Category: KoG2

Jun 29 2014

The Hero’s Journey and Knight of Gladius

I haven’t been doing much writing lately (or at least, not much writing that’s relevant here), but the poor blog is looking mighty lonely, so I’m whipping up this special post.

Although I don’t list George Lucas among my Three Pillars (more on the Three Pillars in a future post), the influence of Star Wars on me is undeniable. (Honestly, it’s almost impossible to imagine someone of my generation who isn’t strongly influenced by Star Wars.) Now, one of the things that made the Original Trilogy in particular so effective was how well it tapped into the monomyth. Those of you with even a passing familiarity with the creation of Star Wars is aware of the strong influence of Joseph Campbell on Lucas and how closely the original story follows the archetypical Hero’s Journey as detailed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Now, you may find this hard to believe, but I actually haven’t read Campbell myself and I certainly wasn’t making a deliberate effort to follow the formula of the monomyth when I set out to write the Knight of Gladius series, but the way the story hits the notes is uncanny. Bear in mind that there’s nothing wrong with the monomyth formula. It’s a common thread of myth and legend transcending time and culture for a reason. If you believe in things like genetic memory and collective unconsciousness, I’d say the monomyth taps into them. Unless you’re a particularly gifted storyteller, sticking to the mold is actually strongly advisable. It doesn’t mean your story has to be stale and boring but rather that it meets certain expectations that connect with the audience. There’s still plenty of room to make the story your own and still provide a unique experience. You shouldn’t seek to be different just for the sake of being different. Tell a good story. Everything else worthwhile will follow.

Now, let’s get to the comparison of Knight of Gladius to the monomyth. By the by, this post is going to assume you’ve read the books, so if you haven’t, you may want to pick this up at a future date because there will be spoilers. We start with the ordinary world. KoG doesn’t actually show the ordinary world prior to the start of the adventure. Mark has already set out when we began. However, he spent eight years as a monk prior to the events of the books and this all tied into his primary denial of the call to adventure. You could argue that Mark has two separate hero’s journeys in the course of the series. The first occurs in his fight against Kyrios in Byrn ten years prior (as detailed in the Quest for the Pendants portion of KoG2) and the second is his return to Gladius and ultimate confrontation with Randwulf in KoG1 and 3. Note that I said Mark’s primary denial of the call because there’s a second layer to it as well. Most heroes in the monomyth are reluctant. For one reason or another, no matter how much they seem primed for adventure, when the time comes, they shrink from it. In KoG2, Mark doesn’t hesitate to seek out King Abdiy to have him account for the Dragon Guard’s attack on Tiberius. However, his experience that follows causes him to withdraw from fulfilling his potential as a hero, hence him retreating to the abbey. However, these stories can’t happen unless something pushes the hero onto the path. In Mark’s case, it’s years of yearning for his lost family and homeland rather than something as dramatic as stormtroopers razing the family farm. In Star Wars, Luke is cut off from his ordinary world, giving him nowhere to go but forward on his journey. In Mark’s case, his own actions sever his ties to the ordinary world as he’d already taken his permanent vows and breaking his vow of stability cuts him off from his order. Might he have returned to the abbey if he knew it was waiting for him? Probably not, honestly, but it probably would’ve increased his reluctance. (Part of me almost wishes Mark began his venture to Gladius still as a full-fledged monk and then is forced to take up the sword as circumstances demand. Perhaps there’s an If Arc story in there.)

Usually there’s a mentor figure who shows up to guide the hero in the early stage of the adventure. At first, Shadowstryke appears to be this, but he simply accompanies Mark on the way to Stormtree, where he was already headed (though, admittedly, he had gotten himself a bit lost in the Ancient Forest). Shadowstryke actually does a lot of work putting the pieces in place behind the scenes, but you see little of it in the story proper. He appears in Chapter 1 of KoG1 and doesn’t return until late in KoG3. Felix is closer to the archetype, showing up as Mark enters the second phase of his journey. Again, the monomyth doesn’t require you to slavishly hit every single point in exactly the same way. There are just common threads that come together over the course of the narrative.

You can argue that Mark crosses the first threshold when he leaves Byrn. Alternatively, you could call his entry into Stormtree the first threshold. Either one would make sense. From here we begin to acquire and test allies and enemies. In KoG1, the party is steadily assembled as Mark travels through the kingdom and he picks up a minor antagonist in the form of Harald Svenson, as Randwulf himself is off in Byrn trying to seek out the Eagle in the East two steps behind the game. The time in hiding after Mark’s rescue from Corinth is an especially nice bit where the party’s relationship is cemented.

I mentioned before that Mark’s denial of the call to adventure is two-layered. This is because you can argue that his overarching journey through KoG1 and 3 are actually two separate ones. His first denial involved him remaining in Byrn and the second was his refusal to fight in the rebellion against Randwulf. The arc of KoG1 brings him to the point of being ready to fight against Randwulf, which is then brought to completion in KoG3. In this sense, Felix better fits the mentor archetype for this second journey. (We also have the introduction of new allies in KoG3, with Catherine, Stefan and Ignatiy tying in KoG2 and Adrienne and Giles providing the connection to Randwulf’s side.)

I had to bring in this “two journey” concept before we move to the innermost cave. In KoG1, its a literal cave in Mount Vulcan where Mark’s party is captured by the Inkari Tribe and he then fights Mar Kurin to reclaim the gear of the Guardians. The supreme ordeal that follows results in the “death” of the pacifistic monk and Mark’s rebirth as a warrior. He then grasps the sword, both literally by taking up his father’s sword and figuratively by claiming his heritage as the Guardian. The road back takes him to Darkwall and the Battle of the Crimson Field, but this is an indecisive conclusion, which forces him to start over on a second journey. Pegging the innermost cave in KoG3 is a little trickier. Part of me wants to say it’s the Warrior’s Triad, but I’m more inclined to say it’s Darkwall. The supreme ordeal here is Mark’s confrontation with Randwulf, resulting in his “death” when Showblight destroys the keep and his rebirth having overcome his original quest to uncover the truth about the fate of his family. Rather than a sword (literal or figurative), we’ll say he’s claimed an “elixir” in this second journey, which allows him to assume his role as a leader in the new kingdom formed after Randwulf’s defeat.

It’s perhaps fitting that my first story would be the most archetypical. I suppose I could do the same with my other stories, but I imagine it wouldn’t fit quite as neatly. For instance, in the Tico series, Matt is effectively the protagonist, but it really isn’t his story alone. Perhaps each of the main characters have their own hero’s journey but Heaven help me if I’d try to pin all that down. Anyway, I hope you found all this interesting. Now let’s see if I can get back to doing some story writing.