Lands, Internet. NOW the blinking Blogger emoji cats have taken on a Halloween theme. Every time I log on here, I have to click an X to get rid of them. This is completely effing with my lazy-ass 1st world snobbery of convenience. I'm sick of clicking the X. Sick of it, Blogger! And Gmail, you too! This is 21st century techno-world! I should be able to will away the emojis with just a blink of my eye. Make it happen, Google.
Let's talk writing, shall we?
First, can we talk about Harry Potter? Because over the summer, I finally read the first book in the series (one decade behind, how I like to do most everything). What a stupendously talented writer this lovely soul named J.K. Rowling is. What I loved most about her initial Potter book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aka: the only one I've read) was that she can take a very simple sentence or two and pack a whole lot into it--wisdom, back story, foreshadowing, character development, tidbits of story arc, etc and so forth, and she does this on a 10-12 year old's level but in such a way a grown up reading it can go: Wow, this is masterful writing. That's a gift. That's amazing. She's amazing. I admire so deeply writers with the ability to do this, because I strive for it. I don't know if you've noticed yet or not, but conciseness is not my forte.
Other things I love about Jo Rowling: this is a woman who thought up a story on a train ride, an inspiring story that would eventually spark mystic connections amongst people of all different ages and cultures and languages all across this hard-to-live-on planet. Then she sat in a coffee shop in Scotland and developed an intricate, finely detailed, nuanced world of infinite possibilities, all while struggling with poverty, raising a child alone, and enduring god knows how many Dark Nights of the Soul. She and her magical story were rejected multiple times but she persevered boldly forth, and at the end of this journey her rags have become riches and she is now one of Earth's most adored storyteller heroines who gives back to those still in rags because she's been there and knows. Her biography is a Hero's Journey of sorts and she's a good, writerly egg who followed her bliss, trusted open doors, and who's become an incredibly inspiring icon for people from every culture on this celestial rock in the Milky Way Galaxy, even to those who haven't (yet) been mystified and spellbound by her tales of Harry and his Hogwarts gang.
True confession: I cannot get into these books. I want to get into these books. I want to, because I see how they've affected people from all over. The writing is stunning. The movies are gorgeous. The mania surrounding it all is enthralling to behold. But I just don't...I don't feel it. (Here, I am ducking, and praying the Potterites are far calmer than the Directioners, who--should you suggest you feel even a tiny bit of disconnection to the band One Direction--will fling large chunks of steaming piles of cow dung at you while screeching obscenities as they detail how they will haunt your dreams and will also promise to murder you in front of your father as they finish up with a slew of really inappropriate Yo Mama insults.)
.......I know. I KNOW!! Potter Friends! I am Sacrilege!! I am not fit to be a human being, it is true. I own it, and I am sorry, People of Potterdom. I am so so sorry. I am not saying I won't keep trying--I will keep trying. These are important books, literary foundations for many a childhood, all around the world. I will read all of the Harry Potter books eventually and at some point in the series, something may click and I'll end up buying all the DVD movie versions too and will become completely, utterly, nerdily obsessed. I see these Potter Obsessives on Twitter now and then, and they make me feel like an outsider. And you guys! I HATE FEELING LIKE AN OUTSIDER. (I have a story about when I think this phobia developed, but it's too long for now. Remind me, and I'll tell it to you later.)
I'm a nerd, too! I am a nerd, just like you! my soul cries out, when I see their Potter obsessings. But I don't speak their Potter language; I don't understand the connections between the characters or why. One day on Twitter a few weeks ago, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) tweeted to Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) something about a Maison Blanc and asked him what he was ordering and holy House of Slytherin, I thought that corner of Twitter was going to explode. I mean, people were tweeting about how they were sobbing with joy about this exchange, their whole lives had been altered.
And I was all: what's Maison Blanc?! Who cares what Draco's father's going to order? And why is Jason/Lucius telling Tom/Draco he's worried about having an aneurism and calling him an arse for this? There's a Maison Blanc/evil dad & son connection, apparently, but I don't know? So I googled "Maison Blanc" and "Harry Potter" and "The Malfoys" but all I got were weird links to French articles about someone inhumanely dressing up Bo, the White House dog as Santa Claus. (What?!) It remains a mystery to me, still. I'm sure I could Sherlock Holmes it away, but I have other projects going on right now and...I'm just, it's just. I'm sorry Tom, Jason, and all the other Potter geeks of the world: I've just got other stuff to do and the Bo as Christmas Dog links are too overwhelming to wade through.
But dagnabit! I feel so left out! Lost! So alone! You know what this feels like? This feels just like when I first swallowed my Internet shyness and left Jason Isaacs a tweet and at the end told him to get Dobby the house elf a pair of socks (because a friend told me to say that to him, promising me Jason would laugh and laugh at that) and then I found out that Dobby was freed from The Malfoys with a sock and I was all: Oh. Well, that was damn cheeky. Because I bet Jason Isaacs probably has had to wade through sock jokes about a billion times every week for the last several years. Note to self: no more Twitter advice from Potterheads. That happened because I'm out of the loop. And you guys! I hate being out of the loop! I'd like to be amongst other geeks and connect. I like to high five and geek fist bump the other nerds and know: nobody gets us like WE get us.
But. Yet. I am not connecting (for now) to Harry Potter.
May I explain myself? Because I've figured out why I'm having--have always had--a hard time connecting to Harry Potter. I get the mania to Harry Potter; but I don't connect to him. Please don't be offended; stay with me for a minute:
Joseph Campbell's theory of the monomyth. I wrote about this right after I was at Oprah's amazeballs Life You Want weekend and heard my writing hero Liz Gilbert speak of it. So I researched it. Joseph Campbell was a mythologist, lecturer, and writer. He was fascinated by religion and spirituality. He believed in the psychic unity of mankind. You know that quote "Follow your bliss"? That was Joseph Campbell. He followed that up with the assertion that, when you do choose to follow your bliss, extraordinary doors of astounding opportunities will supernaturally open for you.
Joseph Campbell did years and years and years of research and study, and he was able to precisely pinpoint one common, universal theme amongst all human beings everywhere, regardless of language or culture or planetary location: we all tell myths. But even more important than that, we all tell one myth. We tell this myth in many different versions, in many different languages, with many different cultural elements. But the myths all have basically the same story arc with basically the same story components and because of this, Joseph Campbell decided to call this common, very human, myth The Hero's Journey.
Note. One problem with Joseph (and why I think I have a hard time connecting to Harry Potter): He (Joseph, not Harry) only believed in the psychic unity of MANkind and his myth was always the HERO's Journey. WOMANkind belonged in the kitchen, with a baby sucking on her boobs, and so ha ha silly girls! There can be no such thing as a HEROINE's Journey. Since women are too busy cooking and birthin' babies and such. Somewhere, Rush Limbaugh is reading Joseph's Man Snob attitudes about women, and Rush Limbaugh is nodding his head so emphatically right now, in a self-medicated fog of OxyContin painkillers, and he is hallucinate-high fiving Joseph Campbell so hard, so very very hard. (O! Chauvinism! Thou dost maketh homo sapiens such ugly bedfellows!)
Here's a brief explanation of how The Hero's Journey works: there's a hero (aka: a boy ).
He's living a very ordinary, normal life in the village or kingdom or cave or wherever, and then one day he meets some sort of helper who gives him a Call to Adventure. He suddenly realizes: I have to go on a journey. And so he sets off. Along the way, he has more helpers like supernatural aid(s) and guardian(s) of some sort, and he has many adventures both good and bad. The hero does good deeds and foils temptations, and along the way he meets friends who are enemies and enemies who are friends. Usually, the hero is on a journey to defeat something--a troll, a dragon, a demon, a witch; or to rescue something--a princess, a chalice, someone trapped in a curse. At some point, invariably, he reaches an abyss, a dark moment in which all may be lost. Campbell called this moment The Dark Night of the Soul, the part of The Hero's Journey that, if the hero stops, he will die and the journey will end and Good will lose.
It's in this moment, in the Dark Night of the Soul, the hero realizes: I have to change. In some way big or small, in all of the stories from every single one of our expansive, extremely diverse planet's cultures and legends and languages and values, the hero realizes to go on he needs to make some kind of transformation. And when he transforms, he defeats his obstacles, overcomes all of his temptations, and he emerges better, stronger than before, and his transgressions and wrongdoings are completely absolved. Numerous doors of tremendous possibilities are opened for him, and he is given magical gifts to take home with him where he is received by his village (or kingdom or cave or wherever) with acclaim and adoration and stories are told of him for years and years and years the end.
Harry Potter is one really good example of how to expertly weave The Hero's Journey into a story: there's a boy. He's living his life, and one day he wakes up and meets a Helper (in this case, three: Dumbledore & McGonagall & Hagrid) who gives him a Call to Adventure (come be a wizard at Hogwarts). He realizes: I have to go on a journey and sets off. Along the way, he has many adventures: supernatural aids, guardians, and adventures both good and bad. He does good deeds and foils temptations, and meets friends who are enemies (Professor Quirrell), enemies who are friends (Professor Snape). At some point, he reaches The Dark Night of the Soul and by the end of the series Harry is transformed. He changes from a scared, awkward, weak boy into a brave, adored hero, and tales are told of him forever more (and, if you follow JK Rowling like I do on Twitter, you see hugely important these tales are to many people from different countries and cultures out there...some of whom maaaaay need to get a little bit of a life when it comes to this stuff, but god bless them it seems they've found their bliss and I think that's just perfect. Power to the Potterheads).
The stories of Harry Potter are transfigurative tales of a boy's journey from small and weak to large and brave--if I were a ten year old boy, I'd be all OVER these books. But this is precisely why (I've figured out) I've had a hard time getting into Harry Potter books/movies/etc: He's a boy. He's a HEro, not a HERo.
A self-aware thing about me I've learned to proudly embrace over the years: I am drawn to stories about girls. Specifically, I am drawn to stories that feature strong, imaginative, self-reliant girls. Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, I connect to stories about females who transform or impact the world in important ways. I have always been like this; I cannot think of a time when I was not like this. I have been, am, and always will be drawn to stories featuring strong females. As a child, I wanted to journey in Dorothy's ruby Oz shoes. I loved smart and sleuth-y Nancy Drew mysteries, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's tomboy boldness. I completely identified with Alice in Wonderland and would have followed her down many dark, adventurous rabbit holes; and I was certain, as a young girl, that Peter Pan's Wendy wasn't some trembling damsel in distress who needed constant rescuing--I sense she could lop off Hook's other hand while blindfolded.
In fact, for my high school senior year AP English class, I had to choose two books from the same genre or with a similar theme to read and compare--I wanted to read DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and GONE WITH THE WIND because they seem to tell similar sort of stories, but was told GONE WITH THE WIND was too soap opera-y. So I read ZHIVAGO and FATHERS AND SONS. My paper was titled "Strong Women in Russian Literature," and I got an A because I know how to word-work an Emily Dickinson-like English teacher. Nerds Unite. (In spite of the fact that, essentially, I really had just been trying to weasel out of actually reading so I could watch the movie versions of the books instead. Shhhhh.)
Listen: I love boys. I love boys a lot. And there is a very crucial literary niche that boys need--boys need books and stories and Hero's Journey tales about boys and things boys like so they can discover a love of words and storytelling. It can be so hard to get boys to fall in love with reading, for some strange reason (I actually know why, but this will turn into a 200 page essay if I tell you--Google it). How many boys are voracious readers today thanks to Harry P.? This is good. This is important.
Yet it bothers me that I find so much of the world still so dominated by the masculine. I mean, Joanne Rowling was asked by her publishers to change her author name to J.K. instead of even just "Jo," out of fear boys would be reluctant to read a boy adventure story written by a female. (This is all kinds of fucked up, but I'm already 10,000 words in and I know you have things to do, so I'm letting it go for now.)
And, god bless this amazing writer, she conjured into life the magnificent, empowering character of Hermione. Oh, how I love Hermione in spite of not having read all the books. And oh, how I love Emma Watson, who appears to have absorbed the very essence of Hermione and become such a stunning, impressive, courageous role model for women and young girls of Planet Earth. Oh, how I wish JK Rowling would write an entire series about Hermione and her Hero's Journey. In a way, Hermione also has a Hero's Journey threaded throughout the Harry Potter tales, and because I haven't read all of the Harry Potter books, maybe there is a book in the series where Hermione's journey is predominantly featured. But I sense the series is pretty much about Harry and his journey.
These books are magnificent. The movie versions of them are sheer magic, which is a nearly impossible feat for Hollywood/movie makers. I think Somebody Somewhere loves these stories, too. Something special is going on there, some type of...wizardry? I dare say. And I think the reason so many worldwide connect so deeply to the story of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and all the rest of the Hogwarts' gang is because this is the quintessential Hero's Journey tale, which every human from every culture has ingrained in our very beings; it seems to be our instinct, as a species, to take journeys of daring adventures and weave magical tales from them.
I also think that stories most kids (and grown ups) tend to feel the most for are dark, with notes of extreme danger. The Hero's Journey tales and stories that pull from that theme all have that darkness, that sense of danger. At our core, we know we are essentially powerless against The Forces That Be, and I think there is nothing scarier in the world than to be a child facing The Forces That Be--those unseen and, sometimes, those that live in your house or go to school with you.
But there are, in existence, other stories that have pulled from The Hero's Journey, and these are stories that DO feature girls taking a brave adventure with moments of peril and darkness. What about Wizard of Oz? I will posit that Wizard of Oz is a Hero's Journey of magnificent proportions: a girl wakes up one day and realizes with the aid of a helper (Glinda), I've got to go on a journey. She has adventures both good and bad. Along the way, she fights temptations, is given supernatural aids (ruby--silver in the book--slippers, a protective kiss) and guardians (Scarecrow, Lion, and Tinman) to guide her. She meets friends who are enemies (Oz), enemies who are friends (Oz) (what? I say making Oz both Great and Powerful and a lowly little humbug to be a brilliant turn of the century story twist of M. Night Shyamalan-like proportions), and has a Dark Night of the Soul moment when all is lost (the balloon leaves without her) and she has to transform (realize the power to have what she wants was always in her possession) and she goes home. And the flip side of Dorothy's tale, WICKED, is witch Elphaba's perfect Hero's Journey tale.
And what about Disney's sole feminist heroine Merida? Or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games? What about the journey of Morgaine in Marion Zimmer Bradley's superb The Mists of Avalon? Or Margaret George's Mary Magdalene? May I also suggest the story of Greek goddess Athena could be considered a sort of loose version of The Heroine's Journey as well?
In other words: Joseph Campbell! You misogynist old flirt, you couldn't have been more wrong about the Hermiones of the world. Girls can take journeys, in fact girls should take journeys, and they can do it even while mankind is suckling at their breasts. And you know what? They'll do it and you'll never hear them utter a single complaint or moan about their chapped nipples along the way--I know men who act like the world's about to end when they have a tummy ache and stuffy nose. Because women are strong, and Nature inclines toward the feminine. I'm actually not making that up; Google it.
Did I have a point to this post? I think I did, and I think it was somewhere in my last paragraph: girls can take journeys, women are strong, and Harry Potter is a wonderful book series with a great, iconic female character in it written by a strong woman who (goddammit) was asked to her put her initials on the book cover instead of her full name because they were worried boys wouldn't be comfortable reading a book by a woman (seriously? WTF, publishers). And dammit, my chapped nipples want stories that take strong, iconic females on Hero's Journeys! And Mother Nature does, too.
I'm going to start one of those this weekend. (A heroine's journey tale, with a girl I'd like to know, on an adventure I'd like to have.) (I hope the guardians of my heroine open up doors painted blue for her, and that at least one of them strongly resembles Joe Manganiello without a shirt on.) (Okay. Okay. I'm sorry. I apologize for that last bit, men--that was completely and revoltingly sexist of me. Joseph Campbell is somewhere right now, flipping me the bird and telling me to get my ass back in the kitchen. But I will not. I will NOT!)