Hello everyone, yes yes, I was away for a moment. Yes, I was busy with my “day job” as well as with work on what is now the fourth draft of my book.
During this time, I allowed myself the occasional stroll down Facebook lane and the corner of Twitter ave, just to check that the universe hasn’t in fact blown away in my absence. Good news everyone! The world is still there. At least to the best of my judgment.
Now, during one of these strolls I stumbled upon a post that was shared in a writers group in Facebook. The title itself caused the predicted knee jerk reaction. You know the one where you just HAVE to comment on the post. But since I have matured somewhat in recent years and learned to count to ten, I bravely fought that instinct and held my tongue until I had the time to… you know… actually read the post.
By the way, the post in question was titled – Eight Reasons Why The Hero’s Journey Sucks (Link at the bottom of the post – please visit and read).
Hence the title.
Since I’m not one to just bash anyone’s opinion I decided to take the time and respond to that post right here, with some depth, rather than whatever thought I could’ve half-assedly compiled in a distracted Facebook comment.
Ok, let’s dive in to a journey, eight points long to see if we can help our hero (Not that our hero is really being attacked, mind you – nor does our hero need my defense):
*Disclaimer: I will do my absolute best to speak to the topic, not at the author (though will make reference to quotes from the author for… well… reference). None of that is meant personally obviously. The writer wanted to spark debate and I’m only too happy to jump in.
- It’s a formula – Well, no argument here. Since Campbell looked for similarities, it makes perfect sense that at the end somewhat of a formula would evolve. Now it’s easy to take George Lucas as the example and dub the use of this formula “lazy”, though I’d argue with anyone that Star Wars holds some aspects that are nothing short of genius, with depth that rivals any masterpiece both ancient as well as contemporary. Why not take other writers’ adherence to this formula as an example? whether by choice or by default? The simple truth it, it works. It works very well. And really, I can put many things into formulas, including love life, painting, mix martial arts. Which leads me to…
- It discourages originality – I beg to differ. I don’t call Star Wars mythic because it’s about a hero who’s singled out – as the original post accuses – again, not every story written based on Campbell’s hero’s journey is Star Wars. Some are quite different. Some are considered – with pretty good reason – classics. Some (Lord of the Rings for example) are super original. Moreover, in quite a few of them our hero is definitely NOT singled out. He or she (we’ll get back to that one shortly) might be accidental heroes. Now, we can definitely champion great stories, based on the journey or not (and I have). That in itself does not make the journey suck.
- Why is one hero so special anyway? – I apologize, but this point I don’t really understand. I read a couple of books in my life and on so many more than one, our hero does not come pre-installed with every skill and good quality known to man… In fact, I like it far better when our hero is just a simple person (just a slob like one of us…). Nowhere in the journey does it prohibit such a hero. So not sure what the complaint is about… Next, the author of the original post asks the following questions – What about a hero who’s the greatest because she decides not to put up with the shit that everybody else is putting up with? Like 1984’s Winston Smith or Fahrenheit 451’s Montag? Yep, they’re way up there on my favorite protagonists list. What about a group of people who decide to work together to change the crappy status quo? Excellent, now I hear that one quite a lot. Here’s what I have to say about a “group”. A group has no personality, nor characteristics. A group is not an organic being. A group is made of more than one individual. So my suggestion is – If you’d like to make a group your hero, in my mind you have two options: Either you focus on the most interesting character who’s part of that group, giving her the fair treatment of a character the reader can get behind, Or – write as many books as there are people in that group, dedicating each book to a member of that group. Here’s my question – who was the hero? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? or “the movement”? I’m by no means saying that the millions of people who rightfully supported Dr. King are any less important. I’m saying, that people rally behind an individual who represents these values we hold dear.
- The “hero” is always a d00d – Really? Really? That’s because of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey too?… Silly me. Here I thought it’s because society is still mostly chauvinistic. These are concepts. Yes, the goddess can be a dood… It’s up to the writer.
- It’s cheesy as hell – Well I can’t help you there. What you find cheesy, I may not. Tomay-toes / Tomah-toes and all that. However, new-agey or not, there’s nothing wrong with looking into the soul of our characters (Hold that thought as we will get back to this in the last bullet point).
- He shoehorned a lot of myths into his theory – Again, I do not see this as a contributing factor for the suckiness of the journey. The fact that Campbell might have not chewed our food for us does not make it suck. As the author says, he consciously looked for similarities only. Which alone can say that there is a lot of room for differences, which in turn might say that the formula is not the limiting cookie cutter the author makes it out to be.
- It confuses personal growth with solving problems – It does not confuse. It claims that in order for the story to be more than a sequence of “things” happening, and in order for our hero to be more significant and identifiable (i.e. more like a real person) to the reader, the hero should learn something, some things. Does it not make sense that the story would be far more compelling if the person we cheer for is a little more than a device? Even when the solution to a problem is – as the author says – “fighting like hell and doing what has to be done, and there’s no time to meet the goddess or touch your magic wand or any of that stuff“, wouldn’t the hero need to know when to fight? Wouldn’t the hero need an ally? or allies? Wouldn’t the hero (since we don’t want an Ender Wiggin type chosen one hero) need to learn anything before going into a fight? and would it make any sense at all to the reader if that hero wins the fight (which should be a significant one) with zero development? and most importantly, if we don’t look at that new-agy, physiological “stuff” and reveal to the reader some things about the make up of our hero, background, past experiences, state of mind etc. would the reader care to follow her into battle? I think not.
Bottom line: Yep. If one thinks about the hero’s journey as a manual, takes every word literally, ignores the importance of building a character who evolves during the story, focuses on the less stellar examples of the use of the hero’s journey and forgets that at the end of the day it’s up to the writer to write the story then yeah, the hero’s journey sucks. Only it doesn’t.
Comments, like, shares, they’re all welcome of course.
And until next time,