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Saturday, July 30, 2011

JOSEPH CAMPBELL - Mythology For the Modern Reader


When was the last time a book REALLY resonated with you? The book that, rather than end up in this summer's yard sale is actually rubber-banded together because you've literally read it to pieces but can't find a replacement copy anywhere? The one you can recite entire passages from? The one you recommend to everyone and their cousin?
What makes that book so special? So powerful? have you ever stopped to think about where the magic comes from? How the author pulls character and theme and emotion and drama all together?
For me, I grew up with epic fantasy and sci fi -- from reading CS Lewis and Tolkien to watching Star Wars. It wasn't until I got older that I realized they all have a common thread--a scholar/teacher named Joseph Campbell. the eminent mythology expert of the 20th century. The man who made it his life's work to study stories and storytelling, the universal themes, what all cultures' storytelling and mythology have in common. Why people are still drawn over and over to the good-defeats-evil, David-beats-Goliath, good-guy-always-gets-the-girl HEA. There's so much chaos and negativity in the world that it's great to be able to curl up with a tale and know the good guys are gonna win.
"And they lived Happily Ever After. THE END."
What do you look for in a story? Great characters you can identify with? Believable problems and solutions? Exotic locales? Grand adventures? Tales that weave emotion through every page, where you laugh and cry and worry and wonder along with the characters?
See if this pattern looks familiar:
  • Little hero/ine in a sucky spot, wants things to change
  • Little hero/ine think "What can I do? It's too big for me"
  • Last straw breaks the camel's back and little hero/ine thinks "Enough already" and off s/he goes to change things
  • Meets their ideal hero/ine, sparks fly
  • Various adventure, mayhem & disasters ensue, w/betrayal & death & rescues & lessons learned
  • Hero & Heroine fall in love but it'll never work (see above various & sundry complications)
  • Black moment when all hope is lost
  • Wondrous solving of the problem, character growth & triumphant return (this is where the villain gets his/her butt kicked)
  • HEA
  • THE END
The above template is my variation on "The Hero's Journey" by Joseph Campbell, the Holy Grail of storytelling. It's a wondrous journey with infinite variety. An adventure, an escape with fabulously real lands (even if they're not real at all), weird food, bad weather, horrific villains with evil plans, the occasional noble death, brave and sassy heroines and smoking hot heroes. Any combination of the above. Anything goes!
The magic's in the journey--and the triumph in the end.
Ever cheer at the end of a movie? Ever hug a book you've just finished reading? Ever write an author to say "This book changed me/my life"?
Ever frantically search for a rubber band to keep from losing one single page of the third copy of your favorite book? (Okay, THAT book for me is Barbara Hambly's "The Ladies of Mandrigyn" from DelRey, 1984, ISBN 0345309197)
So I cut my teeth on epic fantasy--Tolkien and Terry Brooks and LOTR and Willow. As a writer, I have my award-winning Guardians of Light fantasy romance series with Samhain Publishing. I love books where stuff happens.
Growing up reading Terry Brooks and Mercedes Lackey, the minute I discovered romance novels it was inevitable I'd write fantasy romance. A history buff, from Ancient Greece thru Dark Ages thru Medieval, I'm a Navy brat & cop's kid and the only vet tech in a family of nurses. It all comes together--fantasy, action, romance, heroics and lots of critters!
My newest release is Riever's Heart, Bk 5 in Guardians of Light series, coming 9/27/11. The hero Daq Aryk is a human riever, barbarian. Prince of thieves. He dreams of becoming more, uniting his fractious clans into a single nation. Talk about your uphill battle!
Never doubt the power of a dream. With the strength of will to see it through, anything is possible!

12 comments:

booklover0226 said...

What a great post! I enjoyed reading it.

Thanks,
Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Renee Wildes said...

Thanks Tracey! I love reading books where people believe in their dreams and find a way to make it happen. Was fun to write my own!

Na said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Na said...

I love stories with distinct characters, they are the ones I care about and whose world I never want to leave. I might even accept a predictable plot if the characters stand out. Secondly is the world-building especially if it's a paranormal or fantasy book. I want the world to be out of the ordinary but at the same time believable.

katsrus said...

I love when I book pulls you in from beginning till the end. And when you finished it you feel like WOW that was a great book and I want to read it again. And you know you will never part with that book.
Sue B
katsrus(at)gmail(dot)com

Renee Wildes said...

I totally agree. I like characters snd world so real you feel like when you leave that they go on without you, like it really exists and you can visit now and then!

Toni said...

My tastes and interests are so wide and varied, it would be too hard to pinpoint. Plot is important, but so is the characters. I just like reading a well written story.

tsteinerid(gmail)

Renee Wildes said...

Hi Toni!

The kind of story where you can't pick out any particular part b/c it all flows together so seamlessly - that's the goal of every writer!

Robin said...

I love Joseph Campbell too!


Robin D
robindpdx (at) yahoo (dot) com

Renee Wildes said...

Wow, Robin, how cool is that!

He was a brilliant thinker, and amazing at making connections. I've got his interviews/lectures on DVD.

I think more people should check him out - different cultures have more in common than they think!

Might lessen some hostility if people focus on the similarities rather than the differences...

Clemsy said...

Hi Renee!

Google Alerts pointed me in your direction.I'm a working associate for the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and one of my responsibilities is protecting Campbell copyrights and looking for positive mention of Campbell's work.

We love positive mention of Campbell's work! If any of your readers are interested, they can check out the JCF's website at www.jcf.org.

We wish you the best in your writing endeavors!

Cheers,
Michael Lambert (aka Clemsy)
The Joseph Campbell Foundation

Renee Wildes said...

So awesome you stopped by, Clemsy! Have bookmarked the page on my favorites! Joseph Campbell ROCKS!