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Is the hero's journey a purely neurological effect?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by EccentricGentleman, Apr 18, 2015.

  1. I've been reading about the hero's journey lately and I want to know why these particular elements make for such great stories.

    Is it a purely neurological effect? If you press the right button control panel the machine will give the response you want. If you write a story with these elements will it push the right neurological buttons to make the reader feel the desired response? Is that how it works?

    Is there some other reason why the elements of the hero's journey work?
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Well, if you believe Campbell when he described the monomyth, or Hero's Journey, mythology comes from and functions deep within the human psyche. It tells us things about our own nature and our own existence, but our consciousness filters the knowledge through symbolic references. Myths also tie us to something transcendent, beyond our physical selves. So the idea is, in part, you see the same things pop up in mythology over and over because they are the human consciousness giving manifest to the same underlying truths, and the same necessary lessons that guide human beings over the course of their lives. Presumably, the monomyth resonates with people on that level and thus rises above something that is just a story.

    That's a vast oversimplification, but from my understanding that's the gist of it.
     
  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    So if you don't like the Hero's Journey, there's something wrong with your brain?

    The Hero's Journey is just one of those models that fits enough stories that people start trying to cram every possible story into it. We've had a few of them over the centuries, and they tend to fall apart as people write more stories that don't fit the pattern. Campbell's only unique in that he folded and spindled mythology to support his pattern (to the objections of a lot of people who study myths from cultures he gave less attention to.)
     
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Have you read the book? Champbell references Carl Jung more than any myths. Ignore the Hero's Journey and research Jungian "psychology", you'll find what you're looking for there.
     
  5. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    How did you arrive at this conclusion Feo? Despite any theories that Campbell or any other philosopher has brought to light regarding the hero's journey, one can't deny that there are specific common themes and archetypes that strike an emotional and/or psychological chord with most people.

    I agree with you that there are many stories that break the monomyth "mold" and still resonate with us talking monkeys. However I also agree with Campbell's conclusions.

    I firmly believe that if one sticks to the basic pattern that he lays out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, one can write a great story.

    Choosing to be a writer of fantasy (or any type of fiction) is not an easy road to go down. It seems that everything truly has been done an incalculable amount of times before. If we want to reach people, really resonate with readers, we need to find anything that strikes a chord, any chord at all really, with them.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @Feo that's reductive to the point of absurdity. Have you read any Campbell?
     
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Um, that wasn't supposed to be a serious statement.

    To actually try to respond seriously, I'm not saying that the Hero's Journey makes stories bad, any more than the classical unities make stories bad. In fact, you can create great stories with both systems! But I think trying to apply either prescriptively is ultimately limiting.

    @Steerpike: In fairness, my primary exposure to Campbell was from one of the worst English teachers I ever had, who loved the Hero's Journey and tried to fit everything under the sun into it. I will readily admit that I am biased.

    P.S. To hell with it, I'll go there. I know David Brin is super over-the-top. I know some of the rhetoric he uses is, quite frankly, ridiculous. But I do think he has a point in this essay about how the Hero's Journey contrasts with more populist approaches.

    Speaking personally, I come from a family that represents almost every possible way adults can abuse, exploit, or neglect their children. References to authority in my fiction tend to conflate with images of disease, decay, and bodily mutilation. I can't follow parts of the Hero's Journey, because my fiction keeps going so anti-authoritarian as to come into conflict with it.

    So yeah, I don't think David Brin is completely insane. You may now proceed to throw tomatoes at me. (And if you think that one gets ridiculous with the rhetoric, you should read his essay about the anti-democratic evils of The Lord of the Rings.)
     
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  8. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Thank you for sharing that personal information Feo.

    Sucks that you had to go through that sort of life but I'm sure it's made you a stronger person and a better storyteller. As I said before, there are many stories that break the monomyth mold and they do quite well.

    Thank you for also proving my point. I guarantee that your stories do contain elements that strike an emotional or psychological chord with many people. I say this because you do what any good writer does: you write what you know.
    The tragic parts of your past are relatable because it's an all too common occurrence in the world.

    That's the whole point of Campbell's books. We write what we know. The human experience throughout history is expansive and nearly incomprehensible but there are many commonalities that we share through storytelling.

    Please keep doing what you do and writing what you write. The world needs it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2015
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @Feo

    Ah...OK. There's plenty of room for criticism of Campbell, just like if you dig into structural anthropology you'll find plenty of room to criticize Claude Levi-Strauss (and I'm not implying an equivalence; Levi-Strauss was much more rigorous than Campbell). But there's a lot of interesting insight in their works, or Malinowski's work on magic and religion, despite the fact that they're open to criticisms as well.

    Campbell didn't just write The Hero with A Thousand Faces, though that's the one writers know so well. He wrote the Masks of God books, which are more notable among scholars - a four-volume series comprising Primitive Mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology, and Creative Mythology. Those are also open to critique (including one of the the titles, by modern standards). Creative Mythology is probably the most ambitious of those, and it is quite interesting even in places where I don't agree. They're also heavily researched and annotated.

    He wrote other books on mythology, spoke on it a great deal, edited a book on Jung (who shows up a lot in his work, as noted above), and I think even wrote a guide to Finnegan's Wake (which I probably should have had when I tried to read that book). None of which is to say anyone has to agree with the guy on anything, but I've read most of the above and he's got a lot of scholarship there, whether you like his conclusions or not. So I thought it odd when you said that basically the only thing Campbell did was come up with a pattern and fold various mythologies into it. Based on his word-count alone, I'd say the Hero's Journey constitutes a minority of his writings on mythology.

    As for your stories not following them, I think that's perfectly fine. No one has to follow them. Campbell never said that all stories follow them, or even should follow them (though he's been misinterpreted that way). Campbell differentiated "myths" from "stories." Or, rather, myths were a certain type of story. In his view, they were functional, and how they function is based at least in part on how we are put together as human animals. But not every story is a myth, and not every story has to follow the Hero's Journey. I think it is a mistake to try to force a story into that pattern when it doesn't fit. If you are writing a story that fits into it, then I suppose from Campbell's point of view your story is tapping into something innate in the human creature, and maybe stories like that resonate on some deep level, I don't know.
     
  10. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I don't think it is neurological in a predetermined/human nature kind of way, simply because it's not a common pattern in some parts of the world -- particularly those with little contact with the West over the millennia where they developed their cultural roots (Japan, the Americas, south and some of west Africa). But I think it could be said that, as we grow up with exposure to certain myths and stories, we grow... attuned to a certain way of telling a story. Christian or not, most Europeans and Americans know at least a few stories from the Bible by the time they can read and write. The Greek epics, Shakespeare, King Arthur -- these are stories many people are taught or see adapted on TV before they're old enough to even choose for themselves what they want to read. And even before Campbell was born, literary critics would highlight, archive, and redistribute the works that best held up to a standard they derived from the classics (which, for them, would primarily be the Greeks) -- which helped determine which works lasted long enough to become classics for us.

    How much of this is a reflection of Western (male*) cultural identity and ideals, and how much of this is just the luck of what Greek epics survived and a millennia-long standard of copying 'the greats', I couldn't say.

    * As an aside, I do think the Hero's Journey is a distinctly male journey. Not to say there aren't stories about female protagonists going through the same plot structure, but... I don't think it is the narrative of women in Western literature. I find that many stories that try seem just a little off in how they handle her journey. It's probably just the Jungian influence on the whole thing...
     
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  11. So you're saying that it is neurological but in a nuture vs nature kind of way?

    Christopher Vogler says that it's an invalueable tool becuse it makes for a universal story.
    But I don't know why.
     
  12. I really want to know why the Hero's journey and it's specific eliments work.

    Is it nurilogical, cultural or what? Why does this pattern resonate with our species?
     
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Vogler's Hero's Journey was based on the Monomyth described in Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It sounds like you haven't read that book, so if you want to understand the "Hero's Journey", I'd recommend that you read Campbell's book and make up your own mind about it.
     
  14. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I've heard that "rebel fighting a tyrant" makes for a universal story despite being entirely a societal thing (since government/rebellion is a human invention) and Campbell doesn't make any extensive reference to rebellion/tyranny in his monomyth.

    Psychology is a new science. We don't understand it well enough to determine if certain stories naturally appeal to people or if it's a societal thing. Or both or neither.
    There's evidence that things like three-act structures or tonal consistency naturally appeal to people on some base level. That's way broader than any of Campbell's theories but it does imply that some (but not all) storytelling conventions stick around because they do naturally work.

    So, draw your own conclusions.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  15. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I'm going to be so bold as to say the Hero's Journey is overrated, if not completely useless. Granted, almost everything I know about Campbell's most famous work comes second hand from a Star Wars documentary. But I think if you look at the actual structure he proposes... it doesn't actually exist in any real sense. It's nothing more than an abstraction. There's no myth or story out there that follows all of Campbell's steps in the order he proposes except those which are deliberately trying to. And even in stories and myths that have elements of Campbell's framework, those stories have such different aims and themes and come from such vastly different cultures as to almost defy comparison. Trying to make them all hang together under the Hero's Journey umbrella is largely missing the point, because in order to make them fit, you have to completely ignore almost all of the details that make them unique: AKA, the parts that make them what they are. It's like the early attempts at studying comparative religion: The Golden Bough and it's ilk. It's all crap. Because when you lump every storytelling tradition in the world together like that, what you get is a generic blob that doesn't really resemble any of the things you cobbled it together from. Like those archetypical cell diagrams from middle school bio that don't actually resemble any of the cells in the human body. Of course you *can* make a great story by following the Hero's Journey. A good writer *can* make a satisfying story out of almost anything. But I'm not convinced the Hero's Journey has any inherent merit of its own as a real thing that really exists.

    And if one more, just ONE MORE person tries to tell me that the story of Jesus is derived from the Egyptian myth of Osiris or some other such nonsense, I will lose it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
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  16. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Btw, reading the article Feo linked and David Brin is a nut and has completely misinterpreted several of Star Wars's major themes. And he seems to think the Skywalkers are a royal family for some reason. Incidentally, reading his article impressed me with the exact opposite of the points he was trying to make and has helped me put my finger on exactly why I almost always prefer fantasy (and cosmic fantasy like Star Wars) to actual science fiction.

    His interpretation of Lord of the Rings is also mind-boggling in ways that would take too long to enumerate. Although his largest misstep by far is saying that the Ring could be used by anyone. The whole point of the book is that it can't be.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  17. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @Mindfire being bold is one thing. Being bold on a subject matter on which one is ignorant seems a bit foolish, if we're being frank. That you got your knowledge of Campbell from a Star Wars documentary doesn't surprise me, given your post, above. I doubt that you've read The Golden Bough, either. I've read it and find your comments to be about as uninformed as possible. All of these works are clearly subject to criticism along various lines, but it only makes sense if those criticisms are informed and levied by people who know what they're talking about, rather than these kinds of generic, knee-jerk pronouncements. The idea of discussing this stuff is supposed to be to assist the posters who are asking about them, which is not a goal that is furthered by people wading in with no idea what they're saying.

    The thread itself operates from a basic misunderstanding of the Hero's Journey, as I noted above. It doesn't apply to all stories, it applies to certain mythological traditions, the idea being that myth and ritual serve important functions to the human being, and because we share biology we are going to share certain needs, and thus the functional myths that address those needs are going to look similar. This doesn't apply only to the Hero's Journey, which is supposed to be a common (but not exclusive) paradigm, but also to other aspects of myth and ritual that people have identified as having common elements across disparate cultures such as Europeans, Native Americans, the cultures of India, etc.

    Whether these researchers are making too much of similarities, or are looking too hard for them, is a subject for debate. No one, including Campbell, is saying that all stories contain the pattern found in the Hero's Journey. And no one, also including Campbell, is saying that any story that has them is automatically going to be some great universal story. Even if you accept Campbell's premise, which can be argued, that's an erroneous conclusion. If all A include B, that does not mean all B are A. In other words, even if all great stories included the Hero's Journey (and they don't), it does not follow that all stories including the Hero's Journey are great stories.

    If anyone thinks that by including the Hero's Journey they're automatically going to write a story that works, or somehow taps into some universal aspect of humanity, they're wrong. You can use it, sure, but you still have to write a damn good story, just as you would if you hadn't included it.
     
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  18. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Read the whole thing? No. Don't have the time. Read several excerpts of it and other early comparative religion stuff in a class taught by a particularly enthusiastic professor who summarized most of the in-between parts. So my opinion on it is based more on my memory of his lectures and the class discussions than on the text itself. But since he actually was an expert in the subject matter and I paid fairly good attention and participated vivaciously in the discussions, I don't think my opinion is completely invalidated and I would deny you have sufficient grounds to declare me uninformed. Fuzzy memory perhaps. But my takeaway was that lots of people early in the study of religion drew lots of parallels where they didn't really belong. Sometimes with the end goal of debunking or at least explaining away religion entirely.

    Though with Campbell, "uninformed" is a fair label. I've never had much interest in investigating his work more seriously, though I've picked up bits and pieces of it in my usual branching-paths, hyperlink-esque manner of thinking and acquiring knowledge. But Campbell's scheme is called the Monomyth is it not? Does that not literally mean "One Story"? Was his aim not to illustrate a single, transcendent framework encompassing human storytelling tradition? And does this kind of thinking, if not Campbell's work itself, lead to the creation of such crimes against the human spirit as Bill Maher's odious faux-documentary, Religulous? (The true object of my hatred. The Monomyth I mostly shrug at. But I find Bill Maher's abomination so poisonous in concept that my hate for it rubs off on Campbell merely by casual association. Yes, I know this is unfair and completely ridiculous. That's why I'm admitting it.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I also have not read Campbell. I'm not inclined to put much stock into comparative mythology. And to me the monomyth sounds more like a relic from the age of Freudian pseudo-psychology than an actual human phenomenon.

    ^ If there's a reason to think otherwise, cool. Hit us with it: I have no interest in defending that opinion.

    That said, I google the Hero's Journey all the time, and I think that everyone here should be doing so, too. I think it's fascinating and extremely useful because it gives us as writers a common jargon for discussing story structure. I think that's invaluable.

    I don't care whether or not your story has an inciting incident that's early or late, whether there's one or several or none at all. I care about whether we have the linguistic tools to even talk about it. Because then we can talk about our stories in a whole different way.

    The Hero's Journey is a huge step in creating that. I think it deserves credit for that, if for nothing else.
     
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  20. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Okay, this I'll agree with.
     
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