In a 2004 book, "The Seven Basic Plots," the aptly named British author Christopher Booker maintains that most stories, from ancient tales to the box-office hit you just saw at the shopping mall multiplex, arise from one or a combination of a few deeply rooted structures: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth.
The rebirth story tells of a hero or heroine's redemption from a deathlike state that may be physical or may be the result of moral or spiritual collapse or paralysis. Booker traces it all the way from tales like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White" to works of literature like "A Christmas Carol," "Silas Marner" and "Crime and Punishment" — even the Beethoven opera "Fidelio."
Of course, on this Easter Sunday we don't have to strain to know why we always find such stories so appealing — so right. Easter tells believing Christians in no uncertain terms that the ultimate triumph of life over death is part of a divine plan. And this holiday arrives just as the change of seasons symbolizes this by showing that winter was merely a season of dormancy, not death, and that life ultimately cannot be defeated.
On April 22, the other great spring festival of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Passover, will arrive, bringing a complementary message: Human freedom — what this nation's founders called the exercise of unalienable rights endowed by the Creator — is also part of the divine plan. It's not just happenstance that the same pattern recurs throughout history, with different vainglorious fools playing the part of the pharaoh, but the same ultimate outcome.
Both holidays bring a message of hope and renewal. That message is always needed. The news, foreign and domestic, always has a full quotient of misery caused by violence, fanaticism, malice and all sorts of other folly, as well as what William Ernest Henley called "the bludgeonings of chance."
The point of Easter and Passover is not that life is always wonderful, but that the bad things are not the whole story — and not even the biggest story. They tell us that as our Creator has not given up on us, the worst sin would be to give up on ourselves or on each other. When you get right down to it, optimism and appreciation of the blessings we already have are the only sensible ways to approach life. It's remarkable how few good decisions come out of despair or a sense of grievance.
You can't report on any community long without finding countless examples of the love, compassion, tolerance and ingenuity of so-called ordinary people. Malice and bad luck are passing things, like the winter. Spring always comes back, as do Easter and Passover. And hope endures.
One rebirth story Booker did not catalog is the Stephen King novella that was turned into a much-loved 1994 movie, "The Shawshank Redemption." In it, the hero, Andy Dufresne, counsels his best friend: "Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
As always, we wish all of our readers a happy Easter.