The Hero’s Journey as an Effective Mean of Producing a Good Effect to Audience
Many stories, contemporary and ancient, incorporate the story of a character who embarks on a journey to become a hero. This is known as The Hero’s Journey. This journey not only shows the main character becoming a hero but also other pivotal parts of a story, like a threshold to overcome and some aid or help. Without these important parts, a hero simply would not be. Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero with One Thousand Faces laying out the fundamental steps of the Hero’s Journey. Christopher Vogler, the author of “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” writes: All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. They are known collectively as The Hero’s Journey. Understanding these elements and their use in modern writing is the object of our quest. Used wisely, these ancient tools of the storytellers craft still have tremendous power to heal our people and make the world a better place.
In texts utilizing the hero’s journey, the protagonists are put in a challenging adventure to bring out their true nature. However, one must go through change to be able to be called a hero. The protagonist undergoes life tribulations which challenge their perspective on life. They now look at the world differently, thus, the world they used to live is no longer exist. For the protagonist to be able to carry out such a journey, he/she must have a purpose. Campbell writes that the “modern hero-deed must be that of questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the coordinated soul”.
A hero, then, is one who stands out of his people and goes in a journey to make things better for his people. The hero not only embarks on a journey to bring goodness for his people, he also come back with a better personality. Psychological speaking, one could say that the hero’s journey holds a symbolic meaning of personal conflict. When a problem arises, a conflict which must be dealt with begins. People initially reject to settle down with such a problem. Some may ignore it. However, with some determination and aid from someone else one can bring overbearing success to solve a problem. Whether one reads a contemporary or ancient fiction text, this structure poses itself as a backbone for most such texts. The hero’s journey posed itself onto many media platforms such as epics, novels, orally transmitted stories, and films. Mythology and storytelling are important parts of any culture because they bring about a different light to our ordinary life. However, I cannot help but wonder, why does this preset blueprint almost always work?
Looking at the global market of film and novels, one can observe how different versions of the hero’s journey make their way up for a bestseller, although eventually, they are the same thing, each with a different taste of additions. For example, the story of the great king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, can be easily recreated to be based on a more contemporary political figure. This can be done utilizing additions like the use of technology, modern advancements in communication, and better understanding of science and life in general. Just like how the ancient story lived till this very day, another story with the same backbone could. Perhaps, what ensures such continuation of a story is that human morals tend not to change over time. The principals stated by the wine-maker, Siduri, to Gilgamesh best exemplify this notion when she said: Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.
The resemblance of what has been said thousands of years ago to today’s day and age is quite fascinating. This shows us two things, the first of which is the globality of the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey builds bridges between cultures by conveying messages relevant to people of different backgrounds. Although stories can be based on different geographical origins, the meanings of a story about the king of a Mesopotamian land can be understood similarly to how one would understand the meanings of a story of a teenage wizard in Europe.
The other effect of the hero’s journey is that it builds bridges between different times. This is evidenced by the resemblance of principals and morals from Gilgamesh’s story to our days’ principals. There is no doubt that the hero’s journey is well understood and received by people, but this does not answer the fundamental question of why does it always work?
To answer this question, one may need to dig deeper into the human psychology, or the psyche. Campbell describes this by saying: “The symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche.” The mythology the hero journey is promoting targets the conscience of the unsuspecting audience. Coming at them in different tastes and flavors, time after another, the hero’s journey continues its sweeping success. It works because whenever a hero is called for adventure, he is escaping the conscious reality his audience is living, to a magical endeavor, where he ventures forth into his/their unexplored unconscious psyche, an endeavor that brings in light over a blinding darkness. The darkness is what keeps people aspiring for a better future, and thus looking for a Salvatore who could bring about such future. The belief in a savior is a major motive for people’s faithful attachment to those hero led stories, but the fact that a hero is always a savior is flawed. As the hero is someone who sticks out of his people to do something extraordinary, other people who only have personal gain on their mind may stand out.
The hero’s journey also faces the scrutiny of being too artificial. For a problem wires to be unwinded in the real world, many obstacles have to be resolved. The hero’s journey conveniently skips over these hurdles in a way that is almost inapplicable to real world situation. This generates a sense of false hope to those receiving it. An example of this may be how the young wizard, Harry Potter, is able to magically overcome any burden facing him. To his young audience, this creates a discrepancy between what could be reasonably overcome or done in real world and that which is impossible.
Another problem with the hero’s journey is how almost all heroes are somehow males. Very few hero novels had a female protagonist. This feeds into the belief that human masculinity is superior to femininity. Only in recent films, women are also being portrayed as heroes to equal out the biased picture. People may seek refuge in reading such stories to, hopefully, gain the courage to overcome whatever troubles them. Example of this could be seen every day, including an adult reading Harry Potter on his commute to work; reading about an escape from the ordinary to the extraordinary, as it is much needed for him/her. Some people may turn into reading the hero’s myth because they want someone or something who could tell them they are different, they secretly have it all, when no one else does. One might think, if Harry “is a natural”4 then they may too. People tend to want things without the need of having to work in order to get them. Sometimes, the hero’s journey provides just that, in the case of Harry, for example, who since birth had his gifted magical abilities.
As stated earlier, stories must have their guiding purpose. However, nowadays, one could see how thirsty authors and screenwriters are for the unsuspecting by using a template and building upon it whatever sells. It looks like authors are abusing the hero’s journey to bring about a greater meaning for their work, while obviously, this should work the other way around. This opens up a big window for such writers to plagiarize ancient work by adding a hint of a different flare to it. This discourages the production of original content, which is very scarce these days. Although stories are about problem solving, it is the lessons learned throughout the story are what matters, both to the hero and the audience. The hero can undergo events that promote his personal growth, so does the audience. Problem solving may or may not be present in every story. An example of this is how Gilgamesh returned to Uruk a changed man, not necessarily changing his society as a result.
The hero’s journey is an effective mean of producing a good effect to audience of different cultures and times. Although flawed at some points, the hero’s journey almost always works because of peoples need and aspiration of change. Nowadays, this literary template is being used around the world, both in a good way, and in a misleading way. The use of the hero’s journey is not stopping anytime soon, however, there are alternatives which may prove as effective while getting over what the hero’s journey short comes.
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