Evolution of The Hero’s Journey

If you read books, watch movies or television, then you have encountered The Hero’s Journey in modern storytelling.

The concept of the hero’s journey was introduced in a book called The Hero With A Thousand Faces, published in 1949 by American professor, Joseph Campbell. The book argued that all ancient mythology tells one core story: the human psyche’s development from child to adult, and ultimately to fully realized individual. CBC Ideas

This story structure became immortalized when George Lucas embedded it into Star Wars. The success of Star Wars speaks to the cultural resonance that the Hero’s Journey is capable of. Hollywood, in the pursuit of box office profit has fully capitalized on this mythological underpinning, churning out iterations of the Hero’s Journey in varying levels of quality.

Storytelling unlocked! The code has been cracked! It seemed so at one point, or at least was presented that way by Hollywood and publishing gatekeepers.

I’ve read several of Campbell’s books, including The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and thought he made a lot of good points. I’ve watched the 1988 Bill Moyers series “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” and found it inspiring. I enjoy Star Wars, The Lion King, and The Matrix—all which are commonly portrayed as prime examples of Campbell’s theory. I read and write fantasy & science fiction novels, which are thoroughly steeped in the Hero’s Journey. And yet…I have issues when encountering anything presented as a monomyth that encapsulates all stories. Doesn’t feel right. A little too ambitious.

This description, in Campbell’s own words, provides more nuance than is usually offered by secondary sources regarding the Hero’s Journey:

The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. Narrative First

Now that’s the juice! An unassailable psycho-spiritual storytelling phenomenon, right? Well…

A Few Critiques

Everything depends on whether The One in The Matrix is going to be successful or not, the hero is going to save the world or not,” and “That’s, I think, the political danger. If everyone is thinking that they’re the hero, then there’s no possibility of thinking with compassion from the point of view of other people who are experiencing completely different stories as you are. CBC Ideas

Hmm, this comment does imply an unintended long-term consequence of ramming a monomyth down culture’s throat. If everyone believes they are a hero then that means anything in opposition to their own self must be evil, or at minimum, wrong. Draw your own conclusions about this proposition when considering the current socio-political landscape of the world.

Despite the pretense that these are ancient stories conveying what Joseph Campbell would call ‘boons from the transcendent deep,’ these are basically stories that are told by those in power in order to convince others that they should have power. CBC Ideas

Doesn’t sound as numinous and sacred when framed that way. The Hero’s Journey tends to involve an individual overcoming outer obstacles, learning how to survive, defeating rivals, being reborn as more than human thus receiving a higher social status; all concepts that can easily be subsumed by an economic ideology perpetuating the belief that a person should “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” by sacrificing, risk taking, and hard work. Has this occurred? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s not so different when the psycho-spiritual aspect is deemphasized.

There is a sickness running through the world, a sickness that attempts to twist every instance of narrative fiction through the siphon of errors that is the “Hero’s Journey” story structure paradigm. Narrative First

It seems to me that this statement is referring to the role that existing systems take in directing what gets made. The storytelling process becomes a tool to reinforce the structural system, whatever it may be. Differences are cast out or realigned, if they are seen at all. The system wants to preserve itself, to continue its growth, so it taps into a known and trusted resource.

It might be assumed that the Hero’s Journey is the sole property of males and this is untrue, although it has historically been a male-dominated realm. Females can be, and are, heroes able follow this process, yet there seems to be a need to improve inclusivity.

…introduce an archetypal structure that expands the work of Joseph Campbell to include a feminine archetype.  Maybe it will create more meaningful roles for women. That would be good. I would also hope it will create stories about men who also want to follow their spiritual, sexual or creative awakening, otherwise known as their feminine side. Kim Hudson

Too narrow of a paradigm is potentially as damaging to the males included within the monomyth as it is to the excluded females as it can lead to imbalance, emphasizing hyper-masculinity. Is a male supposed to always be in “hero mode” ? What happens when a person is exclusively expected to be rugged, strong, brave and challenging boundaries? Doesn’t seem sustainable. Not all that fun either.

Some Alternatives

Two of the most viable, and interesting, storytelling methods that I have come across are The Virgin’s Promise and Dramatica.

Dramatica is a complex, comprehensive structure that I can only touch on here.

Stories are about solving problems. Sometimes, solving those problems require the centerpiece of a story, the Main Character, to undergo a major transformation in how they see the world. Sometimes they don’t. There is nothing inherently better about a story where the Main Character transforms. Narrative First

The whole spiritual transformation aspect of Campbell’s theory are not at play within Dramatica, instead preferring a more objective approach.

The Main Character comes to a story with some emotional baggage. The Influence Character enters and by virtue of her presence, brings the Main Character’s baggage to the surface. She “impacts” him. One way or another, the two argue over the proper way to solve the problems in the story until at the end the Main Character has to come to a decision: Either keep doing things the way he always has, or change and adopt the Influence Character’s way of seeing things. Narrative First

Many examples come to mind, particularly the tried and true features produced by Pixar. More give and take than the classic Hero’s Journey. Development as more of an interaction rather than individuality overcoming outside forces.

The Virgin’s Promise is closer to a mirror image of Campbell’s theory:

…has two meanings and in a nutshell…The first meaning is the community’s belief that the Virgin has agreed to live up to their expectations. She has made a promise to them. The second speaks to the Virgin’s unproven potential that lies dormant within her, longing to come to life. The Virgin begins by conforming to the wishes of others and eventually learns to hear her inner voice and bring it to life. It is the journey to creative, spiritual and sexual awakening. Writers Store

And

The Hero leaves the village to ward off danger before it arrives and creates havoc in a foreign land. The antagonist is the personification of this foreign land and is basically evil and rightly destroyed. The Virgin lives in a Kingdom that is in need of change. The kingdom is stagnating and needs to allow more individual freedom. Growth of the Virgin forces growth of the Kingdom. Writers Store

I love this take. What happens after the dragon has been slain? Or when the enemy is not an overt other? What if the problems are close to home? What if the problems are built into home itself?

The Virgin is learning to be self-fulfilling. Her highest purpose is to overcome her Father Complex and make choices in her life based on her own values. She must follow her passion and know joy and love. She is about awakening her sexuality, spirituality and creativity and making her dreams come true. Writers Store

This is a facet of human existence of which the Hero’s Journey is ill equipped to portray. This is no fault of the Hero’s Journey—it has a distinct, useful core of themes built for certain circumstances. Hudson’s theory provides clarification for another way of being in the world.

The Virgin journey includes a friend while the Hero is aided by allies. The Virgin’s friend sees her potential and supports her in her quest to be true to herself out of love rather than personal gain. The Hero meets allies along the way who share a common goal. They don’t have to like each other; they simply have to share a common purpose. Writers Store

Hudson’s theory is compatible for males and females, which I have discovered in my own writing. My novels The Pale Queen and Witch 6 both feature male protagonists following their version of the Virgin’s Promise.

Seren, in The Pale Queen, is a magic wielding poet-warrior carrying a devastating weapon who at first glance checks many of the Hero’s Journey boxes, but the story begins with Seren at the height of his powers. He has already overcome obstacles, sacrificed, shown bravery and yet…his lover has left him and he faces a threat that cannot be punched or slashed.

Mavrik, in Witch 6, is a formidable witch with voodoo-like abilities as well as a prince of sorts due to his heritage and yet…he is unable to receive a higher social status and is facing a force beyond the scope of a single person’s power.

Both characters must discover how to live in a world where strictly being a hero is incapable of solving the problem. They must learn how to expand their awareness to include that of other people, their communities, and the wider world. This process is more aligned with the Virgin’s Promise even though such characters and settings typically adopt the Hero’s Journey.

Our world and the stories used to express our understanding of our roles within it are changing. People believe what they see, leading me to be of the opinion that narratives facilitating this changing understanding need to be integrated within cultural consciousness.

Let me know what you think! What are some other examples? What are avenues for modern storytelling?

The Pale Queen – Preorder

The Pale Queen is available for preorder as an ebook on Apple Books and Kobo and will be available on Amazon (ebook & print) on March 13, 2021! If you use Apple Books or Kobo please consider making a preorder as it helps with their ranking systems.

Synopsis:

A story can be freedom. A story can be prison.

In service to the mysterious Pale Queen, a poet-warrior navigates a world of magic, carrying a weapon created to kill gods.

Seren searches for his lost lover, striving to find her before the coming of the Never-Was. He writes in a secret notebook about encounters with friend and foe, hoping to make sense of these entangling threads. With his lion companion at his side, Seren seeks truth at all costs.

In a world where the lives of humans and gods are bonded, a single quest can encompass all.

The Pale Queen is a non-traditional way of conveying a fantasy story and I think of it as a living myth. It is probably more suitable for fans of Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki) and Life of Pi (Martel) rather than Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) or Harry Potter (Rowling). Although, there is bound to be some overlap.

The story is on the shorter side yet is action packed and full of gods, beasts and magic. The style is flowing and poetic, with the goal of creating a unique experience for the reader.

Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions!

The Stories We Live

We are the stories that we tell ourselves.

So, who are we when those stories are changing? And we’ve all gotten acquainted with change in 2020, whether we liked it or not. Structures and systems portrayed as immovable have been shaken, and some have collapsed. Those still standing now bear visible cracks. Beliefs, individual and collective, have been rattled as well, subjected to the same shifting as their more tangible expressions. Like a hermit crab that has outgrown its shell, how do we navigate our way into a better fit?

In an article for Emergence Magazine, author and activist, Alexis Wright, calls this process an “inward migration.”

“…most often a solitary journey, a turning away from the bombarding speed of reality hitting your very sense of being and destroying your soul…it’s where we go to slowly pick things apart, to reimagine our world in new ways, and sometimes we come out on the other side with a map of how to make some sense of our world.”

A story is a lie to get to truth.

Problems arise when we become attached to the lie, taking the story as reality and setting it atop a psychological house of cards. We know, intuitively, that any change may cause a breakdown, so even the briefest of challenges initiates a survival reflex. This biological programming is often rationalized to be our individual bedrock, yet how can it be? Humanity could never have persisted through any significant change with this steadfast rigidity as a guiding principle.

A point elucidated by Wright: “When you move into the realm of your own sovereignty of mind by shielding yourself from the kinds of interferences that rob you of the ability to think straight, that sap your spirit, or block you from seeing and making your own judgment, then you are able to govern your own spirit and imagination.”

Stories shape underlying structures by tapping into the imagination, setting the stage for our awareness.

All human creations ultimately emerge from imagination in the form of thoughts, ideas and inspiration. These immaterial tools become questions, actions and objects. Reality influences how we live and is in turn co-created by how we choose to live. Our current stories seem unworthy of fulfilling this collaborative process; more akin to inertia than inspiration. New stories are required so that we may allow ourselves to see differently, because a person believes what they see.

As Wright says: “This is where we fashion, and refashion, and imagine the stories we want told, where we catch the essence of a story before it drifts away, or before it is overrun by the power of those other stories, created by the score in this country, to distract our thinking.”

Old stories told in a new way. Ancient style in a modern package.

Our world is a series of cyclical layers supported by interconnected forces and interdependent beings. Objects in motion within cyclical systems always return, eventually. It seems as though we are nearing a return as we enter a new era of human understanding.

Alexis Wright goes on to say: “We return to talk with the spirits about how the deep feelings of culture can be thought through, cared about, and compared with our knowledge of the world. It is where we examine truth, and it is through our soul-searching that art and beauty can grow, regenerate, deepen the connections…”

A challenge and a call to action. Personal responsibility with collective consequences. The Emperor has no clothes, we can all see that now. How much longer can we look away?

Wright asserts a need for, “…those who will search ceaselessly through the backwaters of their minds, hearts and souls to find ways to powerfully articulate the new stories, the new sagas, the new imagination, and the new epics of the world, inspired by their doubt, fear, love, longing and wondering.”

In my experience, beauty has become a useful perspective in pursuing an aim similar to Wright’s. Beauty as a synthesis of so many contradictions. Beauty as a momentary unifier of paradox. Beauty as a compass for truth.

As a writer, sometimes one encounters a story that seems to arrive like a bolt of lightning out of an empty sky, a story seemingly vivified by its own energy and ready to be expressed. An example of this for me is, The Pale Queen, a fantasy story that I think of as a living myth. The Pale Queen surprised me in its difference from previous fantasy that I have written, as well as its deviation from a fantasy-structure that I typically enjoy reading. I found the writing of it to be refreshing and hope that readers will share a similar experience.

The Pale Queen will be released March 13, 2021. More details to come.

Beauty is an Option

Some emotions transformed into thoughts, transcribed into words, digitized and shared, from a prairie town in Alberta, Canada.

When the actions of our elected representatives are confusing, disappointing and incensing, it’s important to remember that our collective choices put them in these positions of influence. The system works bottom-up as much as top-down. The choices we make, or don’t make, as individuals create our communities, society, and world.

Those in power (whichever party or colour) will attempt to control the narratives of daily life because this is what we told them to do. This is their role. But it is our role as individuals, friends, family, and citizens to choose the beautiful, because no leader can tell you what to love. And if they tell you what to hate, then they aren’t a leader.

Discover the beauty in your life and share it with those you care for. Beauty is the truth in the story of your life and it’s on each one of us to find the courage to accept this choice.

 sometimes when looking into that Alberta sky
 it’s hard to tell
                                                if I’m going the wrong way
                           then why does this road lead to home?

 where I’m living as best as I can
 in love
 to be so fortunate
 born with a fighting chance
                                               the way I see it
                                                     Why not?

 have faith in the wind’s freezing kiss
 beneath a sky as big as the question
 deep as the space in my chest
 enough to fall into
                                     alone
                                              together with everyone else
                      looking into this endless blue 

Making Sense of the World Through Fantasy & Sci-Fi

We live in overwhelming times, although I suppose people always have. Tiny bodies caught in a massive gravitational pull. Cause and effect, strangeness, beauty and choice all wrapped up together. Each individual seemingly at the centre, capable of being a hero or villain. Perhaps this is why fantasy and sci-fi have risen to the forefront of popular culture; the scale and scope of these living legends resonating in our consciousness.

We sense the vastness, the grand scope, the great threat and dreaded task. We seek direction and inspiration. For humanity, since the beginning, it appears that we have looked to story to provide meaning, to help make sense of our own role in this complex existence. A story has pattern and rhythm, rise and fall, beginning and conclusion; a world contained. A vehicle offering an objective view, a way to safely make connection, as well as providing opportunity for reflection.

Books have the particularly subtle quality of encouraging the reader to place themselves inside the story; an invisible sort of give and take. Individual perspective works with the words to shape a unique experience. This is magic. Technology not fully understood, even today. True whether you live in the Shire or Mordor, Smallville or Gotham.

Some readers prefer a more optimistic outcome whereas others revel in the darkness exposed. Each have their merits, but I believe that a balance of both is required to create a fully realized story. Because humanity is messy, terrible and wonderful, and so is the reader. As is the writer.

There are voices for everyone, what with the ability to self-publish. Categories and characters that probably never would have made it past the gates of traditional publishing. Seems as though people and tastes are more diverse than what a few executives in tall buildings decided.

I leapt at the chance afforded by indie publishing and wrote a trilogy (discovering afterwards that it could be classified in the fantasy sub-genre, Grimdark.) Grimdark is a foreboding title that doesn’t really mean anything, except maybe to stride forward and meet the challenge headfirst, blade at the ready. Anti-heroes and likeable ruffians that are sometimes more relatable than the knight in shining armour and the ridiculously evil dark lord. Because we live in confusing times and not everything is as it appears at first glance, despite how loudly some people shout.

Everyone is evolving on their own journey, empowered by hidden motivations, born into a world of rules and systems not of their choosing. Grimdark, despite its name, does as good of a job as any genre of revealing this struggle, this desire to discover personal truth.

So I encourage you to try a walk down the many paths of fantasy and sci-fi. Maybe Grimdark isn’t your cup of stale beer, but there are plenty of other categories to choose from. Try a self-published author if you’re feeling saucy, why not? Be bold and see where the story takes you.

Book Launch: Gods of Rua

Gods of Rua FRONT COVER

Gods of Rua, second novel in The Spiritbinder Saga, is officially out in the big wide world! The cover art is incredible and the stakes have been raised across the board as the story continues from where Daughter of Shadow ended.

GoR_Back Cover

In preparation for the launch, I ripped these stumps out of the ground and attached old, rusty horseshoes to make a pair of book stand displays.

Stump and Table Display

Not too shabby.

Book Stump

A celebration was in order. I don’t mind an excuse to throw a party. So we organized with a great venue, booked some talented musicians, brought in a cask of a limited edition beer from a local brewery, and invited the best people we know.

And the artist even made the trek.

Tyler and Jeff

*I’m not short. He’s that tall. Comparative shortness is a byproduct of being friends with former college basketball players.

A fun night and the beginning to the next chapter of the journey!

The Sequel

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Writing a novel is fun. Contrasting qualities blend together to give voice to a quiet activity. It’s structured yet creative. Solitary yet expansive. Direct yet subtle. And sometimes, in those sweet moments that render time meaningless, the words flow. The words come smooth and fast, clear and fresh as water drawn from a well. From unseen depths and into sunlight. It feels pure. At least to the author. Inspiration to feed the spirit. The hope is that the reader perceives a similar phenomena.

This is all to say that the sequel to Daughter of Shadow is completed. All that is left are a few technical aspects of indie publishing, such as formatting, ISBN’s, etc.

Gods of Rua picks up the action directly from the conclusion of DoS. New areas of the world are explored along with the development of characters to enhance the depth of the overall story. There are a fair share of new characters as well to fill-out the escalating conflict within The Spiritbinder Saga.

Progresss on the third, as yet untitled, instalment has been steady, as the first draft is nearing completion. The stakes keep being raised and it’s been thrilling to write the progression of increasingly complex characters (sometimes deviating unexpectedly from original plans).

Writing my first novel, DoS, was fun in a pushing oneself to climb a mountain sort of way. Writing the second novel has been akin to sitting on the peak to enjoy the view. The first draft of the third has the inherent momentum of descending a backside trail. Then there’s the fourth, and series concluding novel, in the distance. The sparkling water of a lake holding the promise of fire and rest.

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They say to write what you know but in all honesty I don’t know much about properly wielding bladed weapons, being an orphan, or performing arcane rituals. I think the saying is meant to encourage one to write what they love. I love asking big questions, different perspectives from all walks of life, and slow-mo action scenes. I love comparing and contrasting concepts then melting them together to create an alloy that is strengthened by the differences and supported by the similarities. I love writing fantasy. Can’t wait to share.

The amazing cover art will soon be revealed, with the published novel following shortly.

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Author Credibility in the Age of Alternative Facts

All authors face an uphill climb to credibility and none more than independent authors. In this digital era, the internet is like the wild west and author after author enters their book into the mix, hopeful as a gold miner looking to strike it big.

is-it-gold-in-here

Advertisements saturate our devices, turning choice into a chore. Netflix is nailing the streaming game, making it acceptable to binge entire seasons in a sitting. Individual time is eaten up quick as movie popcorn (handful after handful smashed into the mouth until life is chewing, butter, and previews). And that’s not including work to pay off the debt that floats the economy. Everyone has a side hustle these days. Hopefully your side hustle doubles a passion project.

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The best route to credibility as an independent author is likely to garner a multitude of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Having champions in various genre forums and subreddits to sing your praises is crucial. Getting on a powerhouse mailing list like Bookbub is also a solid boost to the reputation. Paid advertisements get the author’s name out there, but what is the point if no one knows the name? And then there are competitions.

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Many competitions exist for independent authors, some more legitimate than others, yet all offer potential glory. Note: these competitions tend to cost $50-150 USD to enter and usually require that the author mail multiple copies of the book, so factor extra postage into the expense.

After carefully researching the available competitions, I entered Daughter of Shadow into four this past summer. DoS was a finalist in two competitions and two were never to be heard from again. The 2017 IndieReader Discovery Awards gave this fine review, even though DoS didn’t end up placing.

“In DAUGHTER OF SHADOW, a must-read for all fantasy lovers, the world is splintered into light and dark and a young female warrior struggles to choose a side. Author Tyler Sehn takes great pains to lay out a richly detailed realm of magic, monstrous creatures, and political upheaval. ”

The Colorado Independent Publishers Association chose DoS as a finalist for the EVVY Awards. 2017 was the 23rd annual CIPA EVVY Awards, which in independent publishing is practically prehistoric.

dinosaureatingbook

*Turns out illiteracy killed the dinosaurs*

DoS finished with Merit. Not #1, but not bad. Not bad at all. That’ll do book.

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Plus I got these neat stickers to slap on the cover for the next little while. And THAT is what makes the competition worthwhile. A literal seal of approval. A symbol of authenticity to instill trust. An image to catch the perusing eye and make the hand pick up the book.

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What say you, reader of blogs? Have a success story about entering a novel in a competition? A not so success story?

 

 

Go

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As I await feedback on Gods of Rua from the last batch of beta readers (and cover art from the maestro) I decided to head north. As far as the road goes. In Canada, that is a long way. Damn near top o’ the world. I’ll be returning. Mucho inspirató.

Season of the Sun

Joy in the North, life was playful

as yellow butterflies chasing each other round the arctic circle

whirling dust devils rise in the delta heat

where the road ends

The Great Migration is underway

travelers from all corners of the continent

from the Old Country across distant oceans

to make fire with sky above and earth below

where wildflowers burst from ancient glaciers

and the midnight wind blows in cool, river sweet

swaying sleeping branches beneath a midday sun

The birds have long known

singing of truth

as children play below an endless blue sky

into a night that does not come

Distance swallows vision

the weight of human eyes

lost to tundra folding into horizon

into dragon spine mountains

and impenetrable forest

Last of the giants thrive

beasts of hoof, horn, and claw

at once feared and adored by travelers

Yet it is the water

brown and slow, clear and fast, silent and still

that is the pulse of this land

free of ice, it sings

while ravens speak with raindrops in their throats

and the solstice sun smolders over the legend of the Klondike

Golden Eternal

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