"A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich": Imagining and Inventing an "Epic" Hero

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SWBAT use the hero monomyth as inspiration for creating an "epic" hero project.

Big Idea

We all have personal heroes and ideas about heroes whether from personal experience or pop culture.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

The lessons in this unit showcase my pedagogic philosophy that students learn best when they are actively engaged. Traditionally, teachers approach epic poetry, such as Beowulf, much as we teach novels and short stories: Students read the text, analyze and discuss it, take quizzes and tests, and write a paper. What happens when we teach the epic through performance pedagogy and pay homage to the oral tradition? 

The lessons in this unit emphasize fresh approaches to literary analysis. This lesson is part of a larger unit on the Epic of Beowulf. In its original context, this is 

Lesson 2 in the Epic of Beowulf

In this lesson, students

  • learn about the classic hero monomyth envisioned by Joseph Campbell and 
  • create their own "epic heroes." Epic Hero Project.

What Makes a Hero?: The Classic Hero Cycle from Antiquity to Contemporary Texts

15 minutes

Once students realize they already know many hero tales, they begin to see the connection between the epic tale of Beowulf and the pop culture they love.

Using this short video from TED beautifully bridges the classic hero monomyth envisioned by Joseph Campbell to contemporary YA hero tales.

Once students watch the video, I give them a definition of archetype, which the video mentions: a recurring pattern in literature. An archetype can be a story pattern, such as the hero journey. It can be a recurring image, such as a color; it can be a character type or an image. 


Answering the Call: A Deeper Understanding of the Hero Monomyth

30 minutes

After watching the TED talk and defining archetype, I introduce students to the interactive Monomyth website at UC Berkley. 

By moving the curser over each step in the journey, students get an isolated explanation of the step and can focus on it exclusively. 

I show students how this works and have them take notes as we progress through the cycle. This is available to students later via the district's learning management system, currently My Big Campus. 

Envisioning Heroes Just for Fun

20 minutes

Today has been one filled with detailed information. To make these complicated ideas more relevant to students, I assign the epic hero project and have included the monomyth image and steps with it just to see to what extent students use this new information in imagining their "epic heroes." Epic Hero Project.

The students' epic heroes are as unique and varied as they are. In the back of the classroom is a poster from the Virtues Project. Several students used it as inspiration and created heroes that embody the characteristics of a virtuous person: A Hero Called Cookie is one example of a virtuous hero. 

Scarred Phantom Hero draws on the idea that a hero is an ordinary person with deep flaws and scars. 

I love Heyzeus Hero both for the humor in his name and the ironic commentary in his name. And if a spider can be a hero, if a bat can be a hero, a kryptonite exposed man can be a hero, why not A Hero Called Wonder Goat or one named Jarvis the Epic Hero.