September 20, 2021

#08-137: The Hero's Journey - Part II

an older man in a sports coat and tie looks superciliously at the camera
Joseph Campbell

Note: The "call," the journey, and the return: these are the basic elements of the "Monomyth" of hero's journey. Get more details below.

Get Ready: Think about your favorite book or movie, or one you've read or seen recently. What was the hero's main challenge? How did she or he accomplish it (or did he/she fail)? Look for a pattern you could compare to other stories.

In Lesson #08-136, we began looking at Professor Joseph Campbell's idea of the hero's journey, as published in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. We saw that a hero is living his everyday life when he receives a "call to adventure," either directly or through the circumstances of his life.

Some heroes display a "Refusal of the Call" and never accept their task. When the ghost of Hamlet's father calls him to avenge his death, Hamlet dithers around until it's too late, and everybody dies. (This is a good example of creatively breaking the pattern.) But most refusals are only temporary.

The crossing of the threshold can be dangerous. Sometimes there are fierce guardians there, like Heng and Ha, the two gigantic, fierce warrior figures that guard the literal threshold at the gates of some Buddhist temples in China. Other times, the circumstances make the crossing hard. The difficulty of the crossing reflects the hero's natural reluctance to leave his "comfort zone."

At last, the hero is on his way. Along the path he will often find allies (like Tang Sanzang's friends in Journey to the West). Many see in such figures as elements of the hero's own personality: Sun Wukong (the monkey) can be Tang Sanzang's mind, Zhu Bajie (the pig) his physical appetites, and Sha Wujing (a river spirit) his spirit.

Also along the way, of course, there are challenges and enemies. But the hero will often have supernatural aid, as when Guanyin intervenes to help the monk.

Finally, the task is completed. This may be the winning of a battle; the attaining of an object (such as the scriptures in Journey); a sacred marriage representing the joining of physical and spiritual natures; or some other achievement. All of them represent the fulfilling of the hero's potential.

The hero must then go home by crossing the Second Threshold, from the Other World into his Home World, sometimes smoothly, and sometimes with more adventures. Upon his Return, he is hailed as a hero or sometimes "Warrior," "Emperor," or even "Saint." Anyway, he is now "Master of Two Worlds,"

Remember, in modern stories there may be no "supernatural" element at all. A woman's husband leaves her; a man loses his job. These "heroes" are thrown into new, difficult situations, and must overcome obstacles, make friends, and achieve some new way of living before the story ends. That would be a "happy ending." But sometimes, she or he fails. We call that "tragedy."


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. allies
  2. avenge
  3. dithers
  4. hailed
  5. intervenes
  6. obstacles
  7. reluctance
  8. sacred
  9. supernatural
  10. threshold

  1. hesitation; unwillingness
  2. gets involved
  3. praised
  4. problems; things that might stop one
  5. can't decide; vacillates
  6. outside of the material world
  7. get justice for
  8. holy; religious
  9. piece of wood or other material under a door opening
  10. friends; helpers

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 20, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. g; 3. e; 4. c; 5. b; 6. d; 7. a; 8. h; 9. f; 10. i