Those tri-corders from Sunday morning Star Trek re-runs were pretty cool back in the Seventies. My kid brother and I would pile up on the king-sized water bed for our weekly intergalactic adventures of the Starship Enterprise, robotic cries of “Danger, Will Robinson!”, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. No worries, we got a nice dose of educational programming with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. We would eat Jethro bowls of Lucky Charms or Froot Loops while our parents snoozed through the morning without having to worry about us killing each other for a couple of blissful hours, photon torpedoes and depth charges notwithstanding.
These were the glory days before my head was forever turned by a galaxy far, far away. Somehow, in that mishmash of memory called kiddom, Star Wars and Clash of the Titans marked a sort of awakening. It wasn’t quite the magic of cinema that captured my heart, even with the stunning special effects and virtually invisible wires holding up the Millennium Falcon, but the power of story. I saw a connection. I wasn’t able to quite articulate it, but it was there. By the time Excalibur rolled around in the early Eighties, I was hooked by the power of myth.
It’s funny how fortune/fate/God’s plan works. I am not one to bemoan those “if only’s” of life. Believe me, I’ve heard “Mom, YOU could’ve been the Pioneer Woman” enough to laugh it off without even a catch of regret in my mirth. I believe I’m where I’m meant to be. As a writer, however, I have a big honking “if only”. I did not discover Joseph Campbell and his phenomenal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces until my mid-forties. Studying and teaching the concept of the heroic cycle brought back that intuitive recognition of monomyth from my childhood. Actually, I credit Campbell with lighting the fire under my butt to write my own stories. Had I been exposed to this stuff in undergrad school, it is highly likely that the entire trajectory of my adulthood would have fundamentally shifted. Plus, the odds of me penning for some “expanded universe” would’ve been much higher.
Fortunately for me, that was neither my fate nor the Good Lord’s direction for those eventful decades. By showing students the hero’s journey in works ranging from The Odyssey to the Harry Potter series, I’ve been able to refine my own journey. At its heart, the harrowing tale of Debbie Ballard is a creation myth. One doesn’t have to roam the Aegean, search twenty thousand leagues under the sea, or make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs to discover the hero within. You might just find her echoing that story connecting us all… at the craggy trunk of a tree on a lonely Alabama mountain whose siren call haunts the recesses of memory.
Don’t know Joseph Campbell? Check this out!
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