I hope today’s letter finds you well, as it was a difficult one to write. Not because of length, or because I kept getting distracted by my climber friends, but because it involves so many difficult to spell words and names. Which is a shame too, because the concepts they represent are quite simple and important.
Let me ask you a question: when was the last time you saw a hero set out on a quest alone? No, it seems every time a hero even tries to set out on a quest alone, they have to do so under cover of night, when everyone else is asleep, using their best thief skills to try to sneak away (usually to find a couple of close friends waiting for them, insisting on going along for the journey).
See, every quest begins with a hero being thrown into an extraordinary world. Like Harry Potter going from the ordinary world to a brand new world of magic, or Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine to explore a whole new galaxy. The examples go on and on. Every hero, at some point in their quest, must enter a whole new world—whether it be one as awe-inspiring as Hogwarts or one as ordinary as a gym (though all those weight machines and treadmills are still quite magical to me, I don’t know what half of them do!)
The point I’m trying to make is that every hero has to enter a new world full of new things for them to seek out and experience. And, usually, their quest has to do with mastering that new world—mastering magic, or overthrowing a dark emperor, or reclaiming a kingdom. But as they progress in that quest, most heroes reach a point where they try to set out to accomplish their quest alone, only to find their friends insisting on going along.
A hero with a very difficult name to spell speaks of a transition that takes place in every person’s life where they go from exploring that new world and trying to experience everything it has to having to make choices in light of how it affects their friends and the people around them—Søren Kierkegaard. He writes that every person begins their life in what he calls the aesthetic form of life, where the individual lives for themselves, seeking out new and interesting experiences in a new and interesting world. But if an individual wants to progress; however, if the hero wants to take the next step, they have to stop pursuing novelty and move to the ethical form of life, where their life is defined by its relation to other people. No longer can the hero simply seek new experiences: they must make choices not out of a desire to experience new things, but out of an understanding and sense of duty for how those choices affect those closest to them.
That’s why those moments, when Samwise follows Frodo into the boat, or Hermione and Ron follow Harry into a perilous situation, are so important. Because they represent the hero understanding it is not only their own life they are risking but considering the weight of their actions in how it will affect those they care about the most. And in the face of that, they choose to pursue their quest anyway—knowing what it could cost.
So set out for the new world. Explore it to the fullest. Drink butterbeer, meet elves, explore the new world to its deepest corners. Just remember that when the time comes, consider your duty as a hero: choose the ethical over the aesthetic.
May the road rise up to meet you!