It is nothing revolutionary to say that you, often, are your own worst enemy.
I’ve spent the last three weeks on this blog talking about the hero’s journey. Using Beowulf as source material, because I am that particular brand of nerd. And you might think I was done talking about it; I actually thought I was, and yet here we are.
The point of the hero’s journey, the point I was trying to make is that the journey of hero is a journey of self. Again, this is nothing revolutionary. I am certainly not the first to say it. But I was reminded this week of the reason why that’s true. Why we tell stories like this, in this way, about these things. Because we are trying to tell ourselves something.
Stories are one of the ways we process the world. There has been a lot of research done that suggests our brains are wired for stories, that we understand things better when they come in a narrative form. I, personally, would further argue that it’s hardwired into our souls.
Again, it’s nothing revolutionary to say we tell hero stories because we want to be heroes. It’s the simplest, childhood exercise. Pretend. But there’s more to it. We identify with heroes, well-written ones at least. We connect with them. The power of stories is that they tell us we can be heroes.
With time I hope to expand on this further, but every experience with story carries with it the thought, as reader, of “This is me.” We inherently connect with the experience of story. That’s why stories teach so well; they can get in deeper. They can tell us things, show us things. Our sins, our hopes, our fears. How we tend to act in situations. How we ought to.
In the end, every hero story is a human story.
That’s the real reason the monsters make sense, and why the last one, the greatest one, is always us. The last monster a hero must face is themselves. Sometimes, this is general. The folly of man. Often times, it’s personal. A hero cannot be said to have succeeded, truly, until they have overcome themselves.
And the same can be said of us.
Sadly, our lives rarely follow a predictable plot pattern. There is no simple trilogy to point out where we have reached the height of our character development. Like everything else, it’s an ongoing process. The bad news is, after we’ve made a great stride, the next morning we often have to get up and start all over again.
That, of course, is also the good news.
In every hero’s journey template, there is always a point of total despair, where the hero has lost everything and questions ever starting the journey to begin with. This moment, not coincidentally, typically comes right before the final act. In screenwriting terms, it’s usually Plot Point 2. Also, not coincidentally, this is usually where the real ultimate battle takes place. Before the hero can face the final battle, they must first face their own hesitation and doubt.
I like to remember that whenever I’m in the middle of something hard. I like to remember all of this, but that especially. Because it’s the moment when the hero thinks it’s all lost that, in reality, they are a second away from victory. And when I think the same, maybe I’m only a second away. Maybe the moment is only waiting for me.
I don’t know if it’s God or bad writing, but there seems to be a universal truth that you can never have an ultimate victory without first facing this despair. Because overcoming this despair is the victory, the real one. Everything after is gravy.
That’s why we tell ourselves stories. They entertain, certainly, but they also remind. Because we forget. We doubt. We question. We wonder if this monster, this challenge, will be the one we can’t overcome. All heroes wonder that until they realize they have already overcome something greater.
You fight monsters.
You fight bigger monsters.
You fight yourself.