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Friday, June 21, 2013

The Hero's Journey

When I was taking my Creative Writing course in college two years ago, I learned about something called The Hero's Journey that changed my life. Or at least the way I look at life and stories. Basically, the Hero's Journey (or Monomyth) is a formula that Joseph Campbell came up with that maps out what makes good stories good, and shows a distinct pattern in the sequence and characteristics of every story ever written.

I was straight-up in awe that such a formula existed, and was enthralled to make the connections depicted in the Hero's Journey with books, movies, plays and even songs that I knew. Most of all, I figured it could be really useful in analyzing other stories and mapping out my own! There's at least one entire book devoted to this concept, so I'll basically go over my take on it all. Here's a diagram I found depicting the basic outline of this formula:

Now, you may have the tendency to think of the elements of this journey literally, which is in the sense of some kind of a fantasy or mythological story. After all, those were the first stories ever passed on anyway. But these elements can and are all symbolic in every kind of story, no matter the genre. Sci-fi, Western, Romance, Superhero... no matter the setting, corresponding elements in a good story can always be identified by using the Monomyth formula.

Essentially, all stories start with a boring, hard, or even comfortable life being interrupted by a call to adventure. Sometimes there's a herald character who does the adventure-calling. The hero sets off, sometimes with talismans to help him on his way or remind him to stick to his quest. Eventually, he reaches the threshold that divides the life he now knows and the unknown. As soon as he crosses it, he begins to transform. The obstacles and temptations he overcomes are difficult, and his ego is diminished with each "monster" he slays. Many times there is a mentor or other helpers who aid him in this part of the journey.
Eventually, the hero must enter the Abyss, which he must face alone. This is the point where the hero fails, or comes to a point so low that the old "him" is completely destroyed. But from the ashes of his old self, he is reborn.
At this point, the hero now knows what's important in his quest, and can face it with all of the things he has learned to this point. He is a new person; he overcomes obstacles that were impossible before. Eventually, he defeats the ultimate enemy, The Other, who is oftentimes a symbol for his own faults. Once this enemy is defeated, the hero is awarded with the ultimate boon—the treasure he has been searching for all this time.
The last phase is the Return. The hero returns to the life he used to know, but he is not the same person, and can no longer keep on living the same life as before. Somehow, everything he has come to know is now part of a past life...

There is the Hero's Journey, in a tightly-squeezed nutshell. The reason I've been thinking a lot about it lately is because of a short film I saw on YouTube which depicts the journey perfectly and has given me a lot of inspiration.

This film, The Reward, is an excellent example of what a good story can be. And it has no dialogue and is only 9 minutes long!

It's interesting that all these stories have a formula of a journey, death, rebirth, and atonement. Somehow we all have a deep desire to shed all our imperfections and become new people, and love hearing stories about it.

After you watch this film, or even before, check out the shorter soundtrack to The Reward. The music alone perfectly depicts the entire Hero's Journey, from setting off to coming home. If you want a treat, as you listen to it, try and imagine your favorite film or book's plotline fitting into each part. You'll be surprised.

Click >>HERE<< for the soundtrack.

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