In his seminal work, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell put forth the idea of The Monomyth. The idea is based on the observation that a common pattern exists beneath the narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of creation.
Simply put, all of mankind’s myriad myths are but variations of a single great story. This is the monomyth and is most commonly expressed as a hero’s journey.
In this journey, the hero begins in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unknown world of strange powers and events. The hero who accepts the call to enter this strange world must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance. In the most intense versions of the narrative, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help.
If the hero survives, he may achieve a great gift or “boon.” The hero must then decide whether to return to the ordinary world with this boon. If the hero does decide to return, he or she often faces challenges on the return journey. If the hero returns successfully, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world.
The Monomyth has three arcs: The Departure, The Initiation and The Return. Each arc has several sub arcs.
I want to stop here for a second because I want you to think about your favorite movie. Is it Frank Herbert’s Dune? Or Star Wars? Or The Highlander? Is it Braveheart? Or The Matrix? Or maybe even Quentin Tarantino’s Django?
The 17 Stages of the Monomyth
In a monomyth, the hero begins in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unknown world of strange powers and events. The hero who accepts the call to enter this strange world must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance.
Collectively, mankind faced the beginnings of the strangest and most powerful of worlds it had ever created - The Internet. So sets the stage for our hero and the birth of a language…
The Call to Adventure
In the Call to Adventure, the hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
Early April 1995, Brendan Eich is recruited to Netscape with the promise of “doing Scheme” in the browser. Netscape recruited him because he could hack quickly and in part because he had some language chops.
Explained Brendan, “I was ‘that guy’, not in any brag-worthy sense, just the only person who was in the position to do the deed, with (barely) enough skills to pull it off.”
The opportunity was there and then and he took it. What a lot of folks don’t know is Brendan worked for Netscape’s founder’s previous company Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI); That’s how he was recruited to Netscape.
SGI was a high performance computer designer/manufacturer. Think Alienware for business. SGI are also the folks that wrote and open sourced the C++ standard template library (STL).
STL was an early standard library for C++ without which you’d have to write your own base data structures like lists, hashes, queues and the like. In his own words, his experience at SGI made him a “C/Unix fanboy”. “I knew the C grammer by heart”, he would later explain.
Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
After partnering with Sun Microsystems, the creators of Java, Netscape management was firm that whatever language created should be “Java’s kid brother”.
Management only cared about two things. First, the new language look like Java. Finally, the new language have objects without classes. In their mind, a dumbed down version of Java. In Brendan’s mind, challenge accepted…
Following a subversive agenda, Brendan borrowed closures and first-class functions from Scheme. Then, he borrowed the concept of prototypical inheritance from Self. Whereas Scheme was a dialect of Lisp, Self was a dialect of Smalltalk. Finally, he borrowed the look-and-feel of the language from C/C++.
In class-based object oriented languages, classes define the properties and behaviors of objects. Object instances are then particular manifestations of a class.
In Self, however, one makes a copy of an existing object and then adds additional specific properties and behaviors. Code which uses the existing objects are not changed.
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid them later in their quest.
What’s the old saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” In this case, Microsoft was out for Netscape and the killer was to be VBScript in Internet Explorer. Things were about to get real - real fast…!
Though still the market leader in web browsers, Netscape speed up its release of Netscape 2.0. I like to think of that release as a crucible. In went Brendan Eich, his experiences with Scheme, Self, Java and C; his marching orders for the language to “look like Java” and “have objects without classes”.
Those things were the raw Tamahagane.
Through those inhomogeneous mixtures of concepts and directives a finer language would reveal itself. Through the crucible, out came what would be one of the most popular programming languages in the world.
Crossing the Threshold
This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
Of course Rhino could be embedded into any Java application to provide scripting to end users. Say for example you wanted to build a version of Excel running on top the JVM. And say your wanted to provide scripting capabilities in Excel similar to VBA.
The gods must have seen the irony because it wouldn’t be too long before this situation came to a head.
Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.
Early 1998, Netscape along with Brendan found the Mozilla Project. Named after the original code name of the Netscape Navigator browser which is a blending of “Mosaic and Godzilla”.
The Mozilla Project is meant to manage open-source contributions to SpiderMonkey and Netscape’s Mozilla Suite - an open source browser and email client combined. A small group of Netscape employees were tasked with coordination of the new community. Brendan serves as the group’s first chief architect.
That same year whispers begin that AOL plans to buyout Netscape and shutdown the Netscape browser. A year later in 1999, AOL does buy Netscape. However, the shutdown doesn’t come for another four years.
Then in July 2003, AOL officially shuts down its Netscape browser unit. That same month, Brendan helped create the Mozilla Foundation as the legal steward the Mozilla Project.
Soon after, the Mozilla Project deprecated the Mozilla Suite in favor of creating independent applications for web browsing and email. The Firefox web browser and the Thunderbird email client were born.
In the most intense versions of the narrative, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help. If the hero survives, he may achieve a great gift or “boon.”
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
Luke Skywalker had his Lightsaber training with Obi-Wan Kanobi. Neo his sparring with Morpheus. They had it easy…
As far as web browser vendors, there was Netscape of course, but then there was also Internet Explorer (Windows and Mac OSX). There was the burgeoning Firefox and growing in popularity was Safari and Opera.
Some browser vendors didn’t implement certain objects at all or implemented them with another name and slightly different responsibility. Those were the best cases. At the worse end, you had browsers like Internet Explorer (IE) which implemented its own proprietary extensions and functionality.
What that meant is if you wrote your code against IE first, your goose was pretty much cooked. A lot of enterprise companies realized this far far to late and carte blanche told developers to write code against IE and IE only.
Most developers either didn’t know the self-defeating result of such policies or simply didn’t care. For the craftsman, however, it would be years until they could stand against such tyranny with both competence and a following.
Until then, supporting as many browsers as possible would continue to be an uphill battle. Later, we would find that each browsers Document Object Model (DOM) implementation was just as bad - if not worse…!
Even the most widely used DOM method - getElementById - returned inconsistent results from every browser. But it wasn’t just that method, nearly every DOM method was broken in some way, in some browser.
The Meeting with the Goddess
This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.
Temptation away from the true path
In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest.
So, for but a moment, I dare you to imagine a world without jQuery. What if I told you that was almost the case? It was…
It wasn’t like today where domain logic is steadily moving frontward. Back then, domain logic was firmly planted server-side and most developers were struggling with object oriented concepts even there, much less in a prototypical environment. For these early frameworks, classical OOP turned to be a deadly weakness in spite of its overall strength.
Not bad in and of itself - just too much too fast. Besides, most developers didn’t come for code organization and design patterns, they came for the plugins - calendars, accordion menus and the like were all the rage…
No one knows how the war started. As with all wars, the issue was about assets and who would go on to own the dollar ($) alias. It seems silly now, but folks risked mixing multiple frameworks to use widgets they liked from each.
Developers were used to mixing widget libraries from the DHTML days. Now, they were just happy these widgets would work in multiple browsers. But as with things too good to be true, there was a catch…
Atonement with the Father
In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it.
Around May 2008, almost two years after the initial release of jQuery, The Framework Wars peaked. But with developers firmly in either camp, this war would be won with converts.
As integral as the dollar ($) alias was, no framework wanted to change their use of the dollar ($) alias just to suit “some other framework”.
Then came jQuery.noConflict()…
Using jQuery.noConfict() John and the jQuery team allowed developers to continue to use jQuery’s dollar ($) sign while still allowing other frameworks to work properly.
What John Resig and the jQuery Core Team realized was that people used the dollar ($) alias for efficiency not identity. So why not let other frameworks use the $ alias and give jQuery developers the best of both worlds.
As a result, jQuery developers didn’t have to choose efficiency over flexibility. While the other frameworks pandered, “One Framework to Rule Them ALL”, jQuery introduced jQuery.noConflict(), played it’s hand and moved aside.
After trying jQuery, many developers never went back to either MooTools, Prototype or ExtJS. Instead, they opted to rewrite their most favorite plugins in jQuery. What came next was the Golden Age of jQuery.
Apotheosis (becoming god-like)
This step is a god-like phase where the hero earns a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
Later that year, in September 2008, Microsoft switches out its own AJAX library for jQuery and ships jQuery with Visual Studio. Two years later, in March 2011, the popular Ruby web framework, Ruby on Rails, switched out Prototype for jQuery.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
The brainchild of Douglas Crockford, JSON uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs. It is used primarily to transmit data between a server and web application and steadily became an alternative to XML.
Libraries like Raphael show us we never needed flash for beautiful interactive graphics. It also showed us what a commitment to cross-browser consistently can yield.
The hero must then decide whether to return to the ordinary world with this boon. If the hero does decide to return, he or she often faces challenges on the return journey. If the hero returns successfully, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world.
Refusal of the Return
Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.
John leaves the Mozilla Corporation, and work on jQuery, to join the Khan Academy. The project is left in the hands of a core group of developers.
The Magic Flight
Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
A Designer Language is a programming language created to avoid the perceived shortcomings of an existing language, usually by creating a superset of the existing language by modifying syntax or modifying programming constructs.
What’s interesting is most designer languages still allowed you to use all your favorite frontend frameworks like jQuery. Though some like GWT and Objective-J do not because they provide their own underlying framework.
Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, oftentimes he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.
Microsoft drops support for IE6 as the countdown to the death of IE6 continued. jQuery would later create a project fork that drops support for IE6 as to decrease the libraries bloat.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.
Node gave us real-time, two-way connections using the HTML5 WebSocket protocol. The primary method to take advantage of HTML5 WebSockets was through Socket.IO.
Socket.IO primarily uses the HTML5 WebSocket protocol, but if needed can fallback on multiple other methods, such as Adobe Flash sockets, JSONP polling, and AJAX long polling, while providing the same interface.
What’s interesting about this is as the HTML5 spec grew nearer to completion, micro libraries grew to fill the consistency gap as browser vendors normalized functionality.
Master of Two Worlds
Mastering two worlds is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
Essentially, the server becomes just another API which is consumed by various frontends. So the Single Page Application (SPA) arose. Now the debate isn’t which server-side web application framework do I use, instead many developers ask what frontend framework do I use to organize my code?
The major competition to both Ember and Angular is the micro MVC library Backbone. Most developers combine Ember for code organization with jQuery for DOM manipulation.
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
Frontend development is now a legitimate software profession. Developers get to choose whether to focus on frontend development or server-side development. No longer is frontend development a nice-to-have with server-side being core.
That I leave to you…
Common Mythic Elements
|Two Worlds (mundane and special)||Planetside vs. The Death Star||Reality vs. The Matrix||Server-side vs Frontend|
|The Mentor||Obi-Wan Kenobi||Morpheus||Douglas Crockford|
|The Oracle||Yoda||The Oracle||John Resig|
|Failed Hero||Biggs||In an early version of the script, Morpheus once believed that Cypher was “The One”||MooTools, Prototype|
|Wearing Enemy’s Skin||Luke and Han wear stormtrooper outfits||Neo jumps into agent’s skin||GWT uses Java to write frontend code|
|Shapeshifter (the Hero isn’t sure if he can trust this character)||Han Solo||Cypher||CoffeeScript (Designer Languages generally)|
|Animal familiar||R2-D2, Chewbacca||N/A||SpiderMonkey|