“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with the world.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Allow me to get a little cheesy for a moment, cuz this next bit is one of my favorite things in the world: Stories. Novels, movies, anthologies, and story-driven video games. (Not terribly a tv person.) Ever since I could read, I’ve been nose deep in a book. Always. And I love stories for more than just their entertainment value.
Stories, I believe, are some of the most important things humans create. For ourselves, and for others. Stories tell us what is important and beautiful, like art, and also what we fear and find repulsive. More than anything, stories teach us what we are capable of overcoming, and give us examples of how to be and act to do so. Stories help us to break down abstract and perhaps ancient thoughts and reformulate them into terms we can understand, as a way of understanding ourselves. Characters are models we pattern after to reach ideals.
But that’s not just me. Those of you out there that are fellow book (or otherwise) lovers have probably had the same thought from time to time.
Over the years, many have applied their minds to unraveling stories and their relevance to humanity; what their common themes are, and their deeper meanings, if they have any. Theories were put forward by thinkers like Carl Jung, with the Collective Unconscious and his Archetypes, and Joseph Campbell, furthering it with the concept of the Monomyth. (Most familiar with the concept will know it better defined as The Hero’s Journey- Think Star Wars.) More recently, Maureen Murdock put forth The Heroine’s Journey, drawing on the same Jungian ideas, it explores the feminine side of the Journey more in-depth than Campbell achieved. (I literally just learned about this book at the time of drafting this post, so I’m THRILLED to have even more to read.) While not strictly empirical, and accompanied by their own critiques and issues, these ideas still give us fascinating food for thought. If it helps your sensibilities, you could consider them as more philosophical than strictly scientific ideas. And as quoted above, it can hopefully provide a guideline for our own lives.
My hope for these posts will be to take favorite and inspiring characters of mine, the honorable and ignoble alike, plot lines, and dissect them. To identify where the above theories can be applied, draw out defining character traits, and see how they influenced the story for better or worse, and draw personal lessons from that that can be applied to your own life.
In behavioral Psychology, there is a type of learning defined as Observational learning or Modeling. This is the “monkey see, monkey do”, type learning. Nothing complicated, simply we observe a behavior, and with proper motivation, we imitate the behavior. A subtype is defined as Symbolic learning, which is where a behavior is modeled from an imaginary source.
I find this to be particularly helpful, as characters can be mapped out in “ideal” ways for us to learn lessons on how to be, or not be. It’s useful to not only map out the noble characters and see how things went positively but to examine the villainous or ignoble characters. I’ve personally found more use looking at these characters that choose to stick to their failing course out of character flaws such as their stubbornness and pride, to correct my own course. (Like having that older sibling that messes up so you don’t have to.)
We’re surrounded by stories on a daily basis, yet sometimes these stories and characters fail to impress the proper lessons on us at a deep enough level to provide change. The big moments, the climax and the darkest moments in a character’s journey are more likely to stick with us. But our lives aren’t just made up of huge, dramatic events. It’s the little moments, the minute decisions and actions along the way that also bear significant weight on a story’s result, in fact, it’s often argued that the larger choices can only be made because of the small mental events along the way.
In the end, that is my hope for these posts; we can learn more about the Hero’s Journey, examining the journey of others and seeing how they can also be our own.
They know there are things in the wilderness that neither Mughal nor white man has in his documents of ownership.
Things to be found in stories.
Indra Das, The Devourers
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