A Mental Note Note About The Hero’s Journey

Illustration by Rene Bull
Illustration by Rene Bull

In my recap of the story of Nur al-Din, I used the phrase ‘Belly-of-The-Whale’ to refer to a moment of imprisonment and separation suffered by the protagonist. It is a term that comes from the biblical story of Jonah, and is one of the stages of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ story structure that Joseph Campbell describes in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

I’ve just listened to a wonderful episode of Eric Molinsky’s podcast Imaginary Worlds which considers ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and it’s impact on contemporary film and theatre. Has the formula outstayed it’s welcome?

While listening to the episode, I made a mental note to remind myself not to judge the tales I’m reading in The Arabian Nights against the Hero’s Journey formula. As Molinsky and his interviewees point out during the podcast episode, other story structures can be just as successful. I don’t think I’ve fallen into that trap so far, but there is no harm in being mindful. Indeed, part of the point of this project is to learning about the art and possibilities of storytelling, and spotting where one of Shahrazad’s tales fits Campbell’s pattern and where they diverge is a fun and useful exercise.

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