We're Into the Meat! (Hero with a Thousand Faces)

Author: Matthew I. Wanner

Welcome back to the weekly series Layman Reads as I blunder my way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

And speaking of blunders, we come to my first point of contention. It’s a small thing, but it’s Freud again, and now Campbell is insisting, thanks to Freud, that blunders are not accidents, or chance, but rather are subconsciously intentional. Which is shit, any way you cut it. Even if that were partially true, it isn’t true enough to make a functional basis for Campbells purposes.

Ok, I’ve had my Freud rant, and certainly not the last, but lets get back to the actual book now. This is Part One, Chapter One, Subchapter One. The chapter is called “Departure”, our subchapter “The Call to Adventure”, which if you write, at least fantasy, I’m sure you’re familiar with. It’s the part where, well, the hero is called to adventure, this is often followed by the refusal, since hero’s tend to refuse the first call to adventure. The Refusal is the next subchapter and what we’ll talk about next week.

Much of what Campbell discusses in the first subchapter of the prologue finally starts to make sense. He starts talking about dreams again, which at first made me begin a truly epic sneer, but now, instead of trying to tell us what they mean and that they must mean something, he uses the imagery of dreams to discuss the stages of a story. He talks specifically about “the herald”, which is the one that often brings The Call to the Hero. The Herald appears in dreams as the one that begins the “action” that takes place within the dream, just as they do in the story, and Campbell is showing, as he discusses this, that the idea of The Herald is something universally recognized by people and is one of the intuitive parts of storytelling, so intuitive that our brains do it without our conscious involvement, such as in the case of dreams. The Herald is a important part of the Hero’s Journey and I cannot think of any story I’ve read, seen, or heard that doesn’t have one. The Herald doesn’t have to be a person, although it often is, such as Gandalf. The Herald doesn’t just bring The Call, but their first appearance is when The Hero’s world changes or they are introduced to a new one.

If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (and you should), then this concept should already be familiar. Richard’s first Call happens when he saves Door, The Herald, and after that he becomes part of London Below, a very real and very extreme introduction to a new and different world.

One of the most classic examples, of course, is Bilbo Baggins. When Gandalf first talks to him, while he smokes peacefully in front of his Hobbit Hole, he receives his first Call. When the dwarves show up, his world is irrevocable changed.

One other example that’s interesting comes from David Wong’s very unconventional book John Dies at the End. In the book there are two possible Heralds, or perhaps they are both The Herald. There’s the fake Jamaican, Robert Marley, from whom John first gets Soy Sauce and begins his journey. In fact, David’s refusal is when he declines to try Soy Sauce with John, but later it’s John, calling on a sausage, that offers the second Call, and it’s after that call to adventure that David’s world changes.

In all these cases The Herald is something more than what they seem. Door is more than just a young woman, Gandalf is more than just an old man, and Robert, while a drug dealer, is also more than a drug dealer because of his use of The Sauce. Even John becomes more than he appears when he’s on The Sauce and calls David through a sausage, in fact, John is extremely genre savvy throughout the series (I haven’t got a chance to read the third book yet, unfortunately, but I doubt that changes).

Now that Campbell is actually explaining himself, much of his rambling Prologue is coming together and I am finding myself enjoying the book much more. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting a lot of new information. Whether that’s because I’m already familiar with The Hero’s Journey from writing classes, Brandon Sanderson’s classes available on YouTube, and other writing books, or because I don’t have the right academic background, I do not know. What I do know is that I enjoy it and intend to continue reading it and continue discussing it.

I apologize that this came out several hours late today. I have issues sleeping and massively overslept. I’ve also decided, for the time being, I’m going to stick with doing each of the subchapters each week because it allows me more time to work on other things, like my novel. I’m still working out my timing and schedule, both of which I’m appalling at, so hopefully I’ll have that worked out soon and can do longer or more frequent posts here.

I also want to announce that April 2nd I am going to launch a Patreon. The idea is to be able to share more with you all and be able to spend more time interacting with you. I’m still working out rewards, but I think I’m going to have some stuff you’ll like. I look forward to going on this adventure together.

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