This weekend, as I lied in bed coughing my lungs out, I found myself rediscovering Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey. Dan Harmon calls it the story circle or story cosine. The monomyth essentially is a cookie cutter of a good story and has been used as a frame for way too many stories to count, ranging from Homer’s The Odyssey to George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogies. You begin with your hero, minding his own business and happy (at least he thinks he’s happy) in his safe home. Something or someone comes along from outside of his little world and brings about a new opportunity or challenge. The hero then has a decision: to accept the challenge or refuse it. Either way, the hero somehow ends up taking on the challenge anyways (otherwise there isn’t much of a story to tell). The hero leaves his comfort zone in order to complete this challenge, and along the way, is tested. These tests change and transform him. The hero then either conquers or fails and then makes the journey home, but nothing is the same as before the journey. The hero has changed as a result of his journey. The new challenge is how to make his newfound self fit back into his old life, or he is forced to find a new home, thus starting a new journey all over again.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned that this cycle doesn’t just apply to literature. It applies to music in a lot of cases. Take for example sonata form. You have the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation. The exposition is laying out the comfort zone, and the second theme that enters (normally in the dominant key), can be seen as the source of conflict. Something about that second theme is what the character wants. Then you enter the development, which is the unfamiliar territory, where all the musical ideas are expanded, changed, and tested. And then finally the piece returns home through the recapitulation, but this time everything remains in the tonic key, having changed from before.
This cycle happens at the biological level. I ended up somehow getting the flu this weekend, and right now I’m at the bottom of the cosine. I’m definitely in the “unfamiliar part” where my body and immune system are being tested, but then my body will figure out how to beat the virus and then I’ll make my way back to my regular state, but changed, because now my body recognizes that strain through the antibodies being pumped through my veins.
I’ve learned that this cycle pretty much happens everywhere. Every challenged or obstacle we’ve faced can be related back to this. I was in a comfort zone earlier on in high school, carefree of college. And then the journey began the second I started looking at what was ahead of me, and now I’m in the middle of a monomyth, changing with every day as each day presents itself with its own obstacles for me to overcome and learn from, to transform me and where I see my comfort zone.