Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

We all want a life of adventure, a life filled with drama and challenges forcing us to prove our worth. David, in John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things lives a life of magical thinking. He has grown up loving fairy tales and, after the death of his mother, begins having blackouts where he is able to see a world with a castle and his dead mother calling him on a quest to save her and bring her back home.

The real world is often mundane; people live unheroic lives of boredom, monotony, and (according to Thoreau) quiet desperation. In the world of fairy tales, however, like David’s world, ivy can grown into our room trying to reach us, crooked little men can turn into magpies and appear to threaten our family, and wolves can walk upright and speak – and we can do the impossible of bringing someone back from the world of death.

The importance of the quest. Joseph Campbell describes the pattern for all hero quest stories as “the monomyth.” He summarizes the pattern in The Hero of a Thousand Faces:
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.

Campbell then expands this pattern into various parts:
  • Separation from the Present
  • The call to adventure. The hero is sometimes thrust, sometimes enticed, into a new world.
  • Refusal of the call. Often the hero’s reponse is to refusal the call. Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit is ultimately forced to go on the journey much against his will.
  • Meeting with the Mentor – the hero is helped by someone older and wiser.
  • Often also the hero has a companion who acts as a confidant.
  • Crossing the threshold OR
  • Entering the Belly of the Beast – some times a death and birth incident gets the hero into the new world
  • Initiation
  • Road of trials – the hero must go through a series of tests and trials
  • Mother as Goddess – often the hero must encounter a goddess figure OR
  • Woman as Temptress - the hero must resist the temptations of a woman
  • Reconcilliation with the father – the hero sometimes has to reconcile with the father-figure
  • Apotheosis – through his trials, the hero ultimately changes his viewpoint
  • The Ultimate Test or Ordeal
  • Receiving The Boon
  • The Road Back
  • Refusal of the return
  • The Chase Sequence
  • Rescue
  • Resurrection
  • Crossing the Return Threshold – Bringing Back the Elixir
  • Master of Two Worlds
  • Freedom to Live
To see how the makers of The Matrix used this, check out this video:

Here’s a visual map of the journey

Assignment: Trace how these elements are used in The Wizard of Oz or another favorite film.

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