Story Villains?

Most books, movies, tv shows, etc. all have clear protagonists and antagonists. For example, most children can identify that the Big Bad Wolf is a villain in Little Red Riding Hood and Maleficent is the villain in Sleeping Beauty. However, these one-sided stories do not leave room for understanding all perspectives. Oftentimes, media tells us who the villain is and as consumers, we follow those directions. 

Revisionist media is becoming popular, though, that reimagines villains and humanizes them with backstories. The TV show “Once Upon a Time” is an example of reimagining common Disney villains. Movies like Maleficent or Cruella give backstory about these villains. Even musicals like Wicked provide the causation behind the villains in beloved classics. 

These retellings of known stories highlight that all people have their own stories and perspectives that may be lost depending on how the story is told. There is a common phrase that you don’t truly know someone until you “walk a mile in their shoes.” These revisionist stories give viewers an opportunity to see the villain’s side of the story. 

This strategy can be employed in mythology, pop culture, history, and other contexts. It reminds me of the TED talk “The Danger of the Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This TED talk explains that misconceptions and misunderstandings happen when an individual only gets one side of the story. Adichie asserts, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

This TED talk captures the idea that popular stories oftentimes present only one perspective on who the villain and who the hero is. While this is not inherently bad and it makes for good stories, it can be damaging to consider only one point of view. There are two sides to every story and we encourage you to investigate as many different perspectives as possible. This is one of the fascinating parts of literature since each choice by the author, including a person (villain or hero), has a purpose and reason for their actions.

The Hero’s Journey

Last week our blog post discussed the attributes of heroes and how those traits change in different cultures depending on that culture’s beliefs. 

One thing that connects many hero stories across time and genres in our present day is the arc of the Hero’s Journey. The monomyth of the Hero’s Journey was developed by Joseph Campbell, who was an American writer and professor, and it outlines twelve stages that most heroes go through in their journey. 

Throughout this post, we’ll give definitions of the stages of the Hero’s Journey and use Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to illustrate these stages in a movie. You will likely find that many different movies follow similar arcs with some variation.

Part 1 Call to Adventure 

Stage 1: The Ordinary World 

In this stage, the hero is born and there are oftentimes supernatural circumstances or a notable ancestor of the child. Harry Potter begins with life with the Dursleys, Harry’s caretakers, where Harry appears to be an outcast as he lives in a closet under the stairs, speaks to snakes, and many strange things happen around him. 

Stage 2: Call to Adventure 

At first, the hero accepts or reluctantly accepts the call to embark on their adventure. Oftentimes, this call comes from a messenger or an external event triggers the call. The invitation to go to Hogwarts is Harry’s invitation to adventure. 

Stage 3: Refusal of the Call

The hero tends to refuse the call to adventure at first out of fear, hesitation, insecurity, etc. In this case, Harry does not refuse the call of adventure. Instead, the Dursleys refuse to let Harry attend Hogwarts. 

Part 2 Supreme Ordeal/Initiation

Stage 4: Meet the Mentor/Helper 

During this phase of the Hero’s Journey, the hero receives protection and help from someone. This helper is often a supernatural helper. Harry meets his mentor shortly after the Dursleys refuse to allow Harry to attend Hogwarts. Hagrid, the groundskeeper at Hogwarts, arrives to take Harry to the school of witchcraft and wizardry. 

Stage 5: Crossing the Threshold 

The hero embarks on his journey but must overcome some sort of test or ordeal to enter into the world of adventure. Diagon Alley marks Harry crossing the threshold into the wizarding world. In Diagon Alley, there is everything that Harry could need at school including a wand, robes, and an own named Hedwig. 

Stage 6: Tests 

On his adventure, the hero must undergo a series of tests that might include monsters, magic, warriors, or other barriers. Harry experiences several tests in Harry Potter. There are flying broomsticks, trolls on Halloween, three-headed dogs, and the Mirror of Erised. 

Part 3 Unification and Transformation

Stage 7: Approach 

This stage is also called the approach to the inmost cave. It may be representative of something in the hero’s story like a dangerous place or an internal conflict. The hero tends to struggle with the approach and must face any fears or doubts before continuing on the journey. The three-headed dog, Fluffy, protects the inmost cave, so figuring out a way past the dog and the other tests represents the approach to the inmost cave. 

Stage 8: Ordeal 

The ordeal is the dangerous test or crisis that the hero must face on his adventure. It might include facing the hero’s greatest fear or could be a deadly enemy. Once Harry reaches the inmost cave, he is alone since Ron, Hermione, and the professors could not accompany him. The ordeal represents Harry facing Voldemort alone. 

Stage 9: Reward 

The hero defeated the enemy, survived death, and/or overcame a personal challenge. This transforms and earns the hero a prize that may come in the form of a special power, secret, greater knowledge, or reunion with someone important. Harry receives the Sorcerer’s Stone and banished Voldermort, which makes Hogwarts a safer place for him. 

Part 4 Road Back/Hero’s Return

Stage 10: Road Back 

This represents the hero commencing the adventure and returning home from the quest. Returning home comes with a challenge though, and the hero must choose between his own personal desires and the aims of a higher cause. Since Harry was knocked unconscious, the readers do not learn about Harry returning back from his fight with Voldermort. 

Stage 11: Atonement 

The Hero comes to terms with the events that happened during the adventure and makes peace with what was learned and gained. Harry wakes up in the hospital and he is surrounded by gifts. Dumbledore is there to explain the events to Harry. 

Stage 12: Return 

The hero returns to the ordinary world after the adventure has finished. At the end of this book (or movie), Harry returns to school and eventually returns home to the Dursleys. 

What is a Hero?

Last week our blog featured storytelling and the ways that this helps create understanding between diverse peoples. A central aspect of these stories is the heroes that are featured in them.

What do you think of when you think of a hero? I tend to think of the countless Marvel movies that were released since I was a kid, such as Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman, the Hulk, and so many more. Yet, heroes are a reflection of culture, so mythology, beliefs, definitions of what it means to be a hero differ throughout history. 

To show how stories reflect culture, let’s look at the characteristics of Greek heroes and what our American culture seems to values in a hero. 

Greek Heroes:

  • Unusual conception or birth – Oftentimes heroes have one mortal parent and one immortal parent. Zeus fathered many heroes with mortals. 
  • Performs amazing feats at a young age – This allows the heroes to prove that they are destined for greatness.  
  • Favored by the gods – Heroes are the offspring of gods, so they usually find favor with gods in order to bestow on them favor or gifts.  
  • Travel to the Underworld – Even though heroes are mortal, they often had to travel to the Underworld on their quests to confront death. 
  • Hero’s Quest – Heroes oftentimes defeated monsters, evil kings, or righted wrongs to make the world a better place. These feats earned them recognition since it was a heroes’ goal to be immortalized. 
  • Suffering and Ignoble Death – Heroes in Greek Mythology have gifts from their parentage and their patron god or goddess, but they also have flaws that often result in their deaths. 

Heroes in American culture:

  • Selflessness – Serving people who are in need voluntarily without the expectation of reward or external gain. 
  • Bravery – Heroes are not afraid to face their fear for the common food. Heroes tend to run towards problems instead of away from them. 
  • Moral integrity – A strong moral compass is important for heroes, while they may mess up their moral compass tends to help them do the right thing in the end. 
  • Confidence – Heroes oftentimes are charming and able to gain the trust of others by keeping their cool in tricky situations and being able to lead well. 
  • Skills and Strengths – A hero has the right training or has been given the physical ability to make them capable of helping others. These skills and strengths can come from a variety of sources, but it helps them serve the people. 

One of the biggest differences that stands out to me between Greek Mythology and our modern idea of a hero is the fact that a hero does not have to be born of a certain parent and their gifts may come later in life. In contrast, Greek heroes were born of gods or goddesses that gave them gifts from birth and these gifts were visible earn in their lives. 

Another difference is the character of the heroes. Our American culture values bravery, selflessness, and confidence, but Greek Mythology often had heroes who were most recognized for their ability to prevail in battle or in their quest. Therefore, American heroes are most recognized for doing the “right thing”, while Greek heroes were recognized for prevailing in battles. 

Reading about a culture’s mythology provides a lot of insight into their beliefs and ideas about the world. The actions and characteristics are one way that a culture’s values are reflected, but the plots and themes of the stories also allow readers to learn about others. This is one reason it’s important to read stories from different backgrounds. Gaining knowledge about others, from past or present, can help us shed light on and even push against our own stories, heroes, and values.


As an education student at Hope College, I get to join a classroom at various times throughout the week to learn about education from a practicing teacher. One of my placements teaches a Greek mythology elective, which is one of my favorite classes to observe because of how engaging it is. 

This class made me think a lot about what is more commonly taught in English classes like the ninth-grade courses I also observe in this placement. This class does not seem as clearly connected to typical literature practices since it incorporates a lot of history and religious aspects as well. Yet, this class is closer to the study of language than I gave it credit for because many texts began as oral traditions or storytelling for a culture that was passed down and eventually recorded. This is something common to different cultures and the traditions within the cultures. 

Oftentimes, we look to stories as entertainment through books, movies, podcasts, or other mediums. In the past, these stories have been a way to connect people across generations or places and also a way to preserve beliefs and cultures. Comparing stories across time or other barriers tells a lot about the different values and beliefs of those people based on what they focus on or communicate at the center of the message. 

This Greek mythology class understandably talks a lot about myths, but there are many other versions of stories that circulated in the past and made their way into print. 

Myths are stories that try to answer life’s overarching questions. They might explain how the Earth was created, what happens after death, why the seasons change, or anything that lacked a clear explanation. Each culture has its own unique explanation about how the world was created and usually, they incorporate a set of heroes or gods to show good and bad behavior. For example, the Great Flood is an example of a myth found in various cultures from Native American tribes to the Chinese, to the Christian Old Testament to the ancient Mesopotamians. 

Another area of storytelling is folktales, which are fictional stories about people or animals. These tend to incorporate morals or lessons unlike the function of myths which is to explain some phenomenon. Fairytales are examples of stories that teach moral lessons or even fables like the Tortoise and the Hare. 

The ways that we communicate and preserve our stories have changed over time with advancements in technology. Now we do more things digitally since taking pictures preserves memories and posting on social media connects people across the world.

Previously, telling stories was a common pastime and a way to build community. This change is one reason why it is important to continue to read stories with Greek mythology being one of the most common examples of this. It is a way to learn about people from the past and what they used to believe to be true. 

Today by Billy Collins

As March comes to a close so does National Reading Month. You likely know that reading comes in many different genres and themes for readers of all different interests. We hope you have enjoyed some of our recommendations and thought of reading in new ways this month. 

Spring is now officially here, so I hope reading this poem helps you anticipate warm spring days. 

Today By Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

One of my favorite lines from this poem reads, “it made you want to throw/ open all the windows in the house.” I love nothing more than cranking my window open to let the warm, fresh air blow into the room.

What lines stick out to you as you read? Let us know in the comments.

Book Recommendations for Women’s History Month

What better way to celebrate Women’s History Month and Reading Month than to read some books featuring women by women? Here are a few recommendations from our team or find another online list to get you started. 

In the Time of the Butterflies 

This is a historical fiction account of the Mirabal sisters during the 1960s Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Julia Alvarez uniquely writes this book in both first and third person as she follows the journey of these women. The plot follows these sisters’ participation in the underground or “the butterflies” and eventually their deaths due to their role in an underground plot. 

Hidden Figures 

Hidden Figures recently became a movie that follows the story of NASA’s Black women mathematicians. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden are the central characters of this novel as they work from World War II through the Cold War era. This book gives a voice to the stories and experiences of these women in STEM.  

Little Women 

A classic novel by Louisa May Alcott that is either a must-read or a good book to revisit. This book takes place in the post-Civil War era in 1868 and follows the four March sisters. Little Women has been adapted into six different movies, so watching one of these could be the perfect way to experience this story. 

Gone Girl 

This book by Gillian Flynn is a crime thriller revolving around whether or not the husband named Nick was or was not involved in the disappearance of his wife Amy. It is told from the perspective of Nick, but Amy is given a voice through her diaries. If you like suspense and the thrill of a plot twist this is the book for you. 

We hope you found something that caught your eye! Happy reading this month! 

Reading in Everyday Places

March is National Reading Month, which typically is used to encourage readers across the ages to read every day. Reading more sounds like a great idea in practice, but I often struggle to fit in time to sit down and read a book. 

Yet, we discuss in many of my English and education classes that reading happens all the time even when you are not consciously thinking about it. If you are feeling like you’re already falling behind during reading month, here is a little encouragement for you. 

Reading Menus- This is something I take for granted that I am able to read the menu when I go to a restaurant. If you were unable to read, this would be a difficult place to go to. There typically are no pictures on the menu. Even being able to read a menu, I often look ahead of time so I have a better idea of what I want when I get there. In my literacy in the content area class, we watched a video from Proliteracy called “Mom shares her secret after 40 years: Effects of Illiteracy” about a woman who struggled with reading and she got whatever the waiter recommended at a restaurant. 

Magazines, Comics, Newspapers- I love seeing who or what made it onto the cover of magazines in the checkout line at the grocery store. The comic strips and the opinion line are also commonly read at my home. Additionally, reading magazines in waiting areas at doctors’ offices is also popular. These types of reading pop up and are often done in short spurts, but they are still reading. 

Manuals- I always joke with my dad and two brothers that I “don’t speak car.” They are able to open a manual or read instructions and fix most things. Even using instructions to assemble various kits engages with literacy skills. Whether it is reading instructions to install a car part or assembling a kit of some sort, this type of reading comprehension impresses me. 

Traveling- Remembering the meaning behind all of the road signs worried me when I first went to take my driving test at 16. Driving and traveling from place to place requires a lot of close reading of signs that indicate the road conditions or the towns nearby. As a passenger on road trips, I would also read things like license plates or play games that involved findings signs with specific words on them.

Social Media and Games- Most people use various social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more that promote reading. This often is a mixture of pictures and captions, but scrolling through feeds requires reading captions, tags, or locations. Popular games also require reading or skills with words. A lot of college students have been doing Wordle and board games also promote reading and literacy skills. 

Chances are you are reading throughout your everyday life maybe without even consciously realizing it. Hopefully, you are finding time to read a few books this March, but no matter what reading is all around you! 

Notable Female Authors

March is both Women’s History Month and National Reading Month. Women’s History Month was established by Congress in 1987 but stems from work throughout the 20th century by women to achieve suffrage and equal right. Furthermore, March became National Reading Month in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2. These two themes are both important to our community and our program since our Big Read team is primarily composed of women and we strive to encourage the community to engage with literature. 

We wanted to begin the month of March with several female authors throughout history, who have become well-known for their craft and contributions to literature. 

  1. Maya Angelou is an American poet, writer, and an activist throughout the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She is best known for her poem “Still I Rise” and her autobiographical novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou expressed her views and experiences in her pieces, thus contributing to literature that allows readers to understand different perspectives in history. 
  2. I first read a novel by Virginia Woolf in a Literature of the Western World course in the spring of 2021. The novel we read, To the Lighthouse, was different from other novels in the class because of the stream of consciousness within it. This introduced something new to literature when she wrote the book in 1927. Woolf also is remembered for her book Mrs. Dalloway and the feminist messages within the book that continued to advocate for women’s rights. 
  3. Toni Morrison’s work has earned her the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, and was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Morrison influenced literature by focusing on African American life and race relations. She recently passed away in 2019, but her work continues to be taught and inspire other writers. 
  4. Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 and even though she was an enslaved woman, she was educated and became the first African American and the second woman to publish a book of poetry. She wrote her poetry about a variety of subjects related to religious and moral issues. These works helped both the abolitionist movement and helped show that African Americans were equally capable of intelligent and creative pursuits. 
  5. Mary Shelley is best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein, which was the first science-fiction novel. She wrote this book in 1818 and since then science-fiction has become a popular genre. Shelley wrote this novel during a time where women were not prominent contributors to literature, thus her contributions continued to pave the way for other female authors. 
  6. Oftentimes taught in a historical context, Jane Addams is a social reformer and activist. She established a settlement house in Chicago called Hull House and her work earned her the honor of being the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. While she is a historical figure, she also published several articles and books about her experiences. One called Twenty Years at Hull-House was an autobiography about her experiences working with women in Chicago.
This picture depicts Addam’s Hull-House courtesy of

This list only highlights a few female authors, but we hope you recognize some of the names and research other significant female writers or poets. Many of these women wrote about their unique experiences and social or historical issues that help readers relate to perspectives in the past. These women helped fulfill one goal of literature, which is to learn from others and better empathize with the experiences of others. 

Banned Books

As a prospective secondary English teacher, my placement teachers and classes have mentioned the recent conversations about banning books in various states. Several states across the United States are considering or crafting legislation to ban books that contain themes related to sexuality, racism, explicit language, or other areas. This article by The Atlantic called “Read the Books That Schools Want to Ban” by Emma Sarappo provides a list of books that are commonly in discussions about being banned. 

When did book bans originate? 

When I was 14, I learned about book banning when I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This book is set in the World War II era and the main character, Leisel, steals books from piles before they can be burned. Leading up to World War II, Adolf Hitler burned books that were deemed “un-German” beginning in 1933. Leisel could not read when she first began stealing books, but as the novel progresses she learns to read and reclaims some power over her situation.

When I first read this book I appreciated that I was taught to read and could read whatever and whenever I wanted. I did not fully understand the circumstances of the book at the time, but it helped me realize the power that knowledge and literature have.

The Book Thief is not the only book that references book banning. While I haven’t yet read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, it shares similar themes with The Book Theif. This novel takes place in a dystopian society and centers around a character who works as a book burner, but by the end of the novel is a lover of books. It appears on lists of classic books and ironically has even been banned itself.

But when did book banning begin?  

An article from Reading Partners asserts that censorship relating to books originated in Massachusetts with the arrival of the Puritans in the 1600s. A book called The New English Canaan by Thomas Morton critiqued the Puritan lifestyle and is likely the first banned book in the U.S. There were many subsequent book bans in order to influence what people were reading. This continued until people started to fight against book bans in the 1980s. From the 1600s to the 1900s, many other books were banned and several resources outline these books. One such website from The First Amendment Encyclopedia has more info about the history of censorship in the United States.

Arguments around Book Bans: 

Some people argue that book bans are necessary to protect students from potentially dangerous or explicit content. Those that support various book bans may also fear critique from members of the community, political groups, or religious organizations. 

Yet, others claim that book bans violate First Amendment rights and make it difficult to teach students to think for themselves. Many books may wind up on the banned books list like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or To Kill a Mockingbird since they are often used to frame historical or cultural discussions. 

As an English major, we have discussed the importance of reading a book in its entirety before banning it from schools or libraries. Some books do contain sensitive themes, but they can help frame important topics for students. Learning about the history of book banning and some reasons behind it also helps form an opinion about the literature that readers consume. The National Council of Teachers of English provides a great resource that discusses some of the history and goals of literature when initiating critical thinking, inquiry, and diversity in education.

What are your thoughts on banned books? Have you ever read any books that are in discussions about being banned? 

Black History Month Theme

As part of my English Education experience at Hope College, I have clinical placements in local schools. I love being able to work with and learn from area teachers and students. One of the things I learned this past week as the school acknowledged Black History Month was that each year a theme is chosen to focus on during Black History Month. I had not realized previously that there is a national theme each year since 1928.

The chosen themes are intended to highlight key areas each year and give people something to focus on during Black History Month. Themes are chosen by the Association for the study of African American Life and History based on relevant issues or events. This organization was established in 1915 by Carter Woodson, who also founded Black History Month. 

The chosen theme for this year is “Black Health and Wellness.” It was chosen to acknowledge various wellness practices used by Black communities. An article from the Association for the study of African American Life and History explained that this theme honors the “legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora.” This article also provides information on past themes to explore more! 

Learn more information around the theme “Black Health and Wellness” through these articles from Empower Work, CNN, NPR, Mental Health America, and the UNC School of Medicine.

We hope you enjoy thinking about and exploring this theme throughout February. Let us know what you find in the comments!