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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vine

A Hero's Journey

Updated: Jul 13, 2018

Here’s a scenario that will resonate with graphic designers: doing your best to follow a half-cooked brief, you put together a bespoke design and are finally happy with the way it looks. Just before you output a first-draft proof, a colleague peers over your shoulder and says, “Oh, you know there’s a template for that.” When you finally stop grinding your teeth over time wasted, a simple question arises: but would it have made my work better?

Months after penning the final chapters of Hopskotch and the Rising Sons, I happened to be watching a Netflix doco called Myths & Monsters – something I tuned into hoping for more Bigfoots, Chupacabras, Nessies, Jersey Devils and other assorted cryptids I never get bored of. The series unpacked an entirely different, but no less intriguing revelation.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

I've always admired analytical thinkers – those who can recognise patterns others miss, and dissect and disassemble complex structures down to their base parts. It’s not a talent I have in surplus, but I do pay attention when such a mind crosses my radar. One such clever-pants was mythologist Joseph Campbell, who first noticed a pattern while studying the myths and stories of ancient cultures. These insights were chronicled in a book he named The Hero With a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949.

Never heard of Joseph Campbell or his famous book? Nor had I before I tuned into the aforementioned Netflix series. Episode One launches directly into the Campbell’s core theory, which he named the monomyth – a series of 12 stages the quintessential hero takes on his/her journey from beginning to end. The focus of Campbell’s work was older epics like Homer’s Odyssey, but for the benefit of contemporary viewers, Myths & Monsters maps the theory using the original Star Wars saga, with Luke Skywalker front and centre as our textbook hero.

The 12 stages?

Along with the thousand faces, search long enough online and you’ll find a thousand variations of the monomyth. For the sake of brevity (and because I love legacy Star Wars), we'll be using the Myths & Monsters version. Imagine a circular clock face, but with each of the 12 hours marking a milestone of the hero’s journey. The top third of the circle represents the hero’s safe zone, or ‘Ordinary World’. All stages below represent the danger zone, or ‘Special World’. In these stages, the hero has stepped outside the comfort zone to tread the dark unknown. As the narrator went through Skywalker’s circular journey from whiny farm-boy to kick-ass Jedi Master, I began to wonder how such a template might apply to Hopskotch on his own personal journey to save Broken Meadow.

How complete is The Waking World trilogy’s circle? How many boxes did Hopskotch check? Did years consuming fantasy-adventure stories embed the monomyth template deep in my subconscious, to the point where I used it reflexively? And can I write this blog without dropping massive spoilers?

Let’s follow the circle and find out:

Star Wars. © Lucasfilm
There must be more than this provincial life, imagines Luke.

Stage 1: Status Quo

Star Wars: Luke is on Tatooine, isolated from the turmoil of Empire and rebellion. Seems pretty safe, and a whole lot boring. He dreams of bigger things.

The Waking World: Hopskotch and Dobbin begin the day from the meadowland hamlet of Low Cutting, packed and ready for the annual cicada hunt. Aside from the foreshadowing of the frantic dream sequence that preceded it, Chapter 2 is as soothing as a morning stroll. Its sole purpose is to paint the background scenery and introduce our main players.

“Straightening his luggage, Hopskotch took one last look back at the tumbledown skyline of Low Cutting’s south bank. It was easy to pinpoint his house – even blacked out and from such a distance. He imagined the curtains were still shut, for even a late summer morning could chill the bedrooms. There were no signs of light or life from inside.”

You get the picture – it’s totally chill. Threat level: 0

Star Wars. © Lucasfilm
Luke contemplates how many womp rats he could massacre with such a toy.

Stage 2: Call to adventure

Star Wars: Obi-Wan rescues Luke from a life-threatening encounter with the sand people. He shows off his toys and hints that Luke has a greater destiny than slaving away on Uncle Owen’s moisture farm and shooting womp rats for giggles.

The Waking World: Stage One and already a fly is in the ointment. The call to adventure is a given – the reason Hopskotch and Dobbin left their sleeping pouches for the pre-dawn trek to Curmudgeon’s Gulch is the cicada hunt. What triggers the adventure proper is how they are detoured from it. If I had to place the Call-to-adventure milestone, it would be at the exact moment Team SnapTalon realise their map had been taken by the absent-minded Grandpa Rand, thereby diverting them into Bridgetown and awaiting trials. Adventure rating: budding.

Stage 3: Supernatural aid/mentor

Star Wars: Thanks to R2-D2’s in-built projector, Luke gets to view Leia’s distress call. Obi-Wan tells Luke of the rebellion, the Jedi knights, and life beyond Tatooine. In many descriptions of the monomyth, this stage is distinguished by the hero’s initial refusal, which is quickly followed by a life-altering event that initiates a change of heart (for Luke, the murder of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru).

The Waking World: The first to step up is the mysterious Bellows, who pulls off a daring manoeuvre to rescue Hopskotch and Dobbin from the dastardly Roaches closing in from all sides. The street tramp guides the pair safely through the Bridgetown underworld and sets them on the right path. Then disappears. Bellows has a role to play, but he is no Obi-Wan. So who is? Sorry, folks – you’ll have to wait to Book II to meet him. Grandpa Rand is a reassuring presence for the youngsters, but at this point, but no genuine mentor has stepped up. Refusal sub-stage: n/a.

Stage 4: Crossing the threshold

Star Wars: Luke enters Mos Eisley – the “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Obi-Wan’s famous quote leaves one in no doubt that Luke has crossed a threshold and is now approaching real danger.

The Waking World: When it comes to thresholds, I reflexively think of Lake Whispermere. Take a look at the map of Broken Meadow, and you’ll see a great physical barrier separating the known world from the unknown. Of course, the threshold is crossed well before Hopskotch and Dobbin ever reach its alpen waters. Chapter 7 of Book I is called Out of Bounds. The threshold is a literal one dividing the hunting limits with the city they are not permitted to set foot in.

A false sense of security leads to…

Star Wars. © Lucasfilm
Han Solo. Shoots first, asks questions later.

Stage 5: Road of Trials/allies

Star Wars: Allies are locked and loaded. Together with Han, Chewie, Obi-Wan and his faithful, fruity ’bots, Luke escapes the Stormtroopers and flees Tatooine on the Millennium Falcon. So much for avoiding any “Imperial entanglements.”

The Waking World: Hopskotch has picked up a nice little entourage of his own. The unexpected arrival of Bartrem brings Team SnapTalon to three. Grandpa Rand spoils the party by throwing a disappearing act, abandoning the boys deep in gorge country. Cue the unexpected arrival of the forest girls Flek and Nissa, who bring with them a warning. Hopskotch has not yet kindled his latent power, but the road forward is filled with obstacles and flanked by enemies. Danger rating: real & present.

Stage 6: Approach (to the inner sanctum)

Star Wars: Speaking of hero’s journeys, there’s a princess to rescue (and she’s quite the peach). Luke ventures deep into the belly of the the Death Star, where his skills are put to the test for the first time.

The Waking World: The terrifying journey through the trees flanking Saddleslip Gorge to the rope bridge tests Hopskotch's mettle. And he still has no idea how bad it's gonna get once he reaches his detination:

"The first thing he saw below was nothing – a great swirling grey nothing that swam beneath them like a bottomless river. A sudden wind gust parted a circle in the fog, revealing a rocky slope that disappeared steeply into black. Gripping the great jutting rocks, and in many places, splitting them apart, were the probing roots of the very tree they sheltered in. If one were to fall now, Hopskotch wondered if the remains would ever be found.”

Hopskotch’s resilience is rewarded with a rare gift courtesy of Grandpa Rand, but the youngster has no idea what it is or how to use it. Approach rating: closing in!

Stage 7: Ordeal

Star Wars: Jump to The Empire Strikes Back, and Luke’s epic lightsaber-enhanced family reunion. Of course, his power is not developed enough for him to meet the challenge, and he is soundly defeated by daddy Darth.

The Waking World: In Book I’s climactic battle, Hopskotch faces a perfect storm of beast and fire upon the rope bridge:

“His voice had echoed raw and primal, like the distant growl of an approaching thunderhead. An ancient power was coursing through him and its strength emboldened Hopskotch. He repeated the command and raised his right arm to the fire. The amber pendant had grown fiercely hot in his opposite palm. Its power had surged through his body, up his left arm to his heart, and from there, out again in all directions till it reached the tips of his fingers, setting them to tingle.”

There’s a reason for the past tense. Hopskotch is actually casting his mind back, trying to make sense of what he had just unleashed. Like Luke, he has a taste of power, absent the knowledge, training and experience to effectively wield it. Certain-death rating: almost.

Stage 8: Reward

Star Wars: Luke survives the battle with Vader, rescued by his companions (thanks, sis’). He already has the magic sword in possession. The real reward is the power of the force growing within.

The Waking World: Like Skywalker, Hopskotch survives his own personal ordeal – the battle of the rope bridge. The last paragraph of the final chapter of Book I introduces the mentor, and the monomyth aspect of The Waking World trilogy is beginning to feel a little more fleshed out. Reward rating: belated

Stage 9: Magic Flight/The Road Back

Star Wars: Luke has escaped the Death Star with new knowledge in possession. What knowledge? Need more training to avoid another ass-whopping! Time to return to Yoda.

The Waking World: It’s a new book and a new day. The mentor has arrived to guide Hopskotch both physically and spiritually. The journey continues; secrets are revealed. But if this is ‘the road back’ why is Hopskotch travelling in the opposite direction? In contrast to the previous chapters, all seems safe and peaceful. There’s even a little romance bubbling below the surface. You just know the good times ain’t gonna last. Road-back rating: running in reverse!

Return of the Jedi. © Lucasfilm
Jedi Luke, convincingly not distracted by Leia's metal bikini.

Stage 10: Resurrection

Star Wars: Luke rises in stylish black threads, a card-carrying Jedi Knight. He now possesses the power needed to complete the journey

The Waking World: It’s been a rough ride for our own hero, with little downtime to work on his fledgling Whisper magic. But Hopskotch knows how to tap the dreigh amber, and to draw strength from the whispers around him. Before he can rise to the occasion, a great sacrifice is required, and a detour through magical realms beyond his imagination:

“Stretching his neck side to side, he flexed his shoulder to ensure the strapping was secure, before taking a pair of the thunderbird’s quills in his grip. A great cry echoed from the bluff. He felt the beast crouch, muscles coiling. The mists parted, a tear ran down a youthful, hairless cheek. Hopskotch Pestle raised his head. And soared.”

Our hero comes out the other side shaken, but with a newfound maturity that prepares him for…

Stage 11: Resolution

Star Wars: The final test for Luke is to face Vader in a final showdown, with companions preoccupied with a climactic space battle out the window (distracting, no?). Did Yoda even warn him about ol’ lightning fingers?

The Waking World: As with Star Wars, we jump to the big finish. Hopskotch has had little time to hone his skills, but he will not have to face the villain alone. Utilising the Choral mage as conduit, magical allies lend strength with elemental gifts of their own:

“The green magic rode in on a sea of whispers, breaking like a great wave against the background hum. A more familiar voice – a father’s voice – drew balance from the chaos, guiding his hand. A breath of air brushed his cheek, inviting self-awareness. Hopskotch raised his left arm, open palm facing the stone upon the mage’s staff.”

Return of the Jedi. © Lucasfilm
Heaven or hell? Yoda is still trying to figure it out.

Stage 12: New Status Quo

Star Wars: The Emperor is down. Vader is redeemed through sacrifice. The new status quo seems to have a lot of dancing ewoks, fireworks and ghost Jedis with smug grins and funky blue haloes.

The Waking World: A better world? A woken world? We are back at the beginning, but nothing will ever be the same. A new horizon is opening up before Hopskotch’s disbelieving eyes:

He moved between the pews with the sound of an old Geldonian lullaby rising softly in the background. The wall to his right was dominated by towering stained-glass windows, each filtering shafts of coloured light that reflected glitter-like off the fine dust particles floating in the still air. Dominated by blues, greens and reds, the rich shades infused into each glass tile – from smallest to greatest – were a wonder in themselves, but dwarfed in majesty by the collective effect. The colours enhanced the background lullaby, elevating Hopskotch’s spirit till it felt as if he were walking on air.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And it’s about as much spoiler as I’m happy to give away at this point in time (and possibly, a little more). Did running through the steps give me cause to reflect on Hopskotch Pestle’s own Hero’s Journey? The sequence is a little jumbled, but allowing for the late arrival of the mentor, all boxes are checked. Not that I would have made changes had they not been.

Every story is the same, according to this abbreviated take on the monomyth. Except in the countless crucial, subtle, deliberate, and utterly brilliant ways they are not.

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