Alicia and I are gearing up for a trip in June. We are going to perform the traditional American tourist adventure where we attempt to gobble up as many delicate European morsels as we possibly can, hold them in our mouths, and then attempt to return home and spit them out to our friends and family. Aside from relying on a few additional guest posts here, nothing will change for you, the reader, of the site. I will probably share something from the trip when we get back and I have some travel related guest posts lined up to entertain you in our absence. That’s not the point of the post, though. The point of this article is to consider what “home” is and the concept of “home” can effect our reading.
What is “Home?”
Every time I start to think about taking a trip I reconsider “home.” Is my home where I am or where my loved ones are? Is home where my books are? Is home where I go to be healed and rest? Is home a traveller’s sanctuary? Is home the place you can be exactly who you are? Is home where you go when you’ve got no place else to be? Is home where you can decide how things should be and make them that way? Is home where some of our lives happen and where our dreams take place? Is home the place where when the music stops you can just start it back up again? What is home?
When I’m really feeling lost I usually end up thinking about something Joseph Campbell has already said. In his work with myths he identified the major events in a hero’s journey. Two of those events help us define home: (1) The Call to Adventure and (2) The Hero’s Return.
The Call to Adventure
“[D]estiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” Joseph Campbell from p. 48 The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The hero must, to fulfill his destiny, leave the society he knows and loves. The trip may be as subtle as sleep such as the case of Rip Van Winkle or as epic as Ulysses’ trip in the Odyssey, spanning the world, known and unknown. Either way, the hero leaves.
From the hero’s journey we learn we need not feel guilty about leaving. We can be comfortable that the leaving has a chance to free us to fulfill our destiny. Home, therefore, is not a place where we must always remain. We can step outside our comfort zones and experience other worlds and lives without guilt.
The Hero’s Return
“The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may be redound to the renewing of the community, the notion, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.” Joseph Campbell from p. 167 The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The true hero must eventually return home. The journey is not complete until the hero brings something: new energy, new knowledge, new life, new hope, back to humanity and back to the friends and family he left.
A hero, therefore, has a home and an obligation to home which outlasts the adventure and even becomes to the benefactor of the adventure, eventually, even if the hero never anticipated the adventure’s result.
Stories and Home
In the stories we read we can look for this pattern. Are our heroes returning home in their adventures? What are they bringing back to their homes when they return? While we read we can look for the symbolism of the return gift and try to decipher its secondary meaning.
In our lives we should do the same. We should recognize leaving home creates the opportunity for adventure. Leaving the safety and security of the known for the unknown allows us to grow, ourselves, but it also gives us the opportunity to fulfill our obligation to our home by bringing back the boon of our adventure. The stories we live, of course, become the stories we tell. So we must be careful to carry out the hero’s task in our lives.
No matter how you define home, and there are many ways to do it, make sure you spend some time defining home so you know where your adventure must end. Every adventure we take has a chance to redefine home for us because we just might leave home without any indication who we’ll help when we get back.
I’d argue, absent a physical journey, reading can be our adventure. It can take us to new places. If Rip Van Winkle can be transported to a new world in his sleep, then a book can take as far if not farther. We can experience new ways of thinking, mythical creatures, and our own inner demons. As we read we should read with a sense of adventure and a sense of the hero’s goal: to bring something back to the people we left behind when we undertook the adventure. We should, from our reading and our travel, bring something back home that will help us all to live.