Today I’ve been thinking about the idea of the heroine’s journey in relation to my own travels. This came about when I began to revise my in-progress historical fiction novel set in northern Labrador, Canada. The female protagonist, Claire is a curious woman on a summer’s long-distance coastal rowing journey. From the beginning however, she encounters more than melting icebergs, violent Torngat winds and the black bears of northern Labrador. She’s run into a time-travel conundrum as she rows past abandoned Moravian mission sites, which makes her journey even more challenging.
Thinking about all of this led me to revisiting the heroine’s journey as mapped out by many including Maureen Murdock, Christopher Vogler and Victoria Lynn Schmidt. How would my female protagonist, I wondered, deal with being a woman, alone, on a journey turned catastrophic? Would she tough it out or would she return to her home base? How would she perceive the entire experience and what would she get out of it?
I thought of my own journeys especially with my recently published book, Rowing for My Life: Two Oceans, Two Lives, One Journey in which I rowed a homemade rowboat across the Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans with my late husband Curt.
When I rowed out of Casablanca on the first ocean row, in my mind, I was embarking on a hero’s journey with Curt. But in less than three weeks, I realized that this was not true for me. There was much more to gain from this incredible wilderness experience than the notion of heroically bashing my way 3,000 miles across an ocean.
The idea of the hero’s journey, which I had encountered many times in original accounts about Arctic and Antarctic exploration was not exactly mine on the oceans and in life now. I was curious to know what it was like to live in isolation on the vast ocean. Then as now, I was curious about what it was like to leave the known and arrive in a wholly different place. Would that make me different person? Meeting and learning from new cultures were my primary motivating factors in rowing across the South Pacific Ocean. Instead of being like those who had slogged across their oceans from Point A to Point B without ever stepping onto an in-between island, I had always had the desire to arrive as the Other on a new island and see what I could learn. This has remained true in my life today.
So, when I read the literature of the heroine’s journey and the points of argument about whether the heroine’s journey is a standalone one or is in support to the hero’s as I’m sure some saw my role on the ocean rows, I have my own opinion based on personal experience.
The feminine journey as I call it is its own odyssey. Likewise, what we each get out of a gendered journey of discovery is purely up to the individual. From my perspective, at the center of my feminine journeys is an intense curiosity about the planet we live on and how I, as an individual, can successfully co-exist with others.