This is about Jung and Campbell, and Peterson perhaps. Please keep the discussion based on Jung and Campbell and narrative patterns. I think we all are painfully aware that the modern media don’t use Jung’s definition of “hero,” which is what I want to focus on today. Thanks.
Kiltie Dave’s post on Tuesday June 30th about Jung (and Campbell) and the pattern of the Hero’s Journey in mythology and story got me thinking a little. Most of us as readers, and later as writers, absorbed the pattern of the myths as kids.* We grew up on fairy tales – Disney-fied or otherwise – movies that used the pattern, and books that also drew on the pattern. Some of us saw Joseph Campbell’s series on PBS, or read the books, or encountered it in college in Comparative Religion class or the like. A number of books have been published about how to use the Hero’s Journey in fiction and film. In fact, one of the better titles I read was aimed at movie writers and used lots of movies and a few books as examples, both good and bad. (Christpher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey)
One question that I had, when I tried to use the pattern exactly (all 10, 17, 21 or so steps), is “how closely do we have to stick with the list?”
The book where I deliberately tried to follow every step Campbell pulled out of Jung’s ideas was Merchant and Magic. Yeah, talk about me making it hard for myself. Middle-aged man with a family goes on the road, trying to make money and hide the fact that he doesn’t have any magical abilities. And he collects coins as a hobby. I can see Campbell’s ghost face-palming and shaking his head. “No, no, that’s the wise mentor, not the hero/protagonist. Didn’t you read my books?”
Um, yes, I did, and I had a checklist sitting beside the computer as I sketched out what I needed to add in order to fit the pattern as closely as possible. It worked, because Tycho Gaalnar Rhonarida’s age isn’t important in the pattern. We’re dealing with archetypes, not requirements, remember. And the Hero’s Journey is a tool in our toolbox. It is a way to push buttons in reader expectations, to have character development, and to keep things moving.
We’ve all read stories where the protagonist doesn’t change and grow. In a short story that can work, likewise in a milieu-based book if we do it carefully. In a novel? Ah, well, not always. Or we wall the book by the end of the second chapter, because the “Hero” is already perfect, and omni-competent, and knows everything she needs to know, and all the other characters defer to her already. They ONLY way you can get away with that is to somehow strip all that away and force character re-development and a Journey. And you’d better foreshadow the living daylights out of it in chapter one, or the readers will flee.
I can see one or two hands or paws waving in the back of the room saying, “Hey, what about Jack Sparrow in the first three Pirates movies?” Ah, but is he the Hero on the Journey, or is he something else? He’s the trickster mentor, not the Hero. [I think the movies would have been more fun and satisfying if he had been the Hero, but that’s because of my dislike of the protagonist.]
So, back to the question: do you have to follow the archetype exactly? Certainly not for a short story or novella. For a novel, at least glancing at the list of steps can make things easier, especially if you hit a wall on characterization of the protagonist. Are things coming too easily to him? Does his final victory feel “cheap,” like he didn’t earn it? Do your alpha readers wonder how he gets from A to C? One possible difficulty is that you skipped an important step. Readers are waiting for something. They might not be able to pin down exactly what’s missing, but the story feels off-kilter. That’s what I ended up doing with Merchant and Magic, which required going back and adding material. Something similar happened in the third Powers book as well.
There has been a lot of criticism of the pattern, especially for modern society. Some of the criticism seems a little strained – that the Hero’s Journey excludes women, for example. Other complaints are more genre specific, or cultural. How does the Hero’s Journey fit into American culture, or does it?
Using the Hero’s Journey as a sort of outline may or may not work for you. It’s a tool in our toolboxes, like Dwight Swain’s “W-shaped pattern” for scenes. A lot of us* have internalized it because of what we read and watched growing up. Don’t force a story into the pattern if it won’t fit exactly. If you look at Campbell’s original, it includes a meeting with a deity (or Fairy [not Tinkerbelle type, either]), Refusal of Return, and other things that don’t fit so well and that might not work for you. However, think about all the metaphorical “come to Jesus” moments in stories. A lot of us also tend to shorten the last half of Campbell’s list, because we look at the story in a slightly different way. Archetypes are not requirements.
Below are some variations on the pattern, the full outline of Campbell’s ideal, and two “applied Journey” discussions.
Versions of the pattern: https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-stages-of-the-heros-journey.htm
*If you are a Reader of a Certain Age.