Journey mythology holds a special place in our story-telling tradition. Since the days of oral tradition when Homer recited The Odyssey, and even before then, heroes have set out on impossible journeys to accomplish impossible tasks and rescue their way of life. Even in our modern mythology, found on The New York Times bestseller lists and our own bookshelves, characters find themselves taking on epic situations and coming out greater than they were before.
These stories aren’t about where the heroes are going. Odysseus is trying to get home, but we’re more interested in how he deals with the Sirens and the Cyclops along the way. We know that Dorothy needs to get to the Emerald City in order to get home, but we enjoy her adventures with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion more. We enjoy them because the journey is the more worthy story – how a character grows throughout their adventures: overcoming fears, shedding negative traits, learning lessons about themselves and their greater place in the world – these are lessons we can learn, too. We probably won’t be offered the chance to take on a magical quest, but we can learn from these characters’ experiences and apply them to our own life.
Joseph Campbell, a famous scholar of folklore divides a Hero’s journey into three sections: separation from their comfortable existence; initiation through trials and tribulations – sometimes culminating in a final sacrifice; and the return of the Hero to his former life, changed and victorious. Not every journey has an ending, however: the storytellers in The Canterbury Tales are left riding into an autumn sunset, The Hobbit leaves off with the promise of more adventures to come, Alice leaves Wonderland only to find herself in Looking-glass Land. We, too, are never completely finished with our own personal journeys of self-discovery.
As you read The Conference of the Birds, consider the lessons this journey offers, and how it fits into our own world history of story-telling. Use the Activity “Mapping the Journey” (linked on the right) to consider these story-telling elements as they arise,