While the art of telling stories is hard to master, the basic syntax is surprisingly simple. The large majority of books and movies follow some variation on a standard template. Very simply put, it goes like this:
Harmony – harmony threatened/lost – hero enters – hero overcomes trials – harmony restored.
We like stories like this. Why? Because we like the idea that good will prevail in the end. We can identify with the loss of harmony and the trials, but we so want to believe in the Hollywood ending. We want to sing with Bob Marley: Everything’s gonna be alright.
But it doesn’t always turn out that way, does it? Real life is not Hollywood. And sometimes the happy ending is lost. It becomes even worse if we see the hero, but he fails to overcome the trials. We get our hopes up, only to be let down. When you’re neck-deep in the trials, do you really know how the ending will be? The more dramatic the story, the less faith on the part of the hero.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo did give up hope before the end, and only by Sam’s assistance did he conquer and succeed. What if Sam hadn’t been with him? What if Frodo had failed his task and was captured by Sauron? No one would have been alive to tell the story (unless you speak Orcish).
The hero can be a person, but it can also be an idea. Take spring. Very appropriately, the hope of spring came early this year, with days of 18 degrees even in March. We Danes love speaking about the weather, seeing it as a major accomplishment simply surviving yet another winter. But what happened? Our hopes were ruined, and now we’re back to sub-zero night temperatures, and white flurries in April. What if spring never came?
Then take the aptly named Arab Spring of last year. Suddenly, it seemed, people from all over the Middle East were swept away by waves of hope: hope of freedom and prosperity. Governments have been overthrown in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. But what about the hopes of the people of Syria? Their country is still not free, and some estimates count 12,000 deaths to date in the uprising.
Not that far away, a similar story played out a number of years ago. An oppressed people in a Middle Eastern state, longing for freedom, yearning for redress after centuries of pain and disappointment. A new hero enters the stage, and many people believe that this time it’s for real. Finally, the Arab Spring had come (or was it Jewish?).
But the hero doesn’t win. He is misunderstood, and then he is betrayed and killed by his own people. The very people he came to save. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” one of his few followers says in despair while walking the long, hard road back to where he came from. No Hollywood ending. No hope. This was anything but a Good Friday.