It's Hard, Dammit!
The heroic journey. We all know it’s supposed to be hard. The hero* is supposed to work at it. After all, no one just walks into Mordor, right?
Hard, dammit! That’s what we want—for the epic journey to be hard, right? I used to think so until I began to dissect what “hard” really meant to me as a reader. It all started when I picked up my latest read. The title isn’t important. Suffice to say, it’s a fairytale retelling with a basic premise—the main hero (I’ll call her Cinderella for ease of reference) has to learn to control her innate magical powers so she can dethrone the evil queen, rescue her people, and take back her kingdom. That certainly sounds hard.
And it is. It’s hard, dammit.
Cinderella and her Prince Charming, along with a band of merry men, trudge up mountains and down mountains, they fight, they sweat, they bleed—it’s hard work being a hero. The heroine uses her magic. She gets fatigued and has to rest. It’s hard. They skirmish with the evil queen. They have a hard time. It’s hard. Everything is hard.
And yet, the book is so dreadfully boring. Why?
I labored over this as I turned page after page, dissatisfied, continuing purely so I could log the book on my Goodreads Reading Challenge.
The hero is in a bad situation. She and her merry band are down and out, they’re hunted, and the evil queen has the upper hand. Clearly, they’re in a tough situation. A hard situation.
And then it hit me. Hard isn’t enough.
There has to be sacrifice. In order to change the world, the hero has to lose something. A limb, a loved one, a legacy. Frodo has to lose his finger, his innocence, and be forever changed to the world. Katniss has to lose the family that she fought so hard to protect. Babydoll from Sucker Punch has to lose her friends, her freedom, and even her sanity. Sacrifice.
And in this book, it never comes.
That is why, although it’s hard—hard travel, hard fighting, hard learning—everything seems to fall into place for the hero. She moves from one hard event to another hard event, blithely, with no cost and no care. It seems convenient. With the minor exception of her brother dying in the first few chapters (the clunky execution of which makes it very hard to care, by the way), there’s no real price for any of Cinderella’s victories.
So, while it’s hard, it’s not really hard at all. Without sacrifice, it’s easy, dammit.
*the word I’ll use for both male and female heroes