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Heroes Story Arc Similarities

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What do Thor, Optimus Prime and Simba all have in common with the heroes of ancient legends like Gilgamesh and the Buddha? What if I told you they are all adaptations of the same hero? The ‘heroes’ that we see in this day and age may seem like they possess their own individualities and are unique characters, right? However, most, if not, all heroes share similar character traits that you may not be able to see with an untrained eye. To make it simple, let us contrast two supposed heroes from differing time periods to show that heroes do in fact share greater resemblances than you may think. Being the cinematic masterpiece that ‘Interstellar’ is, its main hero, Joseph Cooper, is a great representation of what people today conceive as a ‘hero’. On the other end of the spectrum, I will compare it to another all-famous, ancient epic poem, ‘Beowulf’, to put it up to the test if these heroes really share similar qualities.

“We are all heroes struggling to accomplish our adventure. As human beings, in a series of struggles to develop as individuals and to find out place in society” – Joseph Campbell.

Although humans have looked up to heroes for millennia, our views of what a hero is may not have necessarily changed much over the years, people’s idea of a hero in the past appears to actually be quite similar compared to our concept of a hero today. For example, the hero we all know and love, Thor, is actually adapted from Norse mythology, who we all now know as the unforgettable handsome hero part of the Avengers.

Like Thor, what makes Beowulf? An almighty warrior that people would look up to within the poem? He was a fearless, noble warrior that was a role model to other people of that epoch. His defeat of Grendel and Grendel’s mother proves his reputation for bravery and validates that he was indeed a hero to his people. Moreover, when Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ is mentioned, a similar type of ‘hero’ comes to mind. The movies main character, Joseph Cooper, was also noble and brave. He left Earth on a perilous journey for the betterment of his children, eventually losing time spent with his children but in exchange, saving humanity from the desolate Earth. The two examples are quite alike in showing that they both follow the requisites that the title of a hero entails, both Joseph and Beowulf were fearless in their own rights and saved people’s lives.

Have you ever heard of the Hero’s Journey monomyth? Essentially, any hero in any book, movie or folk tale is supposably guaranteed to follow a basic format of the template. Introduced as a codified concept initially coined by Professor Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, Campbell analyzed the common threads he recognized and came to the conclusion that he had identified the fundamental components of the archetypal Hero’s Journey. This allows me to better compare the two depictions from ‘Beowulf’ and ‘Interstellar’. The Hero’s Journey is a metaphor for the deep inner journey of transformation that heroes in every time and place seem to share. A path that leads them through great movements of separation, descent, ordeal and return. It is the act of going full circle from the ‘ordinary world’ to the ‘special world’ and back again. This same narrative spans across all cultures, religions and tales, including not only within contemporary movies like ‘Interstellar’, but also in archaic tales such as the epic poem, ‘Beowulf’. ‘The Hero’s Journey’ can be just as much an inner voyage into the unconscious mind as it is an adventure, comprising of several steps that a hero must go through for self-transformation.

These ‘heroes’ generally go through a first step where they would start their journey in ‘The Ordinary World’. The place where everyone starts, where the hero is a lesser version of themselves in the beginning. Most fall into the trap of society’s doctrine and end up following the status quo like everybody else, following what their families, friends and society tell them to do, which leads them into living a life that’s not their own. However, deep down they know that there’s more to life, that there’s an exciting adventure waiting for them. In ‘Interstellar’, we see Joseph Cooper being forced into the role of a farmer before he and his daughter, Murphy, find the abnormal gravitational shifts in their own home, which ultimately led to the discovery of the hidden NASA base, kickstarting Cooper’s journey to the Special World. In the poem ‘Beowulf’, we see the ‘hero’, Beowulf, transitioning from his homeland, Geatland, and crossing the threshold when crossing the sea to Denmark.

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Cooper and Beowulf are remarkably similar heroes. Both Cooper and Beowulf set out on their adventures for the greater good. They weren’t satisfied with the current state of the world, which initiated them to attempt to make a change. In Cooper’s case, it was for the greater good of mankind. He doesn’t want to accept his lowly position in the universe, and he tries to do something about it.

“We’re explorers, pioneers, not caretakers” – Joseph Cooper.

However, when Cooper is faced with a choice to either leave or stay on Earth with his family, to live a normal life and try to be happy with the people he loves. He chose to leave them behind and make the world a better place, even though that meant that he had to selflessly sacrifice seeing his children grow up and potentially not seeing them again, for the sake of finding a way to save humanity. For Beowulf, it was after he heard stories of a monster terrorizing Heorot, and when King Hrothgar and his people pleaded for Beowulf’s help. Being the noble hero that he was, he graciously accepted and travelled to Heorot to assist in defeating Grendel. Yet again, this was a righteous move on the hero’s part, moving out of his comfort zone risking his own life to save others. Sounds pretty noble to me.

There are similar lists of universal archetypes that can be used to define a hero. One of which was written by a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, Carl Jung. He wrote a list of archetypal hero traits that every hero is almost guaranteed to possess at least one of. Coincidentally, both Beowulf and Cooper possess most if not, all of the features that the list prescribes. As for example, ‘leaving their family and living with others’ and ‘receiving supernatural help’. This demonstrates that they do follow the stereotypical definition of a ‘hero’.

When we analyze the authors of both works of art, the author of ‘Beowulf’ being an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet and the author of ‘Interstellar’ – being Christopher Nolan and his brother, it is evident that the story arcs of the separate heroes were methodically thought through. Although the time periods in which the stories were written were substantially different, they both possess traits that the hero’s journey template formulates, even though it was written long after ‘Beowulf’ was produced. In ‘Beowulf’, the story written countless of centuries ago, we see the representation of the people of that era’s hero be described as a masculine, rugged, courageous hero who saves people with his feats of strength. This shows that their people believed in supernatural forms of power within their heroes. In contrast, Cooper, the modern hero, utilizes his brain over his brawn, saving people ultimately with his wit over anything else. It is evident that Cooper and Beowulf are both heroes in their own aspect, although they may have come from slightly differing cultures, they ultimately share similar heroic traits.

When we think about it, the ‘hero’ is a vague archetype, but really, the hero of the story can be almost anyone, like in ‘Interstellar’ from another point of view the hero can be seen as Murphy. ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is not a trope that all stories should follow as a strict formula, but rather the trope works best when it serves as a lens through which to view and analyze a story. Campbell implies a strict hero character, but really the only trait that the hero needs in the structure is that they’re usually naïve when it comes to the ‘Unfamiliar World’. The trope helps us understand a multitude of excellent stories from all over the world. Knowing about it and understanding how it works lets you analyze the story from this perspective and potentially identify interesting story components you might have otherwise overlooked. Ultimately, it’s more of a recurring concept than a trope people deliberately invoke, meant to help us understand story structure. It’s good to be aware of it, and there’s a lot of useful information included in it. Plus, once you know how to look for it, it is everywhere!

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Heroes Story Arc Similarities. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/heroes-story-arc-similarities/
“Heroes Story Arc Similarities.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/heroes-story-arc-similarities/
Heroes Story Arc Similarities. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/heroes-story-arc-similarities/> [Accessed 27 Nov. 2022].
Heroes Story Arc Similarities [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/heroes-story-arc-similarities/
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