Hero’s Journey Presentation

Something big is coming........I am submitting a presentation proposal for NCTE 2011 on teaching the hero’s journey. I think the presentation would work well with the conference theme of “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.”

If you are interested in and knowledgeable about the hero’s journey, archetypes, and the like, I would like to invite you to present with me. If you are interested, please leave a comment or contact me via email on the contact page. We can talk further from there.

Update: Thanks for your interest. We have a group. Cross your fingers for us that our proposal will be accepted.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Hsin Ho

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Rethinking Heroes

Last year was the first year I taught my Hero with a Thousand Faces course, which is based upon Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. The course, by the way, begins with a study of the monomyth, followed by study of several works of literature and films that exhibit the hero’s journey. I wanted to start the year with a classic text, and students had read The Odyssey in 9th grade, so I settled on The Iliad. I had not read The Iliad until the summer before, as I was preparing for the course. Last year I felt that the size and sheer weight of the storyline stopped the forward motion of the course, but it was the first time I’d ever taught the work, and sometimes I have noticed that until I feel I know a work better, I spend too long on some parts, not enough on others, and with large works like The Iliad, which can be read in pieces rather than its entirety, I don’t know what to skip and summarize and what to give close attention to. I chalked my troubles up to my unfamiliarity with the text.

This year, I really think that the problem is with the book. I have slashed parts of the book from our study, and it’s still dragging. It’s just too long to begin this course with, I think, and I plan to replace it next year with a collection of Greek, Norse, and Celtic myths (perhaps Hercules, Perseus, Cuchulainn, and the like). It would give students the opportunity to practice applying Campbell’s theories to a number of short works prior to tackling a longer work. Also, I am not too sure The Iliad is the best work to illustrate Campbell’s theories: Achilles may not even be a hero, and he doesn’t really journey anywhere, and though Hector may be a hero (he was considered one of the Nine Worthies by medieval writers), his story doesn’t really fit the journey either. I love the work, and I think it’s great for students to read and be exposed to, but I am thinking it’s not a good fit for this course.

Another logistical problem unique to my situation is the fact that the Jewish holidays in September and October often create challenges in terms of timing assignments, as I cannot give students homework that is due the day after a Jewish holiday. The past two years in a row, we have encountered some problems with finishing The Iliad as the holidays approach. I think all in all, it will be a much better solution to start small with some shorter hero stories from mythology.

I think it’s a good practice to examine the books, units, and activities we do each year to see if they are still working for our current students. I was dismayed to learn this week that this practice isn’t as widespread as I thought, and I wonder why.

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More Than Texts

As he was leaving today, a student paid a compliment to my Hero with a Thousand Faces class.  I’m not sure if I was meant to respond to the comment.  I didn’t.  We were chatting about our schedule on Thursday, which differs from a usual Thursday schedule for a lot of reasons that aren’t germane to this post.  The student said something about liking the usual Thursday schedule because he can come in late (he’s a senior and must not have a class before mine) and go to a class that’s about more than just the text.

I have not given a lot of assignments in this class, but we have engaged in some deep discussions about Joseph Campbell and his ideas, and we are delving into a serious discussion of Star Wars at the moment.  I really enjoy the class.  Even without the carrot (or the stick) of grades looming over the students, they do the work, are involved in class discussion, and are engaged in the material.  I conduct the class more like a college seminar than a standard required English class precisely because it is an elective.

The same student mentioned looking up information about Star Wars at home in his free time, completely unprompted by me, so he could learn more about it.  He was impressed by the sheer amount of information online.  Another student picked up the Harry Potter series for the first time because he was intrigued by some of the class discussion of how Rowling’s work displays Campbell’s influence.

A colleague of mine, a science teacher who often participates in the discussion and has really become a co-teacher in the class, has added so much to the class just by her enthusiasm and presence, often filling in gaps in information I have.  I am not sure how the class would have differed without her presence because she has added so much to our discussion and to our understanding of the subject matter.  She participates in the class during her planning time, which effectively causes her to lose time she could spend grading or planning lessons.  I think the students have really come to appreciate her presence a great deal, and they miss her when she is unable to come.

I’m not sure if the student realized what a compliment I considered his statement.  Some might interpret his words to mean we’re not doing enough “English” in the course, but I understood him to mean that we are engaged in larger discussions and conversations that involve the text, but also go beyond the text and are stimulating in some way he found it difficult to express in other words.

One of my goals in this class is to transform the way students read literature and watch movies, and I feel good about my progress toward reaching that goal.

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Heroic Journey and Archetypes

Many of you may know I’m teaching a senior elective called Hero With a Thousand Faces modeled after the work of Joseph Campbell.  We have completed The Iliad and are wrapping up our discussion of that epic.  Interestingly, though Achilles is often called the hero of that epic, I asked students to analyze it to determine who the hero is, in their estimation.  I think a case can be made for Hector and possibly Odysseus as greater heroes than Achilles.  I mentioned in class that Hector was one of the Nine Worthies: “historic” examplars of medieval chivalric ideals.  These were the Nine: Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar (pagans); King Arthur, Godfrey de Bouillon, and Charlemagne (Christian); and Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus (Jewish).  We talked about why medieval people might have found Hector more admirable than Achilles.  It’s interesting that in several places in the epic, he denies mercy to soldiers who beg it — including Hector — which was a sign of very poor behavior in a knight indeed.

We are preparing to study Star Wars, as this month is full of Jewish holidays that will inhibit our ability to study a book, and I created a chart based on Campbell’s heroic journey and archetypes that some of you might find useful if you intend to study the monomyth.

I have been presenting a book that treats the monomyth each Friday because my students’ final project will be to read a book or watch a movie of their own choice that is NOT one we have studied and discussed together and analyze the heroic journey and archtypes within.  If you are looking for a heroic reading list, you might want to check out the books I’ve mentioned:

Some upcoming books I intend to discuss include:

Of course, I’ve talked about Harry Potter throughout.  I will add to the list as I think of others.

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Introduction to Joseph Campbell

This fall, I will be teaching a new elective class based on Joseph Campbell’s theories.  As an introduction to Campbell’s ideas (and also because I am going to be working with ninth graders for our first double-block and need something for my students to do), I created this web scavenger hunt: Joseph Campbell: A Scavenger Hunt for ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ Students.

Any feedback from folks who think I’m missing something or think something could be more clear (or any other feedback) is appreciated.

The blogs I’m referencing haven’t been created yet, but my thinking was to put them on something closed, and my first thought was Ning.  Does anyone have another solution?  Ning is blocked at my school, but I think I can get it unblocked.

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