Where the hero’s journey came from

Actually, nobody knows.  But we can imagine. Somebody, somewhere along the line, almost got eaten by a lion. We’re talking several hundred thousand years ago when we were still living on the savannah. He got home all winded and terrified and he shouted: “Lion. Almost got me!”  And his family all went back to flint knapping and sleep napping, because clearly it was in the past, and he was okay. Frustrated, our ancient brother started to act it out. “He leapt out from behind a bush!  He hit me with a left, and I went tumbling into Dead Man’s Ravine!” 

What happened then? 

People started to listen. 

So our boy backed up a bit and started again: “It was a dark and stormy night. I was hunting gazelle with the guys, but the guys did not have the courage to venture into the Plains of Peril. An ill wind blew black dust in our faces, but I brushed it away and went on alone, my feet burning in the powdery sand, my eyes scanning the horizon, my will set on one objective. For hours I walked on alone, when suddenly…”   

When suddenly everyone in the camp is sitting around the fire with popcorn. Why? Because the fact has become a drama, and the drama conveys more than the fact. It conveys the experience of life. People feel the tension and the sand in their toes, and their bodies and minds are taken over by it—which is fun because there is no real danger—and their brains suck it up as a lesson in case they’re ever stuck out there in the Plains of Peril themselves. And thus was born the story.  

Following that came other stories building on the first, soon creating an over-story explaining not only the lions, but the origin of the world, and pretty much everything else, and guiding the people in their quest for food, love, safety, community, the experience of life, and the desire for it all to make some kind of sense.  That’s what movies do today.   They teach us how to live.