Tag Archives: terribleminds

The Hero’s Journey: An Atrocity?


Over at terribleminds, Chuck Wendig recently asked his readers (many of whom are also writers) some interesting questions.  One of them was “What gets you to read a book?” The answers he received (nearly 200!) ran the gamut from ‘great covers’ to ‘word of mouth’ and on through to ‘authorial voice’.  While it could be argued that a slew of writers giving their opinion on this topic might not actually represent the tastes of the reading (but non-writing) public, the answers do give a writer some interesting food for thought.

A follow up question posed by Chuck was, “What makes you put a book down?”  This question garnered an even larger comment tsunami from his readership. One of those comments struck me as particularly interesting.

A respondent opined:

I would sooner read Mein Kompff (sic) again than another novel, or any piece of media, that is infected with the Hero’s Journey plot structure. The rantings of one of the most evil men in the history of the world is a far more enjoyable than seeing the schlub everyman hero be coerced into an ‘amazing new world,’ murder his bizarro-father, and bring the macguffin back to the mundane reality to resume a more cushy status quo.

I like to think of Joseph Campbell as the Albert Einstein of the creative world: a well meaning guy who made an amazing discovery that’s being used to commit atrocities.

Hitler’s self-serving (but ultimately boring) pseudo-autobiography notwithstanding, I at first reacted with anger. But I sort of get the commenter’s point: when the “hero’s journey” is mechanically pushed into your face, it can be a turn-off. Seems contrived. Done before. Boring.

It is a waxwork of art.

It looks real. Like a story we should be into, but  we already know what’s going to happen. Sure, we can read on to see how skillfully the author puts his characters through their paces, or we can just toss the book in disgust.

I think it’s a valid criticism. I especially admire the comparison of Campbell to Einstein and the unintended, ‘atrocious’ consequences of their respective accomplishments.


“Fetched by the world.”

Recently, I was reading an author interview in GlimmerTrain (I can’t remember who it was). But this author  stated she wrote her characters to be ‘fetched by the world’, and it just stopped me. Yes, that’s it.  What an excellent phrase: fetched by the world. So preferable to the more tiresome “hero’s journey.”

Great stories are peopled with characters ‘fetched by the world’. Sure, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins spring immediately to mind (Thank you, Hollywood), but it needn’t be all fantasy and quests.

Who else was fetched?

Jonathan Harker, Emma Bovary, Humbert Humbert, Kunta Kinte, Grendel, Atticus Finch, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Jean Brodie, Gregor Samsa, Scarlett O’Hara, Dorothy, Clarice Starling, Siddhartha, Okonkwo, Ahab, Ishmael, and Titus Groan.

Each and every one of them – fetched by the world. In a big way.

And we continue to read those stories through generations because, sooner or later, the world comes to fetch us all. Not a white whale, maybe, but a shadow on the chest x-ray. Or finding love with the wrong person. Or losing your job and having to drink it away or reinvent yourself. The world fetches us. That’s what it does.

We can ignore the call, or we can jump on the train, follow the yellow brick road, go to Alderan, or Mordor, or walk endlessly across Dublin, or swallow the red pill, or go down the rabbit hole.

We can undergo chemoradiation, or get divorced, or secretly love a 14 year-old or, or live through the day of our child’s funeral, or win the lottery, or ,God forbid,  have sex with road kill.

Or we can do nothing. No blood, no foul.

The world isn’t the explainable stage of rationality we want it to be. All bets are off. And we can heed the call and bring back our macguffin. Just as Hitler envisioned himself the ‘hero’ of his epic ‘struggle’ and brought back to our ‘mundane reality’ the spectre of National Socialism.

Campbell, I believe, knew it. He wasn’t worried about artistic overkill, the tired boredom of the reader in the marketplace. He was onto the very root of storytelling itself. Something buried deep inside us. Fear and aspiration.

He was writing of characters being fetched by the world.

Failing. Succeeding. Dealing with life, death, love, anger, jealousy, beauty, loneliness, alienation. Joyous rapture and murderous intention.

It’s what stories contribute to our common understanding, unchanged, across all these generations.

The ‘hero’s journey’ isn’t a formula.

It’s a way to understand life.

Your very life.


Image by Lost in Scotland


Lucy on the Floor…

Lucy on the Floor

I’ll never forget that first time. Stay put. I’ll tell you all about it.

Chet – he’s my ex –  he’d been gone for months and I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another Friday night at home staring at the baby monitor. Waiting for something.

So, I’d asked Mrs. Sawicki to watch the baby because I was going out. I was sick of drinking wine from a fucking box. I needed some people around. But not to talk to, you know? And something good and strong to numb the rage. Fucking Chet and his little whore.

My friends of course had been trying to get me to go out with them for weeks. I was not in the mood to hear their cute stories about the dumbass things their husbands did all week. They stopped asking after a while.

So I went down to Lucky Sevens. There’d be no one I knew there. First time in, I felt at home instantly. Low lights. Cigarette smoke. Boozy smell from the carpet. Not much talking. Just men staring down at their glasses. Jukebox tunes. What was that? Vic Damone, I think. Sad.

The bartender. That old fuck with warts all over his face? Willie, that’s it. He tells me he got just the thing for a woman with my…problems.

So he turns some bottles over into a big sixteen-ounce glass. I see tequila. And blackberry brandy. I’m thinking I’m gonna be on my ass after a few tugs of this.

He brings it to me and I take a pull. It’s fruity. A little. After a few more sips, I got this warm glow dancing up and down my thighs and forearms. I feel stupendous. Happy. But more than anything else, I feel powerful. I ain’t scared no more. That drink made me feel like it’s my turn to run things.

Well, I get up on the parquet floor and start dancing. Real sexy dancing. Those drunks take a peek. Willie says there was enough booze in that drink to kill a rhino. But me? I’m out on the floor. Swinging my ass to Tony Bennet. I feel like Xena. A warrior. Not to be fucked with. For once in my life.

That night, right then and there, Willie named that drink the Lucy on the Floor.

Because of the dancing. Not what you were probably thinking, love.

And I killed my first loser that night. Right in this basement.

Don’t strain so hard, baby. You’ll hurt your wrists. Too tight?

Oh, I’ve met lots of losers, just like you, at the Lucky Sevens. And other places too.

Nothing like a little dancing to put some lead in the pencil, right? And absolutely nothing like a Lucy on the Floor to keep you quiet.

I’m gonna go to the kitchen. Get my tools and another drink.

Don’t worry, hon,  I’ll be back down on the floor with you.

We’re gonna fly to the moon.

Well, at least I am.


This story was submitted to Chuck Wendig’s site, for the terribleminds flash fiction challenge.  So the challenge was to write a story with a cocktail as the title. Limit: 500 words.  I looked around online. I passed up Satan’s Whiskers, and  The Purple Pimp. Finally “Lucy on the Floor” spoke to me and the story you just read (hopefully) was born.  By the way, if you like any of the stories you find here, check out Chuck Wendig’s site. It is not, however, for anyone with, shall we say, delicate sensibilities. Enjoy!

Oh, one last thing: the ingredients for the real Lucy on the Floor:

1 shot After Shock Blue

2 shots Blackberry Brandy

3 shots white tequila

¼ orange juice

¼ cranberry juice

Image above by centralasian.

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