The Hero with a Thousand Faces (first published in 1949) is a non-fiction book, and seminal work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell. In this publication, Campbell discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies.
Since publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell's theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. The best known is perhaps George Lucas, who has acknowledged a debt to Campbell regarding the stories of the Star Wars films.
Additionally, the writers of the 1990's television series, Northern Exposure, were influenced by Joseph Campbell. The premise of the show, about a New York doctor transplanted to the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska was an interpretation of the Hero's Journey as it applies to the development of an individual.
The Joseph Campbell Foundation and New World Library are issuing a new edition of this groundbreaking work during the summer of 2008 as part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series of books, audio and video recordings.
Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth
. In a well-known quote from the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces,
Campbell summarized 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 boons on his fellow man.
In the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or "boon"), which often results in important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (the return to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon).
Very few myths contain all of these stages - some myths contain many of the stages, while others contain only a few; some myths may have as a focus only one of the stages, while other myths may deal with the stages in a somewhat different order. These stages may be organized in a number of ways, including division into three sections: Departure (sometimes called Separation), Initiation and Return. "Departure" deals with the hero venturing forth on the quest, "Initiation" deals with the hero's various adventures along the way, and "Return" deals with the hero's return home with knowledge and powers acquired on the journey.
The classic examples of the monomyth relied upon by Campbell and other scholars include the stories of Osiris, Prometheus, Buddha, Moses, and Christ, although Campbell cites many other classic myths from many cultures which rely upon this basic structure.
While Campbell offers a discussion of the hero's journey by using the Freudian concepts popular in the 1940s and 1950s, the monomythic structure is not tied to these concepts. Similarly, Campbell uses a mixture of Jungian archetypes, unconscious forces, and Arnold van Gennep's structuring of rites of passage rituals to provide some illumination. However, this pattern of the hero's journey influences artists and intellectuals worldwide, suggesting a basic usefulness for Campbell's insights not tied to academic categories and mid-20th century forms of analysis.
Prologue: The Monomyth
- 1. Myth and Dream
- 2. Tragedy and Comedy
- 3. The Hero and the God
- 4. The World Navel
PART ONE: The Adventure of the Hero
Chapter I: Departure
- 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 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.
- In some stories, the hero initially refuses the call to adventure. When this happens, the hero may suffer somehow, and may eventually choose to answer, or may continue to decline the call.
- 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.
- 4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
- The hero must cross the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. Often this involves facing a "threshold guardian", an entity that works to keep all within the protective confines of the world but must be encountered in order to enter the new zone of experience.
- 5. The Belly of the Whale
- The hero, rather than passing a threshold, passes into the new zone by means of rebirth. Appearing to have died by being swallowed or having their flesh scattered, the hero is transformed and becomes ready for the adventure ahead.
Chapter II: Initiation
- Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms. 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.
- 2. The Meeting with the Goddess
- The ultimate trial is often represented as a marriage between the hero and a queenlike, or mother-like figure. This represents the hero's mastery of life (represented by the feminine) as well as the totality of what can be known. When the hero is female, this becomes a male figure.
- 3. Woman as the Temptress
- His awareness expanded, the hero may fixate on the disunity between truth and his subjective outlook, inherently tainted by the flesh. This is often represented with revulsion or rejection of a female figure.
- 4. Atonement with the Father
- The hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure.
- The hero's ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Quite frequently the hero's idea of reality is changed; the hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself.
- The hero is now ready to obtain that which he has set out, an item or new awareness that, once he returns, will benefit the society that he has left.
Chapter III: Return
- 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.
- When the boon's acquisition (or the hero's return to the world) comes against opposition, a chase or pursuit may ensue before the hero returns.
- The hero may need to be rescued by forces from the ordinary world. This may be because the hero has refused to return or because he is successfully blocked from returning with the boon. The hero loses his ego.
- 4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
- The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.
- 5. Master of the Two Worlds
- Because of the boon or due to his experience, the hero may now perceive both the divine and human worlds.
Chapter IV: The Keys
- The hero bestows the boon to his fellow man.
PART TWO: The Cosmogonic Cycle
Chapter I: Emanations
- 1. From Psychology to Metaphysics
- 2. The Universal Round
- 3. Out of the Void -Space
- 4. Within Space -Life
- 5. The Breaking of the One into the Manifold
- 6. Folk Stories of Creation
Chapter II: The Virgin Birth
- 1. Mother Universe
- 2. Matrix of Destiny
- 3. Womb of Redemption
- 4. Folk Stories of Virgin Motherhood
Chapter III: Transformations of the Hero
- 1. The Primordial Hero and the Human
- 2. Childhood of the Human Hero
- 3. The Hero as Warrior
- 4. The Hero as Lover
- 5. The Hero as Emperor and as Tyrant
- 6. The Hero as World Redeemer
- 7. The Hero as Saint
- 8. Departure of the Hero
Chapter IV: Dissolutions
- 1. End of the Microcosm
- 2. End of the Macrocosm
Epilogue: Myth and Society
- 1. The Shapeshifter
- 2. The Function of Myth, Cult, and Meditation
- 3. The Hero Today
Artists influenced by work
In Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
, a book drawn from Campbell's late lectures and workshops, he says about artists and the monomyth:
Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives. [...]
The artist is meant to put the objects of this world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, reveal.
The hero journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulﬁllment or the ﬁasco. There's always the possibility of a ﬁasco.
But there's also the possibility of bliss.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced a number of artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers, including Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and George Lucas. Mickey Hart, Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead had long noted Campbell's influence and agreed to participate in a seminar with him in 1986 entitled From Ritual to Rapture.
Stanley Kubrick introduced Arthur C. Clarke to the book during the writing of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
George Lucas' deliberate use of Campbell's theory of the monomyth in the making of the Star Wars movies is well-documented. In addition to the extensive discussion between Campbell and Bill Moyers, broadcast in 1988 on PBS as The Power of Myth (filmed at "Skywalker Ranch"), on Campbell's influence on the Star Wars films, Lucas gave an extensive interview for the biography Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind (Larsen and Larsen, 2002, pages 541-543) on this topic.
Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood film producer and writer, wrote a memo for Disney Studios on the use of The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a guide for scriptwriters; this memo influenced the creation of such films as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. Vogler later expanded the memo and published it as the book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers, which became the inspiration for a number of successful Hollywood films and is believed to have been used in the development of the Matrix series.
Campbell used the work of early 20th century theorists to develop his model of the hero (see also structuralism
), including Freud
(particularly the Oedipus complex
), Carl Jung
figures and the collective unconscious
), and Arnold Van Gennep
(the three stages of The Rites of Passage
, translated by Campbell into Departure, Separation,
). Campbell also looked to the work of ethnographers James Frazer
and Franz Boas
and psychologist Otto Rank
Campbell called this journey of the hero the monomyth. Campbell was a noted scholar of James Joyce (in 1944 he co-authored A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake with Henry Morton Robinson), and Campbell borrowed the term monomyth from Joyce's Finnegans Wake. In addition, Joyce's Ulysses was also highly influential in the structuring of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The book was originally published by the Bollingen Foundation
through Pantheon Press
. The Bollingen Series
was taken over by Princeton University Press
, who published Book through 2006. Originally issued in 1949 and revised by Campbell in 1968, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
has been reprinted a number of times. Reprints issued after the release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
in 1977 used the image of Mark Hamill
as Luke Skywalker
on the cover. Princeton University Press
issued a commemorative printing of the second edition in 2004 on the occasion of the joint centennial of Campbell's birth and the Press's founding.
A third edition, compiled by the Joseph Campbell Foundation and published by New World Library, was released in July, 2008.
- "There are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind, but this is a book about similarities; and once they are understood the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed. My hope is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite disparate causes of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding" (Third edition, page VIII).
- "As we are told in the Vedas: 'Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names,' " (Third edition, page VII).
The Hero Journey and Women
One of the questions that has been raised about the way that Campbell laid out the monomyth
of the Hero's Journey
in Hero with a Thousand Faces
was that it focused on the masculine journey. Although this was not altogether true—the princess of the Grimms'
" tale and the saga of the hero-goddess Inanna
's descent into the underworld feature prominently in Campbell's schema—it was, nonetheless, a question that has been raised about the book since its publication.
Late in his life, Campbell had this to say:
All of the great mythologies and much of the mythic story-telling of the world are from the male point of view. When I was writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces and wanted to bring female heroes in, I had to go to the fairy tales. These were told by women to children, you know, and you get a different perspective. It was the men who got involved in spinning most of the great myths. The women were too busy; they had too damn much to do to sit around thinking about stories. [...]
In The Odyssey, you'll see three journeys. One is that of Telemachus, the son, going in quest of his father. The second is that of the father, Odysseus, becoming reconciled and related to the female principle in the sense of male-female relationship, rather than the male mastery of the female that was at the center of The Iliad. And the third is of Penelope herself, whose journey is [...] endurance. Out in Nantucket, you see all those cottages with the widow's walk up on the roof: when my husband comes back from the sea. Two journeys through space and one through time.
- The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. Edited and with an Introduction by Phil Cousineau. Forward by Stuart L. Brown, Executive Editor. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
- Campbell, Joseph and Henry Morton Robinson. A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, 1944.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1st edition, Bollingen Foundation, 1949. 2nd edition, Princeton University Press. 3rd edition, New World Library, 2008.
- Campbell, Joseph. Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation. Edited by David Kudler. Novato, California: New World Library, 2004.
- Ford, Clyde W. The Hero with an African Face. New York: Bantam, 2000.
- Henderson, Mary. Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. Companion volume to the exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. New York: Bantam, 1997.
- Larsen, Stephen and Robin Larsen. Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2002.
- Manganaro, Marc. Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Eliot, Frye, and Campbell. New Haven: Yale, 1992.
- Moyers, Bill and Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth. Anchor: Reissue edition, 1991. ISBN 0-385-41886-8
- Pearson, Carol and Katherine Pope. The Female Hero in American and British Literature. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1981.
- Vogler, Christopher. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.