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There are few things that can stand the test of times, storytelling being one of these. Stories have been recorded and read for hundreds even thousands of years. Currently they are told through a variety of mediums, books, movies, play and a variety of other methods. With there being so many stories, there are bound to be reoccurring themes. These are often classified as archetypes or “a model or pattern” (Britannica). There is one that I find in the most common types of stories that captivate people the most, and that is the Heroes Journey Archetype. This archetype is a theme commonly found in old and new stories and develops the character through 12 steps into the ultimate being. In the words of Joseph Campbell “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” The best example I can think of a hero is Luke Skywalker, Master Jedi. Of course there are older more distinct heroes, such as the mighty Gilgamesh. I will explain the 12 steps of the hero archetype and each of these heroes follow it perfectly.
The Heroes Journey is often divided into the main group, and each one of those groups contains three to four of the 12 steps. The initial section for this archetype is called “Separation”. The first step in the journey is the ordinary world where the hero often finds them selves drudging though like on a day to day basis with nothing new or to exciting. For Gilgamesh this is when he does as he pleases as the king of Uruk. Luke Skywalker finds himself in the ordinary would as moisture farmer on the desert planet of Tatooine being raised as a moisture farmer by his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru (Wikipedia). Both of these characters are going the same thing for numerous years and everything is “ordinary” for them. The next step is where things start to take a turn for our beloved hero, and this is the Call to Adventure. This sets the story rolling by disrupting the comfort of the Hero’s Ordinary World, presenting a challenge or quest that must be undertaken. In Star Wars this is easily identified, as Luke receives a message from Princess Leia as she needs to be rescued. Gilgamesh however is given a divine dream of his future mentor, Enkidu. A dream of this caliber is unusual for Gilgamesh and symbolized a great change for him. As you can see, both of these evens are throwing a kink into these heroes everyday lives, after doing something for so long though one is bound to become stubborn or obstinate and this leads to the third step, the Refusal of the Call. “The Hero may not be willing to make changes, preferring the safe haven of the Ordinary World. This becomes an essential stage that communicates the risks involved in the Journey that lies ahead. Without risks and danger or the likelihood of failure, the audience will not be compelled to be a part of the Hero’s Journey.” (Novak) Gilgamesh cannot understand his dreams and therefor is unable to being his process of change into the hero he is to become, but will soon find out. Luke on the other hand feels as if he must continue to help his aunt and uncle, not wanting to abandon them to help another. These heroes need someone to guide them down the right patch, a mentor even. Meeting the Mentor is the fourth step and this is is the first real mark the of the approach to becoming something amazing. Gilgamesh encounter his hard opposite in Enkidu, and through the test of battle, they forge a friendship that will last a lifetime, ultimately leading the transformation of our hero. Skywalker meets Obi-Wan, his fathers old mentor that will guide him the same as he had done before, off of his home planet. One last push is needed for the hero to leave the ordinary world completely, and this is referred to as crossing the threshold. Here the Hero has finally committed to the Journey and is prepared to cross the gateway that separates the Ordinary World from the Special World.” (Novak) Enkidu and Gilgamesh go off to fight Humbaba, which is the gateway that will rock both of there worlds. Luke escapes the planet from the stormtroopers and does not have much of a choice to leave his ordinary world. After this step, our heroes are fully separated. They do not have the luxury of returning from whence they came, and are becoming what they were meant to be.
The second phase of the Heroes Journey Archetype is the Initiation and Transformation. Here is the meat of the story, and where the most action takes place, also known as the good stuff. After our beloved hero has crossed the big leap, he has many “Tests, Allies, and Enemies”. Here the hero “learns the rules of this special world, finds out who can be trusted, allies learned, and prepares himself for what is to come.” (Novak) For Gilgamesh, this is a very big stage. He and Enkidu, after defeating Humbaba, encounter the Bull of Heavens, which the consequences of defeating tests Gilgamesh to the core. His best friend Enkidu takes the fall for this event which leads him to question is own mortality. Gilgamesh says “How can i rest, how can I be at peace?” (Bedford Anthology 66) He goes into a daze for such a long time and has a long road ahead of him. Luke is tested by Obi-Wan and trains to become a Jedi. He also makes new allies in Han Solo and Chewbacca. They help him cross the threshold and end up saving him time and time again. His archenemy Darth Vader is also introduced, which leads to Luke losing a hand and learning who his father is. After these extraordinary events the hero knows what must be done and goes to face his final challenge, this is the Approach to the Inmost Cave. “Attacks are planned, a reconnaissance launched, and possibly the enemies forces whittled down before the Hero can face his greatest fear, or the supreme danger lurking in the Special World.” (Novak) After Gilgamesh questions his mortality he goes on a journey to find immortality and embarks on a long journey to get anywhere close to achieving this. Luke in Star Wars gets his planes ready and the rebel army gets into position to attack the Death Star. These events lead to the ultimate and final ordeal for the story, known as the “Conflict”. For Luke, this is the flight he must take to destroy the Death Star, and avoid his father to destroy what Vader has built. For Gilgamesh these are the tasks that Utnapishtim give him to obtain immortality. Although he gets close with the plant, he never achieves what he desires. After these Ordeal or Conflicts, the hero obtains a Reward for his task. The “Reward comes in many forms: a magical sword, an elixir, greater knowledge or insight, reconciliation with a lover. Whatever the treasure, the Hero has earned the right to celebrate.” (Novak) Greater knowledge or insight is definitely the reward for Luke, where he know the Rebel Alliance is able to go on the offensive and how to destroy the Sith Lord’s most powerful weapon. Gilgamesh also obtains this reward, although he did not achieve what he wanted, he is now able to be the king his kingdom needs him to be. This concludes the Initiation and Transformation section of the heroes journey archetype.
The third and final section is the “Return”. In order for a hero to return from whence he came, he must take The Road Back. This could be hard “due to the success in the Special World” (Novak) and has become someone completely different. In the Story of Gilgamesh, the road back is simply the author telling us that he went back to Uruk. For Star Wars it is Luke returning to the Rebel Base and seeing all of his old friends. When the hero arrives back to the ordinary world he faces his Resurrection or cleansing and purification. Both Luke and Gilgamesh get out of there old worn out clothes and back into clothes that fit there role in the ordinary world again. The final step in this crazy journey is the Return with the Elixir where the elixir could be love, wisdom, or simply the experience of having survived the Special World. Gilgamesh loves his people and kingdom with a new found grace, while Luke Skywalker is lucky to even be alive but also receives the Rebel Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds. With these final steps both stories come to an end, and neither could of had a better ending.
Stories have been told through all of history, and even though they share different mediums than they did long ago, they share many of the same elements. As Technology develops stories will continue to be told in various new ways. I would love to live past my time and see how things develop. As for heroes, they will continue to be a part of stories for decades even centuries to come. Now the way that they are developed, well using a set standard for hundreds of years can get old, so hopefully someone comes up with something revolutionary to literature that changes heroes for the best, but for now the grandeur of heroes will continue to enthrall me.
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