With Vorpal Sword in Hand – The Hero’s Quest

“What is my place in this world?”

Such a question begets more questions:

    • Am I to consider my physical place or my social niche, or both? 
    • How big is my world? Do I consider the smaller communities within my world? What are the smaller communities in my world? What are the larger communities? How do they differ? How is each one important? Why might I act differently in these communities?
    • How does the idea of place involve responsibility?

Students are required to explore their interpretations and reflections of this essential question throughout the year. As I believe books offer much more than a story, we began this exploration with a novel study in which the protagonist embarks on a quest that forces students to investigate his/her place in the world.

I want students to engage in conversations with the characters and become part of their world. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, author, Blake Morrison, states characters can, “lift you up, toward a sort of light, instead of dragging you down into darkness. And the excitement…carrie[s] on growing, even after the book.” I want students to linger in these ‘other worlds’, to wear the skin of characters, and rehearse what life has to offer. I believe it is these lingering, vicarious experiences that allow children to explore their place in the world.

The Lessons

The Jabberwock, as illustrated by John Tenniel

Because “Vision trumps all other senses” according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, to pique interest, students were introduced to the idea of the hero’s journey, and a review of literary elements, by investigating and analyzing a visual narrative of the hero’s quest.

Part I: Analyzing a Visual Narrative 

The idea of a hero’s journey was discussed. Points such as quests being arduous, symbolic, reflective and circular were introduced. Following the discussion, each group of students received a copy of JohnTenniel’s Jabberwock illustration on A3 paper. Students were informed that this visual narrative was a mere moment in a hero’s quest and that they would unfold the story behind it.

Prompted to analyze the visual narrative closely, students brainstormed words and phrases they felt were absolutely necessary to describe the journey. As we have been studying the connotations of words and how they create the emotional atmosphere (mood) of a story, students were reminded to choose their words carefully, considering the five senses. Students annotated the illustration with their findings.

To serve as a guide, the following questions were shared:

  1. Where does the story take place? Describe it.
  2. Who is the hero (protagonist) in this narrative? Consider both the physical appearance and personality? How would you characterize him/her?
  3. Who is the antagonist in this narrative?  Consider both the physical appearance and personality? How would you characterize him/her?
  4. What conflict is the protagonist faced with? Describe it.
  5. How do you think the conflict was resolved? Describe.
  6. Where in the story does this ‘moment’ occur (beginning, middle or end)? If at the beginning, what happened during the middle and end of the story? If in the middle, what happened in the beginning and at the end of the story? If at the end, what happened at the beginning and middle of the story?

Annotations were collected to generate a descriptive word bank.

Part II: Creating  a Written Narrative

To create their narrative poem, students chose words and phrases they felt best revealed the narrative behind the illustration. The poem had to show evidence of the hero’s quest and the elements of a story (setting, character, plot and mood).

Part III: A Comparison

Evidence of the hero’s quest was then further explored in Lewis Carroll‘s “Jabberwocky” poem. Students compared Carroll’s narrative to their own, looking for similarities and differences.

The Result

The  video below showcases a smattering of the results.

The word quest comes from the Latin root quaerere meaning ‘to seek mentally; to seek to learn; make inquiry.’ As students continue on their journey to learn of the Hero’s Quest, it is my hope they learn a little about themselves along the way. As G.K.Chesterton states, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

So with their vorpal sword in hand, students learned of the power that resides in resilience and persistence – to stretch their capabilities and to identify their place in the world. The hero has slain the Jabberwock; so too shall they slay their monsters.

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