On Research: Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey

I’ve only ever read snippets of Joseph Campbell’s books on heroes and heroic tales and myths, so I never expected to find influences in his works. Yet, the influence is there. Many other writers and film-makers *have* studied Campbell (not the least of them being George Lucas). So, in being a fan of modern epics like “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”, it follows that I must have subconsciously absorbed and recycled some similar ideas and themes when writing my own little book, “Owe Nothing“.

Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (Hero With A Thousand Faces)

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation–initiation–return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. Stages of the hero’s journey:

1. Birth: Fabulous circumstances surrounding conception, birth, and childhood establish the hero’s pedigree, and often constitute their own monomyth cycle.

2. Call to Adventure: The hero is called to adventure by some external event or messenger. The Hero may accept the call willingly or reluctantly.

3. Helpers/Amulet: During the early stages of the journey, the hero will often receive aid from a protective figure. This supernatural helper can take a wide variety of forms, such as a wizard, and old man, a dwarf, a crone, or a fairy godmother. The helper commonly gives the hero a protective amulet or weapon for the journey.

4. Crossing the Threshold: Upon reaching the threshold of adventure, the hero must undergo some sort of ordeal in order to pass from the everyday world into the world of adventure. This trial may be as painless as entering a dark cave or as violent as being swallowed up by a whale. The important feature is the contrast between the familiar world of light and the dark, unknown world of adventure.

5. Tests: The hero travels through the dream-like world of adventure where he must undergo a series of tests. These trials are often violent encounters with monsters, sorcerers, warriors, or forces of nature. Each successful test further proves the hero’s ability and advances the journey toward its climax.

6. Helpers: The hero is often accompanied on the journey by a helper who assists in the series of tests and generally serves as a loyal companion. Alternately, the hero may encounter a supernatural helper in the world of adventure who fulfills this function.

7. Climax/The Final Battle: This is the critical moment in the hero’s journey in which there is often a final battle with a monster, wizard, or warrior which facilitates the particular resolution of the adventure.

8. Flight: After accomplishing the mission, the hero must return to the threshold of adventure and prepare for a return to the everyday world. If the hero has angered the opposing forces by stealing the elixir or killing a powerful monster, the return may take the form of a hasty flight. If the hero has been given the elixir freely, the flight may be a benign stage of the journey.

9. Return: The hero again crosses the threshold of adventure and returns to the everyday world of daylight. The return usually takes the form of an awakening, rebirth, resurrection, or a simple emergence from a cave or forest. Sometimes the hero is pulled out of the adventure world by a force from the daylight world.

10. Elixir: The object, knowledge, or blessing that the hero acquired during the adventure is now put to use in the everyday world. Often it has a restorative or healing function, but it also serves to define the hero’s role in the society.

11. Home: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.



Author: E. John Love

E. John Love is an artist, designer and writer living in Vancouver, BC.

One thought on “On Research: Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey”

  1. As I read the stages of the hero’s journey (above), I was thrilled to realize that many of the stages were already represented in my first novel, “Owe Nothing”…

    Call to Adventure:
    Jack and Parm were “called” (recruited) into the Insiders adventure by Bill and Ed, and as a consequence, can help the Coffey brothers.

    Crossing the Threshold:
    Jack and Parm do undergo something of a rite, when they are shown Mac’s bullet-riddled car. Is it a warning (*abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”)

    Jack’s surveillance task at the warehouse, and his “sting” operation on Ted represent major trials for him. The pressure of these gets to him at one point, when he breaks down emotionally before Parm visits.

    Parm is Jack’s sidekick throughout “Owe Nothing”.

    Climax/The Final Battle:
    This is the critical moment in the hero’s journey in which there is often a final battle with a monster,wizard,or warrior which facilitates the particular resolution of the adventure.

    In one of the final chapters, after undergoing the stress and excitement of his adventures, Jack sits and has a long talk with his Dad. While revealing little of how involved he was, he discusses his role and his future.

    The confidence, and some of the equipment, that Jack gained from doing the “Insiders” spy work, helped him to succeed in his operation against Ted Coffey.

    Part of the denouement in the final chapter is the irony that although Jack has been able to help Bill/Ed and the Coffey brothers, he still is unsure about how he can help himself.

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