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The Hero Monomyth. Joseph Campbell Most quotes are from The Power of Myth Taken from Monomyth . ppt. Moyers: Why are there so many stories of the hero in mythology? Campbell: Because that ’ s what ’ s worth writing about. (123). Example.

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the hero monomyth

The Hero Monomyth

Joseph Campbell

Most quotes are from

The Power of Myth

Taken from

Moyers: Why are there so many stories of the hero in mythology?

Campbell: Because that’s what’s worth writing about. (123)


Here’s one example of an application of Joseph Campbell’s ideas to a contemporary text, Hunger Games:

the question
The Question

is not whether we tell the same hero story over and over again (it is pretty clear that we do), the question is, “Why?”:

Why are we compelled to tell and re-tell the same story? Is there something about this particular narrative we are drawn to, or that we, as humans, need?

let s begin with the basic pattern
Let’s begin with the basic pattern:

1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline

2. A road of trials, at which the hero succeeds or fails

3. Achieving the goal or "boon", which often results in important self-knowledge

4. A return to the ordinary world, at which the hero can succeed or fail

5. Applying the boon: what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

where the wild things are
Where the Wild Things Are

By Maurice Sendak

Is a deceptively simple picture book for children that follows this pattern . . .

max learns
Max learns

To be more human, a better human

To love and to be loved

To conquer his fears, his inner demons

Self control, especially the ability to master his emotions

campbell on the spirit quest
Campbell on the spirit quest:

“All of these different mythologies give us the same essential quest. You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited. Then comes the problem of either staying with that, and letting the world drop off, or returning with that boon and trying to hold on to it as you move back into your social world again. That’s not an easy thing to do” (129).

the popularity of harry potter and hunger games
The popularity of Harry Potter and Hunger Games

Campbell argued that contemporary, industrial cultures are starved for myth, “America has no ethos,” he said. “What we’re learning in our schools is not the wisdom of life.” Such wisdom – learning how to live – can only come from myth (8-9).

Are we, as a culture, starved for myth?

Who are our contemporary heroes?

campbell claims that myth has four functions
Campbell claims that myth has four functions:





1 mystical
1. Mystical

Myth helps us to “realize what a wonder the universe is, what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery” (31).

It is it not so much about learning the meaning of life, as it is about taking pleasure in the experience of living.

2 cosmological
2. Cosmological

Myth shows “us the shape of the universe, but showing it in such a way that the mystery comes through” (31).

It explains why things are the way they are, but not in the same ways that science explains these things.

3 sociological
3. Sociological

Myth is a way of “supporting and validating a certain social order” (31).

Myth both reflects and helps to shape a particular culture’s values and belief systems.

4 pedagogical
4. Pedagogical

Myth teaches us “how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances” (31).

Myth can teach us how to be more human, how to be better humans, how to survive, how to know ourselves, and how to lose ourselves. Myths are models for living.

popular culture as myth
Popular Culture as myth

Campbell argues that in our contemporary, diffused, destabilized, commercial culture (made up of many sub-cultures) where there are no unifying myths, we create unifying myths through popular culture.

Most of these follow the pattern of the hero monomyth . . .

campbell outlined 17 stages of the hero monomyth
Campbell outlined 17 Stages of the Hero Monomyth:

We’re not going into that much detail here! (I’m borrowing from Wikipedia, a great source for over-simplified information.)

If you are interested in learning more, read The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

the call to adventure
The Call to Adventure

The adventure begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of the community, or the hero simply falls into or blunders into it.

the herald
The Herald

The call is often announced to the hero by another character, who acts as a "herald". The herald, often represented as dark or terrifying and judged evil by the world, may call the character to adventure simply by the crisis of his appearance.

there is a choice
There is a choice:

The hero-to-be can refuse the call (not a good idea, because characters who refuse the call often don’t end well)

Or, the hero can choose to accept the call and begin the journey.

crossing the first threshold
Crossing the First Threshold

The hero must cross the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not.

supernatural aid
Supernatural Aid

After the hero has accepted the call, he encounters a protective figure (often elderly) who provides special tools and advice for the adventure ahead, such as an amulet or a weapon.

tests allies and enemies
Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The hero, rather than passing a threshold, passes into the new zone by means of rebirth. He/She must pass tests of allegiance.

  • The Hero and his/her allies ready themselves for battle in the special world.
initiation the road of trials
Initiation: The Road of Trials

The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. The hero is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.

road of trials why so many tasks
Road of Trials: Why so many tasks?

Campbell said, “There’s no reward without renunciation, without paying the price. The Koran says, ‘Do you think that you shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed before you?’” (126).

The hero has to be tested, has to be proven worthy. Also, learning self-consciousness is a long path.

rot why are so many tasks in labyrinths and underworlds
ROT: Why are so many tasks in labyrinths and underworlds?

“The belly of the whale” (from the story of Jonah): “It’s a decent into the dark. Psychologically, the whale represents the power of life locked in the unconscious” (146).

The hero (like Max) has to come to terms with his subconscious mind, that dark part of himself beyond his control and mastery.

rot the journey within
ROT: “The Journey Within”

Campbell used the phrase “the journey within” to demonstrate the way that the hero’s journey represents an individual’s journey toward self-knowledge. This self-knowledge is an understanding of self, not necessarily a mastery of self.

death and rebirth accepting death
Death and Rebirth: Accepting death

Campbell: “You don’t understand death, you learn to acquiesce to death” (151).

The hero’s greatest task is learning to accept his own mortality and the role that death plays in the cycle of life.

rot villains
ROT: Villains

Villains often are villains precisely because they refuse to accept mortality

rot death eaters
ROT: Death Eaters

The hero’s nemesis, the monster, the villain, “has not fully developed in his humanity” (144). The nemesis (Voldemort, Darth Vader, etc.) is stunted in spiritual growth and is always a threat to the hero because he represents what the hero could become if he takes the wrong path.

death eaters
Death Eaters

Defeating Voldemort and the Death Eaters, then, is not defeating death. It is defeating the fear of death.

transforming the self
Transforming the Self

Becoming a hero is about transforming – changing from one thing into another, from one kind of human into another kind: “The basic motif of the universal hero’s journey—leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition” (124).

The hero has to grow up.

self sacrifice

Paradoxically, finding the self means learning to become selfless, and reaching a place of honor, means learning humility:

“Losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another—you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness” (126).

the reward and the road back
The Reward and the Road Back

The hero receives a boon and self-knowledge. He or she also may receive a treasure of some sort won by facing death.

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. But he usually does.

the resurrection
The Resurrection
  • The hero is tested one more time closer to home. Because of the boon or due to his experience, the hero may now perceive both the divine and human worlds.
the hero returns
The Hero Returns
  • The hero bestows the boon to his fellow man giving them and himself the freedom to live.