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Joseph Campbell’s Concept of the Hero’s Journey

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Campbell’s concept of monomyth (one myth) refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. The central pattern most studied by Campbell is often referred to as the Hero’s Journey and was first described in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ (1949)

Joseph Campbell, discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths. Campbell explains his belief that there is a spiritual world that parallels the physical world. He metaphorically uses the Hero’s Journey to bring these two worlds together; all while quoting from different myths and including stories from various socio-cultural experiences. One of Campbell’s main points is that the human experience has become shallow and increasingly less of what myth intended.

The typical superhero film is about some flawed guy who lacks self-confidence. But then he gains superpowers, finds his inner strength and humanity, and self-actualizes by saving the innocent and bringing evildoers to justice. Films like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy II’ are remarkably explicit in positioning superheroes not as heirs to myths, but as antidotes to them. The film’s villain is Ego (Kurt Russell), a godlike being who behaves much like the Greek Gods of myth. He sleeps with lots of women, kills people for obscure reasons, and generally wields his power in an arbitrary and cruel manner because he’s a god and can do whatever he wants.

The Hero’s Journey is a classic story structure that’s shared by stories worldwide. Coined by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949, it refers to a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity.

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‘Ordinary World’ is where the Hero’s exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It’s his safe place. His everyday life where we learn crucial details about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities and outlook on life. This anchors the Hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and hence later, empathize with his plight.

The Hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life or to the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero’s Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.

Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he will have fears that need overcoming. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the hero will refuse the call and as a result may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem to much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant Hero.

Campbell described three stages of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation and return. Campbell called the initial stage departure or the call to adventure. The Hero departs from the world he knows. Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet to join Obi-Wan to save the princess. Neo gets unplugged from ‘The Matrix’ with the help of Morpheus and his crew. In the departure stage, you leave the safety of the world you know and enter the unknown. Now the Hero must face a series of trials and tribulations. The Hero’s journey isn’t safe. The Hero is tested in battle, skill, and conflict. The Hero may not succeed in each action but must press on. The Hero will meet allies, enemies, and mentors with supernatural aid throughout the initiation stage. Having endured the trials and hardships of the adventure, the Hero returns home. But the Hero is no longer the same. An internal transformation has taken place through the maturation process of the experience. Luke is now a Jedi and has come to peace with his past. Neo embraces his destiny and liberates himself from the conventions of ‘The Matrix’.

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Joseph Campbell’s Concept of the Hero’s Journey. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Joseph Campbell’s Concept of the Hero’s Journey.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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