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The Hero's Journey (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Some friends who know all about the Hero's Journey said I might want to explain what it has to do with David Schnaufer and Pluck.

If you're new to the concept, it's worthwhile to begin with the word hero as it is commonly used in popular culture.The Oxford dictionary defines hero as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: "a war hero". Firemen who rush into a burning building, doctors and nurses who battle to save lives, a pilot who manages to land a damaged plane with minimal loss of lives, or a neighbor who saves a child from a car accident are all called heroes in today's media.

The Hero's Journey refers to an inner, personal experience that any of us can undertake; it is not dependent upon others knowing about it. (Note that Campbell always used the term "hero" to describe the concept, but both men and women can undertake the hero's journey. Here's a very intriguing take on looking at the heroine's journey. Take a peek.

There is plenty of information on the Hero's Journey in books and online for anyone who would like to understand its concept as a universal story structure and how it speaks to all of us.

I learned about the concept some thirty years ago through Joseph Campbell's A Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that all culture-bound stories across the globe share the same basic structure he calls a monomyth, or the hero’s journey. In this journey, a hero departs the known, ordinary world to travel into an unknown world filled with a series of challenges and tasks that will culminate in facing a daunting obstacle or enemy. The hero applies everything he has learned on the journey to overcome the obstacle or defeat the enemy. As a reward, s/he earns something special for all his or her efforts. This can be something physical, an elixir, and/or wisdom. Once the reward is bestowed, the hero returns to the ordinary world, a changed person and ready to bestow goodness on those around him or her.

While people who are new to the Hero's Journey concept and structure may not know what it is called, they've experienced it as a framework in countless stories: religion and philosophy (e.g., Christ, the Buddha), movies (e.g., Star Wars, The Matrix, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?), books (e.g., Huck Finn, Harry Potter; Scout's journey in To Kill a Mockingbird), legends (Quetzalcoatl, Odysseus, Joan of Arc). It's even a tool commonly used in psychology therapy. One of my favorite writers, Steven Pressfield, has a nice introduction to the hero's journey on his blog here.

High School sophomore David in 1967, right before life forced him to undertake his own hero's journey. Courtesy of Eric Schnaufer

Several have asked why I embarked on this journey of writing a biography of David Schnaufer. Part of the answer: my mind has been primed over the years to look for the hero's journey in stories because it teaches us something, or shows us the way to understanding the larger experience of being human. As others talked about him in my dulcimer club (Nashville's Grand Old Dulcimer Club), I started to detect hints of the hero's journey in their stories, and wanted to see if it was really there, and if I could uncover it.

I started life by being a consumer of stories created by others, and written in many other genres over the course of my professional life when I worked in education. Writing about the hero's journey via a biography was a new challenge that was particularly intriguing to me. Could I find it, and could I write about it?

Here's the kicker: it feels like a full circle now: I learned so much new and interesting information about David, the dulcimer, American music and music history, the Nashville music business, the genuine goodness and generosity of people in his life and in mine, human frailties, tremendous challenges people face and deal with despite the odds. Perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences that grew out of the writing has to do with contemplating the pros and cons of being a consumer of music vs. a maker of music, and the parallels to being a consumer of stories and a creator of a stories.

I heard someone say the other day that there is no balance in life, only trade-offs. What do you think about that?

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