As teachers in the 1990s, Harris and Thompson felt that traditional methods of teaching literature left students with a disconnect between the materials studied in the classroom and their lives. When I was a student, I read in class because I already liked to read. But I saw clearly that peers who didn’t come into the class with a love of reading, seldom loved literature when the class war over. In short, old books were viewed as irrelevant.
Harris and Thompson found a solution in the classic hero’s journey structure because it linked what the students read about in a novel (or viewed in a film) with real life challenges, crises and questions. Harris puts it this way on the Hero’s Journey website:
“We discovered that the Hero’s Journey is the fundamental pattern of human experience, so it could be used as a foundation for studying literature and film. As a bonus, we found that when students learned the pattern, they were able to relate the themes from literature to their own experience and to better understand the journeys in their own lives.”
Star Wars – The Perfect Example
The guide begins with an overview of rituals, especially rites of passage, how they serve as validating road maps for day-to-day harmonious living within society and to navigating the major stages. Harris and Thompson use Luke Skywalker’s journey in Star Wars to illustrate the hero’s journey.
Like the rite of passage, the journey focuses on personal transformation. Once students can identify the journey’s major steps and resulting transformation in fictional characters, they will begin to understand how similar journeys are cropping up in their own lives even though they may be less dramatic than a popular novel or feature film.
This well-organized curriculum is organized into ten parts and a supplementary appendix:
- Ritual and the Rite of Passage: an introduction to the transformation as a foundation for studying the journey
- The Hero’s Journey: an introduction to the eight-stage hero’s journey pattern, its stages and dynamics
- Gawain and the Green Knight: a retelling of the traditional legend to study the journey in literature
- The End of Eternal Spring: a retelling of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, emphasizing the role that compromise plays in our journeys
- The Legend of the Buddha: a retelling of the legend of Siddhartha as a model of the spiritual journey
- Hero’s Journey Film Project: uses Field of Dreams (or a film of your choice) to explore the journey in a modern story
- Write a Hero’s Journey Short Story: students write their own hero’s journey story using the pattern
- The Call Refused: uses Groundhog Day (or a film of your choice) and the Greek myth “Minos and the Minotaur” to explore the dangers of refusing the call
- Hero’s Journey Group Presentation: project in which student groups research non-Greek/Roman hero myths and present them to the class
- My Journey: two projects in which students to explore their own journeys: a personal mandala and an autobiographical essay
- Appendix: materials and handouts you can use with the book and to explore the journey pattern in other works
High school teachers of “English” and “Literature” courses can mix and match modules into their own lesson plans or present the complete curriculum. The guide should also be valuable to writers studying the hero’s journey for use in their own stories as well as for youth group leaders and camp counselors who are presenting “lessons in life” programs.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hero’s journey novels, “The Sun Singer” and “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey.”