The Minorities vs Joseph Campbell by Suffian Hakim


What does the devilishly funny novel, The Minorities, have to do with Joseph Campbell's classic work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces? Quite a lot, says its author Suffian Hakim, who said his novel was a reaction to the ideas of one of the 20th century's foremost academic minds in the field of literature and mythology.


I wrote The Minorities for many reasons. It's impossible for me to unpack all the emotional and philosophical clay I've used to mould my sophomore novel in one article. Therefore, today, I'll touch on how The Minorities takes a dump (yes, a dump!) on the ideas of one of the 20th century's foremost academic minds in the field of literature and mythology.

When writing The Minorities, I set out to subvert the narrative model of the Hero's Journey, or Monomyth, popularised by literary scholar Joseph Campbell in his 1949 work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a book that has since become essential reading in comparative mythology.

In it, Joseph Campbell posits that myths and heroic epics tend to follow a standard narrative arc — heroes receive the call to adventure to leave The Known, they cross the threshold from The Known to The Unknown, tread upon the road of trials, meet goddesses and feminine temptresses, receive the ultimate boon that helps them to, eventually, succeed in the Final Challenge.

The heroes then return, to become Master of the Two Worlds (The Known and Unknown) and finally have the Freedom To Live. There are more beats within the model – seventeen in all – that form the Monomyth model in its entirety (which you can read about here, or watch the wonderful Mike Rugnetta explain it on YouTube

The Monomyth is applicable to your favourite stories. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker leaves The Known comforts of Tatooine and his uncle's moisture farm to the unknown wilderness of space, to fight for the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. By Return of the Jedi, he becomes a master of both worlds – a Jedi and galactic legend.

In The Lion King, Simba is forced to flee the love and warmth of the Pride Lands and travels to The Unknown (where, er, Timon and Pumba get their Hakuna Matata on). He atones with his father in those rumbling clouds of Africa. He eventually becomes master of both worlds – a king who has overcome his demons (or uncle) within and without.

At first glance, The Minorities seems to fit into the model posited by Joseph Campbell. The book's main character, the nameless Narrator receives a call to adventure from Diyanah (the Pontianak that visits him), and travels from The Known seclusion and comfort of Yishun, into The Unknown world of the supernatural – and, the equally unknown realm of Malacca. He drives on a literal road of trials, as the tarmac between Singapore and Malacca hides gangsters, ghouls and everything in between, trying to thwart their quest. In a fever dream, he meets the ghost of his father, and they both face atonement of sorts. He faces off the evil Durshirah in the Final Challenge and eventually fulfils his quest of bringing Diyanah back home. 

But The Minorities subverts the model of the Monomyth by ending (spoiler alert!) with our protagonist in limbo – unable to come back to Singapore, and lost and aimless in Malacca, mastering neither world. He does not attain the Freedom To Live. And I chose this ending because our protagonists live in a complex universe, which would push back against being mastered by any Tom, Dick, Harry, Luke or Simba.

The Monomyth is also aggressively male-centric, with women demoted to the status of prizes attained by the hero. If they do not provide some sort of sexual or sensual foil, their agency is limited to that of goddess or mother-figure. The true heroes of The Minorities, honestly, are the female characters, Shanti and Diyanah. They act with a greater agency than their male counterparts, who, honestly, are mainly there just for the ride. It's Diyanah's desire to return to Malacca that drives the plot. It's Shanti's instincts to protect her friends and her understanding of strength in their unity that keeps the others alive.

And in the end, while the Narrator fails to be the master of both worlds, he learns that it's okay. 

The world we live in today is complex. It isn't made of Chosen Ones. It's made of normal people who embrace heroism when the need arises; and it is saved by a group of friends who stick together and work together when facing unspeakable, heartless evil.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate Joseph Campbell's work in contextualising some of our shared mythology. He has helped to highlight similarities that connect cultures and mythologies across centuries, raising the beatific notion of our shared humanity.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces may have been groundbreaking in 1949, but nearly 70 years on, it has aged like Jar-Jar Binks – when it first came out, it was the product of a brilliant mind, but it has since become a needless relic of a bygone time. 

Order The Minorities today.

Have you heard the soundtrack to The Minorities? Check it out here.

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