“Indeed, the physical body of the hero may be actually slain, dismembered, and scattered over land or sea….”
– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
I wrote some weeks ago about the Photographer’s run-in with a threshold guardian (in the form of a driver who ran a red light and t-boned is truck). Last week, he visited the dismembered truck in the body shop and learned that it was likely totaled. This is dreadful news. The truck has been a long time companion, and though it is not always the most convenient thing to drive since he moved to the city, with its rush hour traffic and narrow lanes, the Photographer is a truck guy, plain and simple, who comes from a long line of truck guys.
In Joseph Campbell’s depiction of the hero monomyth, the crossing of the first threshold is followed by the belly of the whale, a phase in which the hero is swallowed, killed, or dismembered. This corresponds to the Old Testament story of Jonah getting swallowed by the whale, the Inuit story in which Raven dives into the whale’s belly, and the Egyptian myth of Osiris, who is thrown into the Nile, torn into pieces and scattered across the landscape. In symbolic terms, the hero must shed the ego, his idea of who he is, in order to get to the next phase of the story.
What happens in the Photographer’s story do now that his truck, which was clearly part of his identity, is no more, at least in its original sense? Will he let it go and find something smaller and more convenient to drive for the next couple of years? Will he buy it back, fix it up to the point of drivability, and consider it a school project? When an aspect of the ego identity dies, it is always tragic. Yet in another way, it frees us from having to be defined by what defined us before. It allows us a moment to chose, consciously, what we want to be defined by in the future. Once Campbell’s Hero has shed his ego, he is free to come and go across the threshold that separates one world from another. What will the Photographer be free to do now, and how will the journey progress?