I’ve always been a big fan of Joseph Campbell. If you have not yet watched the Series of interviews filmed between him and Bill Moyers back in 1988, do yourself a favor and beg, borrow or steal a VHS, DVD copy or stream it on YouTube (see link provided), grab a big bowl of popcorn and settle in for a continuous session of having your mind blown over and over again (you can thank me later).
Many topics were discussed over at then George Lucas’ own Skywalker Ranch, which covered this odd experience of being human and living in the world with this body and these senses. More than can be discussed on a blog post.
But the one area that I continue to see put forward both in books and in film is this theme of the Hero’s Journey. It’s impacted me personally to the extent that it serves as a major force behind my latest book “The Traveler”.
What is the Hero’s Journey? I’m glad you asked!
It forms the basic structure for all great stories (the ones that once are told, continue to fire our imagination and live within us). Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, explains it as the tale that every culture tells.
It’s basically a Path followed by the primary character, which includes:
- The Call to Adventure
- Introduction to a Supernatural Aide or Mentor
- Initiation by Trials and Adventures
- Proceeding (hopefully) to Victory
- Ending at last by a Return
These themes tend to be universal as they cross borders and cultures and can be found present in many of our old fairy tales. But more recently they have made themselves quite well known, resurfacing in more recent material such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and George Lucas’ Star Wars (as a side note, Lucas was once a student of Campbell’s – we all get our ideas from somewhere!).
So in taking each part of the overall path listed above, we can see why the Hero’s Journey is so powerful to us silly humans.
The Call to Adventure
A meaningful life requires a reason for being. It’s not about staying home (whether in the Shire or even the suburbs for that matter). I remember once making the mistake of thinking I wanted to live in a big house two hours outside the City. The town was beautiful as was the house. But the minute I moved in and took my first walk to the corner of my block that nagging thought entered my mind repeating “what the hell am I doing here?” over and over again in my cranium.
The Call to Adventure requires that we take some risk and jump off that cliff (and precisely what that cliff is is unique to each person). In the movies it could be Neo swallowing the red pill (Matrix), or Luke leaving Tatooine (Star Wars) or Bilbo/Frodo leaving the Shire (Lord of the Rings).
Only you alone know what that jumping off point is. Nevertheless, most folks ignore the Call to Adventure altogether and play life safe. Probably a smart thing to do in the long run I guess. But these choices tend to be soul killing and it is easy to find oneself on the wrong road leading our lives to a place we were never meant to be.
Introduction to a Supernatural Aide/Mentor
This is the person that carries either a power or talent that we still do not have. They assist us on the journey and should we choose to accept their good instruction wholeheartedly, can help prevent us from our own destruction. Again, Obi-Wan, Morpheus, take your pick! This step along the path serves to remind us that we can’t go it alone. You need the help of another (or many others) once you’ve decided to set out on your adventure.
Initiation by Trials and Adventures (Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh My!)
These are our own personal tests. We are either crushed horribly by them or they somehow work a magic on us, molding us to be our better selves. We come out the other side as a more complete human being by mastering our trials. It’s sort of like the analogy of the lump of coal that is deposited deep in the Earth and is subjected over time to all kinds of geological pressures that contribute to its transformation into a diamond. People can be like that. Our suffering somehow puts us more in touch with each other, developing our powers of empathy and making us better people (well, some of us).
Proceeding to Victory
Should we survive our adventures and our trials, we vanquish the enemy and proceed to victory. We have mastered our demons and now are able to live freer while also being able to fully appreciate the gifts that surround us.
Once the adventure is concluded, we return back home but now completely changed for the better. We bear the battle scars of our ordeal but we also manifest our full potential wrapped in a more tempered and disciplined being. We now hold the skill in hand to serve as an aide or mentor to others embarking upon their own journey
And thus ends the circle which comprises the Hero’s Journey. As you read through this you may have instantly recalled more than a few book or epic films that made use of these themes.
My own book “The Traveler” is no exception! If you love the story lines put forward by films such as the Matrix, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings I really encourage you to give this book a try. Sign up HERE to receive the first few chapters for FREE!