Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Hero’s Quest

   The hero’s journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.1

   This pattern was certainly present in Ruslan and Lyudmila, a poem written in 1820 by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837).  After winning a major battle for his people, Ruslan marries Lyudmila, the daughter of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, and on their wedding night Lyudmila is abducted by an evil wizard.   Ruslan attempts to explain to Prince Vladimir what had happened and the prince immediately dissolved the marriage because Ruslan was unable to protect his wife.

    Ruslan then begins his journey to return Lyudmila to their home and encounters numerous obstacles along the way, but is successful in every test that he faces.  He receives assistance from an old man with magical powers who offers Ruslan guidance in his quest to find Lyudmila.  Years earlier this old man had tried to win the love of a beautiful young woman named Naina.  He cast a spell in order to win Naina’s love, but quickly found out that Naina was not a beautiful young woman, but an old witch in disguise.  After being rejected by this man, Naina vowed revenge against him.  Naina was now working with the evil wizard, Chernomor, in an effort to destroy Ruslan.

    One aspect of the hero’s journey involves leaving the ordinary world and entering a special world.  In the case of this poem, that special world was the forest.  The forest is a place where one comes face-to-face with the forces of nature and must begin to turn inward as a way of making use of the hero’s internal fortitude which will sustain him on this journey and allow him to be successful.  This journey is as much about self-discovery as it is about accomplishing some external goal.   

    Ruslan is a great warrior who shows no fear when confronting external enemies who threaten to attack Kiev, but now he must face his own internal fears and “demands” as he attempts to find his wife and bring her home safely. It is much easier to confront an enemy which you can see, but confronting internal enemies is part of the hero’s journey and part of everyone’s life experience at one time or another. 

    Not only is Ruslan searching for Lyudmila, but three other knights are also searching for her in the hope that they will become her husband once she is brought home.   One by one Ruslan’s rivals disappear and he is the only person capable of being Lyudmila’s husband. 

     After facing many adventures, Ruslan finally finds Lyudmila.  However, he is left for dead by one of the other knights, Farlaf, who rides off to Kiev to return Lyudmila to her father.  There is one major problem.  Lyudmila has been placed under a spell and is asleep.  Prince Vladimir tries everything to wake Lyudmila from this spell, but to no avail. 

    Initially Farlaf told Prince Vladimir that he had fought for three days to save Lyudmila, but his finally admits that he killed Ruslan in order return Lyudmila to Kiev and he is banished from the kingdom forever. 

    Prince Vladimir has little time to think about his daughter’s condition because Kiev is under attack from their enemies.  The old man finds Ruslan dead and restores him to life using magic waters.  He then gives Ruslan a ring and tells him that the ring has the power to wake up Lyudmila, but first Ruslan must defeat the enemies of Kiev. 

    Always the great warrior, Ruslan returns to Kiev, singlehandedly defeats his enemies, and quickly goes to Lyudmila.  In the presence of Prince Vladimir and all those in the court, Ruslan uses the power of the ring to awaken Lyudmila and Prince Vladimir makes an official announcement that Ruslan and Lyudmila are once again married. 

    Each of us will have to undergo a hero’s journey at some point.  We may not encounter wizards or knights, but we will have to come face to face with what we truly believe and who we truly are.  Daily life often forces us to wear many masks throughout the day; however, there comes a time when all the masks must be put aside and we must confront ourselves.

    Stories such as Ruslan and Lyudmila may be only stories, but they tell us something about the journey of self-discovery and follow a pattern which is prevalent in countless stories throughout the world.   The fact that these stories follow such a similar pattern and are known throughout the world should be an indication that there is some degree of truth in these stories and that they can assist us in our own journey as well. 

                                                     End Notes


No comments: