|The Hero of 1000 Post-Its|
“…First of all, I begin by saying my theory of the Monomyth, as introduced in my popular work THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, has been much misunderstood and misrepresented as of late. The conclusion of my work was that the stories found in myths and legends are all symbolic reminders that a healthy life must be a continual process of psychogical DEATH and REBIRTH. All our lives are made up of stages; childhood and adolescence, adulthood and marriage, old age and death. The transitions between these stages, usually accompanied by initiation rituals in primitive cultures, requires that the old self “die” and then be “reborn” as a new person with new sets of values and priorities. The old must die. Only death can bring new life. And only new life can bring death.
Like how the deep subconscious summons symbolic images in dream to give shape and form to otherwise inexpressible turmoils of the psyche, the myth acts as a tool of the psyche of society. The gods and heroes are no more than symbolic archetypes used to express experiences of social and psychological change universal to man – The Universal Will. Death and rebirth. This is the way progress is made. Even the two most revered moments of Western Christianity, the story of Christmas and the story of Easter, both continually reenacted on ritual holidays, are clear symbolizations of the death of an old age and the birth a new, purer, more illuminated age. Such is the power of Myth.
The contemporary Americans have a charming tale called “Office Space.” When the tale begins, the land has grown old and corrupt. People are suffering under the weight of a power that no longer serves its true purpose. Ruling this land is Tyrant-King HOLDFAST. “Hold fast!” the Tyrant-King cries. “All shall remain as it is!” In all his forms throughout myth, Holdfast is hoarder for his own benefit, one who has succumbed to greed and avarice, who now uses his mighty power to maintain the status quo. But change is inevitable. No man can resist the cosmic cycle. Death must come to the land of Holdfast. And it can only come from one source: a newborn child. For in terms of the land, only DEATH can bring NEW LIFE! And in terms of the hero, only NEW LIFE can bring that DEATH!
|All has become old and corrupt.|
The hero of our story is the simple young man Peter Gibbons (no mention is made of his parents, so possibly of Virgin Birth). Peter is one of many who bend under the oppression of the Tyrant-King. Little does he know that destiny has chosen him to be the world-savior, the Renewer of Life, the Bringer of the Ultimate Boon.
One morning, whilst crossing a grassy glen with two of his cohorts, Peter is met by a fat dwarf bearing tidings of ill! (its supernatural resemblance suggestion that he has a connection with The Power.) This is the Herald, a figure repeated innumerable times in fantasy and lore. In the same manner as the Grim Reaper, in the same manner as Virgil’s first appearance to Dante, the Herald says “Stop! Change must come! Leave this road and follow me!” This is the Call to Adventure, the narrative equivalent of the psychological anxiety one feels when dreaming that signals time has come for a change.
Peter does not know if he believes the dwarf’s story, but the dwarf begs that Peter take action. Here we have a Refusal of the Call. He would not dare risk challenging King Holdfast. Like Sigmund Freud’s cases of childhood neuroses continuing into adulthood, Peter wants to cling to his existing material world out of a fear of losing what one assumes is valuable. The first step in answering the call is to let go.
Peter’s period of refusal ends when he encounters the Supernatural Aid of a monstrous old wizard. As an amulet to protect Peter from the dangers that lie ahead, the wizard casts a spell on Peter to render him invincible to his enemies. His life’s mission fulfilled, the wizard turns to dust the moment his spell is cast.
However, the invincibility spell is in fact a spell of rebirth. With the wizard’s last words, Peter dies and is immediately reborn. We see him burst from his placenta of entrancement, and look about his surroundings with infant wonder in his eyes. This is a purified Peter, untainted by corruption, unbound to any former loyalties. This is an essential step in the hero-journey. Re-birth can only come from re-birth.
Armed with his amulet of power, the hero now feels confident to follow his call of destiny into the land of unknown. However, just as societies of old projected their fears of the unknown into imagined monsters that lurked beyond the safety of the village, just as our own minds erect fears and imagined bogeymen in our subconscious to resist the uncertainties of psychological change, so it is in myth. The entrance to the zone of magnified power is overwatched by Threshold Guardians, ogres created to threaten the weak of heart and keep out those not ready for the challenges which lay beyond. At Peter’s threshold stands twin ogres, both by the name of Bob. The Bobs crush and cripple every man that faces them. His weaker-willed cohorts warn Peter to turn back, but armed by his new-given power, Peter is undaunted. In his purified state, Peter is able to trick the twin ogres. He not only convinces them to yield the way, but gains their enthusiastic assistance.
|Hi. We're here to eat your bones.|
It is imperative to point out that Peter’s victory does not come due to guile or show of force, but by the effortless nature of his newborn purity. His innocence, honesty, and absolute lack of rationalized fear baffles the Bobs. This is reminiscent of the tale of the future Buddha’s battle with the demon Stickyhair, where the future Buddha, at the physical mercy of the demon, nevertheless fells the monster through nothing more than his forthright confidence.
(the editor now asks the reader to imagine the next line in the snootiest voice possible.)
The “Damn, it’s Good to be a Gangsta’” montage presents, in quick succession, a series of Tests the Trials of which every hero must face on his journey. The office through which Peter journeys is a deadly desert, fraught with obstacles. With the invincibility of his amulet, Peter passes these trials with godlike ease. He has crossed the rocks that clash! And the reeds that cut! And the sand that burns! And when he finally meets King Holdfast, he brushes him aside with a brush of his hand. He is proved mighty. The kingdom is his for the taking.
From here, Peter can advance to the Marriage with the Goddess-Mother. The name of this stage has been a source of much confusion, as the Goddess-Mother is not an actual personage (though repeatedly represented as so), but a symbolic form of an intangible ideal. The “Goddess” represents the apex of comfort and happiness a mortal man may hope to achieve from the material world. A blissful all-assurance not encountered since the mother’s womb. Hence, the feminine symbolic form of the Goddess-Mother. As such, achieving this state is often represented in Western culture through the hero winning the heart of a beautiful young maiden. The Goddess is Life. By the act of wedding with her, the hero gains Supreme Knowledge of Life.
In this story, our hero claims the hand of his goddess-figure Joanna. The mythical overtones of their courtship are quite apparent. Even before Peter receives his Call to Adventure, he captures a glimpse of the goddess, much like the Greek tales of the hunter who should chance upon the sight of the goddess Diana in the forest, and is enraptured by her flawless beauty. Upon receiving his power from the wizard, Peter approaches the goddess and casts his spell upon her, for only her divine eyes can perceive the aura of pure light which now surrounds him. With each test and trial Peter overcomes in the deadly desert, he is drawn closer to the goddess’s love until the point where hero and goddess become one with each other.
Now, nestled in the bosom of the Goddess-Mother, Peter believes he has achieved true happiness. However, many a hero soon finds that such material pleasures are hollow and fleeting. The Paradise turns to rot as the hero finds there to be filth and corruption in all earthly things. Peter’s childlike bliss is shattered with such a revelation. Though his amulet has saved himself from destruction, corruption continues across the land of Holdfast, spreading and infecting Peter’s garden of earthly delights. He has entered the Woman as Temptress stage of the monomyth. Like Adam in Eden, he bites the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and is transformed once more. The scales fall off his eyes and becomes aware that he tainted by the stench of a world of wickedness and decay. Even Peter’s goddess-figure fades from beauty as our hero is fooled by a trickster character who impugns the goddess as being stained by the Holdfast’s seed.
|Our heroes encounter an idol of corruption. And hence, it is destroyed.|
Now, earthly things must be cast aside. Peter’s only chance for salvation is to achieve Atonement with the Father. In the most primordial of creation-myths, the earth is a woman and the sky a man. Hence, in myth, the Mother represents all earthy care and comfort, while the Father, the heavenly and divine. The Father is the All-Creator, the Source of all Wisdom, the Essence from which all life is renewed; whether that Father be present or not, made physically manifest or remain abstract. Peter knows the comfort of the earth-mother will not bring the boon of salvation necessary to renew the land. He can complete his hero’s journey only by reaching atonement (“at-one-ment”) with the Father and gain the enlightenment of His pure wisdom and truth.
However, the Father is a divinity with two faces. When first approached, He seems a figure of pure fury and terror. To gain his favor, the hero must undergo a Supreme Ordeal, an ultimate test of the hero’s character and worth. Only once the test is surpassed is the hero allowed to see the second face of the Father, the face of benevolence and mercy, and is embraced into his kingdom.
Unfortunately, our hero Peter is not first aware of this need to atone, and readies himself for battle in potentially self-destructing pride. The Father initiates Peter’s Supreme Ordeal with a flip of His divine hand, laughing at Peter’s folly by reversing his fortunes with what seems to be a simple accident, turning his situation into one of impending doom. Like Aeneas and Gilgamesh before him, Peter must descend into the darkest valley of death, face terrors and anxieties most profound, (including a comical aside where Peter is allayed by a mischevious shape-shifter trying to trick him into buying false wares), whereby Peter’s soul is purified by fire until he reaches a state of utmost humility, emptying his vessel and making himself ready to receive the Father’s truth.
Peter reaches the stage of Apotheosis with the decision to sacrifice himself, all that he has, and all that he knows by returning the world-tainted treasure foolishly stolen from Tyrant-King Holdfast and offer his own life in exchange for those of his cohorts. Apotheosis is the process by which an earthly soul transcends to a divine plane, reaching a place amongst the gods themselves. As expressed by the East Asian traditions such as the Buddhist and Hindu, Apotheosis is only possible through absolute self-denial. All pride must be abandoned, all sense of self must be discarded, even the conscious ego itself must be shattered. Only once the envelope of self-consciousness is annihilated will the hero become free of all worry and fear, one beyond the reach of change.
Peter achieves this transcendence with this act of purest self-sacrifice, and within a breath, he is atoned with the Father and is allowed to rejoin the side of the Goddess-Mother. Peter is then saved from destruction by a coincidence that could only be the work of the divine interception of the Father. Castle Holdfast burns, death clearing the path for the renewal of this world.
It is interesting to note that this final destruction comes not by the hand of the hero, but through the magic intercession of a humble troll. This suggests that the troll was a secret servant and agent of the Father the entire time. In fact, the Troll of Fire and the Herald Dwarf can bee seen as twin servants of the Father; two creatures hatched from the same egg, one dark and one light; one the Caller for Rebirth, the other the Agent of Destruction. This notion is supported by how both Dwarf and Troll are rewarded by the Father by story’s end. Both, by strokes of what the unenlighted may consider as “luck” or “fate” are taken from their land of earthly toil, and ascend to plane of blissful paradise.
Finally begins the short Return portion of the hero’s journey as found in the monomyth. At the Crossing of the Return Threshold, Peter faces the same question every hero must consider when returning to the everyday world. Will such common-minded mortals be able to understand the transcendent wisdom the hero has gained on the other side? Are they willing to drink the magical elixir he has available to share? Sadly, the answer is no. His cohorts remain too short-sighted. Nevertheless, he has cleansed the land and brought back the promise of freedom and beauty. Peter has become the Master of the Two Worlds and has achieved the Freedom to Live.
Hence, through the continual life-affirming process of death and renewal, the story ends happily ever after.
On a closing note, “Office Space” is a tale so permeated with the Universal Theme of Salvation through Death and Rebirth that, through the subconscious of its creators, this World-Redeeming truth is pronounced clearly in its text, hidden in plain sight through what might seem the most trivial line of speech.
As Samir leaves Peter’s home after their celebration, he is heard to say, as if incanting a spell of his own:
“Back up in Yo’ Ass with the Resurrection.”
Indeed, Samir. Most indeed…”
(Disclaimer: In case it needs to be said, I have to make clear that this article was not actually written by Joseph Campbell. It was written by me. Joseph Campbell died in 1987.)