Meet Joe Campbell
Insights into the ideas of a mythologist
(more about Joseph Campbell)

Idea #5: The Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell's first "big hit" (but not his first book) was called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In it, he analyzed the world's hero myths, and found in them a common pattern for the "Hero's Journey," what Campbell called "The Monomyth" (a word he borrowed from James Joyce).

In its shortest formulation, the Monomyth looks like this:

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 simpler terms, Campbell often said, it was merely "a going, and a return."

I usually teach it in five phases:

  • Home
  • The First Threshold
  • The Other World
  • The Second Threshold
  • Home Again, Transformed

Look at any good book or movie, and you'll see this pattern. (George Lucas acknowledges that he consciously followed the pattern in writing the Star Wars saga, but it manifested itself long before Campbell wrote about it. You'll find it in Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and the Bible.)

It can also be seen in our own lives. Childhood is "home"; at puberty, we cross the first threshold into the weird world of adolescence; at some point (graduation from university, marriage, first job) we emerge again, and have been transformed into an adult.

Here's a more detailed version of the Monomyth, with examples.

Also, I've just put up an article that applies the hero's journey model to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.

Next time: Archetypes

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