Thursday, April 04, 2019

Day 4 - Inspired by the Hero's Journey

Vance Pureheart’s Academy for Heroes was located within a somewhat ramshackle castle that was perched, some would say rather precariously, upon the edge of a soaring cliff. It could only be reached by climbing a set of 853 steps that had been carved by hand into the cliff face. And while this ensured that it was relatively impregnable from attack, it was – even Vance Pureheart himself was prepared to admit - a bit of a bugger when it came to holding Open Days.

“So,” he asked, the caretaker, “how are the numbers looking this year?”

The caretaker pulled an oilskin notepad from his breast pocket and consulted several pages of it, occasionally stopping to count on his fingers.

“Twenty three, sir.”

“Twenty three, eh?” said Pureheart, idly stroking his golden moustache. “Not bad, not bad; it’s a lot more visitors than we had last year…”

“Oh, visitors?” said the caretaker, “I thought you meant people what had fallen to their deaths from the stairs. Visitors is…” he consulted his notebook again, “Two.”



Pureheart sighed. “Very well, send them in.”

The caretaker ducked out of the room for a few minutes and then reappeared, ushering in a middle aged couple; the man was tall and thin and bald, the woman was short and rotund with hair down past her waist. But, importantly, they were expensively dressed. They looked the kind of people who could afford to pay the Academy fees.

“Good morrow,” he said, springing to his feet and lightly dancing across the room. A shake of the hand for the gentleman, hand angled with a tight squeeze to assert dominance, a kiss of the hand for the lady, trying to ignore the fact that it tasted of formaldehyde. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance; I am Vance Pureheart, Slayer of the Great Fire Wyrm of Nuw, Defender of the Holy Crown, Headmaster of the Academy for Heroes.”

“Hello,” said the man, in a voice that was so slow and monotonous that it inspired waves of depression with every word. “I’m Gerald Greenbottom, mortician, and this is my wife Esmerelda, embalmer.”

“And you have, I assume, a child who wishes to attend our Academy?”

“Well, yes,” said Gerald. “Our little Timmy. We received an invitation to enrol him a few months ago…”

“Ah yes,” smiled Vance, “The call to adventure…”

“Quite,” said Gerald, “But I’m not sure if we’ve missed our chance. You see, I lost the invitation…”

“He does that,” said Esmerelda, “Always losing things. Last week he lost someone’s legs.”

“But,” continued Gerald, with a cross look at his wife, “Last week we got another invitation, I just wasn’t sure it was still valid.”

“Oh, it’s most certainly valid,” said Pureheart, “indeed, it means that young Timmy has successful navigated the first test of being a hero.”

“It does?” asked Gerald.

“Certainly! You see, it is a core tenet of the Hero’s Journey that one should receive a call to adventure, but then refuse it. Indeed, all of the children who accepted the first offer from us were immediately expelled! So, Timmy is already showing strong hero potential…”

“We were just wondering if you could tell us a bit more about the education,” said Esmerelda, “I mean, when I was a girl, there was no such thing as hero academy…”

“Well, times have changed. No longer can you just turn up as a complete nobody, accept the mantle of being a hero, muddle through and somehow win the hand of the princess – oh no! The modern hero has to undergo a complicated series of trainings designed to not only teach a set of core practical skills, but also engage in critical thinking and self-reflection.”

“Sounds impressive,” said Gerald, “Would it be possible for us to see some of the classes?”

“But of course,” said Vance, and beckoned them to follow him through the door and along the corridor, “Follow me!”

They traipsed along several twisting stone corridors that, to the untrained eye looked identical (although it should perhaps be noted that, to the trained eye, they also looked identical since they were in fact identical) before emerging into a large corridor with a number of doors leading off from it. Pureheat led them to the first and slid open a panel so they could peer within.

Inside the Greenbottoms could see a class of children staring enrapt as a grey bearded man sketched out diagrams on a chalk board.

“This is mentor training,” explained Vance, “here the student learn how to receive wisdom that will enable them to unlock the hero within.”

“Sounds fascinating,” said Gerald, in a tone of voice that most people would reserve for telling you that a loved one has died. “And how long does that last?”

“Well, it’s a twenty week course, although it usually finishes by about the fourteenth week.” explained Vance.

“Why’s that?” asked Esmerelda.

“Well,” said Vance, gritting his teeth in an attempt to smile, “we’ve had a bit of a problem with our mentor teachers; they tend to leave us part of the way through the course. Still, let me show you some more.”

Pureheart bounded down the corridor and slid back the panel of another room; inside a child was sat in the corner, being studiously ignored by a group of older children who were practising with wooden swords.

“This,” said Vance, “is a young hero undergoing training in order to learn how to work with allies.”

“But they’re just ignoring him.” said Esmerelda.

“Exactly,” said Vance, “Heroes must learn to accept that when they first encounter allies, they will find that their allies not only don’t trust them but that they also have absolutely zero confidence in their ability to be a hero. At the Academy, we’re preparing them to go out and be a hero in the real world, no wishy-washy study coaching here….”

“And, could you tell me,” asked Gerald, “do you use a project learning based approach?”

“Well, we did experiment with that,” admitted Vance, “but when a group of heroes kills a dragon, there’s the question of knowing exactly who killed the dragon, who joined in (but were utterly ineffectual), and who simply turned, ran, and hid behind a rock. Now we can’t very well give them all the title of Dragon Slayer can we? So, we’ve moved to a system of individual assessment…”

“What kind of dropout rate do you have?”

“Well, the first 65% of applicants answer the first call; so that leaves 35% who refuse and gain access to the Academy. Of that 35%, a further 5% fall on the climb up the steps, while another 15% will simply fail to demonstrate the necessary heroic qualities during their training. That leaves 15%; of which – unfortunately – 5% will be lured onto the path of darkness, leaving a 10% success rate.”

“10% is not bad,” nodded Gerald.

“But what about career prospects?” asked Esmerelda.

“Of those that graduate as heroes from the Academy, a good 75% are engaged in a hero-related industry within twelve months of graduation.”

“Does being a hero pay well?” asked Gerald.

“Well, there are some heroes who strike it rich – winning the hand of the princess, being showered in gold, stealing the treasure of a dragon, etc. – but, as a rule, the reward for being a hero is not in material goods; it is a reward of the soul, of the spirit. It is the reward of knowing that you have gone out and have done good in the world…”

“Hmm.” said Gerald. “At Lord VileFlesh’s School for Dark Lords, they promised there would be substantial amounts of gold in the first twelve months after graduation.”

“Dark Lords do, I admit, tend to see a higher average income in the first five years after graduation.” said Vance. “But do you really want little Timmy to grow up without a strong moral compass?”

“But after Lord Vileflesh’s, he could buy a compass.” said Esmerelda.

“That’s not really what I meant; it’s not an actual compass”

“Well, I think we’d rather have the gold than an imaginary compass,” said Gerald.

“Look, forget the compass” said Vance, “How about I offer you a 10% discount on the study fees, a flail of Timmy’s choosing, and we get his papers processed today?”

“Well, when you put it like that, I think we have a deal,” said Gerald, “Where do we sign?”

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