Ender Wiggin and Jonnie Goodboy Tyler Take the Hero’s Journey
Guest blogger Eva Mahoney (Part 1 of 3)
These science fiction novels are fantastic heroic journey examples.
Is it the journey or the destination that matters in life or lore?
Do we follow our heroes because of their grand feats and frequent near-death experiences, or because they save the day and come back home victorious in spite of all?
Well, perhaps it’s a little bit of both.
In this 3-part series, we will examine two epic works of science fiction: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, as their heroes Ender Wiggin and Jonnie Goodboy Tyler take the Hero’s Journey. Tag along, won’t you?
What is The Hero’s Journey?
What is it that makes a hero? How do we know the definitive signs of impending greatness, and can those steps be predicted at least to some degree in advance?
Literary scholar and researcher Joseph Campbell thought they could and indeed tracked a predictable general narrative through much of mythology and many literary works, and named it the Hero’s Journey.
This narrative falls into three broad acts: Departure, Initiation, and Return. These further break into 17 stages of the Hero’s Journey, usually shown in a cyclic form such as the graphs I have added below.
So let’s get started and set our heroes on their own “hero’s journey.”
Jonnie Goodboy Tyler’s “Departure”
Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is determined to give his father a proper funeral, even though he seems to be the only one interested in doing so in his isolated and decaying village in the Rocky Mountains foothills. His father’s bones just wasted away.
Though they do not know it, his village is located near old radiation silos and contamination, an ancient leftover from a thousand-year-old epic battle that we lost. It was against a superior alien force—the Psychlo Empire—determined to seize the gold and other precious metals that were naively advertised on a gold disk sent into space (Voyager I). The villagers grow sick and die early from a poison they don’t know about, with the death rate out-pacing the birth rate.
Their history has become hazy and ambiguous and consigned to stories told by the village elders about gods, men, and monsters: in short, superstitions. Reading has been lost.
Every few days, a shiny floating cylinder flies overhead from west to east, reminding everyone that the monsters are still out there.
Jonnie is not like the other villagers. By a fluke, he avoided the area of radioactive contamination. He is tall and strong and healthy for his twenty years. His bones are not crumbling away as his fathers did, nor is he maimed or crippled like others.
It upsets him that his village seems to be dying while the animals on the plain seem to thrive. He can’t understand why they will not move.
After the funeral, Jonnie begins to form a new resolve.
“It’s my fault…
“There is something wrong with this place. I am certain that had he [Jonnie’s father] listened and had we moved elsewhere, he would be alive today. I feel it!”
—Jonnie Goodboy Tyler
An idea is brewing within him—a call to adventure.
Jonnie’s sweetheart Chrissie argues there’s nowhere else to go without monsters, but he explains that there’s a whole great plain out there, that man once lived in a big village out there. He is not afraid of monsters. He’s never seen one, and doesn’t believe they exist, even with the shiny silver cylinder that flies overhead. So do the sun and moon and stars.
Jonnie determines to ride out and look for the big village, and nothing can deter him, even Chrissie threatening to come out and look for him if he doesn’t come back within a year. He leaves at first light.
Jonnie rides across the great plain and suffers from overconfidence, when he is trampled by a giant wild boar that nearly kills him.
He comes across ruins that are mostly buried under centuries of drifting sand and discovers windows that still have glass in them, something he has never seen before.
He is beginning to believe that the big village is a myth like the monsters when he finally sees a rectangular skyline: the ruins of an ancient city with a broad path leading to it.
When Jonnie reaches the ruins of the city, he finds to his amazement that it was built by men, not by the gods.
While exploring, Jonnie discovers a building more preserved than the others and which has a lock on it that is relatively recent. This building is special. Unbeknownst to Jonnie, it is a library filled with books. Jonnie has no idea what a book is, but he knows what some of the pictures in the queer thick rectangles are: a bee, a cat, a fox… Perceiving value in these, Jonnie takes some books with him and leaves the building.
He is feeling very optimistic about moving his people down here.
And then he sees the insect.
Jonnie has been discounting the “monsters” for so long that he can’t fathom what he is looking at. Though it’s thirty feet long and ten feet high, it must be a horrible brown insect. Jonnie decides to sneak away until suddenly, with an earsplitting roar, the insect begins to inch forward and follows Jonnie and his horses. The insect exploded the building next to him to block his passage and trap him. Jonnie tries to outrun the insect, but it easily outmaneuvers him. Finally, Jonnie attacks it with his biggest kill club, when preparing for a second attack, a blast of yellow flame from between the slitted eyes of the beast knocks him out.
The insect is an alien executive ground car—an armored hovercraft.
Captured and enslaved by a sadistic alien Psychlo, Terl, the head of Earth planetary security, Jonnie is thrown straight into the “belly of the whale” (the point of no return—a final separation from the hero’s known world).
And so begins one of the best science fiction novels of all time. There is no turning back for Jonnie.
Here is the book trailer to give you a taste of this heroic story:
If you have not yet read it, you can download the first 13 chapters or listen to the first hour of the audiobook for free. It is addictive: you have been warned.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a Third. He’s the third child in a society that only allows two children per family. Both special and tormented for the fact that his parents were allowed to have him because his siblings were bright and showed promise, Ender’s normal is to be always above normal or be a failure. It’s a high standard for a six-year-old in a world run by a hyper-paranoid military government preparing for the return of a deadly extra-terrestrial threat.
Their best hope for victory are unusually gifted children in an age of high-tech and space exploration … someone like Ender.
But Ender doesn’t know he’s special. He thinks he’s failed after his monitoring device is taken out (a device attached to the back of children’s heads that may have the potential the government is looking for). They are used in the special program he’s been part of, the same program that his adored sister Valentine and sociopathic older brother Peter were part of and failed.
But since they weren’t “thirds,” they couldn’t be blamed. Ender suddenly feels alone, rejected, and vulnerable. He doesn’t realize that the government is still watching and testing him even as he leaves for home to face humiliation in front of his family.
On the way, he encounters a bully named Stilson and his gang of boys, who confront him with the dreaded insult: “Hey, Third.” When they don’t let him pass and continue to taunt him, Ender musters up his courage, talks back, and kicks Stilson, mortally injuring him (though he doesn’t know it). His only thought is to forestall vengeance. “I have to win this now and for all time, or I’ll fight it every day, and it will get worse and worse.”
Even though he knows the rules of fair play, Ender kicks Stilson repeatedly while he’s on the ground and then turns and warns the others what happens to “people who try to hurt me.”
Then he walks away and around the corner and cries until his bus arrives, thinking he is just like his sadistic older brother.
Things are not much better at home when Peter finds out that Ender’s monitor has been taken out. He immediately begins to torment Ender and threaten him despite Valentine’s efforts to shield her little brother. Peter forces Ender to play a war game called Kill the Buggers and threatens to kill him for real when nobody’s looking. Later, Ender’s parents try to make light of his apparent failure, which only makes him feel like more of an embarrassment.
Colonel Graff and Major Anderson have continued to watch Ender and know what he did to Stilson. They proceed to “invite” him to battle school and will convince, cajole, or threaten him…whatever it takes to make him agree to leave his family and his beloved sister, Valentine.
Colonel Graff shows up at the Wiggins home and tells Ender’s parents about the confrontation with Stilson. Ender expects to be punished or shamed, but shockingly Colonel Graff steps forward and offers him a place at Battle School.
This is not an easy decision for Ender. While he wants to escape his brother, he does not want to leave Valentine.
Colonel Graff sees Ender’s hesitation and tells Ender about the hardships of Battle School and how his family might suffer public embarrassment if he does not go. And how the world needs new officers as brave and brilliant as the legendary Mazur Rackham, who originally defeated the alien buggers.
In the end, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin reluctantly agrees to go with Graff—crossing the first threshold of an adventure he cannot even imagine at that moment.
Soon after, Ender is in a one-piece cadet’s uniform on a launch leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, disoriented by weightlessness. Colonel Graff is on the launch with him and makes a spectacle of him in front of the kids. Any hope Ender feels of making friends at Battle School is crushed.
Little does he know that he’s just entered the “belly of the whale,” and nobody is who they seem to be.
His “departure” is complete.
For a taste of this heroic fiction, here is the Ender’s Game movie trailer. If you have not seen the movie yet, it is a lot of fun:
But, don’t sell yourself short, be sure to read Ender’s Game—the book!
More on the Hero’s Journey
In his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identifies a recurring story theme which he named the Monomyth:
“An archetypal story that springs from the collective unconscious. Its motifs can appear not only in myth and literature but, if you are sensitive to it, in the plot of your own life. The basic story of the hero’s journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization, and then returning to the field of normal life.”
—Pathways to Bliss
Campbell studied and analyzed the Monomyth and identified three broad acts: Departure, Initiation, and Return, and further into 17 Hero’s Journey steps as in the following graphics:
The Hero’s Journey has been studied widely and applied to many literary subjects. Not every step is in every story. But its scope is broad enough to encompass every adventure imaginable.
For both Ender Wiggin and Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, life has suddenly become very interesting as they make their departure from their former familiar lives and catapult into terra incognita.
While neither hero realize they are destined for a heroic adventure. They both have what makes a hero: courage, integrity, and drive against hopeless or overwhelming odds.
Both Battlefield Earth and Ender’s Game pick up quickly and are page-turner books that you will find difficult to put down.
While I do not touch on it in this article, when you consider the villains and heroes of these epic stories, you’ll see why they are not only favorite stories of mine but why they make such great hero’s journey examples in the next two installments.
How will they fare during the next phase of their hero’s journey? Stay tuned for part two.
Eva Mahoney is a writer, musician, and all-around renaissance woman with a passion for sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, and epic thrillers—in short, great storytelling. She is currently operating out of a converted garage loft on the family farm in upstate New York while taking care of her parents and a small menagerie of pets and wild animals. In her “spare time,” she telecommutes for a large NYC law firm on the weekends, writes songs, and blogs for several causes. She dreams of a place for all people of goodwill to unite in helping to a create better world and is developing a digital platform to “make it so.” And, most importantly, she is a grandmother!
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