By Brad G. Faye
In the monomyth formula described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Hero’s Journey is broken down into seventeen stages witnessed time and time again throughout legends both old and new. Not each of Joseph Campbell’s seventeen stages appear in stories chronicling The Hero’s Journey, and more times than not, they do not appear in the exact order in which he presented them. The Call to Adventure, however, is by far the most consistent in both regards. It is a stage set in motion by a Herald – represented by a person or event – which alerts the Hero that there is a quest in which he or she must take part. As Campbell so eloquently states, this Herald explains to the Hero, “Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched.” Whether by choice or sheer force, the Hero will then be removed from the mundane world in which they’ve been living and be transported to one they may not have known existed. In return, the Hero will discover parts of himself of which he was also unaware.
One of mythology’s most classic examples of the Herald came in the Greek god Hermes (later dubbed Mercury by the Romans). A messenger known for his ability to easily cross between realms, Hermes not only bridged the divide between the living and the dead, but also the worlds of man and god. By possessing this capability, Hermes serves as a conduit between the mortal world and the immortal world, and is a perfect catalyst to show a Hero how he too may eventually cross from one realm into the other. In many depictions, Hermes is shown carrying a staff featuring two intertwining serpents topped with a pair of angelic wings. Formed when Hermes threw an ordinary staff at two snakes engaging in combat, the caduceus represents, among many things, such concepts as negotiation. There are a number of Heralds in religion, most of who are presented in the forms of angels who speak on behalf of that particular religion’s god or gods. Even Jesus Christ himself could be perceived as a Herald of sorts, bringing to humanity the word of God much as Moses did in The Old Testament.
In comic books, we find it to be Marvel’s Silver Surfer who is most renowned for speaking on behalf of a powerful being. Making his debut in 1966 in the pages of Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer was the Herald for a devourer of planets named Galactus. Having served as the right-hand man to Galactus in order to save the people of his own home planet, it is only after interacting with the people of Earth that the angelic-like Silver Surfer decides to betray his master and fight alongside the Fantastic Four to stop him. Jack Kirby, the artist responsible for co-creating both Galactus and Silver Surfer, compared the former to one of the most popular Greek deities of all time by explaining, “Galactus in actuality is a sort of god. He is beyond reproach, beyond anyone’s opinion. In a way, he is a kind of Zeus, who fathered Hercules. He is his own legend, and of course, he and the Silver Surfer are sort of modern legends, and they are designed to be that way.”
Like most Heralds before him, Silver Surfer was a bit of a wordsmith and had the ability to articulate the word of the divine in a way that was both easy to understand as well as quite elegant. When speaking to a lion in 1969’s Silver Surfer #4, the Hero explains, “Unlike the humans, who call you beast, there is no violence in your heart. No hint of avarice, no smoldering hate! Yet man, who has won dominion over all this world, is a stranger to peace — a prisoner, caught in the web of his own nameless fears.” Asked whether or not he had Jesus in mind when scribing the articulate words of Silver Surfer, writer and co-creator Stan Lee explains, “Maybe subconsciously, I was trying to make the Surfer a pure innocent who is trying to help people and is being misunderstood and persecuted for the very things he is trying to do, which are totally good and unselfish.”
Regardless of one’s religion or whether or one is even religious at all, we all have the capacity to be contacted by an existential being or sorts. The most common example of this phenomenon comes in dreams; which many psychologists encourage us to pay close attention to. A spot-on example of how one’s dreams can lead them to great accomplishments comes in Otto Loewi, the Nobel Prize winner who dreamed of the experiment that would help him earn that honor. When choosing to follow Heralds, signs, and/or dreams, we potentially put ourselves on the path to transcendence accomplished by many who have done the same.