The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"H" is for Hero's Journey

Another entry from my Lifewriting mailing list.

The concept of the Hero has taken a lot of
battering lately. Many think that, especially
when examined as part of the archetypical
Hero's Journey, that this is outmoded as a
story-telling tool. Others have suggested
that it is sexist (why not a "Heroine's Journey"?)
or too culturally specific (most examples
given are Northern European) or that there
are many, many stories that do not fit into
this mold. Or too restrictive.

What can I say? Any model of reality is less
than reality itself. Always. And the more
complicated the model, the more it may
SEEM to represent the world "as it is" but
actually, the further from actually usable
truth it becomes.

Outmoded as a story-telling tool? Viewed
correctly, it has worked for tens of thousands
of years, and is likely to survive the latest
Hollywood story-development fad. Sexist?
If I called it the "Heroine's Journey" that
might or might not satisfy these folks. If I
built a story model around the specific
DIFFERENCES between men and women,
all I'd be revealing would be my own political
and psychological theories. I try to model
everything on what Human Beings
and women are a little different, but about
99% the same. As are people of different
times, races, cultures. The differences get
us into trouble, but assuming that there
are more differences than similarities
leads to disaster and distortion. Non
culturally specific? Only if you try to take
each step too literally, and search for
very precise correlations with cultural
iconic tales. The Hero's Journey appeals
to me because it relates to the path
generally followed by human beings as
they move from one phase to another.

Too restrictive? Again, only if you are so
dogmatic that you try to make every step
fit exactly into some kind of pattern.
That is not the point. The point is to find
a way to look at story that has some
relation to the path of life itself. We
meet challenges. If they are large enough,
they frighten us. We take actions, usually
smaller ones before larger ones. We
gather knowledge, skills, allies, mentors.
If the challenge is large enough, we will
run into the end of ourselves, the death
of our ego. Unless we have faith that
there is something more than our self-concept,
we fall back into stagnation. But if we move
forward, risking body, heart, and mind,
we learn lessons that are invaluable--
which transform us, and prepare us to
be Elders in our tribe.

Warriors, healers, teachers, parents,
artists...all have different expressions
of this. The term "Hero" here merely
means one who is willing to move
beyond fear to a more authentic
expression of Self. This can be spiritual,
emotional, doesn't matter.

I've used this pattern with great success
for over twenty years. It is flexible, and
powerful, and resonates. But it is not to
be used as some cookie-cutter template.
Understand the meaning and impact of
the steps...

And then change them with artistry.

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