I’m deeply fascinated by storytelling. Think about some of your favorite fictional pieces. Whether it’s a book, a movie or even a poem — these are all facets for storytelling. When I think of some of my favorite stories, the list is way too long to write out. Some days, my brain goes to a lot of traditional stories. I think of Aesop’s fables, Grimm’s fairy tales or even some iconic superhero tales from the 20th century. One thing these stories all have in common is their mark on the modern landscape of writing, as well as on society. These guys have so much societal pressure to tell stories that can potentially be taught in schools for years. With that being the case, it’s indisputable that every storyteller has a colossal amount of expectations. More importantly, however, they have a responsibility when crafting their vision, regardless of the medium.
When I think of classic literature, a book that comes to mind is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I remember reading this back in freshman year of high school, years ago. This novel is a damn juggernaut in the “books your high school teacher overanalyzed” bracket. Jokes aside, there’s a reason this book is so widely taught. What’s impressive about this novel is how it aimed to teach a lesson to a young adult audience (which is that even when the vast majority is against you, always do the right thing), yet its subject matter and themes are very mature and adult.
This book tackles some nuanced themes, ranging from sexual assault, racism and morality. Atticus Finch, arguably the most popular character from the novel, encapsulates this. In a time period and town where racism was common, Atticus sticking to his beliefs and doing what he believes is right is one of the main lessons in the book. Racism was very common in the time this book was published. When I was a kid reading this, I got the gist of this lesson. As an adult now, I have nothing but appreciation and respect for the author.
Back when I was a kid, I would look at these highly respected stories, and I wouldn’t really think twice. Well, that of course depended on the nature of the story. By nature, I mean if it had anything to do with superheroes, particularly Spider-Man. Oh boy, I’m writing about Spidey again — take a shot. As goofy as superheroes are, something about them permanently marked my psyche when I was a kid in an infectious way. It may be due to them being above all else aimed at children, but even as an adult, I have a newfound respect and love for these stories that shaped me.
When I was a kid though, growing up I made it my purpose to live by the words and code my heroes followed. I loved Spider-Man, so the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” was a household phrase for me. When I was a kid, I would always do my best to be nice to the kids and people around me. I would always think about how Spider-Man is always nice to people, and does his best to help out those around him. Is this incredibly childish? Yes. Is it wholesome? I would also say, yes. And this is the responsibility writers have. They have a great power to influence loads of people with their work, and I’d argue they should use that power for good.
I view a character like Spider-Man, now that I’m an adult, in a different light. I look back on my childish love for him, and I can’t help but appreciate the character even more now. That’s the true beauty of superheroes, or just characters in fiction that we grow up loving. Paragons, like a larger than life superhero or a humble lawyer, can teach children and young adults to do the right thing. Not just children, but even adults or anyone of any age. This is the power that storytellers have. One could say that along with this power comes a great responsibility. A responsibility to include characters that teach us to be better, no matter what stage in our lives we are in.
Nicolas Scagnelli is a senior majoring in English.