I first read Frank Herbert’s Dune when I was in my tweens. I was reading a lot of Star Wars novels at the time, and I started looking for something a little meatier. While browsing the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble, I saw a “staff recommends” sign next to the small paperback copy of the book. The sign read, simply, “Read the book that inspired Star Wars!”
Done. I bought the book with my hard-earned lawn mowing money.
And I loved it. Especially the litany. I would recite the litany against fear when I was afraid to do something. Before tests. Before rollercoasters. Before asking a girl out.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing… only I will remain
I read Dune again recently for my monthly book club, and I still loved it. It held up. It might not have been as good as my nostalgia made me think it was, but it was still solid.
I also recently read Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule for the first time. It wasn’t very good, but it was recommended to me multiple times by many people. Did nostalgia make it seem better to those people than it was?
This week, National Geographic Channel began airing The ’90s: The Last Great Decade? It’s an intriguing look back at decade that I began as a child and ended a high schooler. Many of the images and stories shown still deeply affected me: the Berlin Wall crumbling, the giant fan gathering after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the missiles raining down in the Persian Gulf, Nancy Kerrigan’s anguished cry of “Why!?”
Memories began surrounding those moments. Where was I when I heard the news? When did I see them on TV? Who was reporting the news at the time? How did I feel? And the feelings I had at the time began to rush back. I was scared when I saw the images of the Gulf War. I was happy to see the people celebrating as the Wall came down.
Nostalgia is so powerful, but it’s a double-edged sword. I am who I am today not because of those things that happened, but how I remember them happening. I’ve recommended books, movies, video games, and foods based on my memory of them. But memory can be fooled pretty easily. Food that tasted AMAZING on a date with my wife might not taste as good to me when she’s not around. A song I remember listening to when I was carefree and driving around in my first car simply isn’t as good when I listen to it now (I’m looking at you, Meet Virginia).
Thankfully, Dune is good enough to stand up to my nostalgia. The Litany Against Fear still calms me down. But nostalgia is big business. There are whole websites dedicated to old video games, old toys, old candy, old things. These places count on you wanting to buy the stuff that made you happy when you were young, but beware–the things you loved as a kid probably aren’t as good as you think they are.
That doesn’t make the joy you had back then invalid. It doesn’t make your feelings about anything worthless; however, it might be good for us to realize that the lens we are looking through is rose colored. The past is great. We all had awesome times that we are fond of, but we shouldn’t long to be there again. We shouldn’t get stuck there. We should look forward to the new nostalgia we can make, try to make good memories today, and not fear the future.
After all, fear is the mind-killer.