The Writer's Journey

One of the most important things to understand about The Writer's Journey is that it is in essence a Cliff's Notes summary of Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" - as interpreted through the Wizard of Oz and Red River. In fact, it is pretty much a requirement that you have seen both The Wizard of Oz and Red River to understand much of the commentary, since he seems to refer to these movies multiple times in each chapter.

If you haven't read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, what you are learning about is the basics for most storytelling timelines. These are not rules, as Vogler repeatedly assures you. They are simply traditions that it is wise to be aware of. People tend to like to learn a bit about the main character before the story gets complicated. They tend to like growth in the main character's personality across the arc of the storyline. There is often a mentor character to help the main character grow. The book isn't saying that you MUST have a mentor in every story. It is simply explaining what typical elements in storytelling are, for you to pick and choose from.

Now, you could of course just read Campbell's great work to learn these things. In fact, you should - there's a reason there's a whole book by Vogler about the book by Campbell :) Campbell's work is very good. What Vogler is doing here is interpreting Campbell's wisdom by explaining it through pop film. He's picking apart The Wizard of Oz, Red River, and other films, showing how the different characters and story parts are being demonstrated. So he's helping readers of Campbell understand what they are reading.

As a concept, I think this is of value. Sometimes it really helps to understand a theoretical book by having someone point out those theories in action. It's like reading a book about web business growth, and then having another book which talks about web business growth in Google as an example. They work well together.

However, I have several issues with Vogler's method of interpretation. First, out of all the millions of movies out there, why is he so hooked on the Wizard of Oz or Red River? There are *many* other movies I can think of that demonstrate the hero journey much more clearly. He makes one minor mention about Gollum from Lord of the Rings - and that was it. He never even mentions the Kurosawa films once. There are twenty other films I could list that are perfectly suited for this exercise and were left out. Instead, he spends the time griping that the Lion King executives didn't follow his instructions for "fixing" that Disney flick.

What is even more ironic about The Wizard of Oz is that he keeps talking about it as a little kid's story that he is able to read more deep meaning into. Really, the Wizard of Oz was written with *layers* of meaning - it was a parable about populist issues, with the scarecrow representing the farmers and the tin man representing industry and so on. It discussed far more complex issues than what Vogler is mentioning!

Sure, there are minor little errors here and there in there, and for a book with a 2007 release date, to talk about the "upcoming 3 films in the Star Wars Trilogy" (i.e. Episodes 1-3 which are already out) seems a bit odd. He says that eventually we'll see all 9 movies of the series - an urban legend that Lucas swears he never promised. But still, it's hard to quibble in this area. He peppers the book with thousands of little tidbits, about the history of words, the history of common items, the meaning of phrases. It's likely that he'll end up with a few not quite right. Dinosaurs really didn't have a second brain in their tail :) It was an enlarged area of the spinal column, apparently with fat/nerve in it.

So, how to summarize? I would definitely start by reading Campbell's book. That is where everything starts. Then watch the Wizard of Oz and Red River. Once you've done those, then by all means read The Writer's Journey, to see how it ties them together. It offers a lot of interesting thoughts - primarily re-works of Campbell's information. But, as many students realize, sometimes it's the second or third version of an instruction that clicks and makes sense. If Vogler does that for you, then it's well worth the read.

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