“Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore
I will never forget the first time I encountered a lifechanging iteration of the literary template of The Hero’s Journey, or the monomyth in collegiate parlance. It was 1977, I was about to turn six years old and I was with my mom sitting in a movie theater. Despite my protestations that we should really see Disney’s Peter Pan again (this was years before home video and decades before Disney+), my mom insisted that we go see a new space opera entitled Star Wars.
It would be difficult to overstate the impact Luke Skywalker’s adventures have had on my life, both as a kid caught up in the visual and auditory spectacle, and as an adult who has come to appreciate the deeper philosophy at work behind the Jedi training Luke pursued. Through the challenges of a split family and the normal coming of age obstacles, I had a place I could go to escape. No matter what was going on in the real world, I could always escape to my bedroom, where I had every Star Wars action figure and many of the ships, and could stage my own versions of the epic battles between the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire. When life was sad, stressful or seemed hopeless, I could hop aboard the Millennium Falcon and find hope, inspiration and courage to face another day.
Naturally, when I had my own daughter, I immediately inundated her with the same culture that has meant so much to me over the years. For her, the hero was not Luke, but Rey Skywalker, who would have been Luke’s daughter if Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy hadn’t briefly turned the sage over to Rian Johnson. My daughter had to be pried out of her Rey costume and regularly held lightsaber training in our driveway for the neighborhood kids. She learned the alphabet with a Star Wars ABC’s book and will immediately identify Star Wars phenom John Williams as her favorite composer.
Of course, as she got a little bit older her favorite John Williams score took on a more magical quality. Instead of wielding a laser sword with kyber crystal power source, she began wielding a 10 3/4″ stick made of vine wood and with a dragon heartstring core. That stick, er wand, of course, belonged to Hermione Granger, and it was at that point that the wizarding world of Harry Potter took over our lives. We listen to the audiobooks, read the physical books, watch the movies and have visited Universal Studios’ incomparable Harry Potter attractions repeatedly. Now, when challenges come up at school or at home, I talk to her about what Hermione would do, and it almost always helps her cope with whatever she’s facing and to find proactive solutions.
My daughter has found what is likely to be her defining Hero’s Journey, as I did with the Skywalker saga.
This is the power of story in our lives and it’s why the Hero’s Journey archetype has become the most repeated storytelling method in human history. Whether we identify with Superman, as my dad did as a kid, Luke or Rey Skywalker, Princess Leia, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Taran Wanderer, Percy Jackson, Thomas “Neo” Anderson, Katniss Everdeen or one of the myriad other examples in literature and religion, we find a hero or heroine we identify with and we lean on those stories when life throws challenges our way. We find strength, courage and a means to keep going rather than giving in to failure or despair.
In the corner of the mirror which hangs over the sink in my daughter’s bathroom there is a yellow sticky note on which she has written: “Don’t give up hope.” – Rey Skywalker. I can’t help but smile every time I see it, for isn’t that the point? We teach our children ways to navigate the world, and they find their own light givers in their moments of darkness. She could certainly do a lot worse than looking to Rey or Hermione as her inspiration when she needs it most.