Disclaimer: Before you read too deeply into anything I say, lemme just come clean: I consider myself a devout Christian, not in terms of righteousness, but because I truly believe in and try to live my faith. While I will always do my best to keep this post focused on explaining the concept, I won’t deny that I’ve got my own experiences and beliefs colouring my views! What am I, a robot?
As you can guess from the title, this post is about gods! Well. Killing gods, anyway.
I’m sure you’ve encountered the idea in some shape or form. Whatever the genre, whatever the media, there’s probably been at least one arc where the characters went up against a divine or godlike being. Cosmics gods, eldritch abominations, lost technology from extinct civilisations, these are usually the final frontier of boss battles. Or if it’s not a god, it’s at least a figure of such power and authority that it might as well be the god of the setting. Like Dracula in Castlevania. Or Hogger in World of Warcraft. Or that jock jerk Chad Anderson who everyone seems to worship even though he’s peaked in high school and is a borderline sociopath who Principal Mazer won’t expel just because the school team is finally winning for a change.
Though before you start thinking this has been repeated only in recent times, or that it might have started when HP Lovecraft gave us Old Gods for us to punch or be punched by, it’s worth noting that YE OLDE MYTHOLOGY, whatever the region, tends to portray the clash between mortals and gods. Sometimes directly on the battlefield, sometimes in a “Yeah, I bet you can’t find me a golden mechanical singing trout to break the curse on your family” drunken tavern quest. You can find the former in the Trojan War, and the latter in its highly successful spin-off The Odyssey. Or, from the same publishing group, the Twelve Labours of Hercules.
Sometimes they come looking for trouble. Sometimes trouble comes looking for them. They could be the focus of the entire plot, or something that’s revealed later on as the TRUE threat. Or, in some cases, they are just part of the greater plot. In some of the more ambitious stories, they’re even targets, goals to conquer in the name of power. However they end up as the final boss, whether it’s a sudden reveal or a known fact from the start, the protagonists usually quest for their one weakness or unite every ally still living to win through the power of friendship.
So what is it about godslaying which lodges itself in our collective mythology?
Well, that really depends on the writer’s intent and the reader’s perspective, but here are a few common reasons to cover most of that ground:
At the most basic level of pure entertainment, it’s simply one of many attractive options to take the stakes up to the HIGHEST level. Want to take it a step higher than just saving the day from Doctor Doom? Bring in the guy who can unmake the galaxy. And just like that, you’ve broadened the scope, added tension, and widened the potential plots, whether by simply taking it up to a grander scale, or by introducing an entirely new dimension.
At a cultural level, my best guess (emphasis: “my” and “guess,” as in solely my opinion and not to be mistaken as a statement of fact) is that in the era of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Young Adult fiction, and sticking it to the man, we live in an era with the huuuuuugest crush on FREEDOM. The ideas and history behind that are incredibly complex topics in themselves, but if you’ve spent any time on the internet, you probably know what I’m talking about.
On an ideological level, it’s a way to explore any number of ideas. True, I’m not really impressed if the big message is essentially “Shut up, God, you’re not my real dad!” but it tends to be more complex than that. While any conflict you see can represent a clash of ideas, featuring the gods has all sorts of baggage. They could represent aging traditions, or something deep in our psyche. Are they things to accept, or overcome? Is there a revelation of the world, or of the characters?
Whatever the case, whether you see it as a triumph of humanity or an attack on the spiritual, the challenge offered by the gods is popular, both as a tool for tools to hammer home their ideas, and as a way to give final battles the grandeur they deserve. Conflict, and striving against the odds, are darling traits of heroes. Why not go big, then?