When advised to base stories on the hero’s journey, I realized that the “monomyth model” constructed plots based on a large sampling of Greek mythology. I’ve always had a suspicion that these myths were based on real people. The characters may have a super human exterior, but they exhibit all the flaws of humans. They are almost adolescent in their behavior, competing for status, like royalty that never had to grow up. But, the hero’s journey extends beyond the story we see in movies. The common people get even with these misbehaving heroes. At the end of most Greek myths the hero has a tarnished reputation or a pitiful downfall.
For example, Jason and the Argonauts fits wonderfully into the hero’s journey, at least the part that appears in most movies. Jason leaves the land ruled by his cruel and deceitful uncle Pelias. He leads the adventurous Argonauts to an unfamiliar country in Southwest Asia to steal a treasure known as the Golden fleece (an obvious MacGuffin as the pure gold fleece is a bit too heavy to make any kind of garment out of it). Pelias believes Jason is doomed to fail which is his major reason for sending him on this quest. Instead, the lucky Jason meets a gorgeous sorceress named Medea. With her assistance he secures this intensely guarded fleece, and then heads back to his homeland to claim the throne with Medea by his side.
Note the similarity of this plot to stories of athletes rising in their career. They leave home to compete in a new place with the odds against them. However, with a coach’s guidance, teammate’s support or the inspiration of an adoring woman they pull through, win against an unbeatable team and return home victorious.
But, Jason’s return to home with Medea is the beginning of his downfall. The end to this story is not often told in the movies. It is similar to the slide into obscurity of many athletes’ years after their big wins. The locals distrust Jason’s powerful wife, Medea. After a few years they drive out their new king and queen. Jason and Medea flee to Corinth where Jason is still considered a hero. That local king offers his daughter, a younger and meeker woman than Medea, to Jason for a bride. He takes up the offer. Medea wreaks her revenge leaving Jason without a new bride or any children.
In sports literature successful athletes often face the challenge of their own conquests fading away. They may fall to the folly of hubris or the charms of the wrong kind of lover. Why is this theme of losing status repeated in both mythology and novels about sports legends? There’s a kind of mournfulness to realizing that as an athlete your major accomplishments are over by the end of your twenties. This was also true of athletic warriors who rose to the rank of nobles in ancient times.
The creators of these stories have to make a decision. Should they blindly close their eyes and be happy stuck in one time or be truthful about what happens next? Ending with the physical prowess of youth, leaves the author with a character stuck in immaturity. The authors really want them to grow up, even if the ending is bittersweet.