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Hero’s Journey, with Pastry

The Hero’s Journey (or Monomyth, as Joseph Campbell anointed it) and its use in advertising generated more mail than any other topic recently.  Many of you were intrigued, confused, or simply wanted to know more.  So let’s revisit the topic with a specific example.

Let’s say we have a pastry shop called Danish Treat.  Hardly a topic for a heroic quest?  Every effort crafted with love and determination can be told with this simple device that slips along well-worn paths directly to the guts of those who read the backstory on a website.  These stages do not all have to be present.  This is only a guide to working through how it might be applied.

The Hero’s Journey has many elements – 17 by Joseph’s Campbell’s count, usually have at least 8.  We’ll use a version described by Phil Cousineau for brevity, but there are many ways to look at this ancient art form.

Call to Adventure – Sometimes, the hero is born to take up the quest.  Invariably, he or she has a nagging voice calling them in a way they cannot ignore.  Usually, it is refused before being reluctantly accepted, and the quest beings.

Danish Treat – “I learned how to make pastries from my Grandmother, who came from Denmark during the war.  Though we spent many long hours in the kitchen rolling and baking, I never pictured myself doing this for a living.  It wasn’t until my dear Nana passed on that I started to dream of her begging me to take her loving art to the world.”

The Trials – A hero has to be tested, but often gets through the tests with a mentor or friend.  These define the determination that comes to define the journey itself.

Danish Treat – “Many long hours in my kitchen at home making samples and perfecting recipes gave me confidence in my dream.  It wasn’t until I met Mary that I knew we could do it.  She had the business sense that complimented my baking.  Her belief in me, however, was the most important thing as we developed our pastries and business plan together.

Vision Quest / The Goddess – The trials are never complete until they are blessed by the supernatural and the vision of a better world is given to the hero.  This is the tricky part, since modernists have little faith in gods or magic, but it can be the most powerful.

Danish Treat – “Getting the resources to make it happen wasn’t easy, however.  It wasn’t until we showed up at the bank with a plate of Midnight Black Currant that we were able to convince them.  It’s always been our secret recipe that makes an ordinary day into something special!”

The Boon – Ultimately, the quest has a goal that has to be achieved.  It is more than personal, as it gives the hero power and something that simply must be shared.  The hero has moved deep into anther world and loves every moment.

Danish Treat – “We opened June 17th 2009.  That day was exciting, but I stayed in the kitchen the whole time sweating over every batch.  Mary stayed at the register for me the whole time.  Everything had to be perfect and I wasn’t going to let it go.”

Magic Flight / Rebirth – The great Boon is either jealously guarded by gods or rivals who chase the hero or who welcome the hero into their fold as one of them.  Pick one.

Danish Treat – “After a while we had customers who couldn’t start their day without a cup of our French Roast coffee and the pastry of their choice.  Their compliments and simply being there every morning convinced me that I had achieved what I set out to.  The bakery became my life, and I have enjoyed every minute of it since!”

Return – At some point, the hero comes back into the world, usually because the mentor or helper leaves.  Their position is secure.

Danish Treat – “Mary eventually left to pursue her own dream of managing venture capital projects.  It was hard at first, but getting out of the kitchen to know our customers better from the register has been just great.  Julio joined me in February 2010 direct out of pastry chef school and has been just fabulous!”

Master of Two Worlds – The hero is happy and content.  The quest is over but the hero, and their two worlds, are never the same.

Danish Treat – “Since that time I’ve been proud to give back to the community and mentor other young entrepreneurs.  I also travel around the world looking for new ideas, like our Tuscan Peach.  It’s all possible because of you, our customers.  Thank you so much!”

Naturally, this gets a bit thick in this example.  You may never want to use all the elements of a Hero’s Journey, but they are all there to be used as appropriate.

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14 thoughts on “Hero’s Journey, with Pastry

  1. I have seen stories like this many times. I guess I never get tired of them. Does it have to be so formula though?

    • Oh, no, it should never be applied as a formula! But this ancient example can be a very useful guide to help organize a story in a way that is familiar to the reader right away. Joseph Campbell called it “The Hero of a Thousand Faces” because the form is flexible enough to be used to tell many quests, over and over again. Done well it is always fresh!

    • Well, if you had a blog you would probably spin this out over several posts, perhaps at least 8 – one expounding on each tidbit. Or, my fave, you could have a really short bio with more detail linked in for each part of the story. There are many ways to tell it – but the basic story is as old as humans themselves. It’s important to know how it is structured if you’re going to use it to maximum effect – or put a twist or two in.

  2. Very cute. I like this statement, “Every effort crafted with love and determination can be told with this simple device that slips along well-worn paths directly to the guts of those who read the backstory on a website.”
    One small problem, I think that what they call a Danish is actually from France. But that does not take away from this, I like it!

    • Thanks. But it is true – the more culturally well known a form is, the easier it is to use it to slip a message into someone’s subconscious.
      I think you are right, the pastries are not from Denmark. Oh well. I should have done my research a bit better. :-)

  3. There really is nothing totally new is there? This was cute and very recognizable, but I never thought it was so deeply formula either. I would think that for a particular shop you might have more variation as you go.
    The last time you wrote more about candidates on a hero’s journey, would that apply different than a pastry shop?

    • What has been will be again,
      what has been done will be done again;
      there is nothing new under the sun.
      Ecclesiastes (The Song of Solomon) 1:9 (NIV)

      Who am I to argue with Solomon? :-)
      Seriously, that is part of my point. People who do not learn from history will simply re-invent the wheel – probably in an inferior form, too.
      As for candidates, part of me wants to say that selling them is just like selling pastry, at least in this example. The main difference is that for a candidate you have to do more than sell, you have to build enthusiasm. It’s the same except that for a candidate you have to be more personal, more intense, and more more. People would never believe in a Danish, but they need to believe in the woman up on the platform who will represent them.

  4. The how-to manual for writing overblown ad copy. :)
    I agree, I have seen things like this a lot but never thought about them. I see how this works now. Always find something different here.

    • Ha! Yes, it can easily become over-blown and way too much. But this is how you do it. I should take on the fairy tale next – that’s not used as much in advertising. :-)

  5. Pingback: The Three Elements of Storytelling by @wabbitoid | Spin Sucks

  6. Some of you have asked for the whole story, put together in one place. Here it is. Remember, this is all made up and not every use of a Hero’s Journey has to have ALL of the pieces of the story:

    The Story of Danish Treat
    I learned how to make pastries from my Grandmother, who came from Denmark during the war. Though we spent many long hours in the kitchen rolling and baking, I never pictured myself doing this for a living. It wasn’t until my dear Nana passed on that I started to dream of her begging me to take her loving art to the world.
    Many long hours in my kitchen at home making samples and perfecting recipes gave me confidence in my dream. It wasn’t until I met Mary that I knew we could do it. She had the business sense that complimented my baking. Her belief in me, however, was the most important thing as we developed our pastries and business plan together.
    Getting the resources to make it happen wasn’t easy, however. It wasn’t until we showed up at the bank with a plate of Midnight Black Currant that we were able to convince them. It’s always been our secret recipe that makes an ordinary day into something special!
    We opened June 17th 2009. That day was exciting, but I stayed in the kitchen the whole time sweating over every batch. Mary stayed at the register for me the whole time. Everything had to be perfect and I wasn’t going to let it go.
    After a while we had customers who couldn’t start their day without a cup of our French Roast coffee and the pastry of their choice. Their compliments and simply being there every morning convinced me that I had achieved what I set out to. The bakery became my life, and I have enjoyed every minute of it since.
    Mary eventually left to pursue her own dream of managing venture capital projects. It was hard at first, but getting out of the kitchen to know our customers better from the register has been just great. Julio joined me in February 2010 directly out of pastry chef school and has been just fabulous.
    Since that time I’ve been proud to give back to the community and mentor other young entrepreneurs. I also travel around the world looking for new ideas, like our Tuscan Peach. It’s all possible because of you, our customers. Thank you so much!

    368 words, so it might need some editing, but it’s a good start on an “About Us” page. :-)

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