The Hero’s Journey Revisited


December 18, 2017

Hi all, Ben Keller here again for this week’s post.

When I last wrote, I shared here about a move to New York City.  Well, a partial move, at least.  Having been here a little over a month, I was delighted to have my family come to spend a few days with me here before we all went back to Louisiana for the holidays.

So we’ve had a wonderful Christmas trip here.  My kids, their first time here, got to see Central Park in the snow!  Rockefeller Center, SoHo, West Village, Chinatown, Little Italy… we’ve done a lot in our short time here.  Tonight we’ll be capping it off with dinner at Spark’s steakhouse, scene of one of our country’s most notorious mob hits, and that most Christmas of traditions, seeing the new Star Wars movie in a 4D theater.

The highlight of the trip by far for my daughter was Saturday night.  For her recent birthday, we gave her tickets to Hamilton, and she was extremely excited to finally see it.  Saturday night, my son and I were free while our ladies went to Hamilton, so we decided to see a show of our own.  We reviewed the available options and decided to see a show called Puffs!  This was a clever, funny show imagining all the major incidents from the Harry Potter books and movies, but from the perspective of some other students at the Hogwarts wizarding school that were not in the loop.  These kids were lovable losers that had only a faint awareness of the dire events unfolding around them.  It was played for laughs and, like the best fractured fairy tales or Shakespeare send-ups, the more you knew about the source material, the funnier it was.

Also while in New York, I had a chance to have dinner with super literary agent Paula Munier.  We were joined by Michael Neff, whom I’d met at the New York Pitch Conference I’d attended a couple of years ago, but who is also an accomplished writer and publisher in his own right.  We discussed the Puffs! concept, and a wonderful conversation flowed.  The story of Harry Potter is essentially Conrad’s The Hero’s Journey.  It’s the same basic structure as Star Wars, Arthurian legends, and countless other tales.

Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • The hero is in the Ordinary World
  • There is a Call to Adventure
  • The hero Refuses the call
  • There is a Meeting with the Mentor
  • The hero Crosses the Threshold, into The Special World
  • The hero encounters Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  • The hero approaches the Inmost Cave
  • There is a great Ordeal
  • The hero claims a Reward
  • The hero travels the Road Back
  • There is a Resurrection of Sorts
  • The Hero’s Return, with a Magic Elixer

Reading this list, I’m sure you can imagine plot points from some of your favorites stories.  If you really think about it, you can map this structure to dozens, if not hundreds of stories.  And that’s kind of my point.  The show we saw was exactly the same story, but it was made fresh and entertaining by a slight change of perspective.

As writers, it can sometimes be discouraging to think that for every idea we have, someone may have beaten us to it.  But I think there’s always room for a new twist on even the oldest of stories.  In fact, the best writers can use that familiarity to their own advantage, lulling the reader into thinking one thing to maximize a surprise or shocking character arc.  I’m not saying every twist is gold (“let’s do a Star Wars prequel from the perspective of Jar Jar Binks!”), but there are great stories awaiting us all.

I find that an exciting prospect!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

PS—I mentioned the New York Pitch Conference, to which both Michael Neff and Paula Munier contribute.  The weekend I spent at this conference was transformational for me, and one of the best experiences of my life.  It challenged my thinking, improved my craft, and helped me as a writer.  Best of all, it made me feel like a writer for the first time in my life, and introduced me to a community of fellow writers with whom I am still friends today.  If you ever had the desire to write professionally, and if you’re willing to hear hard truths and do some serious work, I highly recommend it.  You can find more information here.

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