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The Writer Faces His Muse.

A little over a year ago I started on my second book which began as my first NaNo. The book in question was born out of a need to explore multiple philosophical, religious and artistic ideas though the medium of a anime/manga inspired novel.  The unnamed hero would wonder the Earth, confronting all manner of abominations and in the process explore the concept(s) that served as the title of each chapter.

As it often happens, the end result (as of the first draft) had very little to do with the original concept. Once the main character came into being, there would be no aimless wondering. Ethan Allen would not have any of that. He would travel, seeking out to slay the demons from within and without.

He embarked on the Hero’s Journey.

Now I had heard about Joseph Campbell before. Anyone who has taken a peak behind the curtain of a certain piece of celluloid would have heard the name. But until this summer I had only heard of him though the words of others. Then I read his book (which I just finished, I’ve been on a slow reading track as of late).  The book is more than a delineation of the Monomyth/Hero’s Journey but an exploration of the mythical/spiritual side of human nature as expressed in myth and legend. Not only that, but he makes a Freudian/Jungian diagnosis of a collective psychosis that grips modern man (mid-20th century man around the time he wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces)  which has abandoned the Myth-Space (my term) consciously, yet the need for it survives in our unconscious minds.

So what does my novel have to do with Campbell’s work?

Well, consciously (or otherwise) I mirrored Campbell’s ideas about this myth-space or as I called it, The Beyond, in the book, which is the source of all things supernatural and the stories hero, Ethan Allen journey also mirrors the journey from Departure through Initiation and Return. The story also embraces the basic principle behind comparative mythology, that all myths reflect basic needs of man and therefore are reflections of each other. Ethan, who is a Japanese-America binds within himself two mythic traditions and encounters many others in his journey. Of course, I reject the Cristian-Precursor view of men like C.S. Lewis (one in a long line of Christian Apologist who claimed that the mythology of other cultures was a poor imitation of Judeo-Christian mythos) or the someone antiquated language use by Campbell himself (language that while considered appropriate for his time, would not be acceptable under the rubric of current euphemism), especially when he speaks of non-Western cultures.

Yet, I would be remiss if I did not point out the obvious, that the spirit of Campbell served as a muse for Strum und Drang, just as my own biography served as a muse for my first novel.  So I must acknowledge his presence and his impact in my own work, and I hope I can do his work justice. After all writing a novel is like embarking through the hero’s journey: One hears the call to write, traverses the difficult terrain of story creation and then returns to where it all began.

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5 Comments

    • bigwords88
    • Posted December 12, 2009 at 3:49 pm
    • Permalink

    It is surprising the sheer number of novels, films, television mini-series, comics, computer games and plays which have the hero’s journey as their skeleton. I’m still sitting on the fence as to what benefits can be gained by deliberately following the form, but if the story has evolved in a manner which has deep similarities to the core elements – and a lot of things just happen to pick up similarities accidentaly – then the use may not be so glaring.

    There are plenty of people who despise Campbell’s simplification of story, so be aware that you might get flak from some corners.

  1. There is nothing to be gained by following a formula in a fill-in-the-blanks kind of way, but Campbell does bring up some good points about story structure and the basic wants/needs of man. Just like the three act format is a naturally good way of structuring the story, the Hero’s Journey is a good way to understand the common points across cultures and story formats.

    I think the reason why some people despise what he has done it’s because how it has been abused. That and the temptation to shoehorn all narratives into a popular explanation tends to irk those who see themselves as innovators and not followers.

  2. Without delving into it further – I have no pretensions as a writer – the concept as described here does seem to parallel what was once called “Coming of Age” stories, where one learns to deal with the world as an adult.

  3. The “Coming of Age” story is one of the common forms of the Hero’s Journey or the Monomyth as Campbell describes it.

  4. I was somewhat dissatisfied with the term that first popped out to describe the epic transition involved . It should have been Rite of Passage.


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