The concept of the hero’s journey was conceived by Joseph Campbell. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell explains how many famous myths and heroic stories often share a similar pattern or template in their narratives. He goes into great detail outlining 17 stages or phases that the archetypal hero might experience. Now even if you’ve never heard of this guy or his book, you’ll certainly recognize this idea in movies like Star Wars or The Matrix. And although modern-day stories rarely include all of Campbell’s 17 stages, the basic idea is pretty universal:
- the hero leaves familiar settings to embark on a fantastic journey
- he/she perseveres through numerous challenges and obstacles
- he/she receives supernatural aid
- he/she undergoes a transformation
- he/she returns from the adventure and brings back some special knowledge or gift to help mankind
Wikipedia has all the details here- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey.
I remember exactly when I first heard about this concept. It was back-to-school night four years ago while sitting in Kelsey’s eighth grade English class. I was a nervous wreck because it was a new school and a new group of parents. Kelsey was trying but having a hard time finding her niche and I was seriously second guessing our decision to put her into this school. In my heart I really felt as if we were doing the right thing, but knowing how unhappy she was in school had started to chip away at my resolve.
So there I was listening to Ms. Maslanka discuss her curriculum, expectations, and grading system. She then went on to explain that one of her main objectives was to instill in her students a deeper appreciation of literature by exploring the concept of the Hero’s Journey and how it applies to writing and story-telling. As I sat there listening to her talk about this concept, the hair on my arms stood up. I could feel the tears coming on and the lump in my throat. I just prayed, “Please God don’t let me start crying.” Ms. M kept going on about how she planned to use Indiana Jones as the archetypal hero, but honestly all I could think of was the heroic journeys of so many of my loved ones. Like my sweet little girl who was bravely coping with moving to a new city and starting a new school. Like my great-grandmother who survived the tragic loss of her husband, father, brother, and niece in one fatal train wreck. Like my mother who had lost both of her parents by the age of 19 – her mother just two weeks after I was born. And like Robin…
Robin was one of my closest friends. We lived next door to each other in a nice suburban neighborhood and spent a lot of time together. Our families shared numerous backyard barbeques, weekends at the lake, and impromptu get togethers in the front yard. It was a blissful, wonderful time in our lives until the day Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer. For five years, she fought with dignity and utter determination. Like most mothers, her primary concern was always her sons and their happiness and security She went to great lengths to shield them from some of the horrible aspects of her disease and treatments. She never wanted anyone’s pity – good Lord the woman ran in the Tulsa Run in a wig while still on chemo! The thing I admire most though is that she never gave up hope – she just kept right on fighting until the end.
Five years ago today, Robin died.
I’ve thought a lot about the Hero’s Journey during the past five years and how those universal themes play out in lives of my friends and family. I am inspired by the courage and determination of these remarkable, yet ordinary, people. They have shown me first hand what it means to be a Hero. For that I am eternally grateful.