12 February 2007

Life and the Hero's Journey

This is it. The big one. The one we've all been waiting for...

Actually I just wanted to say that because I was listening to Harry Potter this morning. I figure if I listen to book one this month, book two next month, book three in April etc. etc. etc. I'll have listened to all of the books again by the time book 7 comes out. It's rather appropriate, and very kind of Jo and her publishers to arrange this for me. I tip my hat to them.

So while I was outside enjoying the marvelous weather on the top of the JFSB, I started looking at the mountains...which is rather hard not to do from the top of the JFSB. The mountains are pretty much the only thing you can see. But mountains make me think of a few things and one of them is the Sound of Music. And after I smiled at the thought of the Sound of Music, I remembered that I needed to watch that movie for my ASL class (with captioning and no sound-which I promise to do until the Captain sings, at which point I can't promise a thing. Christopher Plummer-you stud). And then I started thinking about the rest of the movies in my collection...and maybe it was the connection with the mountains but I started thinking about Lord of the Rings...which made me think about Narnia...etc. etc. etc. Basically this is just a long, extended paragraph to tell you why I'm thinking what I'm thinking.

I own about...what...thirty movies? Maybe? A fair amount. Unless you want to group several copies of Pride and Prejudice together, and all of my Anne movies, and my copies of TV series' like Road to Avonlea together-either way. It's a wide selection. Same thing goes with my books. (This is going somewhere, I promise). Based on a conversation I was having with myself I was also thinking about how much I would love to be a writer-and how what holds me back is my fear of failure and my fear of not having anything original to say. How in the world could I come up with a character as real as Anne Shirley? Or characters as funny as Fred and George Weasley? A story more tragic and beautiful than The Lord of the Rings? And even if I could-who would want to read it? What does it matter? Why do we read anyway? There is no dark ring on this earth. Avonlea doesn't really exist. My broom will never be able to fly.

When I start thinking cynical (and depressing) things such as this, I naturally start to justify. I mean-I am an English Teaching major. I could no more stop reading and writing than I could stop breathing. It's part of who I am. So why does it matter? Because I think that-to a degree-our life really is the hero's journey. Not exactly an original or unique statement I suppose, most people in my major have thought about this at one point or another, but I think it's really important for us to imagine life like the hero's journey for several reasons.

First-our lives really are journeys. We go places. We do things. We travel and experience. Life is active. At the beginning of a hero's journey (let's take Lord of the Rings-it fits well into the mold and it sounds more scholarly than Star Wars)-the hero-Frodo (or Sam. I prefer thinking of Sam as the hero-) begins in a place where there are no huge adventures. Adventures are frowned upon really. But either way, his life is at "normal". It's hit a kind of every day stride. It's still active, but it's certainly not as active as going to destroy a huge evil ring of power. Life is like that sometimes. It's summer vacation. But the point here is that we go places. We are forced into situations that we don't always want to be in where life throws that ring of power around our necks and says-alright Frodo, go destroy it.

But we don't go on these journeys alone. We always have people there. Anyone who reads this is free to correct me, but I can't think of a single example of a person being entirely alone for a whole life. Not unless they choose to be (or have it forced on them by abusive parents-I heard of a girl once who was locked in a room for seven years, but then even she had contact with her dad and-I'm getting away from my point). Every hero has his Sam.

And then every hero has his Gandalf the Grey. The one who has power-obvious connection here with the Savior who dies, overcomes death, and becomes more powerful (Gandalf the White).

I don't need to go through all of this. We know how it goes. They leave home, they get friends, they get a talisman for help, people die, the old wise one will die and come back, after lots of trouble the ring is destroyed and we have the tying together of all loose ends and things are happy until someone else decides to create another ring of power.

My point is that thinking of our lives in this way is useful, because in many ways it's true. We are trying to overcome things. We do have the old wise guy to help us. We have our problems. We tell our Sam's to go away (and they come back). People die. We struggle, we fight, we lose, we lose over and over again until we do win because that's what heroes do. It's why Harry won't die in Deathly Hallows-because in this genre-the hero MUST defeat the villain and he must LIVE afterwards. He will have to go into the last battle completely alone physically, but he won't be alone emotionally because of everything else that has happened to bring him to this point. He will be changed. He might run off to the Grey Havens to find peace in a world that can give him none-but he survives. It's the whole point of the book-to make the hero fight for his life to live. It is what we do. We see mountains we cannot climb and we climb them. It's how we're programmed. It's how I'm programmed anyway. I suppose I can't speak for the rest of the world. But I don't know many people who are content to let outside forces dictate on them forever. Not people who are happy for long at any rate. It isn't a happy state to be in. It's not proactive.

So there you have it. Go destroy your rings of power now. No one wants to be Gollum. Well...I take that back. My twelve year old brother does. But it's just because of the cool voice and the loin cloth. Don't ask.


Ben said...

Amen! This is where vitality is at -- just look at the people who've given up on life, how droll and sapped and empty their lives become. Life is in the fight to overcome. It's awfully hard at times, but as you say, we're programmed to climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every byway, till we find our dream. Disobeying that programming is almost a crime against humanity -- our own humanity.

Anyway, posts heavy on the lit (LOTR and Harry in this case) are good. I think I need to write more lit-centric posts... (And start leaving comments more often.)

Head Artichoke said...

I run a program that gets people to accept their role as hero of their own journey. As Ben says here, people who refuse the call lose a large part of their lives.

I don't agree that Harry won't die though. I'm not saying he will, but I'm saying this theory doesn't disprove it. Many heroes die at the end of the their journey. They don't die before they accomplish their goals though.

Joni said...

Oh, I'm not saying that this theory entirely disproves the "Harry is going to die" theory. I'm just saying it's part of it. I've got pleanty of other reasons why he won't die...number one being because I say so and number two being because Jo started the "Harry is going to die" rumor. Maybe I should do a post proving that Harry isn't going to die at some point...sometime closer to the publication of the book I think.