Follow the String! Or, Defying Mother Nature in the Key of “C”

“Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Embarking on a Heroic Quest is hard. You face a variety of Trials, there are Tricksters who attempt to confound you, there are Challenges and Temptations, there may be an Adversary or Antagonist, Dragons and Monsters, Villains of every sort.

Maybe your Trial is financial hardship. Maybe your Temptation is a self-destructive habit or addiction. These challenges make Heroic Endeavors difficult, if not impossible. But this blog is about (ahem) “Dreaming the Impossible Dream” (in the key of “C”, for those of you singing along).

According to Joseph Campbell, often the Hero will meet a Mentor or Helper character who provides the Hero with the gift of Sacred Knowledge or a Supernatural Aid. Sometimes it is a Talisman or Tool, sometimes it is a Skill or Magic, but it is always an Implement that helps the Hero in their Quest. Examples include:

“Thanks a heap, sweetheart. Should I knit the deadly monster a sweater?”
Theseus and Ariadne
Photo credit:

  • The ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Before Theseus enters the Labyrinth to do battle with the fearsome Minotaur, he encounters beautiful Ariadne, King Minos‘ daughter, who falls in love with him. She gives him a ball of string, which is his Implement. Legend has it that the string was to help the Hero find his way out of the maze after killing the creature, who was half-man/half-bull. Other interpretations of the tale believe the string was actually to distract the Minotaur, who was in truth, just a sickeningly cute kitten.
A particularly cute abandoned kitten. Found on...

“Defeat the mighty Minotaur? Muffy doesn’t like your chances, bitch.” A particularly cute abandoned kitten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi meets Luke Skywalker and gives him his father’s lightsaber (Supernatural Aid), and teaches him the Force (Magic) to help him in his Quest. Another interpretation goes like this: Obi-Wan Kenobi, the creepy, misanthropic stranger who lures young Luke Skywalker to his hermit shack, gives him a Shiny Object to play with and lures him into another stranger’s vehicle to take him across the galaxy. Stranger Danger! Where’s Chris Hanson from Dateline NBC when all of this going on?
  • Harry Potter: Mentor-figure Dumbledore gives Harry a cloak of invisibility to help him evade the evil, serpentine Voldemort. I have seen many hardcore Harry Potter fans wearing similar cloaks on Opening Night midnight screenings, garments which have the unintended consequence of making them invisible to the opposite gender. Zing! Take that nerds!

Wait, did I just let slip that I attended a midnight screening of Harry Potter? Oh, Hogwarts!

  • Rocky: In preparation for a heavyweight bout with the Heavyweight Champion of the World Apollo Creed, crusty old boxing trainer Micky endows no-name bum fighter Rocky Balboa with the most valuable Magic of all: Belief in himself. Because it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters. And it doesn’t hurt if the dog is a 200 lb. greasy fast Italian tank that eats lightning and craps thunder (although that does sound like it hurts).

I am beginning to learn that one of the greatest Villains of all is Doubt. It drains the life force out of you, it paralyzes you. It creates an inescapable Labyrinth around you and confuses you with its twists and turns.

It is critical for Heroes to Believe. Believe that Magic exists in the so-called “real world”. Believe in the power of positive thinking. Believe in yourself. Believe that you can chop down mountains with the edge of your hand. Do not be denied.

(ADHD Digression Alert)

When I was a kid, my Dad, a real life Hero and World War II and Korean War vet, would take the family to his Marine Corps League picnics. One year in the middle of the big raffle, Mother Nature unleashed a thunderstorm that can only be described as semi-biblical. The skies opened and peppered the attendees with a Terrible, horizontal rain and 75 mph winds that scattered lawn chairs and potato sack race equipment (sacks, mostly).

But rather than cower and seek shelter, the Marines – the Few and the Proud – stood at attention, saluted Mother Nature in defiance, and fired back with an aggressive rendition of the Marine Corps Hymn (“From the Halls of Montezuuuuma, to the Shores of Tripoliiiiii…..”, in the key of “C” for those of you singing along). Everyone joined in: the feisty old Greatest Generation guys like my Dad, the Vietnam Vets (some of whom may have added a one-finger salute), green enlisted Marines. Even the families; wives and kids, standing, hands on hearts and belting it out. It was one of the most surreal and oddly moving things I have ever seen.

And you know what? Mother Nature stood down after the third verse. No little drizzle was going to wreck their corn on their cob, their potato sack race, their big raffle. Not even the Irresistible Force known as Mother Nature can stop Devil Dogs. These guys go into Hell and take on the Impossible because they know they can. Because Marines Believe.

That’s the kind of Belief that Heroes require. It’s your ball of string. Find it at all costs.

Special thanks to my Ariadne (Rachel), who has given me the gift of Belief.

This entry was posted in For Inspiration, Storytelling Basics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Follow the String! Or, Defying Mother Nature in the Key of “C”

  1. That’s why the Hero must also wear one thousand faces.

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