The Winding Path

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April 2010: The Hero’s Quest

Posted on Apr 16, 2010

April 2010: The Hero’s Quest

In my readings recently, I have come across a theme that relates to the journey metaphor for life. It is particularly fitting for those moments of “stuckness” when we cannot seem to make any headway—like walking on a treadmill.

My own treadmill moment intersected with reading about the evolution of a fairy tale: Little Red Riding Hood.1 She is quite the little girl, or young maiden depending on which tale you read. She has travelled across centuries and cultures retaining or shedding some features, adapting others as she has traversed the globe.

Or more fittingly, she has been adapted to suit the cultural morés of the time and place in which she finds herself: an innocent girl to promote obedience and dependency in the Victorian Era; a young maiden to promote chastity (and shape the financial arrangements of marriage negotiations) in the French aristocracy of the 17th century; or a voluptuous stripper redefining courtship in the film genre of the 1930s and 40s.

She continues her metamorphosis as the movie industry requires her services to communicate emerging trends in popular culture and equality of the sexes. A fate shared by her nemesis, the wolf, who has also morphed through the centuries and cultures.

But what of her origins? Turns out, she was quite the resourceful young lady: a female counterpart to the ancient, male-dominated, hero’s quest.

Throughout time, heroic tales follow a consistent plot. The hero is born, full of hidden promise, and must undertake a journey to prove himself. He must face the “dark side” whether that be physical danger and/or one’s inner demons of doubts and weaknesses. He must face his moment of truth, the ultimate test.

In one of the earliest versions of the fairy tale in question, “A Grandmother’s Tale,” a little girl must rise to the occasion and outwit her adversary, the wolf (sometimes an ogress). She must take all that she has absorbed from the wise women who have gone before her and apply it to this dangerous situation: her moment of truth, her ultimate test for survival. She is not admonished to avoid it or wait for rescue but rather faces it and comes away stronger with new found independence.

Moments of truth. Ultimate tests. Can the obstacle be met and overcome? Does the hero have what it takes to rise to the occasion? Generally speaking, in all the hero quests of mythical proportions (either ancient or modern), the hero is victorious. What of the stories of everyday life? What about the hero of your own story? What happens when we fail to rise to the occasion?

Whether we refuse to take the test (fail to try) for whatever reason (fear of failure, fear of change, self-doubt, insufficient moxie) or whether our attempts meet with failure (fail to pass the test) due to unforeseen circumstances, timing, lack of preparation, or other factors the result is the same: We become stuck. Caught on our treadmill.

Are you stuck on your journey? What seemingly insurmountable hurdles are you facing? What’s holding you back? What lessons must yet be learned on your own hero’s quest?


1Catherine Ornstein (2002), Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, Basic Books, Perseus Book Group.

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