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Epic stories are about transformation. The hero is plucked from the comforts of home and called to undertake an adventurous challenge. The hero prevails and returns home transformed. It's a pretty simple formula that has obviously stood the test of time. You will never read a story or watch a movie where the main character remains unchanged; moreover, you will never have an experience "worth remembering" where you remain unchanged. You can't enter the same river twice. You are not the same person you were before you began reading this, and you are surely not the same person you will be after reading The Odyssey It's only a matter of the degree of transformation and how you were transformed. A good personal narrative story tells the story of the human experience, but, more importantly, it tells the story of transformation.
The hero cycle is not a rubric created for storytellers; it is the primal urge of all people, across all cultures, to experience the transformation of the hero. It is the power of hope over despair. It gives possibilities for life. It is a recognition that without agnos (pain) there is no aristos (glory), and, in that sense, it validates even the most common and hard-bitten of lives and makes every life uncommon, unique, and worthwhile. It is not an absurd idea to recognize the greatness in our own lives. It is not absurd to think we have an epic tale worth telling, and it is certainly not absurd to examine every experience through the lens of introspection and appreciate the implications of transformation.
The hero cycle is not a rubric created for storytellers; it is the primal urge of all people—across all cultures—to experience within their own lives the transformation of being a hero. Every ancient culture that has had its history recorded has some epic poem or story to guide its people. The heroic cycle represents the power of hope over despair; it gives us all the chance for redemption—even in the hardest of times. It is a recognition that without agnos (pain) there is no aristos (glory), and, in that sense, it validates even the most common and hard-bitten of lives by making the lives of every man, woman and child that has ever lived uncommon, unique, and worthwhile.
It is not an absurd idea to recognize the greatness and possibilities of our own lives. It is not absurd to think we have an epic tale worth telling, and it is certainly not absurd to examine every experience through a reflective lens and to start to appreciate the implications of transformation which heroic poetry represents. As human beings, we are hard-wired to need this epic poetry. We can’t just read the epic as a story and move on. We have to know the story and build and incorporate the allegory into our own lives; otherwise, we will run from the battles of life; we will avoid the straits of Skylla and the lair of the Cyclops; we will shun the Gods who come disguised to us and coddle the children given to us; we won’t shed tears for common friends, and we will lock out every stranger and blame our mishaps and misdeeds on the gods.
In short, we will not be remembered, and no songs will be sung about us. The saddest part is that you may think this is all exaggeration and hyperbole. This is not true. Our lives are full of stories that use the heroic cycle. Our imaginations are even more full.
Your epic story should follow the steps of the hero cycle! Remember that this is a guide—not a mandate, but it is a “pattern” to help guide how you tell your story. Please adopt it to suit your story, but ignore it at your peril…