There is a legend. A man, young and strong, comes to a kingdom in need of help. This man overcomes trials, fights off beasts, and eventually comes away with an ultimate prize. The man, after completing his tasks, rests for a time. He ages, it seems as though he will not be able to come back. But he does come back. He comes back and once again undertakes the road of trials, so that he may once again fight a beast, once again undertaking a journey fraught with peril. That man is, of course, Peyton Manning.
Beowulf would fit the mold, too. But, hey, that’s old and boring. Plus, Manning throws footballs, avoids tackles, and is the hero to millions of people. Plus—he did an awesome SNL commercial for United Way.
Beowulf on the other hand only ever killed a Grendal and Grendal’s mother, and a dragon. Boring.
Peyton Manning was a force to reckon with in the NFL in the first incarnation of his Hero’s Journey. He passed his road of trials, fought against and lost to the evil Tom Brady, and eventually was able to gain his boon and come back to the promised land of Indiana. Manning’s own story is much like that of Beowulf—who came to a kingdom as a rookie knight, defeated a beast, saved the kingdom, and got his own boon in the way of fame, fortune, and kingship.
Both could have rested at that point. Both had completed the Hero’s Journey. Both were in their promised land and could have retired (Manning) and died (Beowulf) in complete piece.
But neither did.
Peyton, after injury, came back to the NFL. And Beowulf, after old age overtook him, came back to slay another beast. I’m of course not conflating one of the most prolific figures in history with Beowulf (see what I did there?). The two have all the differences in the world. But they do have one thing very much in common—regression and redemption within the Hero’s Journey.
Regression and Redemption
Everyone regresses. It’s a basic fact that there will be highs and lows throughout our lifespan. Everyone goes through the ups and downs of repeated trips through the Hero’s Journey. There are plenty of examples of regression and redemption throughout literature, cinema, television, and everyday life. Here are just a few:
TV Procedurals — Each week the members of the CSI team, or New York’s finest, must solve a new crime. They go through every step of the Hero’s Journey, the initial call, the trials, the boon, and the return (a simplified version of the Journey, but one that still hits all the major points). Every week, though, they must solve a new crime or overcome a new challenge and repeat the Hero’s Journey. Despite completing the quest, they must regress back to square one and start all over again.
The Hunger Games — In every incarnation of the Hunger Games, Katniss must overcome what amounts to the same obstacle. In each book (and movie) she must overcome some form of the arena. In each part she gets called into the arena, overcomes the trials, and comes away with the boon of victory. Just because she has completed an arena, though, doesn’t mean that she is done. In each episode she must start at square one of the Hero’s Journey before she can start on the next arena.
The Mighty Ducks — This is perhaps my favorite version of regression and redemption. Each film, the team must come together and go through their trials in order to win the big championship. And at the end of each film they are able to win said championship. They celebrate in how far they have come and the skill at which they play the game. However, at the start of each film they basically start over. Even though they have gone through all the cycles of the Hero’s Journey and come out the other side as champions, at the start of the next film they start playing hockey like they have never done so before. It’s the perfect example of regressing to zero and having to redeem yourself through the Hero’s Journey.
Repeating the Journey
We all go through multiple Hero’s Journeys everyday. Almost every task we take on could be fit into the Hero’s Journey frame work. Let’s take this one from myself yesterday. Yesterday I wanted to go find a little device that I needed in order to make my own TV antenna. In my truncated form of the Hero’s Journey I, 1) Got the call, figured out that I needed this part in order to make the antenna, 2) Went through my road of trials, I had to go to multiple stores in order to get the part that I needed, and 3) Received my boon, got the piece that I needed, and then 3) returned, I went home to celebrate in my victory.
Nearly every micro and macro task that we undertake (micro–getting an antenna, macro–birth, life, death) can fit into the Hero’s Journey framework. But nearly every task that we undertake is pretty boring. Sure, there are some that are more interesting or involved than others, but most of the things that we do which fit into the Hero’s Journey don’t quite feel like they fit into the Hero’s Journey. And the majority of the time when we start on a new Hero’s Journey it feels like we are starting from square one.
The point I want to get across is this: the Hero’s Journey can repeat and be repeated multiple times. It happens to us everyday, it happens to the Mighty Ducks in every one of their movies. In fact, most of the time when we finish a Hero’s Journey, a new one begins right afterwards. The fact that Peyton Manning is currently going through a second incarnation of the Hero’s Journey, or that Beowulf went through the journey twice in his epic, should come as no surprise.
How Many Boons for Peyton Manning?
There is a question over whether Beowulf is able to gain a second boon. Is death a boon? Is defeating the dragon a boon? Personally, I think he does. I think that in defeating the dragon and dying as a king who was able to protect his people that he is able to gain yet another boon. Effectively, he is able to complete two distinct journeys during his epic.
The question is still out there for Peyton Manning.
All of us and the charters that we view and read about can fail during the Hero’s Journey. We can easily refuse the call and not go on the journey at all, we can fail at our trials, we can fail upon attempting to get our final boon.
Manning’s ultimate fate still waits for him. He has successfully completed the Hero’s Journey once, but that does not mean that he will successfully complete it again. He may fail, he may not be able to win a second super bowl, he may retire and find that the boon that is his second Lombardi trophy eludes him.
Of course, he will have other attempts at the Hero’s Journey. Most of those attempts will not be broadcast over national television. In all probability, he will be able to successfully complete the majority of his journeys without any difficulty at all. But will those really matter as much as this current journey that he is undertaking?
The Everyday Journey
I think all that really differentiates you or me from a person like Peyton Manning or Beowulf is the amount of people who care. Manning’s return to the NFL was a long scrutinized endeavor, Beowulf is a story which is studied in literature classes across the globe, and millions of people have paid to watch The Hunger Games.
Like I said above, we all go through the Hero’s Journey everyday. The biggest question you have to ask is whether or not your journey is really all that important? Sure, we are all the center of our own universes, but is what we are doing really as big a deal as we make it out to be? Is making sure that you get to the post office before it closes really all that important in the big scheme of things? Do other people care if you get to the post office or not?
I’m not sure. But there is something that we can relate to with Peyton Manning and Beowulf. We can see people who are taking on the call of the Hero’s Journey despite everything that is fighting against them. Despite being injured and aged they still accept the call. The Might Ducks, despite not quite being all that great at hockey anymore (for some reason) still take on the call.
It’s an inspiration for any of us. If we look at the tasks that we undertake as if they are all Hero’s Journeys, just like those that Manning or Beowulf are taking on, it become easier for us to accept that call. We may feel that we have regressed, that we may not be able to undertake and complete the task ahead, but if Manning can do it even after a neck injury, why not us?