Local Hero

I’ve been asked by a friend of mine, who also happens to teach 8th grade English here in Dallas, to come speak to her class about writing. She’s read several of my stories, and her class will be discussing “The Hero’s Journey” in January, so I’m now on the hook to put together a somewhat coherent lesson on the short story and how it relates to the Monomyth concepts described here.

There are a few things that jump out as I begin thinking about what to say.

  1. One of them is the concept of Community: the hero leaves home, is engaged in an incredibly exciting adventure, gains magical powers or insight … and is then expected to return to the hum-drum routines of everyday life in order to share his magical powers with the local Community.
    • Joseph Campbell, the author of Hero With A Thousand Faces and the incredibly sharp guy who documented this mythological construct after reading and comparing thousands of texts, believes that a hero who refuses to share his mystical knowledge with the Community (a responsibility which can come at great personal expense to the hero), has failed to complete his heroic journey.
    • After all, what kind of a hero helps … himself? Imagine a Superman who only cared about winning the heart of Lois Lane. Or a Michael Clayton who took the bribe rather than expose the corruption in U-North.
  2. The second concept also has to do with refusal: Refusal of the Call. The hero simply says “why bother?” and continues playing Guitar Hero while the world falls apart out his window.
    • Campbell writes: “Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless – even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.”
    • That’s a pretty dire prognosis. Refusal of the call results in the “future” hero never realizing his full potential, doomed to a life of failure and regret.

Campbell’s system tells us that the home is the center of the hero’s world: it’s where he spent his formative years, it’s why he fights and strives against supernatural forces, and it’s the place he desperately needs to return to complete the story. A healthy, fulfilling home life has more power over our hero – whether it be Superman, Michael Clayton, or Bilbo Baggins – than the evil forces against which he strives.

The kids in this 8th grade class attend a well-respected Dallas private school focusing on an international perspective to education. Every one of them can speak three languages or more (French, English and Spanish), and each will have more opportunities than many of their peers in the Dallas public school system. But only if they decide to accept a highly personal and challenging call to adventure, work hard to achieve it, and give something back to their friends, family or local community.