September 16, 2021

#08-136: The Hero's Journey - Part I

a graphic illustration of the so-called "Hero's Journey" leading from the familiar into another world, through challenges and achievement, and back home again
A more elaborate version of the Hero's Journey

Note: In 1949, Joseph Campbell introduced the "Monomyth": the idea that all hero stories share a similar pattern. Find out what it is in this lesson and the next.

Get Ready: What makes a story interesting to you? Can you find a pattern that you think is particularly pleasing?

You could call this a "meta-story."

In 1949, English professor and mythologist Joseph Campbell published a book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he suggested that virtually all the stories about the world's heroes share a single pattern, something Campbell called "The Monomyth."

As we shall see, even when the pattern isn't followed, it helps us make sense of things. Some have even applied the idea of "the hero's journey" to the way we live our lives!

I'd like to share that pattern with you. Not a "story" in itself, it is a foundation on which many stories are built, and it has helped me immensely in understanding the books I read and the movies I watch.

In its simplest form, the hero's journey involves a going forth and a return. As Campbell himself put it in a summary, the Monomyth says: "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."

That is, he crosses over into another world, where he achieves some goal, then returns to his world with a new status.

(Sorry, ladies: most heroes are male, and anyway the writing conventions in 1949 cast people of unknown gender as "he" and "him.")

We can distinguish five episodes in this story:

  1. Home ("the world of common day");
  2. the crossing of the First Threshold into
  3. the Other World;
  4. the crossing of the Second Threshold; and
  5. the Return.

Fleshing this out: the hero (who is not called yet a hero) is going about his business when something happens. Sometimes it is an actual call: in The Hobbit, Gandalf appears and enlists Bilbo in the dwarfs' adventure, and in Journey to the West (sometimes called Monkey), the Bodhisattva Guanyin commissions the monk Tang Sanzang to go to India to fetch the Buddhist scriptures. Sometimes the hero is forced to go, as when a tornado carries Dorothy's house away in The Wizard of Oz; and sometimes circumstances force a choice, as when Hua Mulan saves her aged father's life by taking his place in the army.

We'll continue our hero's journey in Lesson #08-137.


Read more:'s_journey

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bestow
  2. boons
  3. conventions
  4. decisive
  5. enlist
  6. entitled
  7. fabulous
  8. fleshing out
  9. meta-story
  10. ventures forth

  1. adding details to
  2. standard ways of doing things
  3. dares to go
  4. a story that includes and explains other stories
  5. gifts; blessings
  6. once-and-for-all
  7. difficult to believe; incredible
  8. sign up; recruit
  9. give
  10. with the title of

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 16, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. e; 3. b; 4. f; 5. h; 6. j; 7. g; 8. a; 9. d; 10. c