I had an epiphany about myths and story telling this week so naturally I want to share it with everyone.
I have not yet read Finnegan’s Wake but the term ‘monomyth’, as used by Joseph Campbell is taken from Joyce’s work. Joseph Campbell utilised ‘monomyth’ to identify a universal journey of heroism which is the basis of universal myths that work across countries and cultures. Joseph Campbell as you know worked with George Lucas on the original Star Wars. The universal myth structure he discovers is also the basis of rituals and rites of passages in indigenous cultures. Having started to read Joyce’s work, I now know it is personally necessary for me to read more Joyce because he speaks to me but also because Joyce will help internalise the way to write stories with true mythic value that resonates with others.
Campbell notes that Joyce’s writings had three stages that operate on the macro and micro level. The stages comprise of the following: Separation, Initiation and Return. Please see more details to elucidate the journey Campbell identifies. James Joyce’s character Stephen Dedalus (originally called Hero) in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man undergoes the cycles each time he has an epiphany. Stephen comes back changed unable to return to what he was or had before. Campbell identifies the story structure of Joyce in a similar way to how Aristotle analysed the plays of Sophocles in Poetics. A Portrait of the Young Artist follows this very specific personal trajectory which has the universal myth imprint. I have since discovered that the stages of the journey can also be found in reading the collective stories of Dubliners in the order presented. To elaborate, read Birth up to the story Araby, Initiation up to the story A Painful Case and return to the ordinary leads you to Death. For Campbell, universal myths are metaphors but myths should never be taken literally. Campbell believed people who can see myths in their own lifetime and sometimes even in their own life can see this heroic journey being played out. From examining Joyce’s work, Campbell was in search of such figures and clearly saw Joyce could see the myths being played out in his own life and lifetime. As a result, Campbell was able to identify a story structure through Joyce’s work. The study of Joyce informed Campbell who was later able to show universal myths across the world also follow the trajectory of Joyce’s work. This led Campbell to write Hero with a Thousand Faces. I have written up a simplified structure below but if you are a writer, please read Joseph Campbell’s original work or look up monomyth on Google and read Joyce’s work on someone who understood the myths of his time and his own lifetime and discover the myths of your time and possibly even your own life.
Joseph Campbell’s heroic journey stages
Birth into the ordinary world leads the character to Separation
1 Birth: The monomyth cycle begins and we see the character is different to others – an archetype showing patterns of human behavior found in dreams, movies and stories universally.
2 Call to Adventure: The character despite being at odds with others or the environment is reluctant to go towards the calling.
3 Helpers/Amulet: Something, a person or a calling show the character a different way.
Initiation takes the character into a special world
4 Crossing the Threshold: The character is forced or realises he/she must undergo an ordeal or face the unknown.
5 Tests: The character must undergo a series of tests on a journey toward the climax.
6 Helpers: The character may be helped by a a loyal companion or pursue a calling.
7 Climax/The Final Battle: A crisis or battle heads towards a particular resolution.
8 Flight: The character becomes a hero, fights opposing forces or is given the elixir freely.
Return of the character to the ordinary world changed
9 Return: The hero returns to the ordinary world awakened, reborn and resurrected.
10 Elixir: The object, knowledge, blessing or realisation can now be put to use in the everyday world and the hero can stay and share with others or leave as the truly enlightened.
The journey must involve a change, Joyce’s epiphany, the beat in a script, the response to a reversal in a Shakespeare play. Campbell wrote some notes on art and Joyce’s work. These were kindly provided to me by London’s Literary Salon director Ms Toby Brothers on this very point. Campbell lays out his thoughts on proper and improper art. Real art does not just represent, it offers or brings change and continues to evolve. True art never dies.
The hero’s journey structure follows the journey of various religious figures but this classical story structure identified by Joseph Campbell is also found in Hollywood classics. It adds to the form identified by Aristotle when he studied the reasons for the enduring popularity of Sophocles plays. Similar story structures can be found in the works of Shakespeare, Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller. You will also find these structures embedded in the poetry of William Blake, in songs by John Lennon, Joseph Haydn and the work of Kadinsky.
Lastly these heroic figures underwent their own mythic journeys. So I wish who ever read my blog and any others the best of luck with whatever your mythic journey is.