I've been having lots of thoughts lately about the mythology of the Buffyverse, particularly in relation to Joseph Campbell's theory of the "monomyth" - a detectable pattern of the hero's journey that seems to crop up across many cultures and eras. The theory holds that, when deconstructed, most stories about mythological and religious heroes appear to share the same underlying structure.
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
, Campbell proposed that this structure was made up of three elemental stages - The Departure, The Initiation
and The Return
- which could be further broken down into a seventeen-step heroic journey that explored common themes, rites of passage, archetypes and psychological components. The theory has influenced many postmodern artists and critics since its publication, and attracted its share of flakes and wannabes as well. George Lucas, for instance, proclaims loudly to anyone within earshot that he purposely composed Star Wars to mimic Campbell's structure, but Lucas loudly proclaims a lot of silly things. It's entirely possible (probable?) that George overheard someone comparing Star Wars to monomyth at a party once, and decided it would make him sound smart if he said, "I meant to do that." That's because sometime during the 20th century race to deconstruct everything that wasn't welded directly to the Earth's core, self-awareness in art became a badge of honor, and promised the artist a pat on the head from the same structural critics they were borrowing pencils from back in Semiotics 101. By the time the first fully postmodern generation of students were graduating college in the 80's and 90's, we started seeing conscious reconstructions of "the journey" everywhere in popular art. Most of these turned out to be lazy, emotionless irony-fests that confused the deconstruction of form with the absence of meaning. But there was always the chance that, someday, a gang of kind, clever souls would attempt to faithfully reconstruct the monomyth without stripping it of the fundamental insights about human nature that made it resonate so deeply in the first place.So, was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that self-aware monomyth
of which the ancient prophecy foretold oh shit, wait, that's just more monomyth?
The stories of the Buffyverse certainly appear to be aware of their own construction, so I thought I'd apply Campbell's component structure and see how well the patterns align. But rather than belt out some dry, boring snoozefest of an essay, I decided to try exploring Buffy's journey visually, selecting images from the show to help flesh out a possible synchronicity with that thousand-faced hero who keeps reappearing in our most enduring legends.
The roadmap I came up with isn't intended to be a precise record of the story's timeline. One of the discoveries I made while designing this image was that, while the journey was becoming undeniably visible in the broader story, there were also many smaller permutations of it woven into individual subplots and arcs. Moreover, certain archetypal characters fulfill different roles at different times, and some stages and themes are repeated or slightly displaced. At some point I realized that, if I tried to include it all, the resulting diagram would be a nightmare of overlapping and concentric circles, crisscrossing arrows and other powerpoint-y stuff that would make it confusing and unpleasant to look at. Therefore, not all of my chosen images are intended to be direct and/or chronological analogs to the text they appear beside. Sometimes, I chose them because they evoked a certain time period in Buffy's life rather than a specific event, and other times I chose them because I thought they depicted a particular theme well, whether or not the theme in question was directly related to the scene the picture was taken from.
In all cases, however, I selected my pictures in the hopes of sparking further thought and discussion, because one hundred hours worth of television isn't easy to summarize, even if a picture is worth a thousand words. In that spirit, feedback and suggestions are welcome."Lostboy, you pretentious blabbermouth you! That's an awful lot of text for someone who claims he wants to show me a picture."
Okay, tru dat, tru dat.
::::::::::::: Click the picture below to view the full-size image (1280 x 1024) :::::::::::::
Since I thought this picture might evolve and change somewhat based on feedback from friends, I thought I'd append a section detailing any edits I make.1.
After a conversation with eilowyn
, I began to rethink my choice for step eleven, since it relied too much on a single scene to describe something very complex. So, I substituted the shot of the hero's illuminated face with a shot of her by the campfire of "Intervention", being told "love will bring you to your gift" by her spirit guide.
After conversations with several people, I decided to add a screenshot from "Welcome to the Hellmouth" to step two, to reinforce the idea that Buffy wants to refuse her destiny again when she first moves to Sunnydale.