A Hero’s Journey

With a few more rejections and a lot of non-responses, we needed to try something different.  The few friends and family who have read our manuscripts were saying it was brilliant but they might be biased. Perhaps we needed to talk to some strangers?  With this notion, Bill and I attended a critique group for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) last week.  It was held in the parish room of a community church west of Denver.  It was a potluck and for the first half of the get together future authors munched on homemade goods as the speaker reviewed some important vocabulary in the literary world.  In alphabetical order, a woman, who had at least one published book, expanded on concepts like archetype, beta reader, causality, emotional layering, as she slowly calibrated the untrained mind to talk the talk.   After the lecture, we split up into 3 critique groups; two groups for children’s picture books and one for young adult.  Bill took Forgetful Jerry to his group while I used Thomas Peters.  We spent an hour critiquing each other’s books, following the etiquette of first offering what you like before suggesting what you don’t.  When we finally debriefed, both books were received well in terms of how they were written, both were engaging, neither were deemed preachy however both Forgetful Jerry and Thomas Peters do not solve their own problems.  They do not follow the arc of the hero and this was a literary rule not to be compromised.  But why? I asked.  Why must they follow the hero’s journey?   Does everyone solve their own problems?  The answer seemed a little more complicated than those critiquing could explain. We all follow our own hero’s arc in the course of our life, which is the common thread to which we can all relate. Their explanation came across as a formula for success, more popping a TV dinner in the microwave than making a home cooked meal.  Yet I don’t know much about the hero’s journey except for a vague notion of a path embattled with trial and redemption.  It would be silly to rely on other’s to define the arc of the hero because then I would not be solving my own problems.  I’ve come across Joseph Campbell, the well known professor of comparative mythology at Sarah Lawrence College and have listened to him explain this journey in a series of interviews with Bill Moyer.  I took out the Hero with a Thousand Faces from the local library, the seminal work on the hero’s journey.  Hopefully this book will shed some light on why a squirrel who loses his nuts or a boy bogged down by others must be redeemed by the arc of their own heroic journey and not through the help of others.

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