Continuing where yesterday’s blog leftoff, here are some famous examples of stories, myths, historical and religious figures who conform to the archetype of the Hero’s Journey.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The first 6 are all historical/religious but then I go on to movies/books and I’d hate to ruin a plot for you without warning you first. Specifically, I discuss Stranger In A Strange Land, The Lord Of The Rings, and Fullmetal Alchemist.
1. Hercules/Heracles – Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek hero Heracles, son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, making him a demi-god. Heracles is most known for twelve trials he had to endure, one of which was going to the underworld to capture Hades three headed dog Cerberus. Going to the underworld of Hades is a figurative death Heracles passes through in order to best his labors and recover his sanity while achieving immortality. The purpose was not becoming immortal, that was merely a side perk, the main goal was atoning for slaughtering his children after he was driven mad by Hera.
2. Achilles – Another Greek hero, Achilles was also demigod like Hercules. Instead of being immortal like Heracles, Achilles was invulnerable to harm everywhere on his body other than his heel, creating the metaphor Achilles heel. His mother baptized him in the river Styx, the river of the underworld, which granted him immunity to harm everywhere except his heel, where she held him. Ultimately he died in the Trojan War, that grand battle to bring home the beautiful Helen of Troy to her native Sparta. Many warriors fought in this battle, some died; the cunning Odysseus, both Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser to name a few of the best known. Of all the many heroes mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, the only one better known than Achilles is Odysseus himself who is a main character in both books. Achilles has gained eternal glory through his death for himself but more importantly for Greece.
3. Jesus – Jesus Christ was potentially a real person who lived in ancient Mesopotamia, born in 1 anno domini (AD). There is much dispute over whether Jesus was real or is myth, and the belief that he is the son of God. I believe he was a real man, likely not a pale Anglo white man. He was a religious philosopher of sorts and also had a stripe for politics, this won him few friends with the Romans who just loved crucifixion. Jesus preached a new way of doing things and shook things up in the social order which annoyed those in power. Jesus is said to be the son of God, the product of a miraculous birth, sent to earth to be killed to man’s sins, only to be reborn and go to Heaven. The story of Jesus is a perfect telling of the major steps in the Hero’s Journey.
4. Buddha – Buddha was a real flesh and blood man before attaining enlightenment, a prince from the Himalayan foothills named Siddhārtha Gautama. Unlike Jesus, there is no dispute about his existence, merely differences in opinion on the nature of his divinity and enlightenment. Buddha means “enlightened one,” and contrary to the beliefs of some there is not one Buddha but countless. Anyone can become a Buddha, an enlightened one, given the right environmental factors. For Siddhārtha, he needed to meditate under the sacred fig tree, now called a Bodhi tree in honor of the enlightenment achieved beneath its boughs, like a religious Sir Isaac Newton. Buddha does not physically die during his Hero’s Journey, but his ego is allowed to die. The death of the ego is a central to many Buddhist sects and The Buddha was the first to demonstrate how this can be done and why it is desirable. That was The Buddha’s glory.
5. John F. Kennedy – President John F. Kennedy was America’s youngest President until Obama, our first non-Protestant President, and a brilliant statesman/playboy. He was a real American hero on many levels who did a lot to advance civil rights and was an early advocate for wave-powered electricity, just to same some of his glorious exploits. He was tragically assassinated during his first term.
6. Martin Luther King Jr. – Like JFK, Martin Luther King was assassinated for shaking up the present day politics. MLK and Malcolm X both occupied crucial roles in the civil rights movement, aided in a political capacity from JFK. Martin Luther King was a preacher who was instrumental to the success of the American civil rights movement, most known for his legendary I Have A Dream speech.
7. Michael Valentine Smith – Mike is the main character in Stranger In A Strange Land, perhaps the most famous novel by Robert Heinlein. Mike is about as blatant a Jesus allegory as one can be without the Church coming after them for copyright infringement. A Muslim character even eludes to him being The Prophet reborn. While one can read a Jesus allegory in Stranger there is much more to the story than that. In the end of the book, Mike is martyred, not on a cross but in his own way and that is his death on the Hero’s Journey. But as anyone who has truly grokked the book knows Mike cannot really die, no one ever really dies as long as something has grokked them.
8. Gandalf – In the Lord of the Rings there are several heroes who die but the one who best embodies the Hero’s Journey is the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf fights the Balrog in Morea and in the process is killed only to be reborn as the more powerful Gandalf The White. His death empowers him to further glory along his Hero’s Journey. Other heroes also die along the way, physical deaths, spiritual deaths, and perhaps even some deaths of ego.
9. Alphonse Elric/Edward Elric – In the anime Full Metal Alchemist both brothers experience various deaths along their journey, in both series and in the movie as well. Alphonse actually dies before the series even begins but his soul is brought back to the living world at the expense of his brother’s arm which is Ed’s first death, from there it continues until you wonder how either character keeps sane. Before all of that, the death that portends all others is that of their mother, her death is the catalyst that literally makes our heroes into the men they are destined to become.