A lot of people – including many writers and game masters – take the idea of the “Monomyth” or “The Heroes Journey” fairly seriously.
That’s a bad idea.
Fundamentally, the “Monomyth” is so generic that it can pretty well be applied to ANY human activity. That’s a large part of what makes the idea appealing – anyone can relate to it, and it lets anyone, deep down in the depths of their ego, consider themselves a hero.
It also makes it fairly worthless as an insight, as a way of understanding mythology, or as a guide to writing good stories.
When you come right down to it, it describes a situation where:
- There’s something you want or need – a goal to be accomplished.
- Achieving that goal will be a certain amount of trouble.
- For a time, inertia rules. But then you get up to go and do it.
- If you’re lucky, you get some help.
- You head out to deal with the obstacles.
- You start doing new things to deal with them.
- You approach your goal.
- There’s a temptation to give up. Is the goal worth all this trouble?
- You make the decision – whether to continue or to drop the project.
- Armed with new determination, you continue!
- You achieve part of your goal!
- You are tempted to linger over that rosy sense of accomplishment instead of finishing up!
- You tear yourself away from that temptation, and continue towards the completion of your goal!
- You may need a little help with integrating your new accomplishment into daily life.
- You achieve balance, tying your new and old selves together!
- You are free to live your life with new confidence!
OK there… Lets say you’re bored with the blank wall in your living room. You… want to hang up a poster.
- You face a problem: you need a hammer.
- You attempt to refuse the call; you glance around the living room looking for something else you can use without the bother of finding a hammer.
- You may be offered aid and encouragement; “Didn’t you leave the hammer in the garage last month?”
- You depart from your comfortable, everyday, life in your living room.
- You open the garage door and cross the threshold to venture into a strange and hazardous realm; the garage, where things have often fallen on your foot.
- You face exotic and frightening hazards; invisible spider webs, uncertain footing, and teetering piles of junk.
- Monstrous creatures oppose you, but can be bravely driven off or bypassed; after all, most spiders think you’re too big for them to deal with.
- You encounter the personification of your goal; the toolbox under the workbench. It offers many wonderful possibilities!
- You resist the temptation to be diverted, even if that DOES look like the box that your old CD’s were in…
- You are tempted to linger in the exotic realm. Will you be needing any more tools? If you take along a screwdriver maybe you can fix that loose hinge on the front door!
- You center your resolve. You may not be as good with your hands as a home-repair specialist, but you can certainly do a few things around the house!
- You pick out the tools you will need to do a few things! Your quest has achieved it’s goal!
- Wait a moment! Do you actually have a nail inside? Perhaps you should look for a few of those while you’re at it!
- You resist the temptation to linger and head back towards your living room! The picture should have a picture-hanger with it!
- Abruptly you realize that, with your hands full, you cannot open the garage door to get back into the house! Fortunately, rescue is near at hand; even if you have nowhere to set things down, you can always ask your domestic partner to open the door for you!
- You re-enter the house, and set the tools down, so that you can clear the top of the buffet and prepare to work!
- You step up on a chair, achieve balance, and apply the tools you have quested for to achieve your goal – smoothly hammering in the picture-hanger!
- You test your new picture-hanger, step down, and hang your picture! Your life – or at least your living room – will be forever changed!
- But wait! Now you want to fix that loose board on the porch! Now that the power of the hammer is yours, a new quest awaits!
Do I really need to go through how those same steps fit in with the need to lose twenty pounds? How a new diet plan may offer help and assistance? (Lose those unwanted pounds “like magic!”) How the terror of the Thanksgiving Turkey may imperil all your gains? The temptation to quit when progress seems slow? How – even if you achieve your goal – you will need to figure out how to fit the occasional dessert into your life while maintaining your new weight?
The root of every epic heroes quest is no further away than your kitchen – or perhaps it’s stored in your garage.
That’s why the “monomyth” seems so familiar, and thus seems like such a “powerful insight” – it’s because it describes your daily life and the daily lives of everyone you know.
To produce anything worthwhile you need to go beyond the “monomyth”. It’s the unique touches, the unexpected twists – and yes, even the bad jokes – that keep people invested in your setting and make the trip through it interesting.