“Of course, there are universal rules to which all goodness must conform. But that’s only the grammar of virtue. It’s not there that the sap is. He doesn’t make two blades of grass the same: how much less two saints, two nations, two angels. The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is alive in every real people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China, why, then it will be spring.”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength[1]

“He doesn’t make two blades of grass the same, much less two saints, two nations.” With that recognition of the spark of the divine, the imprint of God in an act of cultural imago Dei which is the face of God uniquely seeded in all cultures, C.S. Lewis sounds an optimistic note that resonates throughout many of the heroic, coming of age stories produced by Disney Pictures for emergent (though often long-established) cultures and Studio Ghibli. This statement by Lewis is reflected in his Abolition of Man treatise on the state of moral education, as he provides an appendix chronicling the universal moral code found throughout all of the world’s great cultures. That he gives the code an Eastern name, the Tao, and cites the Indian moral code of the Rta as well as that of the Ancient Greeks speaks of his conviction that such sparks of a divine code can be found in all cultures. We will trace these virtues by examining various heroic Disney films set in the diverse cultures of many lands: the Latin American culture in Coco (2017), African-American culture in Soul (2020, augmented by perspectives from Black Panther and Coming 2 America), Middle Eastern culture in Aladdin (2019), Chinese culture in Mulan (2020) and the cultures of Southeast Asia in Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). The list of Disney films is augmented by Hiyao Miyazaki’s critically acclaimed anime Spirited Away (2001); a series of his Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films have played annually in American theaters in recent years, showing their global appeal. The moral courage required of the typically young heroes in these works will be shown to reflect values found in the literature, both classic and contemporary, from their respective cultures. The lessons and values, however, are universal and amount to those of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the One Ring of Power: basic human values like dignity, love, and respect are at risk from those who would exploit others. Heroes, however personally flawed they might be, fight for these values which cloak humanity in its dignity; superheroes are simply heroes somehow granted special powers. Invoking the element of the fantastic in stories with heroic struggles dominates the fantasy genre (in which the world itself is a fantastic creation), and fuels the more recent literary tradition of magical realism. As the genre of magical realism is used in literature from around the globe, a quick survey of its history can help us empathize with issues faced by the cultures presented here.

The genre of magical realism (a variant of sorts of both surrealism and fantasy) was initiated in the 1920s by German art critic Franz Roh and describes highly realistic portrayals which yet hint at the magical nature of the world. It soon carried over into the literary field by predominantly Latin American authors and artists, the genre often being referred to as lo real maravilloso (marvelous realism) and realism magico. The magically real is distinguished from its cousin surrealism, typically a projection of the psychological, and from fantasy, as it uses a primarily realistic rather than fantastic world.

The genre was re-introduced by Colombian author Gabriel Marcel Marquez’s 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it has influenced literature in Japan, the Middle East, and Africa among other areas, though one can even claim the pedigree for the stories of Mark Twain and Southern Renaissance/Gothic works by William Faulkner. For Marquez and others who employ such fantastic elements, the effect is to ennoble national mythologies and counter the depressing realism of modern rationality in its often capitalist and imperialist guises. As one summary states:

Various critics have used [the term magical realism] to characterize texts of other so-called emergent cultures . . . as well as texts of migrant literature . . . [and] underscored its function as a differential mode of literary expression that valorizes a discourse whose perceptual orientation is essentially non-Western.[2]

In Japanese literature, the genre is used to critique Japanese society itself, as in its modernization efforts to emulate the West, critics claim that they suppressed their own cultural traditions.

Missiologists as well recognize that non-Western cultures are more accepting of non-rational, if not fantastic, aspects of reality. Paul Hiebert describes a “middle level of supernatural this-world beings and forces” as an “excluded middle” between the worlds of science and religion as typically understood by Westerners. Whereas modern, rational, and scientifically sophisticated Westerners tend to see the world as lifeless matter controlled by impersonal forces, “many tribal religionists see the world as alive.”[3] Leslie Newbigin, missiologist to India, argued that the Western mindset often discounted this perspective, and Christian missions became one of the greatest secularizing forces in history.[4] Superheroes (or mythical heroes, such as Aladdin or arguably Mulan), whether supported by current trends in literature, seen at the movies, or resonating with long held worldviews, are particularly helpful in understanding the hopes and fears of any culture, Western or non-Western.

As we move from West to East, we pair recent (and typically Disney) films with novels from the cultures examined, considering the role and perspective of faith for each. In this way, we can better understand Latin America (Disney’s Coco paired with Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude), the Middle East (Disney’s Aladdin and various versions of The Thousand and One Nights), African American culture (Disney’s Soul, Black Panther, and Paramount’s Coming 2 America, and various African post-colonial authors), China (Disney’s Mulan and the Tale of the Red Chamber from the 1800s), Southeast Asia and India (Raya and the Last Dragon and Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children), and finally Japan (Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and the medieval The Tale of Genji and some contemporary works of Haruki Murakami), and better understand the values which make today’s heroes.

Coco: Where the Magic and the Music All Begins

Coco, like all of the films and their heroes reviewed here, is a coming-of-age tale and features a 12-year-old boy Miguel who struggles to find his identity as a musician though his family is the only one in Mexico which hates music.[5] The story is set around the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead, a traditional holiday to honor ancestors. It arguably originated as the Catholic All Saints Day of remembrance and prayers for the deceased (though some claim its origins in ancient Aztec rituals). It has become a secular, national holiday and a symbol of common heritage in modern times. Today, it is regarded more as a day of celebration than mourning, as a quip describes it with “there is more life than time,” celebrating the enduring legacy of the past.[6]

For Miguel, finding himself involves a struggle both against and for his family. His grandmother Coco was abandoned as a child by her musician father, after which her family survived as shoemakers (“music tore the family apart, but shoes brought them together”); as a result, Miguel is forbidden from pursuing the career he loves, despite aspiring to be a great guitarist like the famous Ernesto whom he deduces to be his great-great-grandfather. When Miguel takes Ernesto’s famous guitar from a display after his own is destroyed by his grandmother, he gains the ability to see and communicate with his departed ancestors whom he visits in the Land of the Dead. Miguel is also cursed, however, as by stealing from the dead he loses contact with the living; the curse can only be reversed by gaining a blessing from an ancestor. Since Miguel can receive a blessing from his great-great-grandmother only on the condition that he give up music, he instead seeks out Ernesto to prove himself and receive a blessing. Fate tricks Miguel, however, when he discovers Ernesto is not the great ancestor he seeks, but his actual great-great-grandfather’s nemesis who stole both his music and his life. The story’s moral of the importance of both love and sacrifice for family is wrapped neatly in Ernesto’s famous song, “Remember Me,” which turned out to be a song written by Miguel’s actual great-great-grandfather for his baby daughter Coco. Upon learning this, Miguel finds that he is finally proud of his family.

Miguel’s heroism consists of enduring various challenges to find his great-great-grandfather as well as to help him return to the land of the living to once more see Coco. Family is particularly important in Latin American culture, a reflection ultimately of how the Christian Trinity is a family into which we are invited. Anselm claimed that love is the root of the Trinity, “from the Father and the Son together, floods forth . . . Love” and “Love can be called the Spirit of the Father and the Son,” Paul claims we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,” and Jesus declared that “I call you not servants, but . . . friends, for all that I have heard from the Father I have shared with you.” [7] [8] [9] Aristotle’s observation that “man is a political animal . . . [since] a social instinct is implanted in all men by nature” has no higher fulfilment in the family and ultimately in the divine communion which is God’s family.[10]

In an optimistic Disney moment, Miguel sings his father’s song with the lyrics “the world is my family, and music is my language,” which evokes imagery from John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad! that the divine music of worship by the nations and the redeemed is God’s purpose for this world, and from Lewis who applauded the diversity of God’s creation, considering that “if all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note.”[11] [12] The heroic, musical Miguel can teach us the importance of loyalty to and sacrifice for family, as well as the joy of music, all of which reflect a deeper meaning and glory.

Latin American literature reflects the centrality of family, as well as indigenous and foreign influences on the Latin culture. Colombian author Marquez’s 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a key work for understanding contemporary Latin American literature and culture. Fantastic happenings are included in his story of the mythical Latin American town of Macondo and the Buendia family. They endure the disruptions of dictatorships, corporate exploitation, and consequences of actions from previous generations while otherwise enjoying fantastic events such as rainstorms of flowers, supernatural curses and blessings, and prophecies concerning their fate. Marquez claims to have simply told such fantastic tales in the manner of the stories he heard from his parents and grandparents, with fantastic features told with straight faces alongside accounts of family history.[13]

The struggles of not just family but gender inform his novel, as Marquez admitted his view of the sexes comes out in 100 Years and other works, namely “that women uphold the social order with an iron hand while men travel the world bent on endless folly, which pushes history forward;” the conflicts of an originally matrilineal culture with the influx of a hierarchical European society and the resulting machismo is a continuing tension in the everyday Latin American life depicted.[14] Otherwise, Marquez’s main claim in the sprawling story is that the obsession with pride in all its forms, whether of power or love, eroded the ability to love and their very humanity, resulting in a solitude broken only by humility. As Lewis declared in his space trilogy, set on the gender-significant planets Malacandra (the very male Mars), Perelandra (a feminine and procreative Venus), and Tellus (earth, with a theme of marriage from the opening word), “humility is an erotic necessity.”[15] Lewis further claims that gender relations are ultimately symbolic of deeper, magical one might say, spiritual reality, in which “what is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it,” though here on earth “obedience and rule are more like a dance than a drill – specially between man and woman where the roles are always changing.”[16] Superheroes need more than their superpowers, they need the humility which turns their powers towards love and service rather than to self.

Soul: Moments of Joy and a Far-Off Country

Disney’s Soul, while set in America, tells a story much like that of Disney’s Black Panther (2018) or even Paramount’s Coming 2 America (2021), namely the struggles of Africans in the modern world.[17] Black Panther showed Africans as capable and advanced, yet wise and compassionate as Wakandans sought to offer their blessings to all Africans spread abroad (and the world in general); like so many Disney films reviewed here, it also showed women as capable and intelligent. In Hamilton, the immigrant-themed Broadway production, both racial empowerment (“But we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me,” the Revolutionary Laurens declares) and female empowerment (“I’m a compel him to include women in the sequel,” Angelica retorts to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that “All men are created equal”) are stressed.[18] [19] Both Black Panther and Hamilton were reviewed in An Unexpected Journal’s Fall 2018 “Courage, Strength and Hope” themed issue.[20] Paramount’s Coming 2 America is a story of remaining loyal to oneself, as King Akeem’s American son Lavelle ultimately, like Akeem as a young prince, leaves Zamunda to pursue his own course; it also shows female empowerment, as Princess Meeka, like Jasmine in Aladdin, finally garners her father’s respect enough to be given rule of the kingdom instead of being married off to a foreign prince.

Soul takes a more subtle path in depicting the issues facing African Americans. Set in New York City and featuring aspiring jazz musician Joe Gardner, a high school music teacher waiting for his opportunity, Soul shows the problems of young African Americans aspiring to jobs and careers unavailable to their ancestors. Joe falls into a manhole and finds himself in the “Great Beyond,” where he is unwilling to proceed to death so escapes to the “Great Before,” where souls are prepared for life. Joe is mistakenly assigned to mentor 22, a timid soul unwilling to engage life.

Joe strikes a deal in which he will help 22 find her “spark,” her character traits and purpose, which she will then give him so he can return to his life (his body is in a coma in the hospital), and she can return to “living her non-life” in her comfortable routine. In their existential journeys, Joe manages to return to Earth, but 22 ends up in his body while he inhabits a feline sidekick. This begins 22’s journey to finding her spark, which becomes a process of not simply determining an ultimate purpose (such as Joe’s lifetime ambition to a professional jazz career) but of finding joy and meaning in the everyday moments of life, including simple pleasures like pizza, lollipops, and enjoying Joe’s gift of appreciating and performing music. While 22 advances her sense of life, Joe retreats in his, slowly realizing that his career obsession caused him to miss the beauty around him. The film ends when Joe coaches 22 through his big opportunity, performing in a local jazz club, after which he realizes an emptiness to the experience and realizes how much he valued teaching young and struggling musicians. 22, however, is finally ready for the adventure of living, and she finds a way to begin hers while Joe returns, wisened and joyful, to living himself.

Soul offers wisdom that transcends a particular cultural experience, but it is also suited for the African American community. The moral feels like that of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town (1938), in which a young Emily Gibbs of turn-of-the-century Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, after dying while giving birth, returns to earth for the day of her twelfth birthday. Emily dwells on the beauty of living life moment by moment, bemoans how so much of life resembles that of Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude with people “trampling on the feelings of those about [you] . . . spend[ing] and wast[ing] time as though you had a million years . . . always at the mercy of one self-centered passion or another,” and asks “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it . . . every, every minute?” which receives the answer “No. Saints and poets, maybe . . . they do some.”[21]

But the choice “to work to live” over that “to live to work” is highly relevant to current generations of African American youths, claims critic Timothy Thomas. Citing director Pete Docter’s post-production comment that “as wonderful as these projects are, there’s more to living than a singular passion” and “sometimes the small insignificant things are what it’s really all about,” Thomas balances the purposive thrust of such popular books as Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life with the need to find meaning in everyday moments for those of us struggling with simply paying our bills. [22] This contrasts starkly with the theme of sacrificing love for career in the youthful LaLaLand.[23] The message is particularly relevant for young African Americans, Thomas claims, as their generation is tempted by career opportunities denied to that of their parents and grandparents.

Director Docter only came to realize this once the decision was made for the film to be cast around jazz, a uniquely African American phenomena. Like life, improvisational jazz music does not always follow a script, an insightful metaphor. Jazz’s improvisation also symbolizes how African Americans “have historically found a way to make a way out of no way, and make good against the odds, whether turning the worst parts of the pig into soul food, the worst urban conditions into a billion-dollar-a-year rap music industry” or in the successes built upon the Negro League baseball, “the beauty of black people is in the ability to be unwanted and still create gold.”[24] Thomas further observes that the tension between Joe and his mother, between his dreams and her pushing him towards a full time, paying job, resonates with today’s young African Americans, adding that they often have to pay a higher sacrifice to achieve the same standard of living as others.

The problem of a culture finding its true voice, the lesson that Joe and 22 learned together, is repeated throughout the postcolonial literature coming from Africa. Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed African trilogy (Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960), and Arrow of God (1964)) follows an Igbo tribe in precolonial Nigeria as European steelers arrive in the late nineteenth century. Things Fall Apart, its title derived from a W.B. Yeats’ poem, is the signature work of the series, centered on the heroic struggles of a wrestling champion and warrior, Okwonko.[25] Okwonko is flawed, being unkind and cruel to his own family, but he defends his tribe’s traditions against the newcomers. When violence escalates and Okwonko is arrested, he begins to realize that traditional forms of resistance (acts of war) are becoming passe, and finally kills himself rather than face a colonial court. Okwonko thus embodies the struggle between tradition and modernity, and he shows how a hero can have both good intentions and personal flaws. Achebe repeats this theme of the hero trapped between two cultures when he explores the ironies of twentieth century life in postcolonial Africa in A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Other postcolonial African writers can be found in the Barbara H. Solomon edited Other Voices,Other Vistas: Short Stories from Africa, China, India, Japan and Latin America (2002).

Literature from North Africa explores the same bi-cultural struggle but with a greater use of fantastic elements. North African sociologist and novelist Abdelkebir Khatibi claims there is a liminality, a space between, indigenous and invading (Western, colonial) cultures where meaning must be found; this theme echoes throughout his sociological work (Multiple Maghreb, 2019) and novels (Love in Two Languages, 1990, Tattooed Memory, 2016). Khatibi’s novels throb with the fantastic, as turbulent ocean waves embody the instability of living in between two cultures and of a romance between a French woman and Arabic man. Fellow Moroccan novelist, once a philosopher, Tahar ben Jelloun uses fantastic characters from both Argentine fantasy author Jorge Luis Borges and The Thousand and One Nights in his novel The Sand Child (1985) to confuse any traditional, Western form of narrative.

While various works of postcolonial literature call into question the difference between cultural and enduring values, the lessons of Soul speak loudly. Just as Joe and 22 needed to learn to engage life as it came rather than imposing their plans on it, so do historically marginalized, now postcolonial, cultures feel the need to often resort to their own experience and forms of wisdom rather than those imposed on them. The truths will be the same, but it helps to see them expressed in one’s own language; the face may change, but the name remains the same. They can follow Wilder’s moment-by-moment relishing of life and beauty, following Ecclesiastes 3:11 which declares that “God has put eternity in our hearts,” though even that may be insufficient. Lewis found that such moments could provide the clue to a deeper, more enduring meaning. William Wordsworth found that momentary joys sadly vanished, as he tried in vain to recall the face of his deceased infant daughter in his poem Surprised by Joy, which Lewis took as the title for autobiography.[26]

Lewis, however, found that the pangs of joy he discovered in certain moments were merely hints of something more enduring, of an ideal country of which he could only dream. “In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country . . . [it is] a secret we cannot hide and cannot tell . . . because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience” and “we cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it;” we simply “call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.”[27] Wordsworth could not solve this puzzle, he simply sought “to identify it with certain moments in his own past” Lewis declares.[28] Instead, Lewis argues that “the books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through was longing;” the things themselves, if “mistaken for the thing itself, turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.”[29] Instead, Lewis found that all such moments and objects, “if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate,” saying :Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”[30] Lewis learned that what he sought was not Joy, but a Person, that of God. After his conversion, he came to view the momentary joys of life as mere signposts, they “were valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer,” though “when we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter.”[31] What does this have to say for the heroism of Joe and 22 who seek meaning in the moments of beauty in life? The search for such beauty is but a first step. The heroics of modern day Africans and African Americans, caught between two cultures, can show true nobility as well as the inevitable human flaws we all possess. Whatever wrongs can be righted, however, are merely hints of a far-off country which, as Lewis reminds us, is a secret but one suggested by experience everywhere .

Aladdin: The Magic of Humble Voices

The history of The Thousand and One Nights shows it as a representative and beloved compilation of Middle Eastern tales, despite its relatively late discovery. The Arabian Nights, the title given to the first English language edition compiled between 1706 and 1721 upon discovery by French archaeologist and orientalist Antoine Galland, originally had just a few hundred tales, though more have been collected over the centuries to literally fulfill its title regarding the 1,001 nights during which Scheherazade told tales to the ruler Shahryar to forestall his practice of marrying a virgin each night then killing her in the morning. The tales are primarily of both Persian and Indian origin, though stories with Arabic, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian origins are included. They were first compiled in Arabic in the early eighth century in the Golden Age of Islam (the eighth through the twelfth centuries A.D.) under the title Alf Layla or The Thousand Nights, and later expanded and titled The Thousand and One Nights, becoming popular in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.[32]

As it grew up in an Arabic culture infused with Islam, certain aspects of The Thousand and One Nights reflect Islamic theology: the “thousand” in the title references the notion of infinity, so that the book is cast an infinite book, resonating with not just its large number of tales but also with how the Qur’an is considered a special, holy book delivered from heaven to the prophet Muhammad. Further, the belief in Allah’s (often mysterious) omnipotence as well as the Islamic tendency to invoke angels in their cosmology encouraged the sense of the marvelous and strange, which “represent[s] a distinctive feature of Muslim thinking in the Middle Ages,” found throughout the tales.[33]

The story of Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp (as it was originally titled), as portrayed in the 2019 Disney film Aladdin, exhibits some of the best aspects of Arabic culture.[34] At the beginning of the movie, Aladdin acts as a Robin Hood of sorts by giving a pouch of food to a poor, hungry street family, followed by the princess giving bread cakes to hungry children; these stories reflect the Islamic tradition of alms-giving for the needy. The story continues in its critique of greed and riches when the genie summoned by Aladdin warns against using the three wishes for “tons of money and power — ahahahahahaha [remember, this is a giant, jolly, blue Will Smith as the Genie] — do not drink from that cup, trust me, there’s not enough money and power on earth for you to be satisfied.”[35]

The critique of the powerful, following magical realism’s propensity to express alternate rationalities and emergent cultures, is further evident in both the medieval story and the Disney film, as Aladdin struggles to survive as a street thief among the established and powerful merchants. Aladdin and Princess Jasmine both also recognize how good rulers, like Jasmine’s assassinated mother, the Queen, are beloved by the people. But the greatest of all these stories is that of love, between the humble and (after a round of riches intended to woo Jasmine) chastened Aladdin and the Princess with a commoner’s touch, though it is a modern love, not one of arranged marriages that her father, the Sultan, intends.

Jasmine is the first of many strong, capable, and intelligent Disney female lead characters seen here. In the film’s signature song, she declares, “I won’t be silent, you can’t keep me quiet, won’t tremble when you try it, all I know is I won’t go speechless,” and later exercises her voice in pleading with the house guard to overthrow Jafar and save her people from his tyranny.[36] Jasmine was intentionally cast as more fully dimensional than her counterpart in the 1992 animated Disney film of Aladdin. Aladdin’s character arc follows the Arabian Nights theme decrying greed, as he distinguishes himself from the scheming Jafar of similar humble origins, but who is wanton and inhumane in his pursuit of power. Aladdin also exhibits his street smarts and ennobling humility throughout, tricking Jafar and releasing the genie from his spell of eternal servitude. Together, each brings life and a voice to the traditional roles in which they find themselves, honoring the values governing them, though they do find the traditional roles can be stifling. Jasmine and Aladdin each admit they feel constricted by expectations into which they are born, and this (heroic) struggle between self and society drives the story.

Other themes in traditional Scheherazade’s stories include adventures with themes of life and death, God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, morals, universal virtues such as generosity, piety, love and faith, and the vicissitudes of destiny and fortune. The Seven Voyages of Sinbad and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the Arabian Nights collection exhibit many of these themes. Ali Baba is most similar to Aladdin, demonstrating the evils of greed as the poor, younger brother Ali Baba ends up with all the riches of the forty thieves originally discovered by his older, greedy brother. Modern versions inspired by Arabian Nights reflect these themes as well, particularly Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Arabian Nights and Days (1979) and Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (which add up to 1,001; 2015). Mahfouz’s collection of stories is intended as a sequel, complete with such characters as Scheherazade, Shahryar, and Aladdin, but is rife with statements critical of the powerful and inhumane; recent stories indicate that it has become a political football and may possibly become banned in his home country. Rushdie’s version includes humanity re-affirming values such as compassion and justice while battling battalions of evil genies; it also includes a philosophical debate between the Arabic philosopher Averroes (also referred to as Ibn Rushd, a proxy for Rushdie’s own critical, rationalistic views of religion) and the famous Islamic theologian Al Ghazali.

Middle Eastern superheroes such as Aladdin and his modern inspirations exhibit not just a sense of justice but of compassion and humility as well. The importance of both compassion and family is present in Aladdin, and is implicit as the pretext for justice in the various other stories in Arabian Nights and its modern interpretations. Arabic and Islamic culture, as is most any culture in comparison to the West, is noted for its close family structure. It is a primary example of an honor-shame culture, a concept originally taken from anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s study of Japan, in contrast to Western cultures characterized by a sense of guilt and justification, likely a product of the heritage of law and order from Western style democracy and political Liberalism.[37] The gospel can be easily cast in honor-shame terms rather than the guilt-justification terms in which it is usually presented, noting that God wants to honor us by including us in His family, removing and redeeming any shame from ill done deeds. Remembering the theological basis of family from the Latin American Coco discussion above, Islam, translated as “submission to God,” is best fulfilled when one moves from a servant of God (as followers of Allah are described, though Christians use the term as well) to a member of the family of God, heirs and joint heirs — brothers and sisters — of God with Jesus as Paul declared, and as friends as Jesus put it. Superheroes need families.

Mulan: Traditions on Trial

Mulan, like Disney’s Aladdin, is a remake of an earlier Disney animation (Mulan, 1998), and like Aladdin, retells an ancient story with an emphasis on a courageous leading lady.[38] Mulan is based on the legendary story (the historicity of which is a matter of debate) of Hua Mulan from the 4th to 6th century A.D., who took her aged father’s place in being conscripted by the army, disguised herself as a man, and distinguished herself in combat before declining promotion then returning home. Mulan is a heroine who is not just courageous and capable but who honors family, tradition, and country, though she begins the story as a boyishly adventurous girl who chafes at her mother’s plans to groom her primarily for marriage. Her father is her advocate, however, rhetorically asking his ancestors if he could tell his daughter, whose “chi, the boundless energy of life itself, speak[s] through her every motion” that “only a son could wield chi, that a daughter would risk shame, dishonor, exile?” and declaring that he could not, as he presents his version of the legend of Mulan.

Citing the values of loyalty, bravery, and truth, Mulan declares that “it is my duty to protect my family” when she volunteers as her father’s son (he has only two daughters) when she realizes his poor health will not allow him to survive conscription in the army raised to defend against the barbarian forces of Bori Khan from the north. Mulan’s heroic choice, in honor of family and country, contrasts with that of the witch Xian Lang, who fights for Khan in his assault on the Emperor since he offers her the chance to exercise her powers without being vilified. When the emperor presents Mulan with an honorary sword, he adds to the virtues of “loyal, brave and true” that of “devotion to family” in a very traditional vein of Confucian filial piety and duty. Such filial duty, however commendable, is best enabled by tapping into the divine source of sacrificial love. In The Four Loves, Lewis describes the simpler forms of love, that of affection, friendship, and erotic love, as preliminary to that of unselfish “gift-love” or charity. But it is only Divine gift-love (charity) that is “wholly disinterested and desires simply what is best for the beloved,” as mere “natural Gift-love is always directed to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable,” and will thus always be in some way selfish.[39]

Disney caters to not just traditional Confucian values, but to the Taoist thought which guided the force of the Star Wars saga. Mulan is advised by her commander to respect the fundamental force of the universe, “the chi [that] pervades the universe and all living things,” with which “we are all born.” Just as Samson’s strength came ultimately from his obeying his vow to God, Mulan’s results from her respect of the (impersonal) chi, as “only the most true will connect deeply to his chi and become a great warrior” and will be “tranquil as the forest, but on fire within” and thus “yields to the force and can redirect it [so that] four ounces can rule a thousand pounds.” Augustine once declared this spiritual contentment to be the result of finding peace with God Himself, famously claiming “my soul is restless, and finds its rest in You.”[40] More recently, in his journey to faith, Lewis once felt he had discovered the principle of vitality in the force of life, the elan vital which figured so prominently in the philosophy of Henri Bergson. Declaring that “Bergson showed me” the meaning of the word life, Lewis came to “relish energy, fertility, and urgency; the resource, the triumphs, and even the insolence of things that grow” after which he “became capable of appreciating artists  . . . resonant, dogmatic, flaming, unanswerable people like Beethoven, Titian (in his mythological pictures, Goethe . . . and the more exultant Psalms.”[41] However, Lewis soon came to realize that he had come to revere just “one Divine attribute, that of necessary existence” though “it was attached to the wrong subject; to the universe, not to God.”[42]

The story of Mulan, in its Disney incarnation, extends Chinese tradition to a modern world in which women can challenge any gender-wise stereotypes of the heroic.[43] The greatest novel of China, Dream of the Red Chamber, challenged those very Chinese traditions three centuries earlier. Written by Cao Xueqin in the eighteenth century, like Mulan it shows capable women and youth coming of age on their own terms rather than those of their parents. It also questions the traditional teachings of Confucius, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as the assumed superiority of wealth and status. It is thus distinguished from “the countless morality tales that are common in Chinese fiction,” and was even discouraged reading until later in the twentieth century.[44] A complex work whose themes, images, and characters are popular cultural currency even today, the novel portrays two branches of the aristocratic Chia family in Beijing in the mid-eighteenth century. One branch centers around the boy Baoyu whose ill-fated love (so determined in heaven before birth) for a cousin not of his family’s choosing leads him to become a monk, while the other branch involves another cousin of his, the irresponsible and lecherous Chia Lien who marries a capable and responsible girl, thus providing “some of the most colorful and horrifying episodes in the novel.”[45] Family tensions, implying a critique of the Confucian filial order, is thus a dominant theme, as is that of the Chinese “Heaven,” the world beyond, as represented by the key characters of a Daoist monk and a Buddhist priest. Bayou himself embodies the conflicts, as he prefers poetry and frolics with friends over rigorous study of Confucian values and the demure wife chosen for him. While Mulan continued Aladdin’s embrace of strong female characters while still promoting values esteemed by the traditional culture, Dream of the Red Chamber prepared the way for Mulan, but questioned more thoroughly the traditions and beliefs which Disney chose to simply but effectively represent. Dream of the Red Chamber, however contrary to traditional Confucian commitments to filial piety and duty, paved the path for modern day Mulans who are courageous and capable while yet committed to family and country. But we can claim that the ultimate source of the strength needed by modern day Mulans is the Divine rather than Nature, the Creator rather than the creation, that allows the most pure and unselfish charity for family, friends, and country. Superheroes need a Divine source of power.

Raya and the Last Dragon: Trusting South/East Asian Children Shall Lead Them

Raya is Disney’s conscious effort to engage the various cultures of Southeast Asia, set in the fantasy land of Kumandra, inspired by cultures of Southeast Asia.[46] [47] The featured song appeals to worldviews of various East and South Asian cultures, all influenced by Indian, Chinese, and Muslim cultures and beliefs to varying extents, as can be seen in the chorus:

There’s an energy in the water (Taoism, as in Mulan),

 

There’s a magic deep in our heart (Islam has a tradition of magic, as in Aladdin),

There’s a legacy that we honor (honoring of ancestors, as in China and Japan),

When we bring the light to the dark (enlightenment is featured in Hinduism),

Whatever brings us together can never tear us apart,

We become stronger together when we trust.[48]

 

Kumandra, five kingdoms (Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail) which separated 500 years previously when attacks by evil Druun spirits petrified much of the land, its people, and all but one of the guardian dragons, Sisu, are protected by an orb into which Sisu concentrated all her magic, guarded by Chief Benja of the Heart tribe. Benja trains his daughter Raya to guard the gem, though she is betrayed by Namaari, daughter of Chief Virana of the Fang tribe, who tries to steal the gem during a feast for all five tribes. Fighting breaks out amongst all tribes, and the gem shatters into five pieces, with each tribe getting one piece; the Druun return and petrify many from Raya’s Heart tribe, including her father. Much of the story consists of the small group of Raya, Sisu, and a young boatman boy Boun retrieving pieces of the gem and developing trust. Namaari’s tribe has the final piece, and Raya and Namaari must learn to sacrifice for and trust each other as well as their companions, just as Sisu had to originally trust her dragon siblings with their respective magic powers to defend Kumandra from the Drunn. Trust and cooperation among the patchwork of kingdoms and cultures symbolized is the key theme of Raya.

A comparison with superheroes in Indian literature seems appropriate, and there is an obvious candidate in the novel about the birth of modern India, Midnight’s Children (1981) by Salman Rushdie. Heroes abound in this novel of the birth of modern India as all Indian children born during the first hour of India’s independence, between midnight and 1 a.m. on August 15, 1947, are given special powers. The tale is a natural parallel for so many Disney films oriented to the younger generation, though Rushdie’s story is much less optimistic, as infighting among the young vanguards of the New India show that the Old India and its many divisions are not so easily overcome, just as Raya’s Kumandra was a mishmash of kingdoms and beliefs. Divisions in India persist, between Hindu and Muslim (and exacerbated by the partitioning of Muslim Pakistan from Hindu India in 1947) in addition to the Sikh, Buddhist, and Christian communities, ubiquitous social classification known as the caste system, and the patchwork of regional states, languages and cultures which make India as diverse as all of the mythical Kumandra’s Southeast Asia combined.

The main cleavage in Midnight’s Children comes from the rivalry between Saleem, born at the stroke of midnight and empowered to communicate with all 1,001 midnight’s children (his large ears are key to this power) and Shiva, born at the same time who is endowed with powerful knees (with which he can crush his foes) and skill in combat, per his namesake Shiva the Hindu deity tasked with preserving and, when necessary, destroying, the world order as righteousness dictates. Saleem and Shiva are switched at birth by a nurse Mary (with an idealistic, socialist boyfriend named Joseph, a nod to Christian imagery) so that Shiva’s well-to-do upbringing is stolen by Saleem, whose natural father was not the doctor who raised him but a poor, itinerant musician. Saleem’s family moves to Pakistan after the partition, loses all of his family except for his sister, loses his memory, joins the army, and is rescued by another of the midnight children, Parvati the witch, who helps restore his memory and return him to India. Saleem lives with Parvati, but refuses to marry her, so she has an affair with Shiva, a war hero, and gets pregnant.

Politics drive the story, as the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, known for corruption, uses Shiva to capture Saleem, forcing him to divulge the identities of the rest of the children for sterilization. Saleem does later marry Parvati after claiming that Shiva has been killed, and raises Shiva’s son Aadam, who is gifted with enormous ears with which he can listen to his father’s story. The story of Shiva and Saleem achieves a balance at the end, as Shiva becomes a wealthy war hero and Saleem is returned to the poverty of his natural father, though each are profoundly affected by their upbringing. Aadem’s first spoken word, abracadabra, is Rushdie’s claim that the magic will continue in the next generation of India’s special children.

The magically empowered heroes of both Raya and Midnight’s Children, Raya and friends possess a magic dragon and garner gems with magical powers while Midnight’s Children are empowered at birth to seek the otherwise very American trait, unity in diversity, e pluribus unum, “out of the many, one.” Today’s world longs for the respect of diversity combined with the peace of unity, but it is not easily achieved. As we hearken back to Lewis’s orchestral model, in which “the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony” and “be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note, it is a divine unity in diversity that is our model.”[49] Lewis cites the Bible’s promise that in heaven, each person will be given a new name “which no man knows [and of course God] but he that receives it,” or as Lewis suggests, “your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance,” and that “each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can.”[50] [51] Lewis directed much of this particular discussion towards Hinduism, the religion of India which has spread throughout much of Southeast Asia. In Hinduism, the individual soul eventually is lost as it gets subsumed in the cosmos, which is considered divine.[52] The cosmos into which the Hindu soul ultimately gets subsumed, and that of the Christian deity who created and “caused things to be other other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him, and achieve union instead of mere sameness.”[53] Superheroes need to learn to get along, respecting each other’s unique endowments while joining in an orchestra for Divine purpose.

Spirited Away: Refinding One’s Humanity and One’s Name

Hiyao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli animations of Japanese life have given pleasure to viewing audiences in Japan and worldwide since 1985; their universal appeal is attested to by the annual series of Studio Ghibli animations that are played in American theaters. Spirited Away (2001) is the second highest grossing anime film in Japan of all time, and five Studio Ghibli productions are among the list of the top ten most popular anime in Japan.[54] Spirited Away is considered anime fantasy, but its frequent use of spirits and fantastic developments in a modern setting qualify it for the genre of magical realism. As often occurs with the magically realistic, escape to the countryside and nature serves as a critique of modern urban life; as with so much Eastern art and poetry, as well as with the native Shinto religion, Spirited Away, turns to nature and its spirits for redemption. Miyazaki anime are renowned for their beautiful, scenic depictions of the countryside accompanied by serene, joyful music; modern urban environments, by contrast, though depicted exquisitely, are often breeding grounds for discontent, squalor, and disharmonious living.

Spirited Away illustrates the same themes as many of the Disney films just discussed, namely the use of fantastic elements and powers to aid the heroic protagonist in their quest for justice and values which can be found within traditional culture. The story begins as ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents move to a new home in the country, their return to indigenous, rural Japanese life amounting to a critique of modern living from the start. They have not left behind the voracious ways of modern life, however, as her parents greedily indulge themselves on a feast intended for the spirits, which turns them into pigs. Loss of identity will become a risk to Chihiro as well. Chihiro’s mother appears non-Japanese, if not Western, and is thus a symbol of alien cultural influence (a stronger association with the Biblical imagery of the world system represented by the feminine figure,whore of Babylon, in Revelation 17:5 might even be justified). Chihiro finds herself separated from her parents and is lured into an exquisite looking bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba, where she becomes trapped in the spirit world and learns that she must work to be able to eventually return her parents to their human state. Chihiro’s own identity is at risk, as Yubaba erases the memory of her family name and renames her Sen; her guide Haku explains that he has forgotten his own proper name, without which a person is unable to return to the human world. Chihiro encounters a spirit named No-Face, who represents a dehumanization resulting from greed, as it magically produces and offers gold nuggets to arouse the greed of nearly all the characters, then grows in size and power after it devours them one by one.

Besides the critique of the greed of modern living and a call to a more natural, indigenous way of life, Spirited Away invokes nature spirits otherwise prevalent in Japanese religion, known as kami and representing both forces of nature and ancestral spirits. This is common in Japanese literature from the ancient Tale of Genji to Murakami’s magical realism, but for Miyazaki it provides the primary agent for redemption. Upon arrival at the bathhouse inhabited by various spirit beings, Chihiro encounters a “stink spirit,” the spirit of a polluted river which cleanses itself by vomiting up an entire junkyard. Chihiro’s own guide, the boy Haku, is eventually helped by Chihiro to remember his own identity, which turns out to be that of the spirit of the Kohaku River, and he helps Chihiro eventually escape with her parents, vowing to find her again.

Spirited Away is not unique among Miyazaki films, nor in Japanese literature, in promoting innocence, absence of greed, the enchantment of nature (though often inhabited by spirits both good and bad), and the redemptive power of community and friendship. Other Miyazaki films illustrate such themes, as My Neighbor Totoro (1998) is the story of a nature spirit that nurtures children whose mother is gravely ill, Princess Mononoke (1997) involves a war between nature spirits and resource-scrounging humans while featuring capable female lead characters, and Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Porco Rosso (1992), and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) critique war and promote the values of friendship and community. Such values can also be found in traditional Japanese literature, as The Tale of Genji (c. 1008 A.D.) can illustrate.

Written by Lady Murasaki around 1008 A.D., the sprawling fifty-four chapter novel portrays the romances, politics, and psychology of the low-ranking prince Genji as he maneuvers his children into positions of emperor and empress. In contrast to contemporary Disney and Studio Ghibli works, women in The Tale of Genji are portrayed in traditionally passive yet refined and elegant manners, for which they were desired; this helped feed into a Japanese “cult of beauty” among the aristocracy “who valued beauty so highly that they turned almost every pastime into art.”[55] Allied with this was the use of nature as “the dominant metaphor for artistic expression and human sentiment throughout the novel,” reflecting the Japanese emphasis on nature, beauty, and its seasonal transience; the passing of the seasons also reinforce the Buddhist belief in the cycles of lifetimes. Thus the orange blossoms and other flowers of spring and summer, complimented by the foliage of autumn and the deepening red of its maple trees, are typical of the Japanese sense for beauty and precariousness of life. Thus, the much-heralded natural beauty of Miyazaki’s anime and his persistent environmental themes are deeply rooted in Japanese tradition and belief

Prolific Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami demonstrates how magical realism and the fantastic can be used to bring us back to very human values; along with Marquez, he is the most prominent writer in the genre today. In Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991), personal memories and identities may be traded for bucolic, country bliss, while in Kafka on the Shore (2002) characters search for meaning amidst the Japanese mishmash of humans, spirits, and nature which surfaces in The Tales of Genji and in the Shinto belief in divinely enchanted locales (kami).[56] Murakami’s epic length novel 1Q84 (2009-2010) continues the societal critique of the magical realism genre, as magical “little people” represent the corrosive forces of cult religions (in contrast to George Orwell’s “Big Brother” of government bureaucracy), and patricidal themes critique and combat toxic, culturally entrenched masculinity.

Other Japanese writers likewise poise their heroes to defend traditional culture and values against modernity. Izumi Kyoka’s masterpiece The Monk of Mount Koya (1900) featured an enchantress (symbolic of old Japan) who bewitched various peddlers (merchants of the new, modernizing Japan) and turned them into animals, and Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe’s The Game of Contemporaneity (1979) parallels Marquez’s mythical traditional community of Macondo with a remote Japanese village, founded by rebels from the ruling Tokugawa shogunate, and thus critiquing modern Japan.

Two Christian Japanese authors show how traditional Japanese values of harmony and beauty can be redeemed by the gospel. Ayako Muira’s Shiokari Pass (1968) is one of her several novels in which she explores both human depravity and sacrificial forgiveness.[57] Shiokari Pass is her retelling of the story of the revered Christian Masao Nagano from sixty years prior, who sacrificially supported his invalid wife and fellow countrymen. Nagano’s life illustrates Jesus’s statement of heroic self-sacrifice, that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.”[58]

A more complex, historical story of redemption is offered by Shusaku Endo’s Silence (1966, also a 2016 film by Martin Scorsese featuring Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson). Silence depicts the faith of two Catholic priests left in Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603 – 1868), a period of national isolation from the colonizing European powers as well as of persecution of the Christian community. The significance is explored by writer and artist Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (2016). Fujimura explains that the traditional Japanese notion of a different public face (tate-mae) and one’s true, private voice (hon-ne) derived from this period of persecution in which one kept silent about their faith. In Silence and Beauty he also argues that embedded in the silent suffering which hints at one’s true, private voice is embedded in the Japanese concept of beauty. The popular aesthetic notion of wabi sabi, the beauty of aging things, can also illustrate this beauty born of suffering, despite the concept’s origins in Buddhist teaching regarding the impermanence of life. The heroes in Silence are fallen heroes at best, Jesuit priests who must publicly renounce their faith to prevent the persecution of local Christians but still hold to their beliefs privately. Between Muira, Endo, and Fujimura, the noble virtues of sacrifice born of compassion and forgiveness leading to redemption exhibit a divine beauty and harmony in the living out of the Christian faith. Heroes need the qualities of endurance and sacrifice, but as they are yet mortal and fallen, they also need forgiveness and redemption to exhibit a greater harmony and beauty than they can create or preserve on their own.

Super and Heroic Lessons from Across the Globe

Like Superman in search of an evil villain, we have crossed the globe; like Bill and Ted, we have visited many lands and learned from many heroes. Goodness and the virtues can be found, and should be found, in every culture. Where does such virtue and goodness come from? We can only point to the image of man, free from exploitation and exploiting, individuals honoring and serving their families, nations, and humanity in general; it is man made in the image of God we seek.

Just as Lewis showed in his Abolition of Man that virtue pervades every culture, and just as he claimed that when the poetic, noble Logres of the mythical King Arthur rules Britain, and when the order of Heaven is truly followed in China that spring will arrive, so it is with every culture. In the ancient world, the Apostle Paul once stated that “God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ:” the Greeks valued knowledge, the Romans glory, and the Jews light, so that in the face of Christ each culture found their fulfilment.[59] One might even consider Jesus’s own words when he claimed “I am the way, the truth and the life” that could be construed to be speaking to the Chinese (Confucius and Taoists speak of The Way), Greeks (who valued knowledge), and Indians (with their doctrine of reincarnation or many lives).  Heroes and superheroes are at their absolute best when they follow the divine hero, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.



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Citation Information

Seth Myers, “Global Superheroes from Disneyverse and Studio Ghibli,” An Unexpected Journal: Superheroes 4, no. 2. (Summer 2021), 49-104.

Direct Link: http://anunexpectedjournal.com/global-superheroes-from-the-disneyverse-and-studio-ghibli/


Endnotes

[1] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Scribner, 2003), 369.

[2] John Erickson, “Metoikoi and Magical Realism in the Maghrebian Narratives of Tahar ben Jelloun and Abdelkebir Khatibi” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 427. Digital edition.

[3] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 197.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich, (Walt Disney Pictures, October 2017).

[6] Thematically enough, I found this at a Day of the Dead display at Disney’s Mexico village area of their Epcot theme park in Orlando, Florida.

[7] Anselm of Canterbury, Monologion 54,57 in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 62-64.

[8] Romans 8:17, KJV.

[9] Matthew 15:15, KJV.

[10] Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Ch. 2.

[11] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 1.

[12] C.S. Lewis, “Heaven” in The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 155.

[13] Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “About the Author” in One Hundred Years of Solitude (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), 8.

[14] “Women: Three Interviews by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza” in Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Last Interview and Other Conversations ed. David Streitfeld (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015), loc. 509. Digital edition.

[15] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Scribner, 2003), 146.

[16] Ibid., 146, 313.

[17] Soul, directed by Pete Docter (Walt Disney Pictures, December 2020).

[18] Lin-Manuel Miranda, “The Schuyler Sisters,” Hamilton I.5, (United States: Atlantic Recording, 2015).

[19] Miranda, “My Shot,” Hamilton I.3.

[20] Seth Myers, “Tales of Courage and Hope: Black Panther in Middle Earth and Narnia,” and “Tales of Courage and Hope: Hamilton in Middle Earth and Narnia” (parts one and two) can be found in An Unexpected Journal Fall 2018, Vol. 1 Issue 3, Fall 2018, https://anunexpectedjournal.com/archive/v1-issue-3-fall-2018/.

[21] Thornton Wilder, Our Town, 1938.

[22] Timothy Thomas, review of Soul directed by Pete Docter, Walt Disney. “Soul and the Purpose-Driven Generation,” Christianity Today, last modified January 15, 2021. accessed March 29, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/disney-pixar-soul-purpose-driven-generation.html.

[23] Seth Myers, “Lewis in LaLaLand.” An Unexpected Journal, Vol. 1, Issue 2,

Summer 2018. https://anunexpectedjournal.com/archive/v1-issue-2-summer-2018/.

[24] Timothy Thomas, “Disney’s Soul is So Good Because It’s So Black,” Christ and Pop Culture, January 14, 2021. https://Christandpopculture.com.

[25] W.B. Yeats, Things Fall Apart, 1919. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290. Achebe’s title comes from lines 3 (and 4) “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Accessed May 30, 2021.

[26] William Wordsworth, “Surprised by Joy” in Poems, 1815. accessed March 29, 2021, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50285/surprised-by-joy

[27] C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 30.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 31-32.

[30] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017), 268.

[31] Ibid., 291.

[32] Great Literature of the Eastern World, ed. Ian P. McGreal (New York: HarperColllins, 1996), 470.

[33] Ibid., 473. The belief in angels is one of the six articles of Islamic faith, and jinns (genies), neutral spirits which may or may not obey Allah, occur in the Qur’an over two dozen times.

[34] Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, (Walt Disney Pictures, May 2019).

[35] Ibid.

[36]  Alan Menken, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Speechless,” performed by Naomi Scott in Aladdin (Disney Pictures, May 2019).

[37] Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (New York: Houghton Mifflin,1946).  In it, she described Japan as a shame culture and America as a guilt culture. Renowned missiologist Paul G. Hiebert discusses this in other cultural contexts, such as the Middle East, in Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985). The Book of Romans in the Bible is noted for its guilt and justification passages, such as how “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ,” (Romans 6:23) though it can be considered that the gospel was thus being communicated in a guilt-justification context for a society in which law was paramount.

[38] Mulan, directed by Niki Caro, (Walt Disney Pictures, September 2020).

[39] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1991), 128.

[40] Augustine, Confessions, I.1.

[41] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 242.

[42] Ibid, 250.

[43] Mulan: Rise of a Warrior produced in China by director Jingle Ma and Starlight International Production Group in 2009, showed Mulan continuing in the army and becoming a general, becoming weary of war and long travels away from home before returning to care for her ill father, and sacrificing her love interest’s offer of marriage since his arranged marriage to a foreign princess would ensure peace for the kingdom.

[44] Great Literature of the Eastern World, 148.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Raya and the Last Dragon, directed by Don Hall (Walt Disney Pictures, March 2021).

[47] Specifically Brunei, Singapore, Laos, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar,Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines; cultural and religious influences from both India and China can be found in Southeast Asia, and a torii, the Japanese structure which serves as a gateway to Shinto shrines, appears at one point in the film.

[48] Jhene Aiko, “Lead the Way” written and performed by Jhene Aiko in Raya and the Last Dragon (Walt Disney Pictures, March 2021).

[49] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 155.

[50] Revelation 2:17.

[51] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 152, 154.

[52] Hence the term pantheism, though care must be taken since there is an almost innumerable variety of beliefs subsumed by the term Hinduism. Historically, the belief in a pantheistic unity of existence as taught in the Upanishads followed the more ancient teachings regarding sacrifices and rituals from the Vedas, and has been superseded to some extent by the way of devotion (Bhakti), in which devotion to a particular deity (typically Krishna) assures release from the karmic cycle of infinite rebirths to achieve purity. Winifred Corduran’s Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions is a good resource.

[53] Ibid., 156.

[54] Spirited Away, directed by Hiyao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli, July 2001).

[55]   Great Literature of the Eastern World, 300.

[56] John Updike. 2005. ”Subconscious Tunnels: Haruki Murakami’s dreamlike new novel.” The New Yorker Magazine, January 24, 2005, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/01/24/subconscious-tunnels.

[57] Ayako Miura, Shiokari Pass, translated by Bill and Sheila Fearnehough (Singapore: OMF Books, 1987).

[58] John 12:24.

[59] II Corinthians 4:6, ESV.

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