Shannon Barnsley

My humanities professor once asked why I was pursuing writing instead of the ancient epics I had studied for three years. He said that my interest in religion and mythology couldn’t just be that of someone mining for ideas, looking for something to write about. What I didn’t say then, but wish I had, was that I don’t love epics because I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer because I love epics.

I don’t want to write about Homer or Snorri Sturluson or Vatsyayana. I want to be Homer or Snorri Sturluson or Vatsyayana. I am a storyteller. I always have been. It’s who I am. It’s what I am. And, since we no longer keep a bard around to entertain us during the pre-Netflix winter nights, writing it is. The Homers of today are J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson, so that’s what I want to do and where my passions have led me.

My senior thesis in college was aptly titled, “The Bard is Dead, Long Live the Bard: Contemporary Fiction as Modern Myth”. We haven’t lost our collective love for story or our primal need for it. It’s just found new outlets, new modes of delivery, and new media. It is not lost on me that I am writing this as people eagerly await the chance to see the new Star Wars movie with an almost religious fervor, gathering together and making a pilgrimage to take in a story that draws on so many others before it and has inspired countless more since.

Star Wars is easily one of the most resonant stories of the last fifty years. Luke Skywalker graces the cover of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces along with Gilgamesh. His story and archetype is one that has been told a hundred times before and will be told a hundred times again. Why? Because we lack imagination? Or is it that we are still those same people, huddled around a fire (or perhaps an iPad screen), as a bard spins us a tale at once familiar and new.

Our stories may change and adapt with us. Their themes may evolve with our own times and our own struggles. Our heroes may take new forms as our ideals shift. But the essence of the hero and his journey is always there, in some form or another. The stories remain. And so do the bards. It is an unbroken tradition going back since time beyond memory. I wish to be a part of that tradition, whether I am remembered or fade into the long line of those who have come and gone. That is why I studied epics. That is why I write.