The Hero’s Journey is the more common name given to the theoretical framework, or monomyth, developed by Joseph Campbell. It is rather extensive and based upon years of study of psychology, myths from various cultures, and literature, so my short analysis here will be a disservice of Campbell’s work. If any of what is discussed here interests you, or if you have any interest in narrative storytelling, I highly recommend reading Campbell’s book, Hero With A Thousand Faces, for a more detailed account of his work. Keep in mind that the book is an academic work so the writing will be a bit dry and heavily rely on research and observation. However, I still think you should at least give it a read because once you finish it, you will find how heavily it has influenced a lot of your favorites books, movies, television programs, and pretty much all media. As well, you can look here and here for a quick explanation of the highlights of Campbell’s ideas.
In essence, Campbell theorized that all myths and stories followed a specific pattern that mirrored and prescribed an individual’s own developmental path. The path taken through the hero’s journey requires several steps but the overall procedure is for an individual to be called to action, be granted some form of “supernatural” aid, cross over into the unknown, go through various trials and self realizations, achieving apotheosis, and finally returning to their original home a changed, hopefully better, person. Once again, this is a very quick overview of Campbell’s work and I apologize for butchering it so. Campbell is not without his critics, as most academics are. Still, the narrative structure that Campbell discusses can be applied to various media beyond the literature it was originally intended for. Most famously it was a major influence in the narrative of the original Star Wars film taking on a point by point basis of the “Hero’s Journey” for its story. A more recent example, the independent video game Journey, which I highly recommend, is essentially an interactive exploration of the “Hero’s Journey”.
So, why does this academic exploratory structure still exist considering its age and criticism? Perhaps, it is because even with the various cultural, socioeconomic, gender, [insert other item], [insert other item] differences among us at our core the human experience is very similar. We all have an innate desire to learn and explore from the world around us. We wish to be challenged by adversaries, circumstances, even our own insecurities and personalities. We want to grow and develop and change ourselves and our environment for the better. We all want to find meaning and purpose in life. Is it really so surprising that the stories we tell would have these elements within them? After all, aren’t stories how we teach others and learn ourselves? While the individual elements of a story are interesting and worthy of note, it is the underlying messages and journey that is truly important.
The Sentry Gathers…
(Two quick notes: 1. I am not suggesting that Campbell is not without criticism/problems or that individual cultural narratives should be treated the same. I am merely suggesting that narratives serve a similar purpose and that having a tool to study them under such a light could be useful. 2. Campbell’s theory should be used more as an exploratory tool or analysis and not as a rigid format or method upon which to create narratives. It is best used as a skeleton in that if it has at least some of these elements the story will probably be relatable across various individuals and demographics.)