Monday, May 16, 2011

Starting the Hero's Journey

So starts our study of a hero's journey.

Now this has been over-thought, over-reviewed and transmorgraphied beyond belief. So I'm going to stick to the main points. We'll use the Wikipedia version ( for best simplicity - but that's pretty involved in itself. What is needed is a simple view of things. The safest thing for me to do is to boil this down as much as I can, and then get out of the way.

Chris Vogler made his mark by converting Hero of a Thousand Faces to his "Writer's Journey" ( The proved workability of this idea is in Disney's success with Lion King as well as others - this is what prompted me to zero in on this particular line. There are tons of discussions on this area, and it's a case of: "so what?" The point is to get an effective technique, not worry about perceived flaws. If it doesn't work for you, move on to something else. That this line of work has produced effective entertainment opens it up to use in other fields. By all rights, you could do the same in boiling down all the proved bestseller classics, as Louis La'Mour did, and then use this common thematic approach for the same end.

For our use (and in keeping this simple) there are only Campbell and Vogler to study - even though these make it quite tough enough.

The journey consists mainly of 3 parts: Departure, Initiation, Return.

There's an opportunity, dealing with it, and returning home with the goods. All of these steps have "or not" attached to them. Just like life.

This has been broken down in to 17 steps or nexus-points within the overall cycle:

 The 17 Stages of the Monomyth
I Departure
  1 The Call to Adventure
  2 Refusal of the Call
  3 Supernatural Aid
  4 The Crossing of the First Threshold
  5 Belly of The Whale
II Initiation
  1 The Road of Trials
  2 The Meeting With the Goddess
  3 Woman as Temptress
  4 Atonement with the Father
  5 Apotheosis
  6 The Ultimate Boon
III Return
  1 Refusal of the Return
  2 The Magic Flight
  3 Rescue from Without
  4 The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  5 Master of Two Worlds
  6 Freedom to Live


And the wikipedia article details each of these. Needless to say, I consider these a bit more "academically-inclined" than necessary.

Within this overall cycle show up several archetypes from Karl Jung, which themselves are a form of shorthand from many different religions and philosophies. Oddly, there are 7 of them, which is itself a mystic symbol.

Here's an excerpt which lays out Vogler's understanding of the archetypes:

Hero:  "The Hero is the protagonist or central character, whose primary purpose is to separate from the ordinary world and sacrifice himself for the service of the Journey at hand - to answer the challenge, complete the quest and restore the Ordinary World's balance.  We experience the Journey through the eyes of the Hero."

Mentor:  "The Mentor provides motivation, insights and training to help the Hero."

Threshold Guardian:  "Threshold Guardians protect the Special World and its secrets from the Hero, and provide essential tests to prove a Hero's commitment and worth."

Herald:  "Herald characters issue challenges and announce the coming of significant change.  They can make their appearance anytime during a Journey, but often appear at the beginning of the Journey to announce a Call to Adventure.  A character may wear the Herald's mask to make an announcement or judgment, report a news flash, or simply deliver a message."

Shapeshifter:  "The Shapeshifter's mask misleads the Hero by hiding a character's intentions and loyalties."

Shadow:  "The Shadow can represent our darkest desires, our untapped resources, or even rejected qualities.  It can also symbolize our greatest fears and phobias.  Shadows may not be all bad, and may reveal admirable, even redeeming qualities.  The Hero's enemies and villains often wear the Shadow mask. This physical force is determined to destroy the Hero and his cause."

Trickster:  "Tricksters relish the disruption of the status quo, turning the Ordinary World into chaos with their quick turns of phrase and physical antics.  Although they may not change during the course of their Journeys, their world and its inhabitants are transformed by their antics.  The Trickster uses laughter [and ridicule] to make characters see the absurdity of the situation, and perhaps force a change."

A preliminary inspection of these shows all the steps and archetypes to be fluid. None are set in stone or immovable.

- - - -

The story with this level is that it deals with dreams. Dreams are stories, nothing less or more. They have the force and effect you wish them to. For all of us as individualities, one can assume that we are in any role compared to others around us.

But the trick is that there are always options. And symbols are interesting things. They are best interpreted against workability - what improves the situation you're in. You're looking for the most optimal solution.

And  that brings us right back to King's Shaman studies.

Our use is to "make sense" of them, to simply use dreams as the shaman would - to improve our understanding of this universe we live in.

Again, I don't expect you to believe me or follow this as any Gospel - which it most certainly isn't.

This is just another way to dream in this cock-eyed universe you and I created. It's simply another road, another journey.  You're option to be a hero or not.

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