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Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell. An American professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.

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joseph campbell s monomyth

Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth

The Hero’s Journey

joseph campbell
Joseph Campbell
  • An American professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
  • In 1949 Joseph Campbell made a big splash in the field of mythology with his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. This book built on the pioneering work of German anthropologist Adolph Bastian, who first proposed the idea that myths from all over the world seem to be built from the same "elementary ideas."
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Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) named these elementary ideas "archetypes," which he believed to be the building blocks not only of the unconscious mind, but of a collective unconscious. In other words, Jung believed that everyone in the world is born with the same basic subconscious model of what a "hero" is, or a "mentor" or a "quest," and that's why people who don't even speak the same language can enjoy the same stories.

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Campbell's contribution was to take this idea of archetypes and use it to map out the common underlying structure behind religion and myth. He proposed this idea in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which provides examples from cultures throughout history and all over the world. Campbell eloquently argues that all stories are fundamentally the same story, which he named the "Hero's Journey," or the "monomyth." This sounds like a simple idea, but it suggests an incredible ramification, which Campbell summed up with his adage "All religions are true, but none are literal." That is, he concluded that all religions are really containers for the same essential truth, and the trick is to avoid mistaking the wrappings for the diamond.

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George Lucas had already written two drafts of Star Wars when he rediscovered Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces in 1975 (having read it years before in college).

This blueprint for "The Hero's Journey" gave Lucas the focus he needed to draw his sprawling imaginary universe into a single story.The Wachowski Brothers' film The Matrix is also carefully built on the same blueprint.

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Campbell sites three stages of the Hero’s Journey. Each stage contains various elements that build the protagonist’s character, bringing him closer to his (her) self knowledge – the true purpose of the quest.
  • Stage I: Departure
  • Stage II: Initiation
  • Stage III: Return
i departure or separation the call to adventure
I. Departure (or Separation)The Call to Adventure
  • The quest begins with the hero in a state of neurotic anguish. The quest is often announced to the hero by another character who acts as a "herald."
refusal of the call
Refusal of the Call
  • In many stories, the hero initially refuses the call to adventure. When this happens, the hero suffers somehow, and eventually chooses the quest.
supernatural aid
Supernatural Aid
  • Along the way, the hero often encounters a helper, usually a wise old man, who gives the hero both psychological and physical weapons.
crossing of the first threshold
Crossing of the First Threshold
  • The hero eventually must cross into a dark underworld, where he will face evil and darkness, and thereby find true enlightenment. Before this can occur, however, the hero must cross the threshold between his home world and the new world of adventure. Often this involves facing off against and quelling a “threshold guardian.”
belly of the whale
Belly of the Whale
  • Having defeated the threshold guardian, the hero finds himself in a place of darkness where he begins his true adventure, perhaps discovering his true purpose. This “belly of the whale” is a frightening and restricting place, from which the hero must somehow escape. The name for this stage of the monomyth is based upon the story of Jonah.
ii initiation the road of trials
II. Initiation: The Road of Trials
  • Once in the other world, the hero is repeatedly challenged with mental and physical obstacles that must be overcome. Often these take the form of a test, by which the hero improves his skills and proves his worth.
meeting with the goddess
Meeting with the Goddess
  • After overcoming the Road of Trials, the hero often encounters a goddess-like woman: beautiful, queenlike, or motherly. The hero faces the goddess and in doing so, faces his anima. By uniting with the goddess, he becomes a whole person, reconciling his feminine nature with his masculine nature. This can also be a negative encounter when the goddess is replaced by The Temptress. Campbell cites the lure of the woman, leading the hero astray (the hero is assumed to be male).
woman as temptress
Woman as Temptress
  • In some Hero's Quests, the hero will encounter the goddess, but before he can unite with her, he must prove his worthiness by overcoming the temptation of the Woman as Temptress.
atonement with the father
Atonement with the Father
  • The hero may encounter a father-like figure of patriarchal authority. 'Father' and 'son' are often pitted against each other for mastery of the universe. To understand the father, and ultimately himself, the hero must reconcile with this ultimate authority figure.
apotheosis
Apotheosis
  • The Hero's Ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Quite frequently his/her idea of reality is changed, he/she may find him/herself able to do new things or able to see a larger point of view, allowing him/her to sacrifice self.
the ultimate boon
The Ultimate Boon
  • Having reconciled with the father and achieved personal enlightenment, the hero's psychological forces are again balanced. His new found knowledge, or boon, also has potential to benefit society.
iii return refusal of the return
III. Return:Refusal of the Return
  • Having found bliss and enlightenment in the underworld, the hero may not want to return with the boon.
magic flight
Magic Flight
  • A mad dash is made by the hero to return with the prize.
rescue from without
Rescue from Without
  • The hero may need to be rescued from without by humanity.
crossing of the return threshold
Crossing of the Return Threshold
  • Before the hero can return to the real world, he must confront another threshold guardian. The first threshold was a symbolic death; this is now a symbolic rebirth.
master of the two worlds
Master of the Two Worlds
  • Once the final threshold is crossed, the hero is now free to move back and forth between the two worlds at will. He has mastered the conflicting psychological forces of the mind.
freedom to live
Freedom to Live
  • With the journey now complete, the hero has found true freedom, and can turn his efforts to helping or teaching humanity.