Well, unless you live in a cave, you know by now that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize today.
But what I’ve been thinking about all day, me being the writer that I am, is Al’s character arc. It pretty neatly follows the path of the hero’s journey, made popular by Joseph Campbell. He wrote Hero With a Thousand Faces, which I contend is one of those books everyone talks about with vast seriousness–but nobody has actually read.
The hero’s journey is the mono-myth which underlies all story in all cultures. It got a lot of play because what’s-his-name, George Lucas followed the mono-myth of the hero’s journey to plot the first Star Wars movie.
Here, in a wordstrumpet nutshell, is the idea: we see the hero in his beloved ordinary world. But then something is awry in that ordinary world and there is an inciting incident which propels the hero onto a journey–generally a quest of some sort. He must find something or do something to save himself, his people, his kingdom, or all three.
Along the way, our hero faces many tests. He finds helpers and wise old sages and people who will do anything to oppose him (because, of course, there is no story without conflict, right?) He fights and he searches and he faces harder and harder tests until he faces the absolute bleakest moment–when it appears that all is lost. But then, through an act of personal heroism, which generally involves casting off the shackles that have bound him and being true to himself, he turns the story around. And marches on to the triumphant end.
So, let’s look at Al. He is concerned about the environment from his college years. That, and the ordinary world of his father’s respected political career, propel him into a life of politics. With much success, and eight years as vice president under his belt he runs for president.
But the evil opposition denies him his rightful crown. And Al faces his bleakest moment. All is lost. He turns tail and heads back to the farm in Tennessee. But then a funny thing happens. Al casts off his advisers and begins to be true to himself. And being true to himself is returning to his original passion–the environment.
He begins lecturing about the dangers of Global Warming and makes a movie. And everyone can tell that Al doesn’t really care about what others think anymore. Not the Democratic party, or the Republican party, or the electorate, or the Supreme Court. Or even Tipper. Al is on a personal quest to inform the world about global warming.
And then a funny thing happens. Because Al doesn’t care what the world thinks anymore, and because he is filled with passion for his cause, suddenly the world beats a path to his door. He is now considered personable and relaxed and funny, when previously he was wooden and had the personality of a plank.
All of a sudden, the world is paying attention. Al is a hero. And his heroism peaks when he wins the Nobel Prize for Peace.
It is a classic hero’s journey, and it is why Al’s story resonates with so many of us. We’re hardwired to understand stories like this. When someone in public life follows the path so strongly we recognize the heroism and applaud it.
I mean, even Republicans, God love ’em, are starting to get the whole global warming thing. Ya think the alarming rate the north pole ice caps are melting have something to do with it?
For more information on the hero’s journey, I recommend reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. He takes Campbell’s seminal work and makes it understandable.