Joseph Campbell

I finally read my way through Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Had that book on my to-read list for the last ten years or so; I guess it took a grad school course to make me buckle down and actually get through it. Or two grad school courses, rather – it just so happens this fits both of my streams of study.

Here’s the summary of what Campbell calls “The Hero’s Journey”, otherwise known as “The Monomyth”:

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 a boon on his fellow man. (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Novato: New World Library, 2008. 23)

If you want to watch an entertaining explanation of this in much less pompous language than Campbell uses, check out this version by Fafa and Mario (they’re puppets. Mario looks a bit like Elmo with a beard.): The Hero’s Journey on Glove and Boots.

So how does this apply to my studies? Well, all three of the children’s books I’m working on, Wizard of Oz, Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, and HP & the Philosopher’s Stone, are prime examples of this hero’s journey. So is Snow White. Think about it: Dorothy, Lucy, Harry and Snow White all leave their homes (even if they’re only temporary or unloving homes like Lucy’s or Harry’s). They enter through a portal (the cyclone, wardrobe, Hogwart’s train, beginning of the forest) into another realm (Oz, Narnia, Hogwarts, the forest), where they meet with supernatural aid (the Witch of the North, Tumnus, Hagrid, the dwarfs). They have adventures, and finally confront the ultimate challenge (the witch, the witch, the wizard, the witch). Once they’ve overcome the antagonist, they get a reward (the return ticket to Kansas plus her friends as rulers of Oz, a stint as ruler of Narnia, the Hogwarts House Cup and full belonging to the wizarding community, the prince); finally they return triumphantly to where they came from (Kansas, England, Little Whinging, the castle) with a new sense of who they are.

Before I read the book, I thought the Hero’s Journey was primarily a male deal – for heroes, not heroines. But now I’m not so sure. Campbell does cite more than one female hero, and as I said, the pattern certainly fits the girls in my stories as well as the boys. I’m going to be taking a close look at what the female hero’s journey looks like – is it different, is it the same, is some of it different and some the same? I have a feeling it may turn out to be the latter.




3 thoughts on “Joseph Campbell

  1. Oh, I love Joseph Campbell. Don’t think I read the book you mentioned but I have read quite a bit, back when I was doing my children’s lit studies a zillion years ago. Campbell was also popular in therapy back then too; you know, we each have our own epic journey etc……….


  2. Pingback: Turbo on the Hero’s Journey | quill and qwerty

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