Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Is The Hero's Journey Problematic? My Thoughts

The short answer is yes, I find Joseph Campbell and his work to be littered with problems.  Some that strike me off the top of my head include: 

-The idea of a monomyth implies that there is only one plot or story structure to explore.  This IS NOT true.  The hero's journey is one of may ways to structure characters and plot and while it's interesting, sometime presenters get overzealous and promote is as a singular lens to view all literature.

-A nonhistoric and nonliterary approach to mythology seems like nonsense or an excuse to distort the intended meaning or the current applicable meaning of the work.  I had a very hard time reading his theories because if we aren’t exploring a myth in the historic period and the literary devices of the time or comparing the work to modern work—then just what are we doing?  There were several times I took offense and had to stop reading and think about what I felt, why I felt it and how to articulate those issues.  

-Freud and Jung’s work may be the foundations of modern psychology but a lot has changed.  The theories used to craft the hero’s journey have a shaky foundation.

-While religions and their myths hold similarities, reducing them down to just these common elements often is overlooking their core meanings and messages.  The end goals of these faiths are different and their ways of showing compassion, honor, ect is different.  For more deconstructing the concept of monomyths and how it hurts our society today, I recommend “God Is Not One” by Stephen Prothero.  His work is clear, and it was very easy to read. 

-Campbell was raised Catholic, and when reviewing his interpretations of myths and structures some of his Christian bias shows.  Though to be fair, I’ve also read where he seems to have misrepresented the Christian point of view too, so maybe he is deliberately obtuse.

-The same way Campbell reduces religions down into one meaningless mass so he can conclude “all is one,” I’ve watched readers and writers hack and chop at a story so it will fit the hero’s journey structure.  All does not have to be one and sometimes reducing something down too far eliminates subtle flavors and notes that made a dish worthwhile. 

-Campbell believes the only heros in ancient texts are male and that only men go through this journey and there is some other gender specific journey women go on.  He expounds on this in his book “Goddesses” which is a rage inducing read.

So if Joseph Campbell isn't for you, I understand.  However, I do think he's a crucial place to start exploring plot and character from because his work has deeply influenced writers for years.  If we don't explore what is good and bad within his work, it will hard to incorporate the good or avoid the bad.   

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