Memories of my first novel

I wrote my first published novel in 1980. I called it The Sun Singer and found an agent for it. The agent, who ran a one-person shop, liked the novel and accepted it. However several months later, she wrote and said I would have to wait a while before she could actively promote it because another author whom she represented suddenly had a bestseller and that was requiring all of the agent’s time.

I’m glad I didn’t wait for her to finish working on The Clan of the Cave Bear since it went through many sequels. So, I extracted the novel from the agent and it sat until I first published it via iUniverse in 2004. The book’s reception was pretty good, including ending up as a finalist Foreword Magazine’s book of the year awards.

Wikipedia Photo

If you’ve been reading this blog for years–or its predecessor blog on Blogger–you know already that the plot for this novel came to me when I was in junior high school just after a visit with my grandparents and parents to Allerton Park in Illinois. Allerton is the home of a famous statue called The Sun Singer. On the way home from the park, a horrid thunderstorm hit and the images of the statue (and others at Allerton) flashed on and off outside the car window as though somebody were operating a giant strobe light.

For many nights afterward, those images became part of my dreams, dreams that were somewhat psychic for a while (long before I knew much about precognitive dreams) and suddenly I was seeing a young man who lived in Decatur, Illinois (where my grandparents lived) who went on a journey to a nearby universe where he became known as “The Sun Singer.” The novel is set in Glacier National Park.

In 2010, several traditional publishers expressed an interest and it ended up with Vanilla Heart Publishing until I left that company and self-published the book in 2015 because it had been around too long to another publisher to risk bringing out again.

The book is a contemporary fantasy as well as a hero’s journey novel. That is to say, that while what the hero does in terms of action is important, how he changes is even more important. The general sequence of events on such a journey was published years ago in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces.

I have two things to confess: (1) I have refused to read The Clan of the Cave Bear, and (2) The Sun Singer is my favorite book. A first novel is, I think, rather like a first love. One never forgets either one regardless of how things go later. I like what I’ve written since 1980, but still, a first novel is always the first novel no matter how many books come after it.


One Last Time: Joseph Campbell wasn’t my father

When the first edition of my novel The Sun Singer was released, I began blogging from time to time about the hero’s journey. After a while, people started asking if the originator of the hero’s journey approach to comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell, was my father. The short answer is “no.”


In his day (1903-1987), my father Laurence R. Campbell was a prominent college journalism educator, focusing on the needs of high school journalism. He taught at many universities including Florida State in Tallahassee. I was born in California because that’s where my father grew up and was teaching at the time (UC-Berkeley) I showed up.


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), taught at Sarah Lawrence College and was widely known for writing The Hero With a Thousand Faces that introduced the general public to the hero’s journey monomyth. He later came to even wider renown when PBS aired a series of interviews between Campbell and Bill Moyers in 1988. 

Both men had a huge influence on me though–in spite of the fact they were here on the earth plane about the same time–their areas of expertise and the circles they worked within were so disparate that they never met or had any reason to know of each other.

Dad’s influence was greater because I saw him daily and knew him as a whole person rather than a faraway writer I saw on TV or found on the title pages of books. I became a writer because of my father and became interested in mythology because of Joseph Campbell.

My father was a Scout leader, an elder in the church, had liberal views, had a mischievous sense of humor, and was a strong defender of the need for a free and responsible press. He wrote hundreds of articles, journalism textbooks, and worked with high school students at scholastic press institutes. He also climbed the mountains in Colorado that I would climb later during a University of Colorado summer session in Boulder.

My father married a highschool newspaper advisor. I married a journalist and taught college-level journalism. 

By the time I learned that Joseph Campbell was influenced by Carl Jung, I had already discovered Jung and his writing. Likewise, by the time I learned that Campbell was a fan of James Joyce, I was already a fan of James Joyce and became an even more intelligent fan by reading Campbell’s analysis of such books as Finnegans Wake

When one looks back on his/her life, it becomes obvious that what seemed to be a puzzlement at various defining moments was, in fact, part of a synchronistic unfoldment into the journey one was already taking. Both Laurence and Joseph would have agreed with that. 

My dad frequently said (usually when I’d done something wrong), “What I am to be, I’m now becoming.” Joseph often said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” 

To sum up: I’m a bit of a rebel: I don’t know which man to blame for that. However, Laurence was my father. 


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions.

Why We Rise – Joseph Campbell’s View

“Most attribute the foundations of Western story structure to Aristotle. His simple idea that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end has long served as the template for how narratives have been communicated. Joseph Campbell, by contrast, wisely popularized the idea that the narrative journey was actually a cycle — that every ending brought forth new beginnings, that every death brought forth resurrection and new life.”

Source: MythBlast | Why We Rise – JCF: Home

I like this Joseph Campbell Foundation essay about the cyclical nature of stories and how they interact with the nature of our lives. You’ll find this in Campbell’s writings about The Hero’s Journey, the idea–as the author puts it–that the beginnings we discover in the new year don’t arise from a blank slate. As Frank Herbert mentioned in his novel Dune, the intuitive can look backward in time and see–like footprints across the sand–the steps one has taken to arrive where they are in life at any given moment.

Put this in a novel, and you call those steps “the plot” or “foreshadowing.” Story helps us identify these kinds of patterns in “real life” just as “real life” suggests to us the stories we tell, both fiction and memoir.


New Cover for ‘The Sun Singer’

I have updated the cover of The Sun Singer to make the style similar to the covers of Mountain Song and At Sea. The text is the same inside with the exception of the photo credit for the new cover and an update to my list of other novels.

The hero’s journey adventure story is contemporary fantasy.


Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see.

When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country of Glacier National Park, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help.

On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.

The heroine’s journey story sequel is Sarabande,


Storytelling and the Tarot

chrissyToday’s guest post is by C. LaVielle, author of the new fantasy novel Forging the Blade. As Chrissy mentions in the kind words of her introduction, we share common interests in both the hero’s journey as formulated by Joseph Campbell, and in the seeker’s journey to transformation through the Tarot trumps.

While both represent potential life paths, they also represent interesting structures for novels and short stories.

Storytelling and the Tarot

I first “met” Malcolm in August of 2010. I’d just finished (or thought I’d finished) FORGING THE BLADE and decided to do a blog about the process of getting it published. Because the book’s story arc follows the order of the tarot major arcana from The

We are all Fools.
We are all Fools.

Fool (Chapter 0) to The World (Chapter 21), I also decided to write posts about the tarot and The Hero’s Journey. Malcolm was one of the very first people to comment on my posts because Word Press saw that we were both writing about the Hero’s Journey and we were both interested in the tarot and referred us to each other. His on-line name at the time was The Knight of Swords—a most apt handle because he is both an author (knights and swords deal with communication) and a knight in shining armor to me. He was, and still is, always there with a word of encouragement when I need it most. And as a newbie writer I need all the encouragement I can get. I have decided to write about the tarot and stories—topics of great interest to both Malcolm and me.

Our stories are some of our most valuable possessions. We tell them not only to our friends and family, but also to ourselves because they define us and give our lives meaning and purpose.

The Tarot Deck

The Magician teaches us how to gain control of our own stories.
The Magician teaches us how to gain control of our own stories.

A typical tarot deck is exquisitely designed to generate an infinite number of stories. When a reader lays down a spread, each card she lays down is a piece of a story which she reads to her clients. It is a satisfying and healing experience to have a small part of our own story repeated to us from a new, non-judgmental perspective. It validates us and helps us understand things and see things we might have missed.

The major arcana cards, such as The Fool, The Empress, Death, etc., represent the archetypal events that occur in our life stories. These are the biggies. Events that are destined to happen. Turning points and major plot points. Events that the Multiverse is sending us because:

  • They are what we must accomplish at this particular point in our lives.
  • They are who we must be or who we must encounter at this particular point in our lives.
  • We have single-handedly fought our way into this situation and there is no other way out.

The minor arcana are, essentially, a modern deck of playing cards with the pip cards (aces through tens); and four instead of three court cards (pages, knights, queens, and kings).

The Four Suits

The Chariot: Where there's a will, there's a way.
The Chariot: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In both the tarot and a deck of playing cards, there are four suits, each one symbolizing one of the four magical elements.

  • Diamonds and pentacles: earth: money, business, health
  • Spades and swords: air: communication, logical thought
  • Hearts and cups: water: feelings, intuition, relationships
  • Clubs and wands: fire: motivation, inspiration, passion

When a tarot reader deals a spread for us she is looking at a sub-plot of our life story. The pip cards indicate what is happening on a mundane level and what part of our life is involved—money, love, health, passion, art, etc. The court cards indicate who the main characters are and, depending on their suit and placement, how they are dealing with the situation. The major arcana cards are wild cards dealt by the Multiverse, or, if you will, the Divine. These are the things that we, at this point, cannot control.

The Devil is master of the material realm. Don't let him ruin your story by convincing you that money and stuff are the things that are really important.
The Devil is master of the material realm. Don’t let him ruin your story by convincing you that money and stuff are the things that are really important.

Tarot as Story

A tarot reading is a story, complete with plot points, characters, and divine intervention.

  • Our lives are made up of hundreds of stories.
  • During busy or confusing times, we may be living two or more of these stories at once.
  • Plot-lines tend to repeat in our lives, but with different characters and settings, until we figure out how to make them have happy or at least appropriate endings.
  • These stories can happen in a moment or they may take years to tell.

The pictures are from “The Fool’s Journey Through the Tarot Major Arcana,” a ritual I wrote for last Summer Solstice.

More information about her novel:

forgingthebladeForging the Blade
An Adventure Through the Tarot Major Arcana Sixteen-year-old Molly Adair would love to spend all her time in WarCraft Universe. On-line she is Darkfire, a sexy wizard who fights dragons and saves kingdoms. In real life, she’s a chubby nerd with cut scars tracking up her arm, a knot in her stomach that won’t go away, and a nightmare of plunging through screaming blackness that slams her awake every night. Her life totally sucks and Molly is sure it can’t get any worse… Until her parents die in a plane crash and a terrifying shadow begins to haunt her.

A mysterious grandmother appears and whisks her away to Portland, Oregon, where a bizarre young man materializes in her bedroom, clicks a button on his smart phone, and sends her screaming into the land of Damia. The kingdom is at war, a rogue dragon is terrorizing the countryside, and the shadow continues to stalk close at her heels. A magical black cat and a gypsy’s promise are Molly’s only guides back to her grandmother’s house. On her journey Molly travels through each of the tarot major arcana cards, beginning with The Fool, Chapter 0, and ending with The World, Chapter 21.

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

– Joseph Campbell

nightsky2It’s easy to point to great inventors, world leaders, writers, preachers, and leaders of social and environmental initiatives and say those people probably know who they are and why they’re living in the world.

We may be wrong about that because we don’t know their stories inside an out. These people inspire us, though, showing us–among other things–what a person can do through perseverance,  a willingness to fight against their challenges, and to have the strength of will and strength of purpose to reach their goals.

The rest of us can get discouraged when we read biographies or news stories about famous people who accomplished great things that have made the world a better place. How, we wonder, can we live up to that? I don’t think we’re supposed to live up to that. As Joseph Campbell would say, they were following their own paths. We have our own paths and, more often than not, those paths don’t involve being famous and ending up in the history books.

Some people say they are here to live ethical lives, to be loving and compassionate spouses and friends, to do an honest day’s work while interacting with customers and colleagues out of kindness and fairness, to bring up their children with sound values, and to take part in a churches and/or secular groups that address important causes in the community and the world. Such people vitalize the world in ways they may never know when you think of the thousands of interactions and influences they have with others during the course of a lifetime.

What we’re drawn to

Perhaps many of us discover who we are and subsequently why we’re here by looking at the causes, books, issues, subjects, belief systems and people we’re continually drawn to. Others get a strong hint when they enter college and suddenly find a subject fascinating or when they get a job and inadvertently take a company training course that leads their career in ways they never suspected on the first day of work. We find ourselves drawn to certain parts of the country or the world, possibly for what may initially seem to be the most flippant of reasons, only to find new lives there that suddenly define who we are and why we’re here.

While many people can inspire us teach us and show us (by example) what a lifetime might look like, only we can ultimately answer the question “Who am I?” Discovering that answer is often a frustrating and a lonely journey. Sometimes negative experiences get in the way of our goals and then–in time–we learn that who we are is a person who can live with adversity without losing their faith in themselves while finding new ways to define why they are here.

Do we plan our lives before we’re born?

Personally, I believe that before we are born, we know who we want to be and why we want to be here. If that’s the case, then we’ll be drawn to the kinds of people, places and things that facilitate our needs. I don’t believe in coincidences or luck or fate, so even if we don’t have a “life plan” before we are born, I think that we will develop one while we’re here as one thing leads to another. Yes, that often looks like a twisting and haphazard path until one reaches old age, looks back on it, and sees that behind all the seeming chaos of it, there was a central focus toward being who they became.

Being open to spontaneity

People used to say “go with the flow.” I don’t think that applies to mob action, acting like sheep or lemmings, or taking the easy way out. I think it means, as Joseph Campbell put it, following our bliss and doing what enlivens us and enriches us and transforms us. One has to be open to that flow to jump into it and see where it leads; we can’t consciously plan upcoming “coincidences,” “chance meetings,” or “lucky encounters with other people” in advance. We can expect them and be open toward spontaneously embracing those moments when they occur.

“Who Am I and Why Am I Here?” is usually an evolving discovery. Most of us don’t necessarily know that in high school or college or our first full-time job. Life will, I think, help us figure it out.


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


Briefly Noted: Joseph Campbell’s ‘Romance of the Grail’

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), Evans Lansing Smith, Editor, ( New World Library, December 15, 2015), 304pp

romanceofgrailJoseph Campbell scholars and Arthurian legends students have been waiting for this volume for a long time. Sponsored by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, this collection focuses on the myths that introduced and excited Campbell about the over-arching mythic theories he spent a lifetime developing.

The book’s editor, Evans Lansing Smith became interested in disseminating Campbell’s views of the quests after discovering a typewritten copy of Campbell’s masters thesis “A Study of the Dolorous Stroke” which exams the motif of the wound and wasteland in the stories.

In an interview about the book, Smith said he hopes readers “will be as deeply engaged — and, indeed, as mesmerized as I was — with the power, grace, and fun with which Campbell retells the stories of the knights so central to the Grail romances: Yvain, Lancelot, Parzival, Gawain, Tristan, and others. As an Irishman, Campbell came from a long lineage of oral tradition, so that he was able in a couple of hours to convey more of the complexity and spiritual depth of those stories than many have been able to in long books on the subject.”

From the Publisher

The Arthurian myths opened the world of comparative mythology to Campbell, turning his attention to the Near and Far Eastern roots of myth. Calling the Arthurian romances the world’s first “secular mythology,” Campbell found metaphors in them for human stages of growth, development, and psychology. The myths exemplify the kind of love Campbell called “amor,” in which individuals become more fully themselves through connection. Campbell’s infectious delight in his discoveries makes this volume essential for anyone intrigued by the stories we tell—and the stories behind them.

Library Journal: “Smith provides well-rounded and concise essential readings on Arthurian mythology by one of America’s leading mythologists and incredible storytellers. Highly recommended for readers interested in Campbell, mythology, or Arthurian studies.”

When Campbell talks and writes about mythology, he presents the material as though he were there when it happened. He makes complex themes accessible. The Grail stories certainly lend themselves to his expertise and insights.




Thank you to my 26,250 visitors

83grandThis blog has been staggering along for awhile like a sailor trying to find his way back to the ship after a night on the town in a foreign port. (Been there, done that.)

When I started Malcolm’s Round Table, I was thinking of King Arthur (indirectly in my family tree) and the Knights of the Round Table. Not that I would admit that I was looking for the Holy Grail. I had no idea what I was going to say or that I’d end up saying it for some 1,050 posts about everything from writing to Glacier National Park, to the USS Ranger to the Florida locations for some of my recent stories.

Somehow along the road, 26,250 of you stopped by for some 83,252 visits. And, according to the WordPress gurus, the busiest time has been Thursday at 2 p.m. This tells me you guys are logging on at work after drinking your lunch.


Seriously, were you trying to stay awake or were you looking for the Holy Grail? (And, were you successful in either quest?) Truth be told, I bring to this blog and to most of my fiction the premise that every one of us is on a hero’s journey in search of that moment and/or that insight that transforms us into the individual we were destined to become if we allowed it to happen.

In my novel The Sun Singer, I explore the hero’s journey from a masculine perspective. In Sarabande, I look at the journey from a feminine perspective. A recent article on Brain Pickings called “If Librarians Were Honest” caught my attention because it’s based on the premise that “If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed…”

Vision of the Holy Grail at the Round Table.
Vision of the Holy Grail at the Round Table.

Hero’s and Heroine’s journeys change us, often in spectacular ways under dangerous circumstances. Libraries can also change us. Potentially, every book, article, and post we read will change us a little or a lot. We never quite know at the beginning of a journey or a book, just who we will be at the end of it.

So, it’s a glorious risk, right?

Perhaps I should have posted this yesterday on my birthday because each of your visits is a gift. It’s a gift of your time, just as reading The Sun Singer, Sarabande, and Conjure Woman’s Cat is a gift of your time. Perhaps you felt different when you finished some of the posts and some of my stories.

Or, perhaps you were changed in imperceptible ways. If you’re also a writer, you will know that you not only change as you read but also as you write. I’m slightly different than I was when I wrote, “This blog has been staggering along for awhile like a sailor trying to find his way back to the ship after a nigh on the town” at the beginning of this post.

We don’t often notice the smallest changes in ourselves because movies and books lead us to believe that when we find the Holy Grail, we’ll find it all at once rather than little by little. Perhaps we need a magic mirror that shows us, not how we’ve aged over time, but how we’ve changed.

If we did, I think we’d not only be surprised by the results, but we’d all feel a lot better about ourselves. At any rate, that’s why I write and that’s why I’m happy that 26,250 of you have stopped by to read.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the 1950s-era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat” about a conjure woman who fights back against the KKK with folk magic.

Visit my website to learn more.


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.