Human stories began about 200,000 years ago, before the technology of writing was invented, stories were told and passed down orally. The oldest recorded written story came out of Mesopotamia. It was the Epic of Gilgamesh. The classification of this story is called, “The Hero’s Journey.”
There are eight classical story themes and the ‘Hero’s Journey,’ is one of the most popular and oldest of all. The oldest story, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” was written a little over 4,000 years ago on cuneiform tablets and was taken from oral stories that had been passed down for generations. Gilgamesh has all the hero action and suspense as in our modern-day stories.
Modern-day stories of a similar hero can be found in: George Baily from ‘It’s a wonderful life’ to Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games.’ The hero can be male or female, young or old, rich or poor. Our character seeks adventures only to find the real story is about discovering his weaknesses and his inner strength.
In the end, we admire the hero for overcoming the obstacles and challenges because our character generally overcome successfully their own physical limitation or disadvantages. Ben Okri said, “The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” Harry Potter may be a wizard, but he was still a young boy. The story is set in a David and Goliath format where a child character is challenged to face adult wizards and mystical creatures.
Every hero finds a mentor-friend along his path’s journey. Gilgamesh, 6000 years ago, walked with Enkidu, Luke Skywalker finds Obiwan Kenobi, and even Marty McFly has Doc. In all cases, they somehow lose their mentor along the way. At the most crucial point our character must face alone his fears and doubts when the challenge, generally a life-death situation, comes upon him.
These types of stories demonstrate the benefits of taking the risks. Risks can range from losing a kingdom to losing one’s life. Behind these types of stories there are important characteristics in what makes human successes and human failures. If the story is well presented, the listener becomes involved emotionally and psychologically drawing from experiences their own defeat and failures.
Yes, stories allow the listener to travel with the hero, continuing to urge him on or to suffer with him. The Hero’s Journey is about sharing emotions too! Our hero may lose a battle but learns how to turn his weakness into the weapon he needs, like in, “The Last Samurai,” where the hero, Capt. Nathan Algren learns a new philosophy—Bushido, the way of the warrior. This moves this character from a defeated drunk to a national hero.
Finally, the Hero’s Journey demonstrates that anyone can achieve newfound wisdom if they are willing to keep an open mind. In the end, the Hero’s Journey is about a visual journey of emotions leading the listener to accept his weaknesses while discovering his inner strength.