When you were a teenager, you encountered a story—a book or movie—that infected you, got under your skin, branded you with its invisible tattoo. Your parents and teachers didn’t understand you, the boy or girl of your dreams didn’t notice you, but that story sure had your number. It was so disturbingly familiar—an inexplicable feeling of déjà vu.
It’s a safe bet that the hero of the story was shaken from his or her ordinary life, dropped into a strange world, tested against overwhelming odds and symbolically destroyed, only to be reborn triumphant and finally return home, transformed and larger than life. This recurring cycle can be found in ancient myths of almost every culture, worldwide. James Joyce termed it the “monomyth,” and comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell called it the “hero’s journey.” In his seminal book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell argued that every hero is the same hero, merely adapted to the unique context of each culture, and he referenced dozens of examples from around the globe. This universal, mythical structure echoes throughout today’s novels, films, and television shows. And it’s probably what hooked you as a teenager.
You could relate to that story because it was your own story, writ large. Hadn’t you been tossed, headfirst, into the choppy seas of adolescence? Weren’t you struggling to navigate those uncharted waters with nothing but your own wits, a few close friends, and maybe just one mentor who “got” you? Ironically, every teenager around you was enduring a similar ordeal, undergoing his or her own personal hero’s journey, following a pattern that has replayed for eons—a rite of pas- sage as old as the myths that metaphorically describe it.
Mentoring Teenage Heroes is written for parents, teachers, coaches, and other ex-adolescents who are now guiding the new generation of teens as they tumble through fresh waves of clarity and confusion, triumph and defeat, love and heartbreak. By reviewing Campbell’s original scholarship on this subject and tracing its influence on contemporary movies and books, readers will learn to identify this underlying pattern in examples as familiar as “Theseus and the Minotaur,” “Cinderella,” the Star Wars saga, the Harry Potter series, and The Hunger Games trilogy. Instead of presenting Percy Jackson and Katniss Everdeen as flavors of the week, Mentoring Teenage Heroes will tie them to the myths they spring from and offer insights into why these modern fictional characters resonate with today’s teenagers. Unlike their matinee idols, our kids aren’t at the center of dystopian or intergalactic conflicts, but they feel like they are.
Mentoring Teenage Heroes relates the true stories of Colin and Cynthia, two compelling young people on very different journeys that reveal the flexibility of the hero’s journey formula: Colin’s story spans two decades; Cynthia’s covers five years. Colin loves his mom, but he is heartsick for his absent father. Cynthia is a gifted athlete, heading off to college on a soccer scholarship, but her illicit, secret life nearly destroys her. These two contrasting narratives propel the reader through twelve chapters and serve as a basis for understanding how the dramatic transition from childhood to adulthood is reflected in ancient myths and modern storytelling. For most adults, daily life is a routine grind. For teenagers, it’s an epic struggle for identity.