The Hero’s Journey vs. The Tale-Type Index
I’m fascinated by the mechanics of good storytelling and have really enjoyed learning about the hero’s journey while reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. However, I recently had the opportunity to hear from Tok Thompson, a professor of anthropology at USC. Rather than focusing on Joseph Campbell’s conception of the hero’s journey as the underlying structure that unifies all effective stories, Thompson explained that there are actually thousands of stories from around the world all of which can be found in the Tale-Type Index. Campbell’s hero’s journey, which is almost exclusively focused on by Hollywood producers and screenwriters (and of course Christopher Vogler), is merely one Euro-centric structure of storytelling. This is a debate that I hope to continue exploring by finishing Vogler’s book, reading Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and then diving into the Tale-Type Index. By doing so, I hope to get a better understanding of what makes a good story.
Now that I’m getting more into writing, I’m starting to realize exactly why the hero’s journey is so important. All stories, even the stories that we tell people on a day-to-day basis, have a beginning, middle, and end. A story is pretty just an adventure. The beginning is the context for the adventure, the middle is the adventure itself, and the end is the outcome of that adventure. It’s actually crazy how every time in my life that I do something worth telling, it follows this same exact 3-act structure. I always thought of doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain as the perfect example of this because everytime I tell someone I did the Camino they ask for the story which involves 3 stages: 1) why I decided to do the Camino, 2) what the Camino was like, and 3) what the outcome of doing the Camino was. This is likely why so many people throughout history have identified this structure as the best and most effective way to tell a story. Everything that happens along the way is pretty much just for entertainment value. I am curious to see if this holds up as I continue to learn about the specifics of the hero’s journey from reading Christopher Vogler and Joseph Campbell.