Have you ever wondered how it is that in a universe where a superhero is freakishly discovered, a super villain seems to coincidentally appear at around the same time. Whether the hero arrives from space, is bitten by an insect or involved in some kind of scientific accident, they rarely materialise in the universe by design but hot on their heels is usually someone with similar or equal powers who wants the opposite to them.
It is as if these fictional universes are set on giant sets of scales and the fragile balances must be maintained. Such questions have got my attention over the years and when I found the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell I started to understand.
Stories have developed out of teaching rather than entertainment (but possibly a bit of both). Stories are where wisdom is passed on between generations and it is upon a foundation of stories that cultures are built. When you read a story it is a metaphor for your mind and there are clues in the story structure and events that teach you how to survive on the psychological plane of your existence.
The hero, or protagonist, represents The Ego of the reader. The world of the story is the mind of the reader and the villain is The Shadow.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung explains that The Ego is the person that you chose to be but you were born with the personality traits, capabilities and values that you did not choose as well and they are all still within you. They did not go anywhere. You may tap into them every now and again, as none of us are purely one way or the other and we all act out of character from time to time. Then there are the traits and values that are the complete opposite of the ones we have chosen, we cannot dip into those every now and again as they are complete contradictions to what we have become, to who we are so they remain deeply buried in the subconscious mind. If they are are completely suppressed then they can become autonomous and start attacking the conscious realm and the equilibrium of your external world.
Here you have the Super Hero story. The Super Hero is you, The Ego, represents everything that is good. The super villain is the The Shadow – the opposite but of equal strength. The Shadow is not necessarily evil – it is just the opposite of everything that you are and so, as we like to think of ourselves as good, the poor misunderstood Shadow becomes bad.
This battle is a delicate one most of the time – just a little push and shove to keep the equilibrium in place but when this battle gets out of hand, Carl Jung might describe this scenario as psychosis – elements of the subconscious mind becoming independent from conscious control and attacking the balance and equilibrium of the conscious world. In fiction we call this Super Hero Vs Super Villain.
Sequels are not just money spinners either. You can never fully defeat your Shadow as the Ego and Shadow are two extremes of the same person – neither can exist without the other. So it is never long after one villain is defeated that another emerges or the original is resurrected somehow. That's good because it keeps the creators writing, it keeps the readers reading or audiences revisiting cinemas. In the realm of the mind it just keeps us ticking!
These epic battles between good and bad are great in the pages of a book or comic and increasingly spectacular on the screen, but how do you keep a confrontation in your mind getting out of hand? Carl Jung said that the further from your conscious mind things get the more risk of them becoming autonomous and therefore waging war so when you get those dark thoughts, don't be ashamed of them, acknowledge them, thank them even but don't submit to them. Always be changing, trying new things, learning, exploring new ideas and trying different values on for size to see how they fit. Live a varied and open life and you will feed your mind well and keep it healthy. The Shadow is in there but don't give it a reason to get all stroppy!
My novel, I Am You, explores this idea of Ego and Shadow in numerous different levels, but there are no super heroes, as things in this world are more supernatural than superpower. The Ego and Shadow in I Am You are key to the secrets of life and death and the reuniting of the two is the key to conclusion to the book. Take a look or subscribe to my newsletter for Bungee a free short story introducing the main story.