The hero’s journey

January 1, 2010

I might do a proper blog post about Pan’s Labrynth, which I watched for the first time yesterday, but for now I thought this piece on overthinkingit.com was very interesting. It begins with an outline of the structure of legends – the particular formats of of “boy quests” and “girl quests”. I was struck by how much my book Enemy of Chaos (played down the ‘correct’ route) conforms to the format of the boy quest, obviously without me consciously planning it like that. Or indeed planning it in any real sense at all. Spoilers of Pan’s and EOC over the turn!

According to the blog post –

-Boy lives in happy childhood land
-Boy is called to the quest, refuses it, then is forced to accept it
-Boy is guided into the world of the quest – a fantastic wilderness world filled with magical creatures and scary people – by a helpful guide figure
-Boy gathers companions to help him with the quest
-Boy fights “the dragon” (the Bad Guy)
-Boy reunites with his father
-Boy is recognized as a hero (a Man), gets the girl, often becomes king, is in full possession of his powers, lives happily ever after as the Master of Two Worlds (the public “real world” and the fantasy/quest world)

It’s the plot of Star Wars and about a billion other stories. The main idea is that a boy becomes a man by entering a wondrous but somewhat threatening world, mastering its rules, and killing a bunch of things in it. His reward is kingship and a girl.

My story is a fairytale too.

– Boy (man!) is called to quest in a world where nothing appears wrong. He hesitates and eventually accepts.
– The Undertaker and his entropy machine device are his “helpful guide figures” to assist him into the other world.
– Various companions are encountered on the way.
– There are several fights, the greatest of which is with chaos, in general.
– The man reunites with his father.
– He finds his calling and a final use for his powers, and indeed is the only person in the universe to span and defend both real and fantasy realms from the encroaching enemy (entropy). In this way, and particularly at the very end after outliving both his parents, he becomes a “man”, though I don’t think it’d be wise to overplay the “hugging and learning journey” aspect too much. But the character only grows to the extent that he finds time grants him nothing but affirmation of how he’s always felt about the world. The resolution can only be recession into stasis – because there’s no wisdom to be gained in this game, it’s not fucking Star Trek. He is a neurotic hero, a hero of the neurotic, and his extreme response to the threat of disorder is to preserve the world in a fixed, sleeping lattice forever.

The world is preserved, in the most literal sense. The infinite life we see promised in fairytales (including the strange end of Pan’s Labyrinth) is qualitively identical to suicide. In some ways the hero of EOC is no better than his mother, the “stillness-obsessed Madame Tussaud’s” – but as the showdown occurs in cryostasis, there’s at least the possibility of freedom in the end… (or a future book. I’m open to offers.)

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