Writing: That spellbinding call to adventure

starwarsposter“Every story involves a problem or Central Dramatic Question that disrupts the Ordinary World. The Hero must enter the Special World to solve the problem, answer the dramatic question, and return balance. The Ordinary World allows the storyteller to contrast the Ordinary and Special worlds. The ordinary World is the Hero’s home, the safe haven upon which the Special World and the Journey’s outcome must be compared. Areas of contrast may include the Special World’s physical and emotional Version of characteristics, its rules and inhabitants, as well as the Hero’s actions and growth while traveling through this Special World.” – Stuart Voytilla in Myth and the Movies

“It is a very strong rule in drama, and in life, that people remain true to their basic natures. They change, and their change is essential for drama, but typically they only change a little, taking a single step towards integrating a forgotten or rejected quality into their natures.” – Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

“When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it.” – Amelia Earhart.

harrypotterfilmsIn Hero’s Journey stories, the dynamic question that stirs up the everyday life of the protagonist is referred to as “The Call to Adventure.” The event that gets the hero’s attention also gets the reader’s attention. Sometimes the reader knows about the event before the protagonist. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, for example, a body falls off a balcony in the first sentence of the book. Cormoran Strike, a private investigator, reads about the event in the newspaper but doesn’t know he will be involved until he’s hired to investigate the crime. If the Call to Adventure is delayed in the story, authors must decide how to keep readers engaged until the dynamic event occurs. Sometimes the would-be hero will need a series of calls before s/he reacts.

highnoonHere are some events from popular movies that disrupted the day-to-day life of the main character and created the circumstances that pulled him or her into a journey:

  • Star Wars: Luke’s life is turned upside down when a droid with a message from Princes Leia arrives on his planet.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Owls bring letters from Hogwarts inviting Harry to enroll. Each of the subsequent films/books in the series introduced the action through a new call to adventure. Each film/book was a journey, and the series was an overarching odyssey of journeys.
  • High Noon: A villain arrives at the small town’s train station. Like Notorious, this movie followed a mythic structure long before the format became widely known through the works of Joseph Campbell. The general public became more aware of Joseph Campbell after his interviews with Bill Moyers on PBS in the 1980s. Hollywood executive Christopher Vogler adapted Campbell’s work for authors and scriptwriters in his The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters released in 1992.
  • hungergamesposterNotorious: The Cary Grant character, T.R. Devlin, asks the Ingrig Bergman character, Alicia Huberman, to infiltrate a spy ring.
  • The Matrix: A message on Neo’s computer screen tells him to follow the white rabbitt
  • You’ve Got Mail: A mega-book store opens around the corner from Kathleen’s small store forcing her to fight for her business
  • The Lion King: Mufasa tells Simba that one day the kingdom will be his.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind: After a UFO burns electrical lineman Roy Neary’s face and vehicle, he receives psychic images of Devil’s Tower. On the conscious level, a man wants to know more about a UFO; on the subconscious level, the story not only affects Roy, but has ramifications for all of human kind.
  • The Wizard of Oz: Toto runs away after being grabbed by Miss Gulch. The musical numbers an animated scenes in this movie often obscure the fact that it’s a journey film. Like Mary Poppins, this film shows that journey films and books need not be overtly dark, deep and inaccessible, and often attract wide audiences who are looking for “pure entertainment.”
  • wizardozField of Dreams: Ray hears a voice say “If you build it, he will come.” Like many journey films, this one is a very personal story about a man and his father. Yet, the results of Ray’s baseball field impact a lot of other people as well.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen’s destiny is changed when her sister is randomly selected as a Hunger Games contestant. The resonance of this film with large audiences shows, I think, the inherent power of a mythic story even though most of those in the theater are viewing the story quite simply as an adventure.

The Call to Adventure may look random, but in a mythic sense–as Joseph Campbell saw it–the call was, in fact, the hero’s destiny. While that destiny may be personal, if often has ramifications for the protagonist’s family, town or nation.

Great myths–those many of us grew up hearing in school–tended to be about gods, national heroes and the destinies of peoples and nations. Fairytales, on the other hand, made similar things more personal and practical for everyday people. Both myths and fairytales have a lot to teach us about the human condition and its great themes as well as about how page-turning stories should be told.

Stories demand a certain amount of plausibility, so most protagonists–no matter how complacent they fieldofdreamsmay seems–are more or less ready for the adventure. They live under dysfunctional, dissatisfying, static or dangerous conditions. The Call to Adventure is the spark that ignites the waiting combustible material. As authors, we start our stories by upsetting the status quo: that is what the Call to Adventure does in fiction.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Garden of Heaven Trilogy, a series of contemporary fantasy novels with many hero’s journey themes. They include “The Seeker,” “The Sailor” and “The Betrayed.” All three novels are available on Kindle, Nook, OmniLit, Smashwords and iTunes.



Katniss and Harry – Orphans in the Storm

“We find them everywhere in fantasy fiction: the “orphaned heroes,” young men and women whose parents are dead, absent, or unknown, who turn out to be the heirs to the kingdom, the destined pullers of swords from stones, the keys to the riddles, the prophesies’ answers, the bearers of powerful magic.” – Terri Windling in Lost and Found: The Orphaned Hero  in Myth, Folklore, and Fantasy

“The hero, Tristan, is a conventional orphan-hero. Mythic heroes are typically orphans and/orfoundlings of some sort. This symbolic convention was first discovered by psychoanalyst OttoRank (1914/1964), described in his classic work, ‘The Myth of the Birth of the Hero.'” – Ronald L. Boyer in “Key Archetypes in the Celtic Myth of Tristan and Isolde: A Brief Introduction”

hungergamesposterOrphans in literature and in fact are portrayed as beginning life behind the figurative 8-ball. In novels and classic myths, they grow up in an uncertain world, often without love and often with cruel or other substandard conditions. Sometimes we find them in institutions, sometimes with relatives or foster families, and sometimes as street-smart children living on the fringes of society in major cities.

Variously, society often pities them, mistrusts them, intrudes into their lives purportedly in their best interests and views them as broken children who will have a long, hard climb back into  the normal world of commerce, relationships and other traditional forms of success. We also see them as underdogs and, in spite of whatever else we may feel about their birth and circumstances, we root for them  in literature and life.

In J. K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books and movies, Harry is the unwanted orphan forced to live in a cupboard beneath the stairs. In Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games, the fatherless and –practically speaking–motherless Katniss Everdeen struggles to support the family in a coal mining district. Do they have an extra axe to grind? Has their childhood made them more suspicious and/or more resourceful than children in happy families? Perhaps.

The first real help they get comes from outside their families. Harry is mentored by Hagrid. Katniss is mentored by Haymitch Abernathy. Harry leaves his everyday world when he goes to Hogwarts and Katniss leaves her everyday world when she takes the train to the capital city.

harrypotterfilmsIn their stories, Katniss and Harry follow a long literary tradition. According to John Granger (aka, the Hogwarts Professor), their “hero’s journey — one in which the principal character plays the part of what the Bible calls ‘the heart’ and their story is about their apotheosis or spiritual illumination, something like divinization — has a tradition of its own in English literature we can call ‘literary alchemy.’”  Twilight, The Hunger Games and Rowling’s series contain similar tropes and symbols.

Whether we consciously know what those themes and symbols are, we resonate to them when we read myths and modern fiction that contain them.  One way or another we know what it takes to turn lead into gold and to turn an orphan into a heroic figure.

We have seen this story in many forms with many characters. As Windling writes:

“We can trace the archetype back from the popular fantasy books listed above to the literary orphans of the 19th century (Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’, Mark Twain’s ‘Huck Finn,’ Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre,’ to name just a few), and then further back through “foundling” stories such as Henry Fielding’s ‘The History of Tom Jones’ and William Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ to a world–wide body of folk tales and myths about children orphaned and abandoned. Alongside these stories is another deep cache of tales on the “stolen child” theme: children whisked away by fairies, trolls, djinn, gypsies, Baba Yaga. . .sometimes reappearing many years later and sometimes never seen again. We discussed changeling and stolen child stories in a previous article, so well leave these tales aside for the moment and focus on the orphan archetype.”

Stories about orphans in the storm can be powerful because of the authors’ art and craft in creating memorable plots and characters. They’re also powerful because such stories are part of a long literary tradition than rings a bell, subconsciously perhaps, when we pick up a book about an orphan on a larger-than-life journey.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels.


Hero’s Journey Resources

herothousandfacesThose of us who write novels using the hero’s journey often keep several books about the journey on our desks, referring to those above all others.

While a lot of writers turn to Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, I still turn to Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and then to Houston’s The Hero and the Goddess. Our preferences often depend on which book we discovered first. I discovered Joseph Campbell’s writing when I was in college, so I rely on his interpretations for most things except the heroine’s journey.

It’s a mistake, I think, to say either that there is no heroine’s journey or that it’s simply a woman following the structure of the hero’s journey. For the heroine’s journey, I turn to Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey, followed by Perea’s Descent to the Goddess.

Some see these journeys unfolding in the seasons, in patterns of life, in the Tree of Life, and in the progression of a seeker through the Tarot trumps. Others look at the steps (degrees) at a mystery school and find the journey there, while others look at traditional patterns of initiation as we find them in the “Lesser” and “Greater” Mysteries. In many ways, these are all one in the same, but as seekers, we tend to feel more attuned to one description of the path rather than another.

Whether you’re adapting the journey to your life, your writing, or your approach to subjects where it easily applies (literature, psychology), the pathway is fascinating. The minute you think you know many things about the path, you discover a new angle, symbol or interpretation.

If you like on-going discussions about the journey–and myth, in general–you might enjoy the web site of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. (You have to join as an “associate” to take part in the  discussion boards.) You can also find interesting articles on the Harris Communications site.

Once you start looking for it, you’ll find the hero’s and heroine’s journeys everywhere.

Additional Hero’s Journey Resources


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” a hero’s journey novel.

The Dance of Sun and Moon – Stages on the Journey

When the Sun and the Moon are viewed within the arena of Western esoteric traditions, including alchemy and the Tarot, they represent opposites that approach and retreat from each other even though they are destined to be merged into one. In these traditions, the Sun represents fire, masculine, positive (polarity), rational, visible world, and the consciousness mind. The Moon represents water, feminine, negative (polarity), intuition, hidden world, and the unconscious mind.

It is said that the enlightened being, often called The Wonder Child or viewed as the Philosopher’s Stone, is born from the merging of these apparent father/mother, king/queen opposites as depicted in the old art work shown here.

One of the many ways of illustrating the steps on the path to enlightenment, the goal of the hero’s and heroine’s journeys, is through the sequence of Major Arcana (trumps) cards in a Tarot deck. The Major Arcana  cards begin with “0 The Fool,” who is considered the innocent initiate at the beginning of the journey/quest and end with “21 The Universe,” which represents ascension. En route, the seeker finds “18 The Moon” and “19 The Sun.”

I like the description of the Moon and Sun  cards in the ancient quests of  knights for the Holy Grail. The Moon, then, is the Grail in the lake (beautiful water symbolism here) and the Sun represents the Grail lifted up into the pure light prior to completing the quest. Afterwards, the initiate/seeker reaches “20 Aeon” which is viewed as the rising of the Phoenix from the ashes prior to ascension.

Many Paths = One Destination

There are multiple layers of symbols here when we overlay the hero’s/heroine’s journey paths with all their traditional associations, including the Lesser Mysteries and Greater Mysteries, the cycles of the seasons around “the wheel of the year,” the Tree of Life, Tarot, alchemy and astrology. One need not study all of this, or even any of this, to understand seeker’s journey. The journey is who we are and what we are about. All of the paths to enlightenment are pointed toward the same end: transformation. Each of us focuses on the symbols we’re most comfortable with and attuned to.

Some experts say that we’re impacted by these symbols even if we are not consciously aware of them or understand the little we may have heard about them. I am a novice in using Tarot and understanding the cards’ many connections to the Tree of Life, spiritual alchemy and the cycles of the seasons. Generally, though, I like the symbolism of the Thoth Deck of Cards. The Moon and Sun cards shown here are from that deck and have a fair amount of symbolism.

  • Moon: The overall tone here is night. In the Book of Thoth, the Moon is called the “Gateway of Resurrection.” During night and Winter, the waiting Sun is diminished or absent. The landscape here is severe and the stream is mixed with blood. The sacred scarab holds the sun in its darkness while the moon occupies the mind and cosmos.
  • Sun: The overall tone here is light, with the twelve major rays standing for the signs of the zodiac. The light emanates from a rose-like sun, standing for the flowering of the solar influence. The children above the green and fertile earth are forever young and innocent. They represent the seeker’s and/or humankind’s next stage.

The Writer’s Raw Materials


As a writer, I love the relationship of symbols and story ideas. They can strongly impact plots, themes and characters. There are many ways to characterize a journey. For example, readers of my hero’s journey novel The Sun Singer  will find numerous references to light and the other aspects of the so-called solar journey. For more information, see the Journey Page on my website and explore the information on the Joseph Campbell Foundation site. The book’s Glacier Park setting reminds park visitors and fans of “Going to the Sun Road” and the expanse of light one sees from high mountain trails.

Likewise, readers of my heroine’s journey novel Sarabande will find numerous references to water and the other aspects of the so-called lunar journey. The Heroine’s Page and the Sarabande Page on my website have more details. While the book’s story begins in the mountain high country, the plot (which is oriented around the moon’s phases) becomes more focused on rivers, dreams and the so-called “Underworld.”



For more information about Tarot cards in general, you might enjoy exploring one of my favorite sites: Raven’s Tarot Site. Here you’ll learn more about the Major Arcana (trumps), Minor Arcana (suits), and their correspondences with the Tree of Life, the classic elements, and astrology.

My first intention in both of these books is telling an exciting story. Both stories have many associations with myths and symbols. Those who know the myths and symbols will, perhaps, smile when they see the references. Those who do not consciously know the myths and symbols will still be subject to their spells.

As Rumi said, “What you seek, seeks you.” So, perhaps when you’ve finished reading the stories, you’ll be drawn into the “inner stories” behind the actions of Robert Adams (The Sun Singer) and Sarabande (Sarabande). When that happens, you’ll find that what you are looking for will begin to appear more often in your life in the form of books, websites and links, things you see on the way to work or on a hike, people who are interested in these subjects, and your dreams.

Meanwhile, as you read the novels, I hope you’ll enjoy the action while you are dancing with the Sun and the Moon—as they dance with each other.


Briefly Noted: ‘Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey’ by Valerie Estelle Frankel

In February 20121, McFarland released a new book for authors and readers interested in the heroine’s journey in fiction and myth and for fans of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (1992) and the subsequent television series (1997 – 2003).  A well-researched book, Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey is a natural extension of Valerie Frankel’s work in From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth (McFarland, 2010).

On her website, Frankel writes that “Though scholars often place heroine tales on Campbell’s hero’s journey point by point, the girl has always had a notably different journey than the boy. She quests to rescue her loved ones, not destroy the tyrant as Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker does. The heroine’s friends augment her natural feminine insight with masculine rationality and order, while her lover is a shapeshifting monster of the magical world—a frog prince or beast-husband (or two-faced vampire!). The epic heroine wields a magic charm or prophetic mirror, not a sword. And she destroys murderers and their undead servants as the champion of life. As she struggles against the Patriarchy—the distant or unloving father—she grows into someone who creates her own destiny.”

A new era in film and fiction for three-dimensional female action characters?

Frankel’s new book appears at a time when readers, authors and reviewers are discussing whether or not Lisbeth Salander (in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series) and Katniss (in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series) represent a positive trend in the development of female protagonists that are more than male-gaze eye candy. That is, can authors and film makers step away from the patriarchal idea that women—whether they kick ass or not—are little more than sex objects?

Unfortunately, Frankel—along with author Maureen Murdock (The Heroine’s Journey)—appear to represent a minority view. Most film makers are still trotting out female characters in mini-skirts and bikinis fighting alongside male counterparts who are dressed in normal uniforms or SWAT team gear, while many authors and screenwriters are arguing that the heroine’s journey is no more than a female character following Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey sequence.

As the author of a contemporary fantasy novel featuring the hero’s journey (The Sun Singer) and another that features the heroine’s journey (Sarabande), I find it refreshing to find another author/researcher who sees a difference between solar and lunar journeys. While I think my heroine’s journey story would make a great film, I don’t want Hollywood to turn my title character into a male-gaze Lara Croft-style protagonist transported to the mountains and plains of Montana in a tight and/or skimpy outfit.

Publisher’s Description: The worlds of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and other modern epics feature the Chosen One–an adolescent boy who defeats the Dark Lord and battles the sorrows of the world. Television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer represents a different kind of epic–the heroine’s journey, not the hero’s. This provocative study explores how Buffy blends 1990s girl power and the path of the warrior woman with the oldest of mythic traditions. It chronicles her descent into death and subsequent return like the great goddesses of antiquity. As she sacrifices her life for the helpless, Buffy experiences the classic heroine’s quest, ascending to protector and queen in this timeless metaphor for growing into adulthood.

The paperback edition, for reasons that are not readily apparent, is priced considerably higher ($35.00) than other paperbacks of a similar length (226 pages ). However, at $9.99, the Kindle edition is more in line with today’s prices.

I bought the Kindle edition even though I didn’t see the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series or feature film. I liked From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey through Myth and am finding Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to be another very readable and credible look at the heroine’s journey.


contemporary fantasy on Kindle at $4.99

The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life

The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life by Reg Harris and Susan Thompson is a teacher’s guidebook for presenting Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey concepts in the classroom.

As teachers in the 1990s, Harris and Thompson felt that traditional methods of teaching literature left students with a disconnect between the materials studied in the classroom and their lives. When I was a student, I read in class because I already liked to read. But I saw clearly that peers who didn’t come into the class with a love of reading, seldom loved literature when the class war over. In short, old books were viewed as irrelevant.

Harris and Thompson found a solution in the classic hero’s journey structure because it linked what the students read about in a novel (or viewed in a film) with real life challenges, crises and questions. Harris puts it this way on the Hero’s Journey website:

“We discovered that the Hero’s Journey is the fundamental pattern of human experience, so it could be used as a foundation for studying literature and film. As a bonus, we found that when students learned the pattern, they were able to relate the themes from literature to their own experience and to better understand the journeys in their own lives.”  The URL has changed to: http://www.yourheroicjourney.com/shop/

Star Wars – The Perfect Example

The guide begins with an overview of rituals, especially rites of passage, how they serve as validating road maps for day-to-day harmonious living within society and to navigating the major stages. Harris and Thompson use Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars to illustrate the hero’s journey.

Like the rite of passage, the journey focuses on personal transformation. Once students can identify the journey’s major steps and resulting transformation in fictional characters, they will begin to understand how similar journeys are cropping up in their own lives even though they may be less dramatic than a popular novel or feature film.

This well-organized curriculum is organized into ten parts and a supplementary appendix:

  1. Ritual and the Rite of Passage: an introduction to the transformation as a foundation for studying the journey
  2. The Hero’s Journey: an introduction to the eight-stage hero’s journey pattern, its stages and dynamics
  3. Gawain and the Green Knight: a retelling of the traditional legend to study the journey in literature
  4. The End of Eternal Spring: a retelling of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, emphasizing the role that compromise plays in our journeys
  5. The Legend of the Buddha: a retelling of the legend of Siddhartha as a model of the spiritual journey
  6. Hero’s Journey Film Project: uses Field of Dreams (or a film of your choice) to explore the journey in a modern story
  7. Write a Hero’s Journey Short Story: students write their own hero’s journey story using the pattern
  8. The Call Refused: uses Groundhog Day (or a film of your choice) and the Greek myth “Minos and the Minotaur” to explore the dangers of refusing the call
  9. Hero’s Journey Group Presentation: project in which student groups research non-Greek/Roman hero myths and present them to the class
  10. My Journey: two projects in which students to explore their own journeys: a personal mandala and an autobiographical essay
  11. Appendix: materials and handouts you can use with the book and to explore the journey pattern in other works

High school teachers of “English” and “Literature” courses can mix and match modules into their own lesson plans or present the complete curriculum. The guide should also be valuable to writers studying the hero’s journey for use in their own stories as well as for youth group leaders and camp counselors who are presenting “lessons in life” programs.

You can find articles about the hero’s journey in the Mr. Harris’ online library here.



SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.”


The Shadow Knows – Books for the Journey

‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!’ — “The Shadow,” 1930s CBS Radio Detective Serial

‘Sad that I love the darkness so much and I’ve never knew it.’ — Maggie Evans in “Dark Shadows” (1966).

Whether it’s an old radio drama about a crime fighter or a Gothic soap opera, writers like what they can do with shadows and the purported evil they conceal. In Jungian psychotherapy—and, consequently—in the hero’s journey, the shadow is a major concern.

As Daryl Sharp writes in Digesting Jung: Food for the Journey, “everything about ourselves that we are not conscious of is the shadow.”

The shadow is said to contain a muddle of resentments, inferior notions, infantile fantasies, aggressive feelings, and other things about ourselves we’re not willing to openly admit to. On the other hand, as Robert Bly suggests, the shadow also contains everything about ourselves that society (parents, teachers, etc.) brainwashed us to get rid of because “it wasn’t proper” or “wasn’t fitting.”

The Hero’s Journey

The hero’s journey is impossible to understand, much less use as a structure in writing fiction, without confronting the shadow, first as a concept, and then within ourselves. The writer knows himself by making that which is not conscious, conscious, and then he brings his revelations into the lives of his fictional characters.

In Enemy, Cripple & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path, Erel Shalit, calls the shadow a crucial image in the hero cycle, the blood of the hero’s soul:

Without a shadow, there are no dangers to overcome, no struggles to endure, no weaknesses to suffer that make us human, no rewards of consciousness to be gained, and no depth of soul to be treasured.

Three Helpful Books

In addition to such standard hero’s journey references as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Stephen Larsen’s The Mythic Imagination, and Jean Houston’s The Hero and the Goddess: The Odyssey as Mystery and Initiation, these three books will help you explore the shadow:

Enemy, Cripple & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path, by Erel Shait, Fisher King Press, 2008.

FROM THE PUBLISHER: The Hero is that aspect of our psyche, or in society, who dares to venture into the unknown, into the shadow of the unconscious, bringing us in touch with the darker aspects in our soul and in the world. In fact, it is the hero whom we send each night into the land of dreams to bring home the treasures of the unconscious. He, or no less she, will have to struggle with the Enemy that so often is mis-projected onto the detested Other, learn to care and attend to the Cripple who carries our crippling complexes and weaknesses, and develop respect for the shabby Beggar to whom we so often turn our backs – for it is the ‘beggar in need’ who holds the key to our inner Self.

A Little Book on the Human Shadow, by Robert Bly, edited by William Booth, Harper and Row, 1988.

FROM THE PUBLISHER: Robert Bly, renowned poet and author of the ground-breaking bestseller Iron John, mingles essay and verse to explore the Shadow — the dark side of the human personality — and the importance of confronting it.

Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul, by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, Ballantine Books, 1997.

FROM THE PUBLISHER: According to authors Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, each of us has shadows that hold forbidden feelings such as shame, jealousy, greed, lust, and rage. Left to their own devices these shadows will become destructive saboteurs–causing us to betray our loved ones as well as ourselves. It is not within our power to choose whether or not to have these shadows; however, Zweig and Wolf believe that it is within our power to take responsibility for our shadows and put them to productive use. Chapter by chapter Zweig and Wolf reveal the shadow side of love, parenthood, siblings, friendships, midlife, and work. Rather than deny or destroy these shadows, the authors show readers how to confront and “romance” them in order to access the energy, vitality, and creativity that usually lie dormant within our dark sides.

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. – Carl Jung

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hero’s journey novels, The Sun Singer and Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey.

Hero’s Journey: Books for the trip

“Ancient Greek heroes were men of pain who were both needed by their people and dangerous to them.” – Jonathan Shay in “Odysseus in America.”

“A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.” –Gen. George C. Patton

We reward our heroes with medals and praise whether they march away to war or run into burning buildings to bring people out to safety.

In either case, praise, like glory, is fleeting, and the transcendent renewal expected through trial by fire (or under fire) in the mythic sense of the hero’s journey may be a dream unrealized. The hero’s character, as Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America believes, may be wrecked by the trauma of the experience.

A psychiatrist working with Vietnam War veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Shay focuses his books on what soldiers need to know before they go to war and on what all of us need to know when they return in psychologically damaged condition.

New York Times reviewer Chris Hedges, in his review of a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, wrote “It is his hero’s heart that he must learn to curb before he can return to the domestic life he left 20 years earlier. The very qualities that served him in battle defeat him in peace. These dual codes have existed since human societies were formed; and every recruit headed into war would be well advised to read the ‘Iliad,’ just as every soldier returning home would be served by reading the ‘Odyssey.'” The same can be said of Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam” and “Odysseus in America.”

Those who march away are praised for marching away and for going beyond the call of duty to perform those duties thrust upon them. When they return, we ask what it was like, but our eyes glaze over when they try to tell us. Is the problem to large to fix? Shay doesn’t think so.

Betrayal of What’s Right

As Shay points out, soldiers often face what happened to Achilles in the “Iliad” when they go into combat. They face a betrayal, via commanders or the system, of what they believe is right and proper. Likewise, when they leave the battlefield, they often face what Odysseus faced in the “Odyssey.” They face the lack an adequate way of dealing with what they experienced while re-integrating into the mainstream world.

Whether it’s the trauma of war or the trauma of other horrific, and often traumatic, events where heroes serve of humanity’s behalf, Shay’s books are wonderful resources for the journey. Shay brings an optimism to his work that might help those who were there and those who were not there come to terms with each other and what happened before the medals were awarded and the fleeting praise was bestowed.

The books are also excellent reference materials for writers, psychiatrists and philosophers who study the classic hero’s journey.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Odysseys – multiple adventures

We can’t see the word odyssey without thinking of the epic Greek poem attributed to Homer that begins (in Robert Fagles’ translation):

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.

Indeed, the word stems from Odysseus’ trip, meaning a long and wandering physical or spiritual quest with multiple adventures and changes of fortune.

My novel Garden of Heaven is subtitled “an Odyssey” because protagonist David Ward ends up in many places with many people before returning to the Montana ranch where he grew up.

The novel has multiple locations: Glacier National Park, the Florida Panhandle, Chicago, Hawai’i, the Philippines, the Netherlands, central Illinois, Pakistan, and the Gulf of Tonkin. In each place, new problems and adventures occur.

But there are some common themes. One is his first lover’s relentless quest for revenge which is caused by a problem of which David is unaware. Another is David’s spiritual journey which begins on a vision quest in Glacier National Park and then haunts and inspires him from one end of his odyssey to the other. And, like Homer’s Odysseus, David also has a way with words, though it remains to be seen whether this is more of a blessing than a curse.

Untangling the lies and truths strewn throughout his journey will take David quite a few years. In the process, he will serve aboard an aircraft carrier, climb one of the most difficult mountains in the world, work as a professor at a small college, and consort with horses, eagles and ravens. Garden of Heaven is not one adventure, it’s many. And, as in “real life,” David’s good fortune often looks like bad fortune, and vice versa.

Garden of Heaven is available as an e-book from OmniLit for $5.99.

For more information about Garden of Heaven, see my August 3, 2010 interview on BookBuzzr.

Ask not for whom the Minotaur waits

In the classic Greek myth, Theseus enters King Minos’ labyrinth at Crete, finds and slays the dangerous Minotaur at its center, and finds his way back out by following a linen thread he laid down to mark his path on his way in.

16th Century Engraving - Wikipedia Commons
The story is symbolic. Labyrinths, writes Jodi Lorimer in her book Dancing at the Edge of Death: The Origins of the Labyrinth in the Paleolithic represent both order and chaos. It depends on one’s ever-changing point of view.

They also represent the unconscious and an individual’s self. Until one knows himself, part of it is unconscious and filled with fears, demons and the basic energies of primal needs. The Minotaur is an apt symbol for these and slaying it is an apt symbol for facing one’s fears and subsequently becoming more whole and more aware.

The silken thread, a gift of King Minos’ daughter Ariadne in the original myth, represents the hero’s intuition, his present (though possibly faint) connection to his higher self, a self the Greeks personified as one god or another.

The hero’s journey, as described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces has been used as a template for understanding classic myths, exploring the depths of oneself, and creating compelling novels and screen plays.

In fiction, as in myth, the purpose of the story is always the hero’s transformation or his failure to achieve it. He undertakes a dangerous physical or psychological journey and in the process of doing that finds and slays his inner demons. The physical journey, complete with friends, enemies, demons, angels, trials, and tribulations is–in fiction and myth–the catalyst for the hero’s growth.

While the hero’s journey as a template is often the most obvious in epic films such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, it also serves as a structure for stories involving characters we might consider to be “every day people.” These stories always contain conflict, a conflict that typically cannot be successfully resolved until the main character comes to grips with his or her own failings, fears, phobias, blind spots and prejudices. If one can’t personally identify with the journey and the minotaurs in Titanic and Spiderman, then Dirty Dancing and Annie Hall may be easier to vicariously experience.

The twists and turns of the action-packed physical trek, battle or other conflict mirror the main character’s inner journey through the labyrinth of self. At the conclusion of the novel or film, we not only expect to see that the battle has been won or the crime has been solved, but that the protagonist has changed in the process.

Without facing a Minotaur of one kind or another, the hero cannot grow. None of us can. Most heroes don’t set out to consciously change themselves. Harry Potter, for example, didn’t vow to confront his worst fears. Instead, he went to school to learn magic, he ended up fighting the evil Lord Voldemort, encountered his worst fears in the process and triumphed over them, ending up as quite a different person.

Whether he’s overtly conscious of his inner journey or not, no hero in fiction or myth asks for whom the Minotaur waits because he knows it waits for him. Every good story has one and perhaps every good life has one as well.

As a personal note, when I watch Hollywood films, read novels, or consider stories I might want to write, I don’t envision the storyline and ask “Where’s Waldo?” I ask “Where’s the Minotaur?”

Then, at the conclusion of the novel or feature film, I don’t just want to see that the Luke Skywalker has destroyed the death star, that Indiana Jones has gotten the lost ark away from the Nazis, or that Erin Brockovich has defeated a corporation that’s been dumping hazardous materials into the groundwater. I want to see that Luke, Indiana and Erin have personally changed, for that change is they axis on which the ultimate story ultimately turns.

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hero’s journey novels (complete with figurative labyrinths and minotaurs), Garden of Heaven and The Sun Singer.

For the Florida connection in this novel, see my post Tate’s Hell about a wild swamp in the panhandle near where I grew up that made a perfect counterpart in the novel to Glacier’s Garden of Heaven valley.