hero’s journey

The Aged Hero’s Journey

[(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.

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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…

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Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey: II

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey:

 

Part II

Read Part I for a discussion of the concept of the Monomyth and the Hero’s Journey.

A DU grad student of mine about ten years ago (back when they let me create classes with interesting and useful topics) came up with a system for a Villain’s Journey. His idea came about from the many readings in class, and he mused that villains also must go through a Journey, but the steps have got to be different than the path a hero takes. Here’s the Villain’s Journey this student concocted, in its 8 stages parallel to the Hero’s Journey:

8-Step Villain’s Journey (by Jon Thumim):

1. moral conflict

Nobody ever sets out to become a villain. Even villains like Iago, who seem to enjoy their role of Bad Guy, still make choices, moral choices, based on an Objective (for more on objective, tactics, and obstacles, revisit my 3 Rules for Protagonists). The villain is faced with a moral conflict, and must act on it to embark on their journey.

2. Precipice

Much like the hero’s Threshold, the Precipice is the boundary between the mundane everyday regular life, and the Realm within which the villain will become a villain. Once they fall over that precipice, there’s no turning back.

3. Sith Trials

These are the tests and challenges the villain must move through in order to achieve their objective. These trials are often more torturous and self-destructive than the Jedi trials, and the villain, unlike the hero, usually has no help in their endeavors.

4. The Void

This is where the villain faces total annihilation. Sometimes the Conflict with the Hero stage happens before this one, causing the obliteration; but sometimes it can be as simple as our villain getting a glimpse into the nothingness, which is (like the hero’s abyss) the biggest challenge for the villain, the most difficult trial and one it’s not certain they’ll survive. In fact, as we’ll see in stage 7, they probably won’t.

5. Conflict w/hero

The villain’s comeuppance and time to shine as the villain they are comes in this stage, where they must face off against their own Boss Monster, the hero. Very rarely does the villain win this contest.

6. Forswear mentor

The-Phantom-Menace-Poster-1-05032015

Whatever you think of Episode I, this image from its poster has always struck me. It’s…illustrative. It’s actually much more compelling than the actual story the movie gave us.

The life of the villain is a solitary one, and where the hero will Atone with the Father, the villain will do no such thing, rejecting and forswearing any teachings, gifts, or help their magical guide or mentor may have supplied till now (or they’ll take the money and run, thank you very much). They’ve grown villainously beyond the fairy godperson and will face their world alone.

7. Dismemberment

Where the hero underwent a Transformation, becoming more themselves than ever before as they became the hero, the villain’s transformation is much more destructive. The villain isn’t transformed into themselves, but is instead annihilated, ripped apart, until there are only pieces left. In contemporary stories, this tends to be a metaphorical dismemberment, but in ancient folk and fairy tales, it’s literal.

8. Resurrection

The villain is obliterated, annihilated, by their journey, and when resurrected, they’re never the same. Often in old stories and in fantasy tales, the villain is now no longer a healthy human being, but an unnatural abomination, often actually undead. Voldemort and his horcruxes are a vivid example of this.

What do you think of this dark, Mirror-Mirror version of the Monomyth? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Hero’s Journey / Villain’s Journey: I

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey :

 

Part I

When I was very young and first learned about story formulae, it distressed me, as I was worried very much about originality at the time. But once I grew into my writership and my voice and became more and more well read, I realized that formulae like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey function as skeletons, a strong (and yes, necessarily same) structure that a storyteller can then hang original flesh and clothing on top of. See Kirby Ferguson’s Everything Is A Remix episode wherein he talks about the materials George Lucas used to build the bird’s nest that is Star Wars, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the recycled, and a new view of what it means to be “original.”

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, laid out the basic structure for all story, something he called the Monomyth. The original Journey consists of 17 different phases or stages the hero goes through, from the Call to the Apotheosis to the Magical Flight, and so on. Many writers have shortened this formula down to a more manageable three stages: The Call, Road Of Trials, and Return. Personally, I prefer an 8-stage version a teacher concocted from the original 17, in that with the 8 stages, we get the detail of the Journey more specifically than the very simplified 3-step version, but it is much easier to swallow (and more versatile) than the full 17. And I have taught my writing students this 8-stage version in my own Jenn way for many years (part Campbell’s words, part pop culture/my own. And ain’t that just so postmodern of me?).

(Only thing better is my 3 Rules for Protagonists, based on Stanislavsky’s acting “Method.” And it is better. But this piece of writing is specifically about the hero’s and villain’s Journey, so I digress…)

Anyway. This is my take:

8-step version Hero’s Journey

1. call to adventure

Our hero (oh, and, side note: I eschew use of the word “heroine,” as it is merely the diminutive form of the noun. I don’t use the word “actress” for the same reason. The feminine should not be diminutive. A person is a hero or an actor, no matter what gender they express) gets whisked away on the adventure. The snug norm of regular life is disrupted, and it’s time to embark upon the unknown. Very often, the hero resists the Call (or even outright refuses it), but no matter if they do, they end up running after those dwarves without a pocket-handkerchief, or taking the red pill, or falling down the rabbit hole regardless.

2. Threshold

This is the gateway to the Magical Realm. In old stories (and often In new fantasies), this is where the hero enters the Forest. Usually there’s some kind of terrifying guardian at this gate, and the hero must use their own bravery and wit (and often, help and/or gifts from a wise mentor or fairy godperson) in order to get through. The doorway to nirvana is guarded by two fearsome swordsmen, for example, and the way back to the Garden of Eden is flanked by terrible (also sword-wielding) seraphim. But crossing the threshold is only the first challenge for the hero…

3. Jedi trials

Once the hero is in the Other Realm, away from the normal world as we know it, they’re immediately in mortal, life-changing danger. They must undergo a series of challenges in order to move on, each one tougher and more dangerous than the one before. And each test makes the hero stronger, and teaches them more. This stage is the one where our hero may meet other characters like the Temptress/Goddess and the Trickster, and may or may not lose their magical guide here. The first Star Wars movie follows this precisely, as once Luke crosses through the threshold (Mos Eisely spaceport; you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy), he meets Leia, Han, Chewie, and loses Obi-Wan. Sorry, did you need a spoiler alert?

4. Abyss

This is the worst, darkest, direst of the Jedi Trials. This is the most difficult test the hero goes through, the one where they almost give up, or nearly perish. If our hero is in a video game, this is where they must fight the Boss Monster, and it’s uncertain whether or not they’ll succeed.

lastcrusadegrail

“You chose…wisely.”

5. A-ha moment

This is the moment when the hero puts their hands on the Holy Grail. When they attain their objective, or realize it’s not attainable. Indiana Jones literally did this in the third movie of that trilogy (yes, the Indiana Jones franchise is only a trilogy lalalalala I can’t hear you what are you saying about a crystal skull)….

6. Transformation

Sometimes this happens right with the a-ha moment, or the a-ha moment happens because of this. This stage is where the hero changes irrevocably—no longer are they the hapless teenager, scared little girl, or impatient farmboy. That abyss was the straw that broke the hero’s back and transformed them into an actual hero.

7. Atonement w/father

Often if the hero is female, this stage is an atonement with the mother figure instead, but just as often it’s a father figure regardless of heroic gender. Even more usually, the father figure is the highest god, The Father, as it were. The Norse and Greek myths were all about this stage, though usually the atonement comes in the form of punishment in those tales.

8. Return w/boon

The hero must return with all the wisdom and superpowers and whatever else they’ve gained along their journey, to bring the boon of their new heroship to benefit the community. This return is often where you’ll find the stage called Magical Flight, where the hero continues to have help in order to cross back over the threshold into the regular world. Now the hero is what Campbell called Master of Two Worlds, able to exist both in the enchanted realm and the world of workaday reality.

 

Stay tuned for Part II, where I will introduce and discuss the concept of the Villain’s Journey.

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