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The Hero’s Journey in Fantasy/Science Fiction of Today

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  • #72373

    Each Week two friends and I discuss a different novel to see how closely a character from the work fits a Hero’s Journey. While the format we are using limits our discussion to one book in many series that expand beyond that, it is still a fun and interesting exercise. In the past we have discussed some classic Journeys such as Bilbo in the Hobbit and Harry Potter through the Sorcerer’s Stone, but also some different types of stories such as Emma by Jane Austen or Geralt in The Last Wish which is a collection of short stories with a loose framing narrative. Here is a link to the podcast homepage if you are interested.

    Since we released the Geralt episode today here are some discussion points we used

    Departure: Geralt experiences a Call to Adventure in his birth as a child of destiny to become a Witcher. However, he has a greater, more personal call to act as a force for good in the world beyond being a simple Witcher. He is mentored by Vesemir and the other Witcher’s with his gifts being his mutations and training. It is difficult to say that Geralt ever enters the Belly of the Whale because the story starts with him already acting as a mature Witcher.

    Initiation: Stregabor and Renfri both try represent The Temptation of Geralt by asking him to kill each other. They are tempting him to work as a mercenary rather than a Witcher, however since Geralt never even considers the offer this does not fit our definition. If we consider Destiny as the creator of Geralt, not to much of a stretch since that is what made him a Witcher, then his Atonement can be seen when he is given the child surprise. Finally, it is difficult for there to be an Ultimate Boon due to the nature of the short stories and the largely disconnected story.

    Return: As the rest of the story has been a jumbled mix so is the return. There is a clear Magic Flight and Rescue from Without in Geralt being taken from the Striga’s Crypt after being injured and being healed by Nenneke. It is difficult to Argue that he has Freedom to live because he is so bound to other people by his Destiny shown even as the story ends when he touches Iola’s hand.

    Overall, I do not think that Geralt goes through a Hero’s Journey in this tale but he does hit some points. Part of the reason he doesn’t hit these steps is just the nature of this book being short stories with a loose frame. All of this is not to say that Geralt isn’t a hero, he certainly does heroic things, but he doesn’t fit the mold we used in this story.

    If you thought this was interesting check out our full discussion linked here

    Where did we go wrong here? What steps have we confused or missed in this book. One major limitation I see in what we do is only look at a portion of some stories, but are there others?

    #72375

    I have to admit I am not at all familiar with Geralt or The Last Wish. However, all that’s required to undergo a Hero’s Journey is to meet all three stages of the journey: Departure (or Separation), Initiation, and Return.

    Joseph Campbell does highlight 17 potential components along the way, but there is no requirement a hero undergo every single one of these on her or his journey. For example, though everyone does hear a Call, something that draws them out of the Ordinary World and onto the path of adventure,  the step many assume is next (Refusal of the Call) does not automatically follow. Campbell cites examples where an Arthurian hero on a hunt follows a magnificent stag (the Call) deep into the woods, perhaps to an ancient grove he’s never seen before, or into a fairy hill, and abruptly finds himself well along on an adventure – no Refusal of the Call there.

    Similarly, Campbell observes four possible climaxes to the journey, different forms Initiation might take: Sacred Marriage; Atonement with the Father; Apotheosis; and the Elixir Theft – however, in no myth does a hero experience all four of these forms (a mistake many first time authors make – over the years I’ve received a number of manuscripts and self-published novels from novice writers who feel they have to work all four of these climaxes into their story, resulting in a work that feels bloated and contrived).

    When asked if one must undergo all four of these initiations, Joe responded “There are four doors by which you can come into the room and find fulfillment” – the corollary being that you don’t enter a room through four different doors at the same time. You walk through just one, but end up in the same room no matter which door you use. Again quoting Campbell, “The whole sense of all of these is the bringing together pairs of opposites: consciousness and the unconscious; the male and the female; the son and the father . . . ” – that’s the dynamic underlying the Initiation stage of the journey.

    Joe, for example, notes the Sacred Marriage motif is generally more common to fairy tales, while Atonement with the Father is found most often in Judea-Christian narratives, Apotheosis appears in Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist tales, and the Elixir Theft (aka theft of fire, or the bride-theft) is often part of indigenous shamanic traditions (such as Coyote or Raven tales in North America).

    Of course, sometimes there is more than one form of initiation in a myth, but that usually involves different characters on their own parallel hero’s journeys (e.g., Ulysses experiences Sacred Marriage in the Odyssey, while his son, Telemachus, off on his own trek, experiences the Atonement with the Father; we see similarly individual variations on the journeys of different characters in The Lord of the Rings, tangential to the primary hero task undertaken by Frodo).

    I tend to think of these elements as modular: not every one is essential, but how you arrange them allows for endless variation (which is why the Hero’s Journey trajectory is so valuable in video games: depending on the choices a player makes each time he or she plays (such as do you refuse the call or not), your adventure follows different paths to different places.

    Campbell does stress that if there is no Return to the Ordinary World, then the journey remains incomplete, as this snippet from a yet to be published interview indicates:

    DO YOU COME BACK TO A DIFFERENT WORLD?

    The world you come back to is the one you left; otherwise the journey isn’t complete. The main problem is changing the location of your mind.

    SO YOU COME HOME.

    Yes. It may not be exactly the same locus, the same village, the same town, but you might say it’s the same career. You are coming back to your life⁠.

    I hope you’ll forgive my pontificating at length, Alexander. I do very much love the idea behind your podcast.

    #72374

    Stephan, Thanks for your reply! I’ve been away for too long, but the explanation is very helpful. I still do not think the the Last Wish includes a Hero’s Journey due to the structure of the book as a series of short stories.

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