Sometimes I will watch a movie with my husband and my nerdiness comes out. One of my favorite things to point out is a well-known literary formula from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. Sometimes my husband shakes his head, rolls his eyes, or sometimes he even pats me on the head and tells me how cute I am. If I were to point this out to others, I am sure they would tell me to shut up and just enjoy the movie, but what they don’t realize is that I am so nerdy, I am actually enjoying it. Please enjoy my attempt to break down the formula with examples from pop culture and comparisons to a fitness plan.
*SPOILER ALERT FOR SEVERAL POPULAR FANTASY MOVIES*
The Blunder: There is some kind of mistake or unexplained event that begins the hero’s story. For example, Peter Parker’s web sticking to his lunch-tray and how he unwittingly fwips it into Flash Thompson’s head.
The moment you cannot fit into your skinny jeans and the button pops off and hits your toddler in the eye.
The Call to Adventure and Refusal: A hero almost always refuses to believe that they are able to accomplish what is expected of them.
“You’re a wizard, Harry.” “I can’t be a wizard.”
“You need to be healthy and start walking.” “But I love ice cream…But I’m too busy…But it’s too hot outside.”
Yes. Lots of refusals.
Supernatural Aids: Be it light sabers, Excalibur, or magic beans, the hero has some kind of magical item to help him on his quest.
The magical Fitbit, diet pills, or infomercial contraptions that are backed by money-back guarantees.
The Mentor: This person trains up a hero and serves as a symbol of wisdom throughout the story. Characters like Merlin and Ra’s al Ghul serve as this archetype.
Jillian Michaels. YouTube workout tutorials.
Loyal Retainers: All of the friends who help the hero on his journey. “So no one told you life was gonna be this way…” (Just kidding.) Dorothy has her scarecrow, tinman, and lion,
You have your pack of gal pals cheering you on, or at least all of the happy looking people dancing behind Richard Simmons…
Crossing of the First Threshold: When everything the hero knows as truth changes and he finally steps into a strange and unknown world. When Lucy ventures from the wardrobe into the land of Narnia
When you take that step into the gym, wondering how to converse with all the spin-class princesses and the body-building giants.
The Road of Trials: The hero must go through a number of lessons and tasks to prove he is worthy of his title. Aladdin shows that he is a “Diamond in the Rough” by saving the poor children, surviving the Cave of Wonders, and defeating Jafar.
The goal-tracking on your step-counter, the alternating of strength and cardio workouts, and the meal-planning, the meal-planning, the meal-planning. (Additional thought: The 12 labors of Hercules were nothing compared to choking down kale smoothies.)
Temptress: Our hero is tempted (sometimes by a woman) to stray from the journey and to give up. When Sarah finds herself in a beautifully enticing masquerade ball with the goblin king in the movie Labyrinth.
When the pop-ads on your computer torment you with deals for D&D: Domino’s and Dairy Queen! Or perhaps someone, whom you trust very much, will praise you on how far you’ve come and will try to convince you that one skipped day of exercise or one tiny brownie bite couldn’t possibly hurt, right?
The Belly of the Whale and Rescue: The hero is in what looks like an un-escapable situation, where he usually reflects on the journey or falls into doubt. He is rescued by the loyal retainers and continues on his quest. When Pinnochio is (quite literally) in the belly of a whale or when Westley “dies” in the Pit of Despair.
The Pit of Despair? You mean when you fall off the wagon and can’t stay away from the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet one day longer? Then your besties pick you back up, dust you off, and take you for a run.
The Ultimate Boon: The ultimate goal or ultimate object that a hero seeks on his journey. The Holy Grail
the dream of a newly stocked smaller size wardrobe.
Apotheosis: When the goal of the mission seems meaningless and the hero realizes that it is all about the journey and how far he has come. When Lightening McQueen realizes that the Piston Cup is “just an empty cup,”
When you realize that looking like a supermodel is not realistic (“It’s just an airbrush”.) When you are happy with yourself and all of the healthy changes you have made.
Magic Flight: Sometimes this occurs before the hero finishes his last task, and other times it is at the very end of his journey. This happens in E.T., The Neverending Story, and when you have finally reached your goals and you are so elated, that you feel yourself floating on air.
Atonement with the Father: The hero has a confrontation on the cusp of his destiny. Usually with a father figure, the hero appeals for mercy. The hero has a decision to make. When Simba confronts his past and speaks to Mufasa
When you confront your diet ups and downs and decide whether you will buckle down or let it go.
Master of Both Worlds: When the hero is able to co-exist within the known and the unknown. The student has become the master. When Bruce Wayne can be both a billionaire and the Dark Knight
When you have finally found a balance between healthy choices and living life with joy.
Stay tuned for Part II: A Mother’s Hero’s Journey.