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So exactly what possessed me to go see the animated feature film “UP” is still a bit of a mystery. There were lots of reasons not to do so: time, no sources would be cited, there was nothing to be learned about Gnosticism or early Christian history, no awe-inspiring science or psychology revelations had been advertised, and they weren’t serving beer. Nonetheless, much as I’ve discovered about mythology and metaphor in history, there was such TRUTH articulated by this cartoon myth, that I would soon be fighting actual tears. (For the record, I did NOT “cry,” but was simply “tearing-up,” which was merely correlated with the film; it would be a mistake to assign causality without more data. It could have been the hvac system.)

So what got me to go see the movie? Probably it was the great reviews; perhaps it was the thirteen year-old guest staying with our two kids, or Pixar’s record of entertaining movies. Regardless, what’s more astonishing about my attendance is that I don’t “do” fiction/fantasy in almost any form—which I know is heretical coming from a geek wannabe, an author of a novel (one with 100-plus factual endnotes I should add), and an upcoming panelist on skepticism and fiction at this year’s Dragon*Con (I’ll redeem myself shortly, I hope). But the fact is that I’m never able put down any of my several “in-progress,” non-fiction books long enough to even consider something like Harry Potter, or the latest from James Patterson.

But alas, as in recent years I’m starting to understand—in the words of Joseph Campbell—“The Power of Myth”; and this movie is a perfect example. The poignancy, humor, flow, and life-like animation of “UP” not only captured my attention, it captured my heart and articulated a great life principal for entrepreneurs and adventurer-wannabes like me. And while I’ve skied great mountains, scuba dived ocean depths below 250’ (on straight air), and soared above the clouds in cockpits, the heights of my life articulated by “UP” will easily transcend those, as well as the adventures left unaccomplished when my days are all used up.

Like so many moving stories that chronicle the entire lives of their central characters, this one shows the beauty, disappointment, wages of aging, and pain that are all a part of living. As I can assure you is correct, we post-boomers who were raised to believe we can do or be anything, at some point in life realize that it was never true; and even if it had been, it clearly no longer is.

But in that realization, we who transition that mid-life crisis/realization can find great liberation. If we are lucky, we might even discover one of the great secrets of the human universe: love. We might just find that the heights we yearned to attain on the mountains “over there,” are heights we never even noticed we had already achieved on this side of the valley. Instead, we failed to notice we had already reached the summit, we failed to deeply fill our lungs with the mountain air, we failed to drink in the aesthetic beauty, and in some cases we failed to stop and appreciate those close to us—in our climbing team—who had shared the journey with us. This is the strength and moral of “UP.”

When we skeptics talk reason, facts, and truth-driven thinking over emotion-driven thinking, it’s important to note that most of us aren’t anti-emotion, or anti-human, or anti-mythology. In fact, as great New Testament scholars like Robert M. Price or Bart D. Ehrman have argued, sometimes it is when we insist upon literalizing metaphor and stuffing it into a dogmatic orthodoxy established by force and evolution over many centuries—that we lose the truth of the metaphor. We bastardize the mythological truth while shooting for literal truth instead.

Similarly, my family has long had a joke about films or sitcom shows that cross that reality line to the extent they become unwatchable. We call them “Sponge-Bobby,” after the frustratingly stupid antics of a certain square-assed animated figure. But the cool thing about “UP,” for me, was the ease with which I could completely suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride on the floating house. I felt no need to literalize the fantasy, yet at the same time the quality of the animation, the fluid flow of the thousands of helium balloons rigged by the curmudgeonly Mr. Fredricksen, and the beauty of the story and dialogue—lent the film substantial plausibility.

So while I may be humbled beyond words to sit on the panel discussion on Fictional Writing and Skepticism at Dragon*Con, I’ve come a long way, in recent years, toward seeing the power of myth to express what reality often cannot. “UP” is exactly the type of example I could cite. Perhaps it didn’t enlighten me on science, evolutionary history, or the history of god-worship, but it did some of what those things often do not do as efficiently. It gave me insights into the meaning of life, love, and the interconnectedness of our human experiences. After all, in the end, is either knowledge or experience of any value if not shared?

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(By Stephen L. Gibson, freely circulate with citations, CC 2009, Attribution-No Derivatives; and