Speaking of heroes, here are a few from different centuries you will
recognize: Kunta Kinte, Luke Skywalker, Jackie Robinson, W.P. Inman, Edmond Dantès, and Moses. To this arduous list, a new epic hero, Isaac Rice, was added in the 21st century novel, First Dark: A Buffalo Soldier’s Story.
Disparate peoples and cultures have their stories and heroes. The late mythologist Joseph J. Campbell theorized that important myths from around the world, which have survived thousands of years, all share a fundamental structure. Campbell called it the monomyth. In the introduction to his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarized the monomyth:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In “the city that reads,” where Ravens are heroes and the rage, a Baltimore Post-Examiner headline declared: “Gripping Saga of Isaac Rice, a Runaway Slave, is a Hero’s Journey.” Does Isaac’s Buffalo Soldier epic meet the Campbell test? What does Isaac’s venture, over several years, have in common with Kunta Kinte (Roots), W.P. Inman (Cold Mountain), or Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)?
A number of times, George Lucas has discussed publicly that Campbell’s theories directly influenced Lucas’ creation of Star Wars. Isaac Rice’s journey through time and distance begins with a difficult and harrowing escape from a South Carolina rice plantation in the middle of a war over a waterborne route. Campbell would say he departed his “world of common day.” To enter the “region of supernatural wonder,” Isaac survives enemies: snakes, fog, storms, hunger, riflemen, and alligators. Declared too young to be a soldier, undaunted, Isaac shovels coal on army and navy gunboats. A Gulf of Mexico hurricane sinks Isaac’s ship and he lands in Mississippi. “Meets Isaac his Yoda” when he rescues a post-war soldier from a bandit. His new mentor helps Isaac realize his dream of becoming a soldier in the original deployment of the Tenth Regiment of United States Cavalry.
According to the Baltimore Post-Examiner, First Dark passes the Campbell/Lucas tests as Isaac’s personal family losses, learning to read, public_htmling into a successful Buffalo Soldier, compassion for Apaches, and forming his dream for entrepreneurship all unfold. Further, readers meet the women who love Isaac, his friends, mentors, and enemies, all of whom are given voice. Isaac’s heroes inform about the man he becomes: Hiram Young (former slave, entrepreneur who built freight wagons for the Union army) and Ben Montgomery (former slave, entrepreneur who managed Joe Davis’ plantation and store).
The Post-Examiner concludes: “Isaac’s journey, with a nod to the splendid mythologist Joseph Campbell, is a hero’s journey. It’s also a darn good read.”