Archives For hero’s journey

The most recent iteration of Wonder Woman (2017) on the big screen has received much attention because of its woman director Patty Jenkins and its attractive and agile star at her most womanliness. Actress Gal Gadot admitted she was 3-5 months pregnant for the role of Diana during much of the filming. The film also offers a similar message to the one that reverberates from the young adult novel, A Wrinkle in Time by one of my favorite woman authors, Madeleine L’Engle

Sitting in the dark, above the explosive noise in an action packed sequence, I heard the argument posed by the villain of the film, Ares, the god of War. At the climax of the film (and I do not believe the following is much of a spoiler), Ares admits to seeding treachery into the souls of mankind and bellows for Diana to destroy mankind, to give into her rage saying:

Ares: “They do not deserve your protection.”

But, remembering the sacrifice of others, Diana makes a different choice:

Diana: “It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.”

That same argument Ares makes is the argument made in the climax of A Wrinkle in Time. Teen-aged Meg, the awkward nerdish heroine, confronts IT, a grotesque villainous mass that has taken a sinister control over the mind of her beloved younger brother Charles Wallace:

Mrs. Whatsit hates you,” Charles Wallace said.
And that was where IT made ITs fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, “Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that’s what she told me, that she loves me,” suddenly she knew.
She knew!
Love.
That was what she had that IT did not have. (12.135-140)

Of course, Wonder Woman has supernatural powers that help her defeat her foe. She is also not above using violence to achieve an end….she is an Amazon after all.

Meg in contrast is bookish and insecure; without sword, shield, or lasso. Meg realizes that she is incapable of directly defeating IT:

 But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it. (12.141-143)

Meg must use her wits rather than physical strength, and she cleverly defeats IT in a confrontation with lines so deeply etched in my literary memory files that I can still recite them, as I did watching the film:

But she could love Charles Wallace.
She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace. (12.144-145)

Perhaps it is not surprising that in both stories, and against impossible odds, Diana and Meg find the same elixir on their hero’s journey to be the power of love. Their stories follow that archetypal journey: the call to adventure, leaving the known world, meeting the mentor(s), the test, the sacrifice, the ordeal, and the return with the elixir.

Please understand that although I enjoyed the film, I am not elevating the screenplay, production, or even the performances in Wonder Woman to the high regard for which I hold A Wrinkle in Time.  Although they are both fiction, the D.C. Comic heroine does not hold the same place in my literary heart as does Meg.

My 9-year-old self identified with Meg, and I longed for a Mrs. Which to blow into my life with an adventure. My own copy of the novel, a mottled blue hardcover signed by L’Engle, is a treasured possession.(see story here) In my current role as an educator, I continue to encourage others to read the book. L’Engle tells a wonderful story.

I do not think, however, that L’Engle would be unhappy with my comparison. The similarities in comparing the message of Meg’s story to Diana’s story in the film is what Madeleine L’Engle meant when she said:

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

Screenshot 2015-03-18 07.04.18Saturday, March 14th, Cornelius Minor, a Staff Developer at The Reading & Writing Project gave the luncheon keynote address to over 300 educators at the 2nd Annual Conference for  The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

While he began his address with humor and participation, Minor quickly got to the serious matter of his topic:

“In a world of inequity, how are we giving tools to students to let them become heroes to rescue themselves?”

For those not in attendance, there could be some confusion on Minor’s use of the term “hero”; the word is commonly associated with superhero characters from the Marvel or DC Comics. Minor himself even referenced the superhero Batman in his speech in order to make his claim that teachers are the voice-overs in their students’ lives. He suggested that teachers could emulate the voice of Batman’s mentor, Lucius Fox who is played in the films by the actor Morgan Freeman.

The role of the mentor as the “voice-over” is an integral part of the hero’s journey archetype. In the classic hero’s journey, in film and in literature, there are twelve (12) steps.  Step 1 begins in the Ordinary World, when the hero hears a Call to Adventure (step 2), which He or She initially Refuses (step 3). By step 4, the hero encounters someone who can give him advice in order to prepare for the journey ahead. That someone in step 4 is The Mentor, a character that students are already familiar with some examples from films.

Students at every grade level can name film mentors such as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz, mentor to Dorothy; Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, mentor to Luke Skywalker; and Gandalf, mentor to both Hobbits, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, in the the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Minor, however, asked his audience to turn from cinema’s world of fantasy in order to suggest the role the ordinary teacher plays everyday is as powerful as these other mentors.

“Think about that Morgan Freeman voiceover in the movie…. to ‘Be the Batman,'”intoned Minor enthusiastically in order to illustrate that every student needs to hear that voice-over in their heads to “Be the hero” of their life.

While teachers may lack the gravely voice of Morgan Freeman, teachers can help their students when they decide to Cross the First Threshold into adventure (step 5) and meet Tests, Allies, Enemies (step 6) before taking a New Approach (step 7) when setbacks occur day by day, grade by grade.

Just as the characters in epic literature or in film Confront Ordeals (step 8), teachers in real life can contribute by helping students Achieve Success and Rewards (step 9) as they prepare to Return to the Ordinary World with new knowledge (step 10). Helping students achieve success is critical to prepare students for future tests, both literal and figurative (step 11), and the final step 12 is when students finally complete the journey with knowledge, literally the “elixir”, which will be used to help others.