Last week was the overview. This week we start attacking the various parts. A small note on the approach I’ll be taking — this is a blog, not a 500 page non-fiction book. My purpose with this series of posts is to give you a basic understanding of the monomyth. If this stuff interests you, I highly recommend reading some of the books out there on the subject. There you’ll find entire chapters devoted to each step, each archetype, and a whole lot more. However, while this is just a basic primer, feel free to ask questions about some of the deeper aspects of these steps and I’ll do my best to answer.
Okay. Let’s jump in. These first three are fairly straightforward.
1. Ordinary World
This is the world as the Hero knows it. This is often (but not always) the calm before the storm. This is the part of the book (most often the beginning) where we establish the foundation of a story. Why start with the ordinary world? Many, many reasons. Many, many of them have been discussed in other posts. But a biggie, as far as the monomyth is concerned, is that it gives the Hero, and thus the reader, something to contrast with.
Oz is a magical place. If the Wizard of Oz began with Dorothy waking up in Oz, the story could have worked just fine. After all, the Ordinary World she came from is our own. No need to explain it. However, by giving the reader a taste of the Ordinary World, Oz seems that much stranger and more magical. Also, it puts in the reader’s mind the specific world Dorothy came from (a farm life as opposed to being, for example, Donald Trump’s daughter), so when she longs to go home, the reader has a picture of exactly what she longs for.
The stranger the Ordinary World, the more important it is to establish. LOTR begins with a lengthy section leading up to and including Bilbo’s birthday party. All of this creates the world of the Shire and the world of Middle Earth, so that the reader knows what is at stake for Frodo, and what he has given up, by taking on his quest.
This is not to say that setting up the Ordinary World has to be a calm, peaceful description of wonders and beauty. The book I’m currently shopping around (titled, at the moment, The Way of the Black Beast) takes place in a post-apocalyptic world brought on by an abuse of magic. It opens with the Hero confronting an assassin. It’s a tense, violent scene that takes place in a dangerous, destroyed world. BUT that’s the Ordinary World she lives in. That’s the world that needs to be established.
2. Call to Adventure
This is, quite simply, the catalyst for the story. Dorothy is swept away by a tornado. Frodo is given a ring. A mysterious letter arrives for Sherlock Holmes. The Vamp Council has called in Jane Yellowrock to offer her a job. The Diamond Empire has declared all theaters “houses of rebellion,” and thus actor Will Hawthorne is suddenly a rebel.
Without this step, your Hero will just wander aimlessly from place to place, living out her life with its ups and downs and some cool stuff might happen or perhaps not. The Call focuses the story. It says to the reader, this is what the story is going to be about. There may be other things that happen, but in the end, this is the direction we are going in.
3. Refusal of the Call
Can you guess what happens here? That’s right. The Hero turns down the quest. After receiving a secret message from Princess Lea, Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker that his father was a Jedi, the rebellion needs him, and let’s go off on a great adventure. And good ol’ Luke says . . . No way! I’d love to help but I’ve got a moisture farm to run. In fact, oftentimes, a Hero needs to be forced into answering the Call. In Star Wars, Luke’s Aunt and Uncle are killed, freeing him from familial duties and enflaming his hatred for the Empire, so that he’ll go with Obi-Wan. Dorothy is forced to accept her Call because if she doesn’t, she won’t get home — she’s stuck in Oz. That’s not to say there isn’t a choice made. It’s just that events work in such a way as to yank out the heroic qualities of our hero when the hero would rather just sleep in on a Saturday.
As I’ve said before, not every step is going to appear in every tale. And though I’m numbering these steps, they won’t always appear in this order. Oftentimes, for example, the Ordinary World isn’t shown until step 2. Think of Star Wars. It opens (after the prologue crawl) with the Empire attacking Princess Lea’s ship. We even meet the villain, Darth Vader, before any of our heroes. But this type of opening gives us something to latch onto while we plunge into the calmer, lengthy Ordinary World section that follows. If we get tired of whiny Luke (and, man, does he whine a lot), Uncle Owen, and droids wandering the desert, in the back of our minds, we know that Vader is out there and laser blasting excitement is just around the corner.
Anyway, now that we’ve established the world, introduced the conflict, and forced the Hero to get moving, next time we’ll explore the first steps of adventure.