The Hero’s Journey in Global Literature: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning. (Bateson 34).
Book cover for Where the Mountain Meets the MoonFolklore, fables, myths, and legends, stories that originated in the oral tradition are the indigenous literature in every society. Since people were first able to use language for communication, oral storytelling is the way we have passed on our culture and history, beliefs and values. Traditional literature themes reoccur across cultures. These stories explain the relationships between human beings and the animal, plant, and astrological or seasonal worlds. Although the stories may include different symbols and representations, these “folk” ideas center on elemental figures—mother, father, God, trickster, hero, old man, crone, witch, or devil, and on elementary concepts—creation, destruction, birth, death, initiation or coming of age, separation from parents or community, marriage, or the union of opposites.

These literary genres are also vehicles for transmitting and reinforcing archetypes. Characters convey archetypes when they exhibit personalities or behaviors that their society would have them emulate. The hero’s journey is one of the common archetypes in traditional literature that speaks to the young and to the not so young about the vicissitudes of life. Mythologist Joseph Campbell called the hero’s journey a “monomyth” because of its prevalence across cultures, time, and place.

Heroes from the Greek king Odysseus to the world’s revered religious figures prepare for their quests and encounter obstacles and dangers along the path. They are tested. They alternately fail and succeed. And ultimately, they return triumphant and changed with the hard-won ability to better their own lives and that of their entire community. Campbell offers a compelling story map graphic that describes the hero’s journey process: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heroesjourney.svg

In the next four weeks, we will highlight and discuss contemporary global young adult literature that capitalizes on the hero archetype. All four stories include a hero’s journey and in all four books, the narrator or one or more characters move the story forward by telling stories within the story. The story-within-the-story motif is a way for print narrative to imitate life. “Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering” (Remen xxxvii).

The stories within the story in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin are inspired by Chinese fairy- and folktales; Lin presents them as beautifully illustrated interchapters throughout the book. In her author’s note, American-born Lin describes her reconnection with her Asian heritage. At the age of 11, when she had thoroughly rejected all things Asian, her wise mother placed several Chinese folk- and fairy-tale books on Grace’s bookshelf. And thus began her connection to her heritage culture. These tales and Grace Lin’s later travels to visit the lands of her ancestors – Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China – inspired the overarching story of Minli’s quest as well as the stories within this story in this hero’s journey novel.

Minli, an only child, is a sensitive girl growing up in a poor Chinese family. Her family life is rich in other ways. Minli’s father, a storyteller, fills her heart and mind with rich fantasies and possibilities for a better future. When her father told her stories, “[Minli] glowed with such wonder and excitement that even Ma would smile, though she would shake her head at the same time (3).” Minli’s Ma, on the other hand, lives in the harsh real world of the family’s struggle to survive. When Minli sets out on a journey to ask the “Old Man of the Moon” to change the family’s fortune, she meets Dragon who cannot fly. He is also on a quest to find out why he is different from all other dragons. Together and along the way, they are guided by stories and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim studied how fairy tales enrich the inner lives of children. He noted that these stories “speak about [the child’s] severe inner pressures in a way that the child unconsciously understands, and—without belittling the most serious inner struggles which growing up entails—offer examples of both temporary and permanent solutions to pressing difficulties” (6). I suggest that these fairy tales can continue to develop the inner lives of people of all ages.

In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Lin inserts completely fleshed-out stories into the narrative that direct the actions of Minli and her Dragon “helper.” For example, “The Story of the Old Man of the Moon” told to Minli by her father, inspires her journey. In the story, the Old Man of the Moon, who is the only one who can read the scribbles and scrawls in the Book of Fortune, correctly predicted the future of the magistrate’s son. Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon on Never-Ending Mountain because she believes he will be able to tell her how she can bring fortune to her family.

Which of the stories within the story of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon touch your heart? Which ones connect to your life or other stories you have read? Are there other Chinese folktales that are similar to these? Are their folktales or other literary genre stories from other cultures that connect?

Note: 8th-grade students in the Calhoun Middle School International Book Club, sponsored by Ragina Shearer, USSBY Texas Ambassador, and Texas Woman’s University graduate students in LS5633: The Art of Storytelling will participate in the blog discussion this month.

Next Week: Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, translated from German by Anthea Bell

Works Cited
Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing a Life. New York: Penguin, 1990. Print.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.

“File:Heroesjourney.svg.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heroesjourney.svg>.

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

“Monomyth.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth>.

Remen, Rachel Naomi. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal. 10th anniversary edition. New York: Riverhead, 2006. Print.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

18 thoughts on “The Hero’s Journey in Global Literature: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

  1. Isaac Barrett says:

    I really liked when in the story it would mention something that Minli did not know or understand, and then turn smoothly into that story. I also liked the fact that this is an adventure book that also has to do with Chinese culture. I like how minli makes a decision for a friend and it pays of in the end (quiet literally). I thin k this book is a must read.

  2. Julian Castro says:

    So, Where the mountain meets the moon is a great book. I loved it. There were plenty of great stories. It blew my Mind. The drangons, the tigers, the magic. You can only get the full effect by reading it, which I highly recomend. one word to sum it up, AMAZING!

  3. For me, there is one Chinese folktale that connects both with individual stories in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and with the overarching hero’s journey story. This folktale is commonly known as “Li Chi Slays the Serpent.” This story is found in several folktale collections. (See the bibliography below.) I have also written a variant of this story that I use in a middle school lesson plan. You can find that mentor text version “The Great Deed of Li Ji,” which uses current-day pinyin spellings for Chinese people and place names.

    In both stories, a young girl sets out on a journey to meet obstacles that even adults have not been unable to overcome. Both girls disobey their parents, but act out of familial loyalty in doing so. They seek to help their parents and their community. Minli is accompanied by a dragon. Li Ji takes a sharp sword and snake-hunting dog. Both must climb a mountain and rely on their own confidence, cleverness, and courage to succeed where others have failed.

    Works Cited

    Kendall, Carol, and Yao-wen Li. Sweet and Sour: Tales from China. New York: Clarion. 1978. Print.

    Moreillon, Judi. “The Great Deed of Li Ji.” ALA Editions Extras. Web. 25 Feb. 2012 .

    Roberts, Moss, ed. Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies. New York: Pantheon. 1980. Print.

    Tchana, Katrin. The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women. New York: Little, Brown. 2000. Print.

    Yolen, Jane, ed. Favorite Folktales from Around the World. New York: Random House, 1986. Print.

  4. Adinawa Adjagbodjou says:

    Where the Mountain meets the moon is a fascinating book. It narrates the story of a courageous young girl and her journey to bring better fortune to her family and village. She experiences many difficulties, but the desire to accomplish her mission keeps her going. She befriends a dragon who helps her on her path, and in the end, her loyalty to him greatly pays off. Grace Lin is an excellent writer and her style of writing enhances the quality of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Chinese culture while reading a great adventure.

  5. Angelique Reed says:

    Where The Mountain Meets The Moon
    By Grace Lin
    I wouldn’t have thought that Book Club would have much of a benefit than having fun and becoming a better reader. I have been proven wrong.
    I chose this book because of the interesting cover art. As I read and read I got more into the book. Sometimes I felt as if I were Minli.
    Reading a book by an author of Asian descent made things more interesting and clearer. I have learned that they are different than most books of American descent. A book like this shows life lessons not only that benefit yourself but others around you. They are lessons that are good for any age. This book taught me more than what I thought it would be.
    I loved this book. It was easy to read. It was interesting. The book was never boring. It always seemed to have a way to keep your eyes glued to the book.
    Something I really liked about this book was that you could always find a way to relate the stuff in the story into something in your life. Like how Mili went looking for the Man of the Moon; we could be looking for answers in our life.
    This book was a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone who like fantasy and/or adventure. You don’t have to be a good reader to read this book. You don’t even have to like reading, because once you read this you’ll love to read and will have a hard time putting down another book.

  6. Quinton Sines says:

    This book is a wonderful book. It uses stories and explanations which make it fun to read. This story is about a poor little girl named Minli. She lives on the fruitless mountain where nothing grow because of the sadness of the Jade Dragon. In the evening around dinnertime her father retells stories of material things and the old man of the moon. She was inspired by these stories and set out on a quest to meet the old man of the moon to help them with their fortunes. She encounters multiple creatures and a magical dragon. Find out what happens in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

  7. Anon says:

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is not just a book, is a book with a great mythical meaning, and magical adventures. This book goes deep beyond the author’s thoughts, and deep beyond the readers’ feelings! Minli is a little poor girl with such magical believes. She buys magical goldfish which will be the key to find the mountain. Just by seeing the book’s cover, your mind will blow up with imagination. But books are not just about pictures, they’re about the true meaning and everyday life circumstances you may have in common. Where the Mountain meets the Moon teaches you to know to value what is most important, and gives a brief lesson about greed! For Minli, what’s most important is her family, and just them. At the end, she discovers that life is not good with greed, and at the end, what’s most important is all that matters! What’s most important to you?

  8. Nicci M. & Lexy G. says:

    Where The Mountain Meets the Moon is a very intellectually stimulating book that teaches about the Chinese’s beliefs. The author, Grace Lin, really captures the family’s social status by showing how far they can make two pennies go. The book is written through the main character, Minly’s point of view. Minly buys two magical fish that glow in the water and show her where the mountain meets the moon. When she gets the fish and finds out about their magical powers she began to became greedy with them and doesn’t want to share them with anyone even though the fish could help her family’s financial status. In our opinion this book is a great read and everyone can gain something from it.

  9. Cassandra Cole says:

    The cover of the book sparks my imagination because it has a dragon on it. It gives us a mental picture of china. The author Grace Lin is a wonderful writer and has written many books. It introduces lessons about greed and teaches you to value the things that are most important. This book is like a fantasy and it’s a good genre because china is known for magical fantasies. This book is mainly for ages 10 and up because it portrays a young girl with magical fish. I don’t think that the author was writing from personal experience because its fiction. Overall this is a pretty good book!

  10. Lisa Alleyne says:

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
    I loved this book, a little girl running away from her family to change their fortune and meeting Mythical things along the way! I also love the flow from the story to the stories Minli was told. If I would have to say what my favorite character it would have to be Dragon for his helpfulness and protectiveness over Minli.

  11. Where The Moutain Meets the Moon is a exciting book of adventure,and things beyond imagination. It will not seem like if your reading a book.Instead it will make you feel like if your with Minli(main character) every step of her magical journey.I really enjoyed this book because it has a great culture with it, and is very exciting. Expically the fact that she befriends a dragon! I also like that even when things are diffult, she perserves every step of the way. There were plenty of great stories. It blew my Mind. The dragons, tigers,and magic, it seemed that the book would never end.It even show examples of good or bad deeds. For example, when she gets the fish and finds out about their magical powers she began to became greedy with them and doesn’t want to share them with anyone even though the fish could help her family’s financial status. This book will keep you entertained and wanting you to keep reading more and more. This book was facinating, fun, adventorous, exciting, magical, entertaing, and with great morals and lessons. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of the gratest books that i have ever read. I would recomend everbody to read this book, it is surely going to not let you down!

  12. Gabby Galaviz says:

    WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON
    This book was really articulated in the way this story was told, it resembles allot of folk tales that were told to me as a child growing up. It was like a piece of my childhood with me in the book. The way the events where described really sold the book with its cultural differences and its classical setting. I don’t think this book was bad in fact I think it was amazing. I also enjoyed the pictures it made it fell as if I was actually a part of the story myself. It was a really good book.

  13. Kassidy Rodriguez says:

    I read this book periodically before I would go to bed on school nights. I started reading a little on the weekends because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Minli, her family, and the dragon, but when I closed the story I felt like I had just read something really profound!

    Minli is a girl whose family is really poor. They live in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, an areas resistant to color and fortune the everything in the village looks drab, from the houses to the people. Her father tells her a story about the Old Man of the Moon, and how he can tell you your future and sometimes change your fortune. Minli, oppressed by the dreariness of her village, her life, and anxious to bring happiness to her family, sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. On her journey to Never Ending Mountain, she is joined by a flightless dragon. And while she’s gone her family has ‘accepted’ Minli’s absence. Her mother blames her father for filling Minli’s head with impossible tales.
    This isn’t a story about coming of age, she doesn’t learn something about herself with each step of her journey. Instead, it’s about the bond of a family, the secret to happiness, and the insidious nature of envy, jealousy, and want.

  14. This book is a very great book that helps the learner get to know more about the beliefs of the people of China. Grace Lin does great in capturing the social status of Minli’s family by showing how far they can make two cents can take them. This novel is told by Minli’s point of view. Minli purchases two magical fish that illuminate in the water and guide her to where the mountain meets the moon. When she receives the fish and discovers their secret powers she begins to become greedy with them and does not want to share the fishes with anyone even though they could help her family’s money issues. I think that this book is amazing and everyone can learn something new from it.

  15. I think that Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a stupendous book. It is about a girl named Minly, who sets out on her own adventure.It wont feel like if your reading a book, it will feel as if your with minly every step of her great, adeventorous journey. There were plenty of great stories.The stories within the story in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin are inspired by Chinese fairy- and folktales. Lin presents them as greatly illustrated interchapters throughout the book.I also like this book because it has great morals along with great life lessons. For example Minly buys two magical fish that glow in the water and show her where the mountain meets the moon. When she gets the fish and finds out about their magical powers she began to became greedy with them and doesn’t want to share them with anyone even though the fish could help her family. This is one of the many lessons that this outstanding book teaches you. Another thing that i greatly enjoyed about Wher The Mountain Meets The Moon is the great expression of culture that is painted in your mind. In this book Minly befriends a dragon, and has many diffucult tasks that she has to face.I don’t think this book was bad in fact I think it was amazing. I also enjoyed the pictures it made it fell as if I was actually a part of the story myself.Where The Moutain Meets the Moon is a exciting book of adventure,and things beyond imagination. .I really enjoyed this book because it has a great culture with it, and is very exciting. Expically the fact that she befriends a dragon! I also like that even when things are difficult,she perserveres every step of her magical journey. This book will keep you entertained and wanting you to keep reading more and more.This book was facinating, fun, adventorous, exciting, magical, entertaing, and with great morals and lessons. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of the greatest books that i have ever read! If you are looking for a fun, facinating,and adventerous book,read Where The Mountain Meets The Moon! This great book will leave you wanting More every second you read it! Where The Mountain Meets The Moon will surley not let you down.

  16. I think that Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a stupendous book. It is about a girl named Minly, who sets out on her own adventure. It won’t feel like if your reading a book, it will feel as if your with minly every step of her great, adventurous journey. There were plenty of great stories. The stories within the story in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin are inspired by Chinese fairy- and folktales. Lin presents them as greatly illustrated interchapters throughout the book. I also like this book because it has great morals along with great life lessons. For example Minly buys two magical fish that glow in the water and show her where the mountain meets the moon. When she gets the fish and finds out about their magical powers she began to became greedy with them and doesn’t want to share them with anyone even though the fish could help her family. This is one of the many lessons that this outstanding book teaches you. Another thing that i greatly enjoyed about Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is the great expression of culture that is painted in your mind. In this book Minly befriends a dragon, and has many difficult tasks that she has to face. I don’t think this book was bad in fact I think it was amazing. I also enjoyed the pictures it made it fell as if I was actually a part of the story myself. Where The Mountain Meets the Moon is a exciting book of adventure, and things beyond imagination. .I really enjoyed this book because it has a great culture with it, and is very exciting. Epically the fact that she befriends a dragon! I also like that even when things are difficult, she perseveres every step of her magical journey. This book will keep you entertained and wanting you to keep reading more and more. This book was fascinating, fun, adventurous, exciting, magical, entertaining, and with great morals and lessons. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of the greatest books that I have ever read! If you are looking for a fun, fascinating, and adventurous book, read Where The Mountain Meets The Moon! This great book will leave you wanting More every second you read it! Where The Mountain Meets The Moon will surely not let you down!

  17. Emma Cantrell says:

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an exciting, adventurous book that lots of people would enjoy reading. I love all of the mystery and culture involved with this book. The book remins me of Wizard of Oz, or the Alice in Wonderland because the story line is a magical adventure. This book was intriguing and very fun to read. I think everyone should give it a chance.

  18. I think that Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a stupendous book. It is about a girl named Minly, who sets out on her own adventure. It won’t feel like if your reading a book, it will feel as if your with minly every step of her great, adventurous journey. There were plenty of great stories. The stories within the story in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin are inspired by Chinese fairy- and folktales. Lin presents them as greatly illustrated interchapters throughout the book. I also like this book because it has great morals along with great life lessons. For example Minly buys two magical fish that glow in the water and show her where the mountain meets the moon. When she gets the fish and finds out about their magical powers she began to became greedy with them and doesn’t want to share them with anyone even though the fish could help her family. This is one of the many lessons that this outstanding book teaches you. Another thing that i greatly enjoyed about Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is the great expression of culture that is painted in your mind. In this book Minly befriends a dragon, and has many difficult tasks that she has to face. I don’t think this book was bad in fact I think it was amazing. I also enjoyed the pictures it made it fell as if I was actually a part of the story myself. Where The Mountain Meets the Moon is a exciting book of adventure, and things beyond imagination. .I really enjoyed this book because it has a great culture with it, and is very exciting. Epically the fact that she befriends a dragon! I also like that even when things are difficult, she perseveres every step of her magical journey. This book will keep you entertained and wanting you to keep reading more and more. This book was fascinating, fun, adventurous, exciting, magical, entertaining, and with great morals and lessons. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of the greatest books that I have ever read! If you are looking for a fun, fascinating, and adventurous book, read Where The Mountain Meets The Moon! This great book will leave you wanting More every second you read it! Where The Mountain Meets The Moon will surely not let you down!

    BY Luis Esquer

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