“In the cave you fear to enter lies the treasure that you seek.”
- Joseph Campbell
There is a deepness and unsung clarity to this quote. Over the past few weeks, I have been reading Joseph Campbell’s magnum opus, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces,” and it is odd just how much this single book has caused me to grow as a writer and overall as a storyteller.
I have always been a lover of stories; I have always believed in their power. They move us, teach us, and cause us to grow. Stories are inherently and inextricably human, and you probably couldn’t imagine your life without them.
So what makes a story “human”? And just what does it mean for a story to be “human”?
When you read a tale of heroism or extravagance, you might read this and think “How am I anything like this hero? They’re so larger than life!” And if I told you that these heroes are not so different from you or me, would you believe me? Would you believe me if I said that these heroes and heroines are all a part of the same archetype—the same human spirit and psyche?
Photo by William F. Burk
I must admit that, as a writer, I do.
Stories are things that have the power to transcend the contrived boundaries between humanity and yet, deep within them, they hold the keys to our very essence. All peoples, when moved by a tale, will weep at its beauty.
The above quote is a favorite of mine, simply because it captures the message of Campbell’s book so well, and I think it's so wise because often times we don't strive for the things we desire because we're afraid of failure. In a sense, our lives aren't so different from that of the hero who journeys into the cursed cave to find his sacred treasure. No. The heroes of myth and legend, in many ways, are not so different from us everyday people. While we will indeed never journey to obtain the Golden Fleece or wrestle the wild man Enkidu, we still have two things that the heroes of ancient tales possess: We have the fear of the unknown and the proclivity for courage.
Indeed the unknown faces us, its visage abysmal and grim. We know that our desires lie within, but darkness is daunting, isn’t it? But with only a little courage does the hero solve the riddle, escape the trap, slay the beast. When one’s virtue supersedes their self-preservation, that is true courage.
So, then, how are you like the heroes of ancient myth? Easily put, you are kin in that all humans struggle, and all humans possess desires, loves, romances. The heroes of ancient times may seem so alienated from the common day, but the truth is that they are not. The protagonists of these age old epics are merely hyperbolic archetypes of what it means to be human.
Go, bravely into the cave, for there is thunder within you.
William F. Burk
Award-winning author of fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry. Author of "The Heart of Hearts," a debut fantasy novel. Always writing, forever and ever.