[(Aged) hero’s journey]
I was struck by recollection of Ursula K. LeGuin’s very-important-to-me Earthsea series upon news of her recent passing, and was especially struck by the Hero’s Journey she constructs in The Farthest Shore. Sure, it’s ostensibly young Arren’s Journey, but actually? No. It isn’t. It’s Ged’s. After already living comfortably as Archmage for many years, in middle age, he embarks on another hero’s journey. Arren goes through a classic coming of age adventure, but Ged’s Journey, though the same adventure and path, is at the same time completely different, because of his age (and station). So I was inspired to construct a hero’s journey that’s specifically for us old people.
This is a hero’s journey that isn’t a coming of age story (or at least, it’s not a coming of that particular young age, nor is it a story of becoming an adult). Our hero is already an adult, and even already a hero, before s/he embarks.
I’ve made it into 8 stages, to go with my 8-Stage classic hero’s journey and the villain’s journey I’ve written about here before.
You might want to familiarize yourself with those again before plunging into this one.
1. Break in stasis / call to adventure
I use a term from the beginning of the Freytag’s Pyramid story structure here along with the Hero’s Journey classic “call to adventure” because for our older, experienced hero, the comfort of regular life, the level life of stasis, the “way things is” in normal existence, including the presence of friends and family, is a deeper and higher stakes situation for the older hero. The comforts of home are kinda essential for someone with chronic arthritis in her knees, and her family, in contrast to the young hero running from/rebelling against her parental figures and elders, instead is herself the elder. Her family might be her own children, her home the comfort of a chosen partner. Leaving this behind takes a great, dire, often violent, disturbance.
2. Resisting the call / shutting the door
I’m too old for an adventure; get off my lawn! How dare you disturb me in my retirement—I’m done with all that now. Allow me to milk these island beasts in peace. No, I haven’t tapped into the Force since my nephew went bad, which was my fault, by the way. I can’t harm anyone out here in my retirement, nor am I willing to save the world. Again. Been there done that got the T-shirt and the scars. Go back to your rebellion, kid, and leave me here where I belong.
3. Return to the forest
There’s usually, as stated in stage one, a volatile, vital, and necessary reason to drag the Aged Hero out of her stasis, comfortable or no. Once she realizes her refusal of the call to adventure is to no avail, she’ll embark on her journey, back into the Forbidden Forest. But, unlike when she was young, she knows exactly how to navigate the threshold; in fact, it’s usually her own stubbornness that’s the only thing holding her back. Those fearsome guardians at the gate? They remember her and know her well, or at the very least, our hero knows very well how to move through that gate. It’s familiar territory, as is the Realm itself.
4. Becoming the fae
Once the Aged Hero is back in the Forest/Enchanted Realm/whathaveyou, he doesn’t have to fight anybody, or pit his wits or strength against the magical guides or guards. Both, honestly, are fading at any rate. And boy does that stump look comfy to rest on, just for a minute while he catches his breath. And look at that young hero who just broke through the gate guardians, looking terrified of the path. I wonder if he has any water to spare…
Know how in every old tale, the young hero always should share his meager supplies when he comes across strangers in the Wood? That’s because the strangers (if treated kindly), will help him succeed in his journey. Sometimes the strangers are magical denizens of the Realm. But sometimes….
5. Give up the gifts
The Aged Hero acquired these magical boons long ago, and if she’s a real hero, she already returned with them, using them to benefit her community. They have served her well, and made life a little better for her tribe/family/etc. But now it’s time to give them to somebody who can use them better than she can. Or, it’s time to use them one more time: just once, for the final and most important act.
6. Acknowledge the child/ren
This stage can come simultaneously with Stage 5, with the old hero giving his gifts up to the younger one, or it can be a more symbolic passing of the torch. At any rate, it’s not his story anymore: it belongs to the young ones now, and will continue with them.
7. Last legs / home again
The return-w-boon is usually in this stage the Empty Vessel, from which the Aged Hero has poured out her power in order to save the world, or it’s an empty hand from which the torch was passed, etc. More wisdom, often in the form of deep love, is now the Aged Hero’s boon, and she, tired to death, returns without magic, but all the empty spaces wherein the magic once was. And a deeper, more integrated, quieter, powerful innerstrength withal.
8. Golden years / I’m fucking retired, y’all
No really, kids. This time I mean it. For reals. Get off my lawn, seriously.
This stage can take the form of a disappearance or death, like our elder Jedi in the Star Wars stories, or just going into retirement, or moving on physically, like Tolkien’s old immortal Elves retreating to the western lands, leaving Middle-Earth to the young humans to mind. Maybe the Aged Hero teaches the younger ones now, or (more often) not, but a new stasis is established in any case.
Of course, this new stasis can be broken again at any time.
Ugh, what’s that call I hear? The Call to Adventure? Again? Nope, not this time—my back hurts…