Romance and The Hero’s Journey In Ready Player One

By: Sparling Wilson

In Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces, he outlines the stages of the hero’s journey. Of these elements, he does not fail to mention romance, which he calls the “Meeting With The Temptress”. Campbell explains that in traditional stories of the heroic kind, romantic encounters serve as a kind of sidetrack or distraction for the hero from his journey. In the sense of accomplishing his mission, these encounters are definitely seen as negative. Ready Player One reflects this view in its portrayal of romantic relationships within the novel.

A comical and salient parody of Campbell's model for the hero's journey.
A comical and salient parody of Campbell’s model for the hero’s journey.

In many young adult novels, one can expect to find romance to be at least a part of the story. In the age of young adult novels that center their plots on romance, but combine their genres (so they are more like YA + dystopia, YA+ paranormal activity), it is strange, but also refreshing, to see a novel take a more classical approach to romance. Ready Player One steps away from the modern notions of romance in novels (hello, Twilight) and moves back towards a more classical approach towards this topic in terms of the hero’s journey. As we talked about it class, yes this novel contains romance, but the whole plot does not center itself on pursuing a relationship or finding love in the midst of dystopia. Like more classical hero’s journeys stories, such as The Iliad or The Odyssey, Ready Player One includes romance as a part of the journey, but does not make it the purpose of the journey.

The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, "Who Is The Hottest", which I think is very telling of the genre.
The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, “Who Is The Hottest”, which I think is very telling of the genre.

In fact, the story really emphasizes the classical view of romance in stories of this kind by making Art3mis be the protagonist’s “femme fatale”, if you will. The author literally brings this point forward by having Wade confess his love to Art3mis at a club called the “Neo Noir”. I found that point to be very funny in a film-geek kind of way. In noir, the femme fatale was the love interest of the protagonist that lead him to ruin, and the author makes it clear that Wade’s obsession with her is doing just that (at least in terms of his standing in the competition). Anyway, this reference makes a really salient point that while there is romance, the author does not take a positive stance towards it. Perhaps things will shape up positively for Wade in the end, but so far the author is placing romance purely in a classical view. Ar3timis is the “temptress”, if you will, that puts our hero off of his course.

To me, it is refreshing to see a lovesick teen in a dystopian hero’s journey not have the girl fall right into his lap. I love that in this modern, YA novel, being a borderline stalker does not reward the character. Also, I applaud the author at realizing there are so many interesting aspects to this universe that need exploring rather than just Wade and Ar3mis’s relationship, as well as his clear understanding of the proper structure of literature. You go, Ernest Cline.

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One thought on “Romance and The Hero’s Journey In Ready Player One”

  1. I agree with your assessment on Ready Player One’s romance completely. Rather than Wade’s love interest driving part of the plot, I often found myself annoyed with Wade being distracted from his quest by Art3mis. Many of today’s romance genre movies have the story’s romance as an ingrained part of the plot and the protagonists journey. Ready Player One was definitely refreshing in that aspect.

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