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Some problems with the Hero's Journey - Input Junkie
March 24th, 2012
08:20 am

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Some problems with the Hero's Journey
HULK EXPLAINS WHY WE SHOULD STOP IT WITH THE HERO JOURNEY SHIT, and let me tell you, I refused the call to read this several times because IT'S IN ALL CAPS!

However, I've hated Joseph Campbell for a long time. I'd like to be able to read about things taking place in a forest without wondering whether it's a liminal place, but brain bleach for such things isn't yet available. Tentative: Mirkwood doesn't seem very liminal, I guess Treabeard's forest is sorta-kinda liminal.

I eventually started reading, and the author is absolutely right that the tools for analysis are not the same as the methods of construction.

And that the hero ought to have some sort of a spark rather than being no one in particular. And when I say no one in particular, I especially mean Neo. This may not be a great example, since many people love The Matrix, but I kept wondering, why is that nebbish the One?

More generally, the theme seems to be that story needs to be driven by distinctive characters who personally want things, and the hero's journey has become a dreary paint-by-numbers exercise. I assume that if "distinctive characters who personally want things" became the rule, some writers would find some way to make that routine, too.

There's a video clip of Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park writers) explaining something it took them a long time to learn. Scenes should never be connected by "and then"-- that boring. Scenes should always be connected by "therefore" or "but".

I seem to have put the conclusion in the middle, so all that's left is to mention that the essay has some charming illos, especially the Hulk piggy bank and the Japanese Gilgamesh.

Link thanks to [personal profile] green_knight.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/535407.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:metahacker
Date:March 24th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
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Thank for the link!

I agree, media is more interesting the more, well, entropy it contains. The more you can't *quite* predict what happens next. Totally random is boring; totally structured is boring; two steps left of normal is fascinating. Because you've heard this song before, but you want to see what they do with the chorus this time, because that thing in the opening verse was awesome.

None of those storytellers (Gilgamesh, Star Wars, Arthur, ...) set out to write a monomyth story. It was in their bones, because it falls naturally out of how we culturally recognize a particular way for abandoned boys to rise to manhood. (If you or your readers are curious, here's my analysis of the monomyth, with some psychology thrown in. Mild warning: contains talk about male anatomy.)

I feel this way with most 'formula' stories, whether it's monomyth, little princess, hard-boiled detective, Saturday morning cartoon, or 5-act tragedy. Know the formula--don't write the formula. No one listens to songs that consist entirely of scales (except perhaps for Trance, and that's a special case). So don't just write the monomyth over again.
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From:kalimac
Date:March 24th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
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I made the mistake of going on to read Hulk's analysis of "Mulholland Dr." Up until now, I liked that movie. I don't mean to criticize the basic explanation of wtf is going on in that movie; that's correct and I figured it out long ago. I mean the load of academic film critic bs that Hulk burdens the rest of the post with.
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From:louiseroho
Date:March 24th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Neo isn't some nebbish. He's hot. Hot guys should always get super-powers.
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From:sartorias
Date:March 24th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
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My problem with this guy is that he makes one single (usually fairly obvious) point then hammers, smashes, blow-dries, curls, frizzes, spangles, and drops pianos from the sky on it.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 24th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
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Fair enough. He also isn't as funny as he thinks he is.

Still, in this essay, he made more than one point I hadn't seen before.
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From:whswhs
Date:March 24th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
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John Campbell the editor of Astounding Science Fiction? I'm wondering if you're thinking of Joseph Cambell the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 24th, 2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
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Ouch. I'll correct it.
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From:heron61
Date:March 24th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
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That's an excellent article, but I also don't think it goes quite far enough. Campbell claims that the "Hero's Journey" is "The" (or perhaps simply "The Western") adventure/hero story. In addition to the various criticisms in that article, it's clearly not applicable to many non-western stories (one of the greatest benefits of my MA in cultural anthro is solid training on ripping apart alleged human universals). I also don't think a number of classic Western stories fit into the model all that well. Campbell did a whole lot of folding and shoving to fit all of the stories he used into his model, and he left out other options. From my PoV, it's clearly a workable (if done well) story structure, but it's also far from the only one. Like Freud and Marx, Campbell wanted to find a singular and universal explanation and I have yet to see any evidence that humans or human cultures work that way in anything more than the most trivially general sense.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 24th, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
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Campbell's treatment is like the notion of "sonata form" in classical music. It's an excellent guide to finding common practices and repeated approaches, but if you try to match a (literary or musical) work point by point to the pattern and regard any differences as deviations from a norm, it squeezes all the life out.
(Deleted comment)
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From:captain_button
Date:March 26th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
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On the all caps thing in future you might try copy and pasting into you word processor of choice and converting it to all lower case or "sentence case" or something.
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From:subnumine
Date:March 26th, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
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Any theory that there are only X types of story will not survive contact with real stories. This goes doubly for There must be only One type of story, whether the theorist is Campbell or Graves or Propp.

But Campbell is a useful list of Things that Happen in Stories. Thus, Mirkwood does change Bilbo: beginning in Mirkwood, he acts on his own, without Gandalf and effectively without the dwarves, and saves the situation - and he does it twice, once against the spiders and once against Thranduil. Without that change, we would not believe his coping with the perils of the Mountain.

But because Tolkien doesn't coat it over with theory (he knew more about myth, and less about the theory of myth, than anybody is apt to nowadays - lucky man), we don't notice; I had to read Tom Shippey to see this.
From:sweetstute
Date:March 27th, 2012 08:08 pm (UTC)

Kal Bashir's version of Hero's Journey rocks man

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Hero's Journey is cool dude.....and everywhere, you gotta look at it from Kal Bashir's point of view at http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html ...it's just a set of functions.

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From:arhyalon
Date:April 1st, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
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I am amused to see this today, two days after I realized that my all time favorite characters are ones who JUMP on the adventure (That's italics caps not yelling caps. ;-) Rather than those who try to refuse the call.
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