Of Malls and Monomyths

February 20, 2011

I spent most of today at the mall. Normally, I try to avoid malls as much as possible, but the lack of clothing in my closet could no longer be denied. As I wandered unfamiliar corridors, clutching bags that grew heavier with every step, I began to muse on how closely my day was mirroring Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” (the archetypal “monomyth”). By the time I left, I was convinced: I had just pulled off an epic quest. Since Campbell’s monomyth has 17 stages to it, I had to simplify a bit, but nevertheless:

Arvik’s Heroic Adventure

The Call to Adventure

This is the hero’s call to action, the precipitating event that makes them leave the shelter of their old, familiar life. For me, this was the realization that an awful lot of my clothing was threadbare. Also, that I was doing laundry far more often to compensate for my small stable of clothes.

Refusal of the Call

The hero doesn’t always accept the call; s/he may have fears that need to be assauged. I certainly did. I fear malls. The noise. The crowds. The alien systems of numbers and sizes. So I continued on in denial, until one of my remaining beloved shirts tore a hole in the seam.

Crossing the Threshold

Thus, I left the world familiar to me, and entered into a bizarre, frightening new one. With the first step into those gleaming, overcrowded halls, I crossed the threshold into the unknown. Once that threshold is crossed, the hero’s committment to the quest has been made. There is no going back.

Tests and Threshold Guardians

Every hero faces challenges along the way. These obstacles take a variety of forms, and test the hero physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Similarly, the threshold guardians protect the Inmost Cave: the ultimate goal of the hero’s journey. My tests took the forms of arbitrary sizing systems, endless lines, and infernal music blasted into my skull. 

I stumbled along in a daze, lost and confused. Soon, I was broken shell of my former self, able only to whisper…

But I persevered, and met the threshold guardians. In most myths, these are the dragons that guard the gold, the sentries protecting the castle. For me, they were snooty teenaged salespeople.

The Belly of the Whale

The Inmost Cave. The site of the Ordeal. The “death” the hero must undergo in order to be resurrected. The long night of the soul, when everything the hero has learned is tested.

The change room.

The Boon 

After all that, the hero gains something. Self-knowledge perhaps, or the hand of the fair maiden, or the magic sword. Whatever it is, it is the object of the quest; all the previous trails and tribulations were to prepare the hero for its attainment.

I got a pair of jeans. Also, some shirts.

Crossing the Return Threshold

Of course, the hero now faces the journey back to the “regular” world. The return journey can be just as challenging. I had to make the long trek home, but now exhausted and carrying several bags.


Now the hero is back home, safe and sound, with some nifty new knowledge, or a cool magical artifact. The quest is over, they’re a better person, and maybe they’ve even shared the lessons they learned with their village/castle/whatever. The cycle is complete, ready for the next “call to adventure.”

Now I have clothing that isn’t in danger of falling apart every time I move. This is a fact which will undoubtedly be embraced by some people.

And there you go: how a day at the mall makes you a hero.





  1. I can so relate. I avoid Malls. I dislike shopping for clothes and shoes. I love my comfy old clothes and worn in shoes.

    But sometimes the hole-y wars require us to shop.

    Yesterday, I went on a quest to Kohl’s and came home with black jeans, blue jeans, and new athletic shoes. Quite the haul!

    Glad you had success on your quest too.

  2. Every time I search for the Holy Grail, I find that it’s been changed to the Holy Paper Cup, and it ain’t all that holy any more. Why can’t the stores keep selling the product that I found acceptable ten years ago when I last went shopping?

    I know, I’m far out of the mainstream.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: