Archive for December 2012
Nobody knows when the first neuron fired across a synapse of the brain to ignite the spark of human creativity. Whenever it happened, I’m willing to bet it didn’t result in some monumental technological advance like, say, the wheel. I like to think it happened in a more mundane way. I like to think what happened was a story.
In my version of the dawn of creativity a group of hunters is gathered around a fire, talking about the day’s hunt, maybe recalling earlier hunts, when one of the group, Ig-nu by name, says he remembers how, one day, Og, the clumsy one tripped and fell into a pile of wildebeest (or was it mastodon?) poop. It doesn’t matter. The thing was nobody wanted to sit next to Og at the after-hunt BBQ. Anyway, Og falling into that pile of poop started a stampede. And if it hadn’t been for Woo-gu, the strong and brave one, killing the bull wildebeest (or was it mastodon?), they would still be chasing that herd.
The other members of the group like the story, especially the parts about Og, the clumsy, and Woo-gu, the strong and brave, and whenever the tribe gathered, Ig-nu was asked to re-tell the tale. Ig-nu’s career as a storyteller had begun. Succeeding generations’ storytellers expanded the story, adding and subtracting details, characters and situations, some from real life, others pure fantasy, all reflecting the tribe’s recent history and current situation. Over time, the stories took on the aura of the tribe’s history. They explained things; how the tribe formed, how they persevered and survived and overcame adversity. They often told of an individual or group who take on a particular task and how, after many adventures, triumph. The stories eventually, after many, many, many re-tellings, became set in stone. Literally.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest surviving examples of this type of story. It is a story that has been told and re-told down through the ages, from the adventures of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey, from the Old Testament to Morte d’ Arthur. Throughout time and across cultures people have thrilled to tales of “The Hero’s Journey”.
No matter how many times we hear these stories, no matter how many times they are told and re-told, we never tire of them. They never fail to capture our imagination, entertain and even inspire us. Why? Because it’s our story, our “hero’s journey”. And it’s the storytellers’, too; those men and women who have taken upon themselves the task of re-telling and re-shaping the age-old tales of heroes (and heroines) on a quest and, by dint of the creative spark manage to make them relevant to their own time. They have chosen to embark on their own “hero’s journey” and we are more than willing to accept their invitation to go along for the ride. Why? Because we just might pick up a few pointers, learn a few lessons. And because no matter how routine or banal our lives may seem to us, we’re all on the same hero’s journey.