A Tool for Understanding Literature and Life
by Reg Harris
This is the introduction to the 2007 edition of The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life by Reg Harris and Susan Thompson.
Behind the Heroic Journey
This hero’s journey guide presents an approach to teaching the journey, but the journey is far more than a teaching tool. The journey is about transformation and growth. It is the process through which our ineffectual or limited understandings are replaced or reinterpreted as new understandings that are more in tune with who we are and the world in which we live. The journey is the metaphorical expression of the process of living in and adapting to our world. It is a model of what German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer called “the dialogue that we are.”
The journey pattern underlies all human experience and, consequently, is found in stories about those experiences. It also is a powerful tool for teachers, providing a basic schema for understanding literature and film, a tool for analysis, a starting point for discussion and interpretation, and a common language for comparison.
You can use and understand the journey on two levels: as the monomyth, as Campbell called it, an archetypal pattern of the mythic and literary hero, or as a tool to help your students understand not just myth and literature, but to understand their own lives. We hope that you are able to use it both ways.
Using this curriculum
This curriculum introduces the heroic journey pattern to students and develops their under-standing of it in literature, film and life. While the curriculum can be used in its entirety, few teachers do that.
Most teachers use the first two chapters as an introduction to the journey pattern. Then they supplement those chapters with a story or two (i.e., a short story or a novel they have read), a film, or material from their own curriculum. Many teachers introduce the journey and then use specific units to explore and expand on the basic pattern (i.e., short story, mandala or presentation). We suggest that, at a minimum, you cover the chapters on Ritual and Rite of Passage, The Hero’s Journey, and the Call Refused. The first two chapters should be done in sequence, but the Call Refused can be used later, after students understand the pattern.
The manual has room for you to make your own notes. We suggest that after you cover each unit, you organize your ideas (i.e., presentation notes, background material, discussion topics and questions) and record them in the manual. You may find that, as you go through the chapters, you discover material or points that you wish you had covered earlier. Record these as well. The notes will be there, ready for next year.
The manual is designed for you to use right in the classroom to lead class discussions, supplement class reading, explain activities, and review. It contains a wealth of supplementary notes and it helps you organize and store notes so that they are at your fingertips.
Using the Manual with Your Curriculum
Because the journey pattern or its elements are in any story — myth, literature, film and even poetry — you can use this curriculum with whatever material you are using in class currently. The most common use of the journey is probably for studying myth (especially epics such as The Odyssey). However, teachers have used the journey for a wide range of literature and film, including Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Death of a Salesman, Fahrenheit 451, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and Harold and Maude.
The truth is that you can use the journey pattern, in varying degrees, with virtually any story. In my classes, I have even used it to teach post-modernism, existentialism, and poetry. While a complete discussion of the journey and its psychology is beyond the scope of this manual, there are four keys to using it successfully.
- Spend the time necessary to be sure that students understand rites of passage, the concept of transformation, and the journey pattern itself.
- Cover thoroughly the call refused, emphasizing that it is never too late to accept the call to change. The call refused, I believe, is the most important aspect of the journey, and it manifests itself in much of the great tragic literature we read.
- Go beyond the journey. Understanding the elements in the journey pattern can be an end in itself, but it can also be the starting point for profound and far ranging discussion and analysis.
- Realize your role in the journeys of your students. You are a mentor, and through the literature and film you share with them, you can open possibilities for understanding and being that your students may never have considered.
Copyright © 2007 by Reg Harris. All rights reserved. All rights reserved. Apart from properly cited quotes and short excerpts, no part of this article can be copied or used in any form without written permission from the author. For permission to use, please contact Reg Harris.