Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Am A Self-Professed JOSEPH CAMPBELL Fangirl

When was the last time a book REALLY resonated with you? The book that, rather than end up in last summer’s yard sale, is actually rubber-banded together because you’ve literally read it to pieces but can’t find a replacement copy? 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 pulled 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 had a common thread – a scholar/teacher named Joseph Campbell. The eminent mythology expert of the 20th & 21st centuries. The man who made it his life’s work to study 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, the good guy always gets the girl and they live happily-ever-after? 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 locations? Grand adventures? Tales that weave emotion through every page, where you laugh and cry and worry and wonder along with the characters? See it this pattern looks familiar:
  Little hero/ine in a sucky spot, wants things to change
·         Little hero/ine thinks, “What can I do? It’s too big for me.”
·         The 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 and disasters ensue, with betrayal and death and rescues and lessons learned
·         Hero & heroine fall in love, but it will never work (see above various & sundry complications)
·         Black moment when all hope seems lost
·         Wondrous solving of the problem, characters personal growth and triumphant return
·         The happily ever after
·         THE END

The above template is my variation of “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell, the Holy Grail of storytelling. It’s a wondrous journey, an adventure, an escape, with fabulously real lands, 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? Every hug a book you 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, for me that book is Barbara Hambly’s “The Ladies of Mandrigyn” from Del Rey, 1984, ISBN 0345309197)

So, I cut my teeth on epic fantasy – Tolkien and Terry Brooks and LOTR and Willow. As a writer, I now have my award-winning “Guardians of Light” fantasy romance series for Samhain. Reviewers have taken notice. I hope you’ll check it out.

My heroines? A half-dragon fire mage, an assassin nun, a selkie/single mother, a dream faerie, an elven lady's-maid-turned-warrior and an island princess.

My heroes? Elven princes and paladins and spirit healers. The odd werewolf or two. A forest troll.

My villains? Demons and genocidal queens, power-mad dragons and selkie princes, and goblin (& elven) sorcerers.

We also have the odd tree sprite, gypsies, an occasional mermaid, talking horses and sentient jewelry. Chaos and mayhem aplenty, with the occasional head-on-a-pike. Noble death and self-sacrifice. Always the good-wins-out-over-evil AND they-lived-happily-ever-after.

Fantasy and romance are a marriage made in paradise for me!


Tina Donahue said...

I have too many books to count that I've reread dozens of times because they're so good.

What I look for is a story/characters that suspend disbelief to the point that I can't stop reading. That could be romance, thriller, horror - as long as it takes me away.

I love writing with a wicked sense of humor that makes me smile or even laugh out loud. I love a good love story even if it's in a thriller or a horror novel.

Love your novels, Renee - please give us more. :)

Renee Wildes said...

Morning Tina!

So glad this post showed up - nice to know the night-before presetting works. My computer's kablooey and I've been haunting the public library computer lab.

I've been on a Jim Butcher's Dresden Files kick lately - really liking those books.

For myself, God of Fyre Mountain (bk 6) comes out 1/22/13 & I'm working on bk 7, Moonwitched. Then I'm thinking of starting a Daughters of the Guardians series w/the KIDS...

Fiona McGier said...

When I was an English major way back when, I took a class on Mythology. We were taught to de-construct the meme of the plot essentials you described. The one who is in danger is, in psychological terms, your Ego. The bad guy is your Id. The heroic character is your Super-Ego. Of course I was in college in the 70s when Freud's terminology was still very popular, and the theory was that the reason these stories resonate with us universally, is that we all go through these kinds of conflicts during the course of our lives, making choices to do good or evil and living with the consequences.

For our final we had to take a "skeleton" of a psychological theme provided by the professor, and write a myth that showed how the action would play out, yet illustrate the essentials. It was an interesting writing challenge.

I also used Campbell's theories, along with those of Maslow and his "self-actualization" ideas, in "Analysis of Love", where the hero is a psychologist and the heroine is a writer who is assigned to pretend she needs therapy in order to discredit his practice. My hope is that the reader learns enough from reading that book to want to pursue the ideas further.

Great post. I feel the same way about the cultural anthropologist Desmond Morris. I can read and reread his books many times, and find something new to enjoy there each time.