The other day I happened upon a list of Great Books. Homer and Sophocles and Aristophanes, oh my! I’m so glad I’m doing the BBC list instead. I enjoyed Medea in grad school, but I suspect a little of that sort of thing goes a long way.
I’ve also been listening to the audiobooks of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I hasten to add that I was not cheating on George Elliot because I’ve only been listening to the tale of Lyra and Will on the way to and from work, something I could not do with a digital copy of Middlemarch. (I could but I don’t have the right equipment.) I read the books about a decade ago so I knew what was going to happen, but that didn’t prevent me from crying the last two days as the story ended. I was so consumed by the characters that now I’m a little bit lost. Where are they and why aren’t they with me anymore? Can you imagine a world in which your favorite book characters live near you and you can visit them any time? ‘Twould have to be a large neighborhood.
Lyra and Will got me thinking about heroes and The Hero’s Journey, especially the young hero. After everything The Hero has been through - the pain, the desolation, the never knowing if he’s going to survive the next ten minutes, the loss, the exhaustion, the betrayal – how messed up is this person as an adult? How can he just come home from that journey and live an average life? Do those memories get sublimated or does The Hero come to terms with what he faced? Did he live up to his potential or peak in adolescence like the uncle in Napoleon Dynamite? How many nights did Harry Potter wake up from a nightmare? Did he eventually have so much pent-up aggression that he became violent and roughed up a Death Eater? Did he get hooked on butterbeer?
You know what, I don’t want to know. The Hero’s Journey should inspire, and if we knew the rest of the story we would know the Hero is a mere human. Look at poor Arthur, losing Guinevere to his BFF! Dude, that’s harsh. We wind up pitying Arthur in the end as his dream melts like the Wicked Witch of the West after a bucket of water. (I hope that simile gives you a smile even though you’re depressed thinking about your favorite hero and how much the rest of his life sucked -- kinda like Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump before Forrest rescued him and stuff, though I've always thought the shrimp were the deciding factor in that particular scenario.)