Calling all writer friends! Have you read Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey yet? If not, you should get on that. Mythic structure is a good starting point for novels, especially fantasies, but both authors make the point that myth isn’t just about stories – it’s a guideline for life. Which got me thinking about mythic structure in my own life. Which naturally got me thinking about my cats.
A cat’s eye view of the universal journey:
- It’s an ordinary day in an ordinary world. The sun is shining and the napping is superb. In a few hours, it will be time to sharpen your claws and wind around mom’s legs until she feeds you. All, most definitely, is well.
- Ah bliss! Mom has joined you and is scratching your chin just as you’ve trained her to. But what’s this? The door to the napping chamber has closed, and the door to the closet is opening…. That jingling, what does it herald? It can’t be! It is! It’s the kennel of doom! Flee for your very lives!!
- You dart behind the couch, refusing this call to adventure from a fiend who moments ago was a friend. But there is no escape. The trickster leans down, scoops you up, and pushes you over the threshold. The latch is a death knell, and you are powerless. At least you can be comforted in the knowledge you are not alone – your sister is in here with you.
- She is your ally through many tests – cold wind, car horns, and bumpy roads. But even she cannot protect you as that sterile, antiseptic scent of pain and suffering assails you. You are approaching the innermost cave of the examining room, and the office’s resident tabby is an enemy, taunting you in your prison from behind the safety of the gate. If only you were free to box its impudent ears!
- Mom removes you from your cage and places you on the table. A stranger in a white coat strokes you, soothes you, speaking in soft tones. You allow yourself to hope, for a moment, that you are safe. But no, these gentle hands belong to a dreaded shapeshifter – the poking, the prodding, the violation! You’ve been captured by the shadow! How will you survive this ordeal?
- But you have survived. It has ended, and the shapeshifter offers you a reward. You are not yet ready, however, and scorn her inferior cat treats. By heaven, surely you’ve earned tuna!
- You face the kennel yet again, but this time with relief. You welcome the road back home. And as the gate opens at last upon your sanctuary, you feel a sense of rebirth and resurrection.
- What’s more, you have returned with the elixir. But you’re not about to share. Those catnip pillows are all yours, baby!
See? Mythic structure really is all around us.
And in case you’re wondering, I recommend The Writer’s Journey over Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s book is illuminating, but it’s a scholarly work focused on finding the common thread in global mythologies. Vogler’s approach is entirely practical. It’s all about using the heroic principles and character types Campbell derived to identify weaknesses in your story and find solutions. It’s also a much easier read.
Anyone have a journey they want to share?