Psychedelic Hero’s Journey of a Traveling Nobody by Traveling Nobody
Psychedelic Hero’s Journey of a Traveling Nobody (2016) is a self-published autobiographical novel. It spans close to a decade of the life of its eponymous narrator, who trains as a pilot, falls in love and discovers psychedelics. He bills himself as a “true nobody experiencing the various stages of the dramatic ‘hero’s journey,’ recognizing such a process, and finding ‘enlightenment’ in such knowledge” (xi). Accordingly, this book is essentially a psychedelic bildungsroman.
The novel fervently adopts the 17-stage cycle of the “hero’s journey” monomyth from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) as its guiding principle. Many of the chapter titles, which are derived from the stages of the monomyth, are matched up with the key themes of the novel: loss and one’s progressive acceptance of it, increased self-knowing and the deepening of interpersonal relationships. For example, the evolution of his closeness to his father – which undergoes its own “hero’s journey” over the course of the novel via their respective break-ups – is appropriately addressed in passages headed, “Atonement with the Father” (stage 9).
In keeping with its long and illustrious literary history of being discussed in relation to psychedelic experiences, Campbell’s monomyth serves the Traveling Nobody well as a lens for viewing, and as a template for describing. Fittingly, his descriptions of entheogenic self-reckonings are the passages in which he deploys the conceit to best effect. Enchanting highlights include his “dance with the mushroom goddess” (125), time spent paring back layers of his conditioned psyche on peyote in a temescal and, subsequently, in ayahuasca’s thrall.
However, the devoted adherence to this sole particular (and particularly iconic) literary device harbours some unfortunate side effects. Its overuse inadvertently serves to highlight the commitment that he makes to its exact replication. In Cosmic Trigger (1977), Robert Anton Wilson “subverts Campbell’s model” as much as he delights in it, as Catherine Kneale discusses in her exposition on the potential of psychedelics to disrupt narrative itself.[i] Contrastingly, the Traveling Nobody opts to embrace the monomyth as-is, as the blueprint for his novel’s narrative arc, as well as the means of formulating its every plot progression.
This results in several episodes in which scant material is over-stretched to fit the framework of the monomyth, and the novel’s usually insightfully cosmic angle devolves into being unnecessarily microcosmic. The apotheosis of this is a passage in which the “bemushroomed” purchase and consumption of a footlong turkey sub is charted against a full round of the “hero’s journey” cycle, ending – as indeed every instance of food consumption within the text does – in “domination” (129).
The subject matter of Psychedelic Hero’s Journey is fortunately, for the most part, so engaging that its brilliance is only slightly dimmed by reliance on an unnecessarily narrow range of storytelling techniques: the ever-revolving monomythic cycle is paired with an unremittingly allegorical, parabolic mode of narration, which would be a quaint stylistic touch in much smaller doses. Recurrent characters include “the fellow traveling nobody” and “the open-minded woman,” constantly name-checked in full. All their appearances therefore result in needlessly clunky sentences that vie for the reader’s attention with the elegant and often original thoughts being communicated.
Nevertheless, the Traveling Nobody has excellent stories to share, replete with beautifully poetic synchronicities. His ability to weave magic into very relatable situations like fixing a lawnmower for a tenant while high is as amusing as it is earnest. There is an all-encompassing, all-embracing fluidity to his discussion of concepts like mycelial philosophy, Taoism and “twin flame” theory, all gracefully and creatively linked to aspects of his own life.
The synchronicities which characterize his relationship with his “twin flame,” Lorelei, are one of the most heartwarming strands of the narrative. In particular, the fact that each date or time they communicate (roughly) adds up to the number 11, which is itself visually suggestive of twin flames. Before setting off to re-encounter her after years apart, following his glowing return from an ayahuasca retreat, he is “slammed by the observation of a parked van’s license plate [which] read, ‘DMT 254.’ The sum of those numbers, of course, added to ‘11.’ ‘Ah,’ [he] thought, ‘very good!’” (270).
This is one many thoroughly imaginative but equally unpretentious demonstrations of his impressive scope for blending esoteric or academic thinking into the processing of his lived experiences. Psychedelic Hero’s Journey is a wonderful homage to Joseph Campbell’s perception that “to translate knowledge and information into experience […] seems to be the function of literature and art.”[ii]
With this in mind, it is something of a disappointment that the text omits to address the process of creating literature itself. The Traveling Nobody places a (perhaps unintentional) emphasis on the craft of writing when he expresses hopes that his novel will function as a “‘springboard’ for others to ‘consciously explore’ their ‘hero’s journey from the ‘writer’s chair’ of life” (232). It therefore seems slightly amiss that he refuses the call to enter into discussion of his own writing process, in relation to the “hero’s journey” monomyth, or otherwise.
The omission is surprising in the context of 362 pages’ worth of otherwise detailed and unbridled self-disclosure, and especially so considering the status of writing as a core technique for integrating psychedelic experiences. It leaves the reader jonesing for clues about the practical and temporal circumstances in which “the berserk fury of the thunder’s roar fades into words on paper.”[iii]
For instance: is Psychedelic Hero’s Journey the distillation of over nine years’ worth of Moleskines, and if so, when, in relation to the experiences it describes, were they scrawled in? Or is it, perhaps, one continuous and coffee-fuelled type-a-thon? How much of it is true? (And does a stylistic, or indeed ideological, rationale underlie his choice not to trammel the rich tapestry of scholarly ideas that he draws on with citations, and an index?)
A more extensive intertextual discussion of the authorial process behind the novel would be in keeping with its climactic exaltations on the cosmic connectivity of the universe, (and beyond). More pressingly, it would be an easy means of imbuing the text with an additional layer of complexity that would cohere interestingly with its existing themes.
Crucially, the Traveling Nobody invites many ‒ but, somewhat frustratingly, never makes any ‒ points of comparison with Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey (1992), which, identically to Psychedelic Hero’s Journey, approaches Campbell’s monomyth as the ignore-at-your-peril formula for successful storytelling. Vogler calls out the interplay between shamanic questing and authorship thus:
“When we writers apply the ancient tools of the archetypes and the Hero’s Journey to modern stories, we stand on the shoulders of the mythmakers and shamans of old. […] We ask the same ageless, childlike questions presented by the myths: Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die? What does it mean? Where do I fit in? Where am I bound on my own Hero’s Journey?”[iv]
Non-identification of its pronounced intertextuality with The Writer’s Journey aside, Psychedelic Hero’s Journey of a Traveling Nobody seeks the answers to these questions with ingenuity and charm. Furthermore, the Traveling Nobody unerringly maintains a voice that resounds with possibility and wonder. The free-flow of this novel’s psychonautic passion through its steadfast “hero’s journey” structure translates, ultimately, into a thought-provoking and pleasurable read.
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[i] Kneale, Catherine (2018) “Don’t be a Hero,” in Psychedelic Press 23: 65
[ii] Campbell, Joseph (1990) The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work: 33
[iii] Andrews, George (1963) “Annihilating Illumination,” in The Psychedelic Review Vol 1: 68
[iv] Vogler, Christopher (1992) The Writer’s Journey: 295)