by Morgan Parker ||
Not too long ago, in a galaxy not quite so far away, millions of students receive the call to adventure that begins their very own heroic journey. For many students this call comes as the dreaded, daunting and demanding writing assignment. Whether it be a paper, research report, proposal, or personal statement, writers and students across all campuses are beginning their heroic journey to master the written word. However, a hero never truly completes his or her journey alone. Tutors in the Writing Center have the ability play crucial and ongoing roles in many heroic journeys. Although they may not always be the knight in shining armor, there are many stages in the journey in which the tutor can save the day without being the hero themselves. Whether it be helping the hero to discover their own powers or providing the tools necessary for the hero to succeed, the tutor plays a necessary part in creating the hero and helping them complete their journey.
In his writing, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell explores the hero’s journey in detail, and creates a template for a broad category of stories involving a hero and an adventure. In this template, known as the monomyth, Campbell defines the three stages and seventeen steps that are fundamental, and almost always true, in the creation of a hero. The first stage, known as the Departure, follows the first five steps that separates the hero from the normal world and propels them on a journey into the unknown. This will always begin with a Call to Adventure, or a force which draws or demands the attention of the hero and specifically requires their action. The next stage, Initiation, begins once the hero has passed the point of no return. In these next six steps, the hero encounters everything from trials to atonement and finally achieves his or her ultimate goal. The Return stage includes the last six steps necessary for the hero to return home. The very final step in the monomythic journey is when the hero becomes the Master of Two Worlds and gains the Freedom to Live. This means that the hero has found balance between his two worlds, and is free from the burden of either. In theory, the journey would begin again the moment that something disrupts or threatens this. As a lense, Campbell’s seventeen-step monomyth can be applied to most heroic novels, plays, movies, and TV shows, or any story which follows the adventure of a main protagonist. Thus, if each student or writer is a protagonist in his or her own story and each writing assignment is a call to adventure, Campbell’s template can be used to understand the writing process as complex journey in which the writing center and peer tutors are integral parts in both the accomplishment of a goal and the creation of the hero.
Once the hero has accepted the call, however reluctantly, their journey cannot truly begin until they’ve encountered a Supernatural Aid. This protective force often supplies the hero with the last-minute tools, knowledge or magical powers he or she needs to better prepare them for the challenges of the unknown world ahead. Perhaps a fairy gives kids magic flying dust, an old man shows a boy how to use his unknown powers or girl makes an unlikely friend who has nothing but time to kill. Supernatural aid or not, the hero is about to begin his or her journey when, by fate or by fiction, they suddenly receive the help they didn’t even know they needed. Now consider a writer who has just received a challenging assignment: they begrudgingly accept that they must complete said assignment and begin to think of how they might do so. Now Enter Peer Tutor: The writer decides to sit down for the first time in the Writing Center, unsure of what to expect. During a session, the peer tutor is able to introduce them to the new ideas and resources that the Writing Center has to offer. The writer, because of this, discovers a way to write and collaborate that is easier, more efficient and produces better work for them. In this case, there is nothing truly ‘supernatural’ about the aid a student receives, other than that it comes at the perfect time.
In her article, “Basic Literacy: Mediating Between Power Constructs,” Mara Brecht discusses tutoring and working with students who require help with very basic reading and writing skills. Brecht felt the need to provide her students with help that was specific to each, and that would help them to help themselves. She uses “Literacy Letters,” or a series of written exchanges set up between students and community members, as a creative way to get her student, Kathy, writing and learning. Brecht says, “Because Kathy felt intimidated by the materials we we worked with, I, as the tutor, had a functional obligation to choose writing and reading exercises that would not totally alienate her” (Brecht 298). In doing this, Brecht was able to help a student gain the confidence to begin writing by creating a low-pressure situation where Kathy felt encouraged to apply herself and ask for help. Peer tutors have the ability to open up a whole new resource for writing to students who, often times, may not even know they need it. Thus, the tutor can, if nothing else, better prepare the writer to face the challenges in any new assignment. In monomythic terms, the tutor facilitates the hero’s transition from the ordinary to the unknown.
Now that the hero has accepted his call and received the aid of a force outside his or her self, it is time for The Crossing of the First Threshold. This is the part of the hero’s journey when they physically depart from the world they know and reach the point of no return. Often, crossing the threshold is highly symbolic for the hero; it raises the stakes for success and failure, but also marks a significant change in the hero’s mindset. For the first time, the hero accepts his or her call with confidence and positive action. Although a peer tutor is rarely seen casting ropes from the dock and cheering on a student as he or she sets sail into hurricane, there is certainly some truth behind the dramatics. A writer can cross, re-cross, fly over, and dig under the ‘threshold’ many times. This is to say that the writing process is not always as straightforward as boarding an intergalactic spaceship or scaling a castle with a rope made of hair. For writers, crossing the threshold takes time, translation, and a certain little tug of inspiration.
This is where the peer tutor enters again. Once the writer becomes aware of the resources that the Writing Center and tutors provide, he or she has the ability to use them in the ways that benefit them the most. The peer tutor can help the writer to cross the threshold by brainstorming, discussing or helping the writer select an approach to the assignment that works best for them. This kind of session showcases the tutor’s ability to inspire thought and reinforce writer confidence. In Mara Brecht’s literacy letter project, she notices that her student truly believes she has “nothing to say” each time she sits down to write (Brecht 304). On the contrary, Brecht finds that Kathy has plenty to say, but struggles to find the best way to say it. Crossing the threshold, or getting those first words down on the page, is arguably the most difficult part of the writing process. Mara Brecht says, “I could never teach Kathy about her own experience. I could– at best– provide a framework for expressing her knowledge or giver her a different lens through which to view/interpret her experience” (Brecht 301). Collaboration is important during this stage in writing, and peer tutors are experts of collaborative work. The tutor helps the writer achieve what he or she is looking to say by encouraging the thought process, offering unique insight and allowing the writer to expand on what they already know. The student leaves the Writing Center with confidence in their own ideas and the ability to transfer them to paper. In this way, peer tutors encourage The Crossing of the First Threshold and allow for the hero to continue on their journey with confidence.
As soon as the hero crosses into the unknown world, he or she is met with many trials and roadblocks. During this time the hero often grows more knowledgeable and sharpens their strengths. Surpassing these challenges is what ultimately allows for the hero to achieve the greater goal of his or her call. For Brecht’s student Kathy, the letters she wrote grew longer and more personal each time she wrote. While Brecht is excited by this, she notes that Kathy still struggles with structure and grammar. She says, “I wanted Kathy to be truly confident in her writing, but I also wanted to give Kathy what she came for” (Brecht 300). Brecht’s goal was to find a balance between “attention to form and attention to content” (301) throughout Kathy’s literacy letter journey. They worked together to establish Kathy’s confidence in writing while also learning the basics and correcting mistakes. However, even with every dragon slayed and every finish line crossed, the hero’s journey is rarely over until they return home to the old world. There of course, is the rub– during the return, every hero faces that one last, unexpected trial that requires Rescue from Without. In this step the hero receives help from a more powerful or unexpected source, much like the Supernatural Aid. When it comes to the writing center, however, peer tutors aren’t always looking for opportunities to be the magic carpet that swoops in at the last moment or the surprise rain that puts out the fire. (Although they would gladly do both of those things!)
Rather, peer tutors hope to help the writer find ways to rescue themselves and become stronger writers overall. The term ‘rescue’ sometimes implies that, without it, the hero would fail. This is not always the case, and writers shouldn’t feel like they need to depend on the writing center in order to succeed. Tutoring isn’t just about catching mistakes and fixing grammar, but about getting writers to understand the writing tricks and traps they may fall into and how to avoid them in the future. While peer tutors and writing centers are always available to ‘save the day’, the more important part of the tutor’s job is to encourage understanding and learning for the writer. The ultimate goal of this journey is to teach and help writers become more confident in their own ability to wield the written word.
Brecht, Mara. “Basic Literacy: Mediating Between Power Constructs.” The Oxford Guide for
Writing Tutors (2016): 296-306. Abstract. (n.d.): n. pag. Print.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1971. Print.
Morgan Parker is a sophomore at Hofstra University studying TV Writing/Producing with minors in Writing Studies and Creative Writing. She has spent the past semester studying Writing Center theory and training to become a tutor at the Hofstra University Writing Center.