The Monomyth

From Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature. pg. 190

Archetypes can also consist of plot motifs.  In fact, all of literature adds up to a single composite story known in literary circles as “the monomyth” (the “one story” of literature).  The monomyth, which should not be confused with “mythology,” is shaped like a circle and has four separate phases.  As such, it corresponds to some familiar cycles of human experience.  The cycle of the year, for example, consists of the sequence summer-fall-winter-spring.  A day moves through a cycle consisting of sunrise-zenith-sunset-darkness.  A person’s life passes from birth to adulthood to old age to death.  The monomyth, too, is a cycle having four phases.

Ryken illustrates this with a diagram similar to the one below:

v– Romance (the story of summer) <–

Tragedy (the story of fall)—————————————–Comedy (the story of spring)

–> Anti-Romance (the story of winter) –^


It is interesting to think of the overarching narrative of the Bible in these terms:

v– Eden/New Jerusalem (romance: summer) <–

The Fall (tragedy: fall)——————————————-Redemption (comedy: spring)

–> Separation (anti-romance: winter) –^


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