt that for any aspiring fan or writer, “A Hero’s Journey” would be required reading. The “methods section” of the fantasy genre, like how you have introduction to certain texts as a history major which introduce you to all the main concepts.
I disagree. Last I heard Joseph Campbell was an author (Edited to add: he was also an academic and mythologian who introduced really important concepts and tropes, like the hero’s journey, which are used to this day). He did a lot of really interesting work, but he is not a required gestalt for the enjoyment of fantasy. And I think it’s very possible to be an expert in something without having read the “must read” list of things that mostly old white guys have developed for us to be educated by. Does a person with a PhD and many publications in ancient Chinese history really need to read the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to be considered an educated individual? If you answer that with a “yes,” I’d really love to know your reasoning.
He may think that if you haven’t read Joseph Campbell you are an ill-educated fantasy reader. I might think that if you haven’t read Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley you are just as ill-educated.
Who is right? NEITHER OF US.
You don’t get to determine what inspires someone else or even what someone else considers good literature.
The “classics” do not define education in most subjects. I understood the concept of evolution long before I read Darwin, because I had read other books on the subject. After I read Darwin, I cannot say that I understood it any better. Darwin had the original concept, yes. He was really thorough about it, yes. But it is very possible to understand evolution without ever having read Darwin. It is possible to LOVE fantasy without ever having read the Silmarillion (heck, I have read it and I think it lessened my love of the genre slightly. Sorry, Tolkien).
Read what you like. Be inspired by what inspires you. Do not feel pressure to be inspired on someone else’s terms.
I was reminded of this argument again yesterday as I tweeted that I had watched the first episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. It was ok.
It was my first exposure to Cosmos. I have never seen the Carl Sagan version. I was too young for it, and was raised primarily on Bill Nye, Ranger Rick and the Magic School Bus (the “inside the body” book and episode sticks in my head today. INSPIRING AS ANYTHING). My parents are not scientists, and I’m not sure they’ve ever seen Cosmos either. I never even HEARD of it until, like Ed, I heard about it on twitter a few years ago, looked it up, and saw what it was.
But of course, on twitter, every time I reveal I haven’t seen the original Cosmos, I get a lot of “WHUT?!” “NO!” “HOW?!” I have even been told at times that I’m not a true science communicator because I haven’t seen it and been inspired by it.
THAT. IS. CRAP.
And I lost my temper again. At a poor tweep who didn’t know what they stepped in. Sorry @KeesEngels. It’s not you! It’s my past history of not having read Joseph Campbell!
— Sci Curious (@scicurious) March 11, 2014
It is completely possible to be inspired in science without having seen Carl Sagan. Heck, it is completely possible to have seen Carl Sagan, go “meh,” and be inspired by something else! Carl Sagan is probably (to this date, still haven’t seen it) great TV. Probably very inspirational to lots of people. I by no means want to knock good Sci Comm. But it won’t be inspirational to everyone. And that’s ok! Matthew Francis put it best.
That misconception says that there’s One True Path to get into science, and that you’re missing something if you went another way.
— Matthew R. Francis (@DrMRFrancis) March 11, 2014
It’s possible to be a great scientist and great communicator of science without ever having seen “Cosmos”. Get over it.
— Matthew R. Francis (@DrMRFrancis) March 11, 2014
People who require you to read or watch or be inspired by certain things are people who want to believe there is one TRUE path to science, fantasy, etc. The path they took, the true one, the best one.
Those people need to get over themselves.
Do not expect or require everyone to be inspired by the same things you are inspired by. Accept that what inspired you may NOT inspire someone else. Let’s all be inspired in our own way. After all, the point is the inspiration, not where it comes from.
*Footnote: My friend who was talking about Joseph Campbell recanted in the face of my arguments. Because he’s a cool guy. Also, I throw elbows when I argue.