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Friday, July 29, 2011

Has your Hero got a Thousand Faces? How myths a better writer doth make

Wanna write a novel? Go back five thousand years for your inspiration. That's the message from Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell's work inspired Christopher Vogler, who wrote The Writer's Journey, a book highly recommended by Robert Dugoni.

You can find an outline of The Hero's Journey at this site.

Vogler tells the story of the original seven-page memo that was the foundation of The Writer's Journey - "The Memo that Started It All" - which he wrote to capture his understanding of the analysis of ancient myths by Joseph Campbell. Vogler was working as a story consultant for Walt Disney Pictures, and summarized his understanding of how one could use Campbell's analysis of the hero in ancient myths to structure a screenplay.

The Memo was an instant hit, and he handed out copies to several people, who swooned over it:
I had the vision that copies of The Memo were like little robots, moving out from the studio and into the jetstream of Hollywood thinking all on their own... Feedback started coming in that suggested I had hit a nerve... A junior executive had taken off my title page and substituted his own name as author, and then submitted it to Jeffrey Katzenberg, who read it and pronounced it a very important document at a meeting of his development execs, making it required reading for the entire staff. Fortunately someone at that table had already read The Memo and knew I was the true author.
In The Memo, Vogler says that Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces was having a major impact on writing and story-telling, but above all on movie-making, influencing Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Coppola:
The ideas Campbell presents in this and other books are an excellent set of analytical tools. With them you can almost always determine what’s wrong with a story that’s floundering; and you can find a better solution almost any story problem by examining the pattern laid out in the book.
There’s nothing new in the book. The ideas in it are older that the Pyramids, older than Stonehenge, older that the earliest cave painting.
Campbell’s contribution was to gather the ideas together, recognize them, articulate them, and name them.  He exposes the pattern for the first time, the pattern that lies behind every story ever told.
The Memo summarizes the Hero's Journey as follows: 
The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE.  He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES.  He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL.  He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world.  He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience.  He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.
Vogler wrote that the Hero's Journey is populated by archetypes - basic functions you find in every story – they are recurring patterns of human behavior, symbolized by standard types of characters in movies and stories (Heroes; Shadows – villains; Mentors – the Hero's guide or guiding principles; Heralds – the person or event that brings the call to adventure; Threshold Guardians – opposing forces; Shapeshifters – representing change or ambiguity; Tricksters – clowns or mischief-makers including our own subconscious; and Allies).

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