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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

A few weeks ago, my roommate and I were discussing books, ambitions, and other lovely topics.  On the topic of writing and written works as a whole, I once again mentioned my love for fiction. I shared my declaration of devotion to the genre with a speech that finds a constant home on my lips.  Several days later, while talking with another friend, the subject of the monomyth and its ever-increasing popularity in modern fiction came under discussion.  This perpetuated my already-constant mulling over why so many of us connect with certain stories.

What is a monomyth, you ask?  Is it the creature that lives in the dryer and feasts on singular socks with the malicious purpose of creating odd ones?  Or isn’t that a town in New Jersey?  Nope.   It’s actually a literary concept, also known as the “Hero’s Journey.”  This concept of story-telling was described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949.  The term monomyth was apparently coined from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  History lesson concluded.

More practically, the Hero’s Journey is the story of someone seemingly ordinary being called to fulfill an extraordinary task.  It involves a calling to adventure, encounters with the supernatural, a road of trials, atonement, supportive journeyers, and ultimately a return from a successful quest which empowers the hero to live a life transformed.  There are more details to the steps, of course, but I fear it would overtake this post.  However, if you’re geeky like me, and wish to learn more, you can check out these sites:  http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00212/monomyth.html, http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/hero_journey/hero_journey.htm.

Anyway, the Hero’s Journey is displayed in countless books, movies, and other artistic expressions that we hold dear.  The Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Harry Potter, Spiderman, King Arthur, Odyssey, Star Wars, and Avatar are all examples of this type of story.   The list goes on for days.  I realize that the list I’ve described is composed of fantasy/science fiction, but the Hero’s Journey appears in other genres outside of these, albeit less directly.  In any case, this story structure is apparent in a great deal of popular fiction.  My point?  I think there’s a larger reason why this type of story appeals to people, a reason beyond the obvious.  I think it’s actually a parallel to the reality of life.

Let me lay down a little bit of premise about human nature.  Naturally, we humans label, compartmentalize, minimize, and categorize.  We put things in containers and formulas to make them more comprehensible and manageable.  We do it with everything, including our views and experiences of God.  We read his word with monotonous or matter-of-fact tones.  We predict how he will answer our prayers.  We focus on the attributes we can understand with human terminology the most.  We put the supernatural God in a human-shaped box to make him easier for our earthbound psyches to digest.  I do it all the time.

The real truth, which He’s been revealing to me more and more over the past several years, is that He is wild, magical, mysterious, humanly unpredictable, larger than time itself, infinite, grand, etc.  I find a great deal of symbolism in fictional works that forces my imagination to go outside it’s human parameters to imagine a world where trees send messages, the weak are used to slay the monsters, and love, good and truth know no bounds.  I’m forced to confront the truth that God has the power to create such things and even more beyond my puny perception’s reach.  I think, deep down, people want to believe that such a world and such a God exist.  Now, I’m not saying that parallel realms exist in which enchanted purple dragons cut through the night sky and 400-year-old willow trees have tea and walk about freely.  I have no proof that they don’t, but even my head isn’t quite that far into the clouds.  But I digress.

People are created with the intrinsic knowledge—however deeply buried—that they’re meant for more than that which is visible and tangible.  We all need to find this.  Typical human behavior and tendencies provide proof to the fact that everyone is looking for better and higher experiences all the time.  Some seek it in drug-induced states.  Some in human love and sex.  Some in TV or material possessions (the less socially damned but equally as dangerous mediums.)  They’re all reaches, conscious or unconscious, towards that “something more.”  We all want to be and experience more and were divinely created to feel this insatiable desire which points to God Himself.

Coming back to the Hero’s Journey, I believe it is appealing because it involves all of the things that life is actually supposed to involve.  Each Christian testimony (the story of how a person came to know Christ) is a version of the Hero’s Journey.  He calls and pursues us all our lives.  He intervenes supernaturally.  We join with others on this journey, experience challenges/temptations, and eventually experience death, rebirth, and transformation.  We are then called to live this transformed life for the benefit of the entire world (i.e. The Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20.)

To summarize, we are natural creatures created for experiencing the Supernatural and this literary structure outlines it and speaks to that created mindset.  That’s why people are drawn to it.  The twist, however, in actual reality is that we’re not the heroes at all and there is little personal glory to be found (which I find incredibly freeing.)  God is the protagonist and the supernatural influence.  He is also the author of each of our stories (Hebrews 12:2 and Acts 3:15,) and an incredible one at that.  He writes them as sagas that are constantly building towards the climax.  Yes, undeniably, they are dynamic tales filled with ups and downs, triumphs and trials, joy and pain.  Thus is the Hero’s Journey.  It is, however, never dull and filled with unlimited potential to find joy in abundance.  Even more beautifully, the ultimate ending to these adventures we live, though unseen by the living, is an eternity of perfect bliss with He who holds the quill. (Revelation 21:1-5)

How truly wonderful indeed.

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