While involved in random research I followed a thread to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and his A Hero’s Journey, wherein he outlines a path the lead character will take in hero myths and stories from around the world, demonstrating the commonality of these specific stages for all heroes.
I’m not one who enjoys outlining a work of fiction. It feels too calculated to me, like an exercise out of grammar school. Worse, it spoils the surprise for me as the creator (after all, writers want the excitement of a mystery too!). Even if I have a rough course of events in mind as I begin, my characters generally trash those tidy assumptions even before the first chapter has ended.
A Hero’s Journey, however, amalgamates into a cyclic formulaic scheme all the eagerly anticipated and expected checkpoints in those favored stories from hazy childhood. While renderings may differ, the essential cycle goes as follows:
- A Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call/Acceptance of the call (first step to becoming a real hero)
- Supernatural aid
- Crossing the Threshold (point of no return)
- Entering the Belly of the Whale (into the danger zone)
- Road of Trials (Brother Battle – with familiar foe, or Dragon Battle – against terrible alien)
- Meeting with the Goddess (a powerful female figure)
- Woman as Temptress (a test)
- Atonement with the Father (father figure hero persuades, beats, or wins approval)
- Apotheosis (higher level of understanding to prepare hero to transcend)
- The Ultimate Boon (achievement of the goal)
- Refusal of the Return
- Magic Flight (hurry home with the treasure)
- Rescue from Without (unexpected last rescue)
- Crossing the Return Threshold (may not be as simple as thought)
- Master of the Two Worlds (Mastery of both home and alien worlds)
- Freedom to Live (as he chooses)
While the elements above have seen a number of revisions, the essential concept remains solid. The cycle can be extrapolated from stories such as Hermann Melville’s Moby Dick and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It even served as a template for George Lucas’ Star Wars (by his own admission).
It is fascinating to note the monomyth cycle serves not just the stories and myths of English speaking nations, but cultures and languages around the world.
My world is the Central Coast of California, a land at one time teeming with bandits. Their lives are compelling, and often follow paths similar to one another. It occurred to me to construct a cycle similar to Campbell’s creation to outline outlaws––a template for the lives of banditos. It might look something like this:
- A good/honest/normal life (even an idyllic life)
- The Fall (It all goes wrong)
- The Cause (person, event, incident causing the Fall)
- The Curse (vow to do harm to the Cause)
- Crossing the Threshold (performing first illegal act – point of no return)
- Acclimatization (becoming inured to wrongdoing/enjoying the adrenalin rush)
- Blame misdirect (it wasn’t my fault – he, she, it forced my hand)
- Hero myth (accept and promulgate myth of own greatness)
- Rise of Chief Adversary Force (Detective, sheriff, vigilantes determined to bring bandit to justice)
- Trials (near escapes, wounds, suffering)
- Temptress (woman as lover, seducer who creates a vulnerability)
- Final episode (death or capture)
This template won’t fit every bandit or outlaw, but most of the points are found in the lives of many. When setting out to write a biography of, say, Jesse James or Butch Cassidy, there are enough matching stations present to ease the organizational task of the writer.
Still doodling with the Hero’s Journey, I decided to apply it to my Mid/YA story Payu’s Journey for fit, remembering I was not familiar with the cycle at the time I wrote it. Is there a natural tendency to follow the Hero’s Journey in story telling, I wondered?
*The Call to Adventure certainly fit, although Payu had little choice.
*Likewise there was no Accepting the Call; the Call was unavoidable
*There was no Supernatural Aid beyond the anthropomorphic aspects
* Payu certainly Crossed the Threshold when she decided to keep the human child
* She entered the Belly of the Whale at that moment
* She certainly faced a Road of Trials
* The Meeting of the Goddess might be meeting Ritta the Roo
* And the Woman as Temptress might be Mika, the beautiful fox
* The Atonement with the Father could only be her relationship with Ngur
* Payu faced Apotheosis when deciding to remain in the Land in the Sky despite the fact some of her friends could not enter
* The Ultimate Boon was obviously her acceptance by the Council to live in the Land in the Sky along with her human baby
* A Refusal to Return is mute, as she could not return in any case
* Magic Flight, Rescue From Without, and Crossing the Return Threshold are mute for the same reason
* Mastery of Two Worlds must grow in volume 2 of the trilogy, but is certainly feasible and
* Freedom To Live fits without a doubt
So, call it ten out of seventeen stations of Campbell’s Cycle that fit Payu’s Journey. But is it really a surprise when one considers we were all nurtured with stories manifesting this structure and therefore must be influenced as we write our own. Food for thought.