Be Greater: The Power of Fictional Characters

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As I’ve grown up, I have attained the belief that we, as people, are characters. That may seem like a bizarre statement to say the least, but let me expound. In my Basic Christian Beliefs class last year, we discussed the truth that God is the ultimate creator. The evidence for this truth is in our surroundings: the flora, fauna, landscapes, but most importantly, us- humans. In Genesis, it is stated that we are created in God’s own image. Therefore, if God is a creator, so are we. God inspires himself and his own characteristics into his creations. Because of this, we are natural creators, and deeper still, we are storytellers.

With all that being said, it’s all the clearer why we have many great fictional characters that we can relate to on an emotional level. My faith in God has helped me understand and appreciate humanity’s creations and the stories told within them. Furthermore, it has helped me find a sense of identity in a time when I was lost and needed guidance. No other character has been as influential as Peter Parker, better known as the Amazing Spider-Man.

I am a nerd, and I always have been. There is an abundance of fictional universes such as Star Wars, Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. that have incredible depth and emotional relevance in my life. If you know who I am, I’m the residential Star Wars and Spider-Man guy. I continuously wear comic book t-shirts, carry keys with a Spidey bobblehead, and even have my own custom lightsaber. It can sometimes be a little ridiculous. I have always loved these franchises and universes since I was a little boy, but my admiration and connection to these characters have grown exponentially as I’ve aged.  They have created a profound impact on my life; but it’s not just because of the intense action, high stakes, grand spectacle, and dramatic scenes. At the core of these stories and universes are the characters that I so deeply love. Spider-Man is undoubtedly the character who I resonate with the most.

I could get into a lot of the reasons why I love Spider-Man; He’s a skinny, dark-haired, unpopular, nerdy kid who is almost always picked on. These are all highly important attributes for my relation to him, but not the highlight. The most important takeaway, above all, is that Peter Parker is a fictional representation of a real human, who faces struggles, and overcomes them. In the comics, Peter is constantly being torn down and built back up. When he was first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Peter started at a neutral level but had much growing to do. He was a poor, orphaned teenager who lived with his elderly aunt and uncle in Queens, New York. He’s humbled by this love because of their financial troubles and living situation, but still has a chip on his shoulder. Peter is then gifted with these amazing spider-powers, but because of his folly and selfishness, his father figure, Uncle Ben, is murdered in cold blood by the same criminal he could have stopped. This is the first major arc for his character, as he is constructed and then deconstructed as a character. He overcomes this by becoming a better man, using his powers responsibly. Peter’s journey continuously lets him grow. Each excruciating hardship he faces, he rises above. This message reflects our own lives. We experience this type of character development.

What helped me identify this was, again, Spider-Man. In 2014, I was around 15 years old and a freshman in high school. At the time, I liked a girl and inevitably experienced my first heartbreak. It was horrible. Back then it felt like the absolute lowest point of my life and, frankly, I didn’t know how to escape it. I felt trapped in a pit and didn’t know how to move on. One night I finally broke down and just… cried. My father, wanting to cheer me up, allowed me to buy a movie. I decided to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie which I had already seen once or twice before, but I needed something to get my mind off things and distract me from the worries of life. Immediately after finishing the film, I gathered a message that I now carry for the rest of my life. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I’ll avoid spoilers. In the movie, Peter loses the closest person in his life. He’s already lost his Uncle and now he’s lost someone else. This loss absolutely breaks Peter, putting him into a severe state of depression and heartache. He possessed no motivation to live his life and he quits being Spider-Man altogether. At that moment, I had never related to a character more. I certainly hadn’t lost a loved one, but I still felt pain and darkness consuming me. My heartbreak was dragging me down. Peter and I were in the same boat.

But then Peter is told this: “There will be days where you feel all alone. And that’s when hope is needed most. No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me, that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer. My wish for you is to become hope. People need that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?”

Peter realizes he needs to be greater and push through his pain. This quote not only sparked the motivation for Peter to overcome his depression but helped me as well. Beyond that message, I also started embracing my true nature once again. This is the power of fictional characters. They can teach us lessons about ourselves that we may not have found otherwise.

As bizarre or strange as it may sound, I firmly believe God used- and continues to use- Spider-Man, or more importantly, the man behind the mask. Peter is someone I can strive to be like in my day-to-day life. I believe this isn’t just exclusive to me, either. Every person has a character they can relate to, whether it’s Finn from Adventure Time, Hercules, Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, or any number of other fictional characters. Each person has their own story and a character they can identify with, pushing them to be the best version of themselves possible. They help “make us who we are… carry[ing] a piece of each other into everything that we do next. To remind us of who we are. And of who we’re meant to be.” Through them, we can be greater. That’s what Spider-Man has taught me.