The Wounded Storyteller:The Quest Narrative

Arthur Frank’s analysis of the quest narrative makes it an asset of the storyteller’s journey in which the illness is to be “conquered” in a sense of overcoming its biological deterrents and turning them into tools of liberation. In the journey from a wretched state of being to indemnification, Frank attempts to explain that while transformation interrupts the self-story, the interruption also pushes the storyteller to rise to the occasion and recognize themselves as a moral agent, whom of which dissociates from their disease by seeking to self-reinvent.

However, Frank’s development of such a quest draws upon help from Campbell’s three phases of storytelling which help to set up the framework of one’s illness journey. In the definitions of departure, initiation, and return there lies an underground force that is able to influence how each phase works-the concept of seeing one’s self as a hero. “The paradigmatic hero is not some Hercules wrestling and slugging his way through opponents, but the Bodhisattva, the compassionate being who vows return to earth to share her enlightenment with others. What the myths are about is agony. The hero’s moral status derives from being initiated through agony to atonement: the realization of oneness of himself with the world, and oneness of the world with its principle of creation. Suffering is integral to this principle and learning the integrity of suffering is central to the boon” (Frank 119). The hero is any storyteller who steps out of the boundaries of what confines them physically and consequently mentally and places them in a situation where they are not only the dynamic character, but they are able to metamorphose their suffering into something to be shared and a reformation of an imminent pitfall into the contingent body’s source of productivity.

The storyteller becomes their own hero, in which their conquering of the somatic transcends into the inner physique. While the manifesto and the memoir are quest stories that exemplify overcoming battles, the automythology is set in a space in which one must overcome and continue to revitalize. In the case of Oliver Sacks “A Leg to Stand On”, the usage of an automythology best highlights the hero as it is the job of the hero to reform from their own ashes. The setting for such a story is never set in stone as the different markers of change in the person become the “locations” that the story is formed around. Succeeding Sacks incident with the bull, a need to regain the ability to walk is an identification of the need to not let the event define his sense of self but rather rearrange what has left him in constraints. In an account that reflects the quest most profoundly Sacks comments that “a destiny of experience neither given to, nor desired by most men: but one which, having happened would refashion and direct me” (Frank 124). Arthur Frank uses these experiences to interweave the bigger concept of reinvention into an understanding of growth-mindsets being more powerful than illness.

Work Cited:

Frank, Arthur. The Wounded Storyteller: The Quest Narrative-Illness and the Communicative Body.  University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp.119-124.