Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jonah Hex and Campbell

After six straight hours of labs, classes, and undergraduate thesis panel defense, I came home with an overheated and unthinking brain. Geez Louise! No one ever told me this part of teaching would be so exhausting. No, I'm not feeling sorry for myself. Just a little tired, is all.

Well, maybe just a teensy bit sorry.

With cerebral functions low and spirit even lower, I turned to my good old friend Jonah Hex for entertainment. Yessiree, nothing like Jonah Hex to make you feel better. Because no matter how bad your day gets, it can't possibly get any worse than Hex's.

For instance, the issue I opened, number nine in the new series, opens with Jonah Hex just having fought off an ambush. An arrow is sticking through his arm and on his leg. He breaks both off with a knife, then turns to the little girl following him: "Thank you, Adele. That one hit bone. We'll leave it for now."

Now, just how bad-ass can you get?

Before you think that Jonah Hex has turned child-molester, let me clarify something: the little girl is actually a ghost. Not four years past, outlaws shot at Jonah, and said little girl got hit by a stray bullet. Not his fault, but Jonah's been carrying that guilt all this time.

Like I said, no matter how bad your day gets, it can't be worse than Jonah Hex's.

* * *

Which brings me to the second part of the post, the Campbell part. I encountered Joseph Campbell's monomyth some years back. The first time I read it, I got excited, and rightly so, because here was an underlying pattern behind all the adventure stories I enjoyed.

But then as I read some more, I became disillusioned. Sure, Campbell's template fit a lot of compelling stories, but not every story. Campbell claims universality, but that's a lie. Campbell might fit the Western New Age schtick -- that monomaniacal need to be "special", to be "chosen" -- but not everyone experiences redemption: some people just dig themselves in deeper and deeper till there's no way out. And you know what? Their stories are compelling, too.

Like my pal Hex.

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