November 6th, 2009

Macbeth the Usurper

The Heroes Journey?

No talk of fantasy literature is complete without Joe Campbell, and there's the problem in a nutshell.

Let's talk about the Hero's Journey.

I watched a random episode of Seinfeld, the I successfully applied to the Hero's Journey concept to it, and BEHOLD, the episode was laden with meanings of mythic proportions.

Do you see the issue? The Hero's journey is a useful concept, used in context, but we don't keep it in that context. We overapply it. We connect it to every journey and every revelation in every possible context. That's a sure recipe for trainwreck, which is what I consider the theory of the Hero's journey in modern useage. When every Seinfeld episode is a possible Hero's Journey, we have a problem.

In context, the Hero's Journey is one particular form of a narrative, containing specific actions, while avoiding other actions. Compare that to a saint's journey, which contains many of the same actions, but also contains different actions, leading us to a different place. Then let us compare this to a flood story, which contains some elements of those things, but also leads us somewhere quite different. Each of those story structures could be confounded into one structure, but that would not serve us, as we labeled these story structures differently to make them different. These distinctions help us to better identify those stories which are hero stories vs. those that aren't.

In over-applying the idea of the Hero's Journey, we confound all those structures back into one over-arching structure, making it seem as if the hero's journey is the only journey, applying equally well to Lord of the Rings, the Ring Cycle, the Ring film series, and Ring Ring (the Abba song). That confounding makes us poorer, rather than richer, in our stories.

So when thinking about your story, think about the structure. The Hero's Journey is one structure among EQUALS, and those many equals may just contain structures that are more useful to you.