Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Weeeel! Then of course we have Joseph Campbell and his famous book, a book first published in 1949 and revised by him in 1968. (Shortly after this is when I entered the movie. I mean, I was born in 1950, but I read the book for the first time shortly after the 1968 publication and became aware of a certain. Oh. Pattern to things. A set of common story elements. A sequence. A quality of expectation. A resonance to experience. A familiar plot line.) A third edition was printed in 2008.

So here is Campbell’s brief overview of a story line that is repeated over and over throughout world literature:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

In fact, you might with justification say this story outline underlies millions upon millions of stories, perhaps billions upon billions, with each of us (or many of us) living or attempting to live out variants of it. Variants in which the variations and the particulars obscure the paradigm as the outer mantle of the earth obscures the molten core.

The movement is comedic. The boons are restorative. They tend to be salvific. Redemptive.

The plot requires travel, usually. Travel in the usual sense—moving across the earth. But variants can include metaphorical travel.

Classic examples of the plot are the stories of Osiris, Prometheus, Buddha, Moses, Christ, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, George Bailey, Neo, and perhaps Oskar Schindler.

Do we all want to be a hero? No, I don’t think so. But we maybe all would like know heroes have existed and do exist. Some of us—maybe most of us—would like to claim that our stories have a kind of participation in the hero’s story. Or the hero’s story has a kind of participation in ours.

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