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Apple Martini

The Monomyth of Jon Snow

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In another thread, I found myself pointing out once again that Jon Snow is following a fairly straightforward hero's path in the Joseph Campbell mold. It then occurred to me that this path hadn't really been discussed or analyzed. I have looked at how Jon fits into various mythologies thanks to his probable resurrection, but not so much his arc as a whole.



Bluntly, in a series where GRRM seems fond of subverting expectations and deconstructing tropes, Jon is a character that up to this point has been played pretty straight. Barring some plan to turn Jon into the Night King or ally of the Others (which is obviously possible but in my opinion not likely), Jon's ultimate arc can be traced using Campbell's method, along with input from writers like Phil Cousineau (I read both Campbell and Cousineau at university; highly recommended).



The monomyth is, broadly speaking, a blueprint of sorts that can be used to explain and map heroes' journeys across world cultures and mythology. It can also explain the journeys of figures like Christ and the Buddha.



Campbell's monomyth blueprint has 17 stages; Cousineau's has seven or eight. They are as follows, with notes on how they pertain to Jon specifically.



1. The Call to Adventure


This one is fairly easy. It's Jon's decision to join the Night's Watch. The Night's Watch, incidentally, apparently fought the Battle for the Dawn against the Others the last time around, and won. It makes sense that it would be Ground Zero.



2. The Hero Refuses the Call


This can be read multiple ways. First, it can be read as Jon refusing to "only" be Mormont's steward; that is his role and he at first rejects it. It can also be read in terms of Jon leaving his post only to be brought back; this incident also fits into the idea of trials, which will come up later.



3. Supernatural Help


The hero receives a guide, someone from a different plane of existence and/or someone with supernatural abilities. In the earliest iteration, and I would argue well beyond that to the present time, this figure for Jon seems to be Bloodraven. Bloodraven is strongly implied to be behind the Stark direwolves' discovery. Mormont's raven "tells" Jon how to destroy the wights, and the raven helps swing the election Jon's way. And many people believe that whatever is in Jon's future, Bloodraven will play some role in it.



4. The Crossing of the First Threshold


This could also be called the "shit just got real" stage. As an extension of #3, I think that in Jon's case this is when he first encounters and kills the wights in Mormont's chambers. It represents the hero's first brush with something that is beyond his understanding and control, something dangerous. It is meant to be a preview, not the main event.



5. The Belly of the Whale


Crossing the Rubicon, no going back, a separation between the hero as he is and as he must become. It could be said to be a line between life and death, two planes of existence, etc. As I argue in the resurrection mythology thread, I think that Jon's speech in the shield hall functions as such here. It is that speech and its immediate aftermath that will be what plunges Jon into the "underworld," his catabasis.



6. The Trials


This is a line of tests or struggles that the hero must overcome in order to get to that higher plane of existence. In ASOIAF terms, I think we have #6 coming up earlier than #5, with the final step of #6 coinciding with the occurrence of #5. That is to say, I think Jon's trials as such are the tests to his commitment to the Watch. In Campbell's model, these tend to come in groups of three. Jon has similarly been tested three times — when Robb went to war, when he had to embed with the wildlings and fell in love with Ygritte, and when he received the Pink Letter. The third trial coincides with the Belly of the Whale moment.



7. Meeting With the Goddess


This is where things get tricky and enter into speculation, because the rest of Jon's hero's journey has yet to be fully written. It is meant to illustrate the hero's encounter with unconditional, powerful love. There are multiple possibilities for Jon. The first is that this has already happened, with Ygritte. The second is that it represents someone like Arya, the person whom Jon seems to love most in the world. And the third is that it's actually Lyanna, Jon's mother. This love is actually meant to approximate the love between mother and child, so if it is Lyanna whom Jon encounters in the "underworld," then this makes sense. The hero must meet and earn the love of this goddess in order to be worthy of the boon.



8. The Temptress


This is also something that could have multiple connotations for Jon. Most literally and obviously, it could be Melisandre or anyone who tries to steer Jon away from his path. But this temptation doesn't have to take the form of a person. If, for instance, Jon encounters Lyanna during the catabasis and must make a decision whether or not to continue onward (say, to the Winterfell crypts, a place that frightens him and/or causes his anguish), then that would in theory satisfy the temptation requirement — the temptation is there for him to turn back and refuse the boon. ETA: As shown below, Stannis's offer of Winterfell and Val could be construed as Jon's temptation moment, seeing as leaving the Watch to take up the Stark lordship would have obviously made him deviate from his path.



9. Meeting the Father


This is also known as meeting the ultimate power in the hero's life. Generally it's represented as a father god, a patriarchal figure. In Jon's case, especially if the goddess is actually Lyanna, it could be him encountering Rhaegar, his father. It could also refer to Bloodraven himself, he who's pulling the strings of Jon's life. The goddess and the father are actually intended to mirror each other in a way, with the goddess giving the hero comfort before his encounter with the father. It's basically a period of ultimate understanding — the hero encounters this figure of ultimate power and begins to understand the inner workings of his destiny.



10. Apotheosis


A period of rest and downtime before claiming the boon. Externally, this could refer to Jon warging Ghost or remaining in a coma until he is reawakened.



11. The Boon


This is the endgame of the catabasis. Everything the hero has done and encountered up to this point has worked toward the boon. The boon may be literal or symbolic. In Jon's case, given his dreams of the crypts, I think that his boon will actually be information gleaned from Lyanna, Rhaegar, Bloodraven or even all three. The crypts may serve as the symbolic setting, the line between life and death and perhaps also the real-world location of some tangible piece of proof as to Jon's identity.



12. Refusal to Return


Having found this inner peace and enlightenment during his catabasis, the hero will be hesitant to come back from it. It's not hard to see how this can come to be with Jon, especially if he's aware in this state that he was actually assassinated. If the figures he encounters are his parents, even just one of them, then it's also possible that he would prefer to stay in this state with them. Finally knowing who he is and encountering his mother and/or father could make him want to stay right where he is.



13. The Magical Flight


This is how the hero returns from the underworld with his boon. It often has an element of the supernatural, hence "magical." In Jon's case, I think this is how he awakens from his coma/death. His own magical flight is the process by which he becomes Jon again, after warging into Ghost, going into a coma and/or dying entirely. It does not need to be a physical journey; a journey of the mind suffices.



14. The Rescue


This ties into #13 and shows that the hero might need/get help from external sources in order to return with his boon. I think in Jon's case this can be Bloodraven, Bran and/or Melisandre. It's the people pulling the strings of the Magical Flight.



15. The Second Threshold


Once the hero returns with his boon, he must reintegrate into his society and share his newfound wisdom with that society. It's not enough that he has the boon and comes back; he must apply it. In Jon's case, this could be sharing his real identity, sharing the real way to defeat the Others, or embracing his prophetic role in the whole thing. There are multiple possibilities; it just depends on the exact nature of the boon and its applications.



16. Master of Two Worlds


In the Campbell tradition, this implies transcending boundaries and achieving both spiritual and physical enlightenment. There is emphasis on balance; the hero can now achieve a happy medium between his spiritual and physical selves. In Jon's arc, I'm wondering if we'll see not a vertical dichotomy (physical below and spiritual above), but a horizontal dichotomy: ice and fire, side by side.



17. Freedom


By finding this balance, the hero loses his fear of death and is thus able to live in the moment and accomplish what needs to be done without self-doubt, hesitation or worries for the future. Or, this is the Azor Ahai moment.



It's important to note that the monomyth idea obviously has its limitations and shortcomings. My classics professor at school pointed out that the "one size fits all" idea tended to blur different societies' myths until they were fairly uniform. Of course it tends to favor the male gender, probably because it's based on stories and myths from largely patriarchal societies. And you do have writers who tend to undermine it or at least approach it differently, like Herbert did with "Dune," the idea that the inner voice is the one to be followed and not the external idea of what a hero should be. But I think that fits well within the characterization of Jon as someone who's thoughtful and constantly pushing and questioning himself mentally. This is not turning Jon into Hercules or the Buddha or anyone completely above reproach (which is also a shortcoming of the idea), but rather looking at a model to see what it has said and could say about Jon's arc. I think GRRM's work fits in well with Herbert's ideas in "Dune," that there's no such thing as an infallible leader and that a person should have to own and account for his or her mistakes. But in a series that seems to punish would-be heroes, I'd argue that Jon is the purest hero figure left standing (as it were).



I would also suggest that despite Jon following this path, GRRM has already undermined or tweaked parts of it in ways that fit his overall themes. Jon is not the product of immaculate godly conception, nor was he marked for greatness as a child and initiated into his journey at a very young age. The opposite, actually — Jon was raised as a bastard who has no idea who he really is. The call to adventure is anything but glamorous — Jon sets off to join a broken, corrupt institution that is not heroic or taken seriously anymore. His entry into the underworld is completely unwilling — he's assassinated. The boon, if it is in fact knowledge about who he really is, will likely bring him no real joy, and the real world will not greet his wisdom with thanks or acceptance; it will probably be the opposite. For all of this, Jon could very well still fight and die in obscurity, known as a bastard or even outright hated. The supernatural help from Bloodraven could be coming with other motivations in mind, poisoned help. His "rescue" could leave him less than or different from how he once was. It's fascinating how GRRM can seem to follow this blueprint fairly faithfully while still keeping it fresh and surprising in places.



Too Long, Didn't Read


Jon Snow, through joining the Watch, encountering the supernatural and preparing to face a likely resurrection and/or some supernatural occurrence after his stabbing, is following Campbell's monomyth model of the hero's journey. GRRM seems to have kept much of it intact while altering parts that fit better with his style and with Jon as an individual character. Though the monomyth has a few very valid criticisms and shortcomings, I think the bulk of it, in conjunction with Martin's own input and style, fits Jon's narrative arc thus far and probably the future arc too.


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Thanks for putting this on here. I know I've seen it discussed on other sites, but not as thoroughly. As a lover of Joseph Campbell's analyses, it is exactly because Jon fits the mold so well, that I fear for Jon's safety and resolution in the hands of the devious reversalist that is GRRM.


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I really liked your post. Problem is Bran, for example has also reached stage 7...

It could pertain to Bran too, sure, with them going beyond the Wall functioning as the call to adventure. Has Bran "refused" the call, though, in the way that Jon has at times resisted the Watch? It seems like the opposite to me -- Bran has been very willing and eager to find the Three-Eyed Crow.

And of course I write this at the same time everyone craps their pants over that Dany feminist thread. :dunce:

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It could pertain to Bran too, sure, with them going beyond the Wall functioning as the call to adventure. Has Bran "refused" the call, though, in the way that Jon has at times resisted the Watch? It seems like the opposite to me -- Bran has been very willing and eager to find the Three-Eyed Crow.

And of course I write this at the same time everyone craps their pants over that Dany feminist thread. :dunce:

Well...first it was he wanting to be a knight and there is all the time he "fights" against his gifts when the crow visits him in dreams....also he is now realizing he is not getting out of that hole...

He also matches points 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13... But some of the end doesnt seam as likely as for Jon.

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Well...first it was he wanting to be a knight and there is all the time he "fights" against his gifts when the crow visits him in dreams....also he is now realizing he is not getting out of that hole...

He also matches points 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13... But some of the end doesnt seam as likely as for Jon.

If you would like to write an essay about Bran, and I agree that he does fit a lot of it, then you're free to do so. But this particular thread is about Jon.

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If you would like to write an essay about Bran, and I agree that he does fit a lot of it, then you're free to do so. But this particular thread is about Jon.

But thats the point. Bran cant really have the last steps to become "the"hero. Jon still has his options opened to be it.

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I belive we ve alredy had point 8 when Stannis offered to name him Lord Stark, give him WF and Val.

You know, I think you might be right. That could very well be part of it and accepting Stannis's offer would have made him deviate from his path, definitely.

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You know, I think you might be right. That could very well be part of it and accepting Stannis's offer would have made him deviate from his path, definitely.

Unlist it is the third one he faces. He wanted to scape and advange his father and was "saved" by his friends. Then again, with the Kings offert, it looked like he was going to take it when Ghost shows up and "saves" him again, aswell as his brothers naming him LC. The other one is with Ygritte, and he does fall, in a way.

So perhaps theres a next time, when he has to decide with no aid.

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I agree that Jon is the closest to the 'hero' in this story and it makes sense that we can apply these stages to him. Don't have much to quibble with, really, so I'll devolve into some nitpicks.



The Goddess confuses me a bit, as well as the Father Figure. I honestly don't know how those will manifest, but meeting the spirit or ghost of Lyanna or Rhaegar seems to not fit the style of this story.



My first thought on the Godess is actually Mel. She is the servant of R'hllor and is seeking Azor Ahai. When/if she figures out that it is Jon instead of Stannis (if it is), she would give him her unconditional love. Jon's difficulty would be in accepting this and his role. Plus we have the fact that Mel is an extremely powerful priestess - literally a vessel for her God.



As to the Father Figure, I think that is most likely Bloodraven or even Bran, and the knowledge they can pass on to him (i.e his parentage)


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I agree that Jon is the closest to the 'hero' in this story and it makes sense that we can apply these stages to him. Don't have much to quibble with, really, so I'll devolve into some nitpicks.

The Goddess confuses me a bit, as well as the Father Figure. I honestly don't know how those will manifest, but meeting the spirit or ghost of Lyanna or Rhaegar seems to not fit the style of this story.

My first thought on the Godess is actually Mel. She is the servant of R'hllor and is seeking Azor Ahai. When/if she figures out that it is Jon instead of Stannis (if it is), she would give him her unconditional love. Jon's difficulty would be in accepting this and his role. Plus we have the fact that Mel is an extremely powerful priestess - literally a vessel for her God.

As to the Father Figure, I think that is most likely Bloodraven or even Bran, and the knowledge they can pass on to him (i.e his parentage)

He might have it, the way Bran got it with the arciano and Ned (sorry didnt remember the english name of the faced tree)

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I agree that Jon is the closest to the 'hero' in this story and it makes sense that we can apply these stages to him. Don't have much to quibble with, really, so I'll devolve into some nitpicks.

The Goddess confuses me a bit, as well as the Father Figure. I honestly don't know how those will manifest, but meeting the spirit or ghost of Lyanna or Rhaegar seems to not fit the style of this story.

My first thought on the Godess is actually Mel. She is the servant of R'hllor and is seeking Azor Ahai. When/if she figures out that it is Jon instead of Stannis (if it is), she would give him her unconditional love. Jon's difficulty would be in accepting this and his role. Plus we have the fact that Mel is an extremely powerful priestess - literally a vessel for her God.

As to the Father Figure, I think that is most likely Bloodraven or even Bran, and the knowledge they can pass on to him (i.e his parentage)

The Goddess/Father figure parts are definitely the hardest to work out. Generally, the goddess is meant to represent love, nurturing, support, devotion, etc., while the father represents power, knowledge and transcendence. It's sort of a yin-yang dualism thing going on. I agree that Melisandre could be the goddess and Bloodraven is obviously a very strong candidate to be the father god figure. I suppose that Lyanna and Rhaegar as the two is more my personal preference, especially given that individually they represent the Ice and Fire dichotomy, which goes back to the "master of two worlds" step. I also think it'd be poignant for Jon to learn the truth directly from his actual parents instead of a third party. But I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being some other figure(s) entirely.

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I just don't see how he'd work 'ghosts' into this story. The wierwood network is the best, plausible explanation for me right now. He could learn it 'first hand' from his parents in that he could 'see' them talking to each other about their baby and how wonderful it is, perhaps even Lyanna talking directly to baby Jon. I guess I am projecting my preferences a bit too - I hope he can experience it rather than just being told.


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I just don't see how he'd work 'ghosts' into this story. The wierwood network is the best, plausible explanation for me right now. He could learn it 'first hand' from his parents in that he could 'see' them talking to each other about their baby and how wonderful it is, perhaps even Lyanna talking directly to baby Jon. I guess I am projecting my preferences a bit too - I hope he can experience it rather than just being told.

At the iland of faces...close to Harrenhal.

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But how is Jon to get to the Isle of Faces? I think it makes a lot of sense to have his revelation happen while he is (mostly) dead. The Isle of Faces is just a stronghold of the Children, for sure a place of power for them, but so is the North. We've actually seen the children and the three-eyed crow up north, so I don't think he has to travel south to get this info.


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But how is Jon to get to the Isle of Faces? I think it makes a lot of sense to have his revelation happen while he is (mostly) dead. The Isle of Faces is just a stronghold of the Children, for sure a place of power for them, but so is the North. We've actually seen the children and the three-eyed crow up north, so I don't think he has to travel south to get this info.

By the network. the same way Bran saw Ned in WF

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I just don't see how he'd work 'ghosts' into this story. The wierwood network is the best, plausible explanation for me right now. He could learn it 'first hand' from his parents in that he could 'see' them talking to each other about their baby and how wonderful it is, perhaps even Lyanna talking directly to baby Jon. I guess I am projecting my preferences a bit too - I hope he can experience it rather than just being told.

We've seen people communicate with the dead before. Jaime and Joanna, for instance. I agree that the weirwood network is probably going to be the medium, but I don't really see anything that precludes him seeing Lyanna and/or Rhaegar themselves.

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