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Archive for the ‘Joseph Campbell’ Category

Nobody told me there’d be days like this.
Nobody told me there’d be days like this.
Nobody told me there’d be days like this.
Strange days indeed, most peculiar, Mama.  –  John Lennon

The rains fell steadily for two days, swelling creeks and rivers over their banks into thousands of living rooms, basements and businesses in Middle Tennessee.

In a flash, the floods swept upon families and friends, endangering their lives and all of their possessions.

Answering the calls for help, then and still, are ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds of kindness, sacrifice and generosity. These everyday heroes don’t wear red capes, black cowls or powerful mechanical suits. They wear t-shirts, overalls, tennis shoes and business suits. They are helpful, hopeful, rich and poor. They are family, friends, neighbors and citizens who will no longer be called strangers.

They are heroes.

• • •

In 1949, American mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the seminal work about heroes in ancient and modern mythologies. His work inspired countless authors and screenwriters, including George Lucas, who leaned heavily on the work when he created the Star Wars film series.

The Hero with a Thousand FacesIn his writings, Campbell explored the theory that the great mythologies of the world have survived through the ages because they share a common structure, which Campbell labeled the “monomyth.”

In the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarized the monomyth: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

There are twelve stages of a hero’s journey. For example, the hero starts in the ordinary world but receives a call to adventure, requiring the hero to leave his/her normal surroundings and enter a world of unusual powers and strange events.

If the hero chooses to enter this strange world, he/she must complete a number of hard tasks alone or with companions, which Campbell calls a road of trials. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge.

If the hero survives the trials, he/she may receive a great reward (boon) which often involves important self-knowledge that the hero realizes from the experience.

The hero must then decide whether he/she will return to the ordinary world, often facing new trials along the way. Upon a successful return, the hero may use the reward to improve the world (the application of the boon).

• • •

In addition to Odysseus (Ulysses) in Homer’s Odyssey and Perseus in Clash of the Titans, the hero’s journey is illustrated in many contemporary films and literary works.

Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series leaves the desert planet of Tatooine, learns the ways of the Force, joins Hans Solo and the Rebel Alliance to battle the Empire, blows up the Death Star and influences the eventual destruction of the evil Emperor. His actions help restore peace to the galaxy.

Simba in The Lion King leaves the comforting care of the pride when his father is tragically killed by a stampede of wildebeests. He befriends Pumbaa and Timon in the jungle and grows to be a strong lion who realizes that he is the son of the king. He returns to the pride and leads the lions to a victory over his evil uncle and the hyenas, which restores the natural order to the jungle.

Harry in the Harry Potter series faces is a recent incarnation of the classic hero. He leaves the boring and oppressive home of his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, to enter the magical world at Hogwarts. With his friends Ron and Hermione, they battle powerful creatures and evil men while growing in wisdom and abilities. As we will see in the final two films, Harry must fight the ultimate test of his abilities and character by facing Lord Voldemort once again.

The greatest example of the hero’s journey can be found in the life of Jesus the Christ. Jesus left his humble beginnings and journeyed into the wilderness to tell us about God’s love. With the apostles beside him, he performed great deeds and taught great lessons, despite the forces gathering to discredit and punish him. He met the severest challenge by dying on the cross for our sins, giving us the reward of eternal salvation.

• • •

Here in Middle Tennessee, the journeys of many heroes have been documented by the media and retold by family and friends as we deal with the aftermath of the floods.

On May 1 we lived in our ordinary world, facing our daily duties as the rains started to fall. By the afternoon of May 2, we lived in an extraordinary world where the power of nature threatened our homes, our property and our lives.

But like the heroes of classic mythology and contemporary culture, and in the footsteps of Jesus our Savior, we came together with others in our community to battle this powerful force. We waded through waters to carry others to safety. We drove boats down flooded streets to rescue the stranded. We organized food, clothing and fundraising drives to help those who lost everything.

We are heroes – yesterday, today and tomorrow – as we continue, with the grace of God, to make this community a better place in which to live.

We love. We work. We clean up. We rebuild. – Lori Lenz

CF


Originally published in the May 14, 2010 issue of The Tennessee Register.

© 2010 Christopher Fenoglio

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