Monomyth: The Hero's Journey
Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, developed in Hero With A Thousand Faces, describes the common heroic narrative in which a heroic protagonist sets out, has transformative adventures, and returns home. It is a useful formula for comparing literary traditions across time and culture.
First, explore the stages of the Hero'r Journey. Then, use the resources provided to explore and compare three different works through the lens of the Monomyth: Mali's Sunjata, South Asia's Ramayana, and Japan's Yamato.
Stages of the Hero's Journey
Fabulous circumstances surrounding conception, birth, and childhood establish the hero's pedigree, and often constitute their own monomyth cycle.
Call to Adventure
The hero is called to adventure by some external event or messenger. The Hero may accept the call willingly or reluctantly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
The Hero's Journey in Three Traditions
The Monomyth in Film
The original Star Wars films provide one means of introducing students to this analytical technique. Though current students may have little familiarity with the original trilogy, the 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens invited new viewers to learn about the characters and storyline of the films from the 70s and 80s. This site, which was a collaboration between NASA and Lucas, breaks down the original three films according to Campbell's Hero's Journey. Don't worry - if Star Wars is not a good option for your students, a quick search will turn up analysis dozens of modern and classic tales broken out into the stages of the Hero's Journey.
Also, for those who are interested, Kurt Vonnegut provided this witty alternative to the Monomyth.
Hero's Journey Contributors
Between 1998 and 2000, ORIAS held a series of teacher institutes at UC Berkeley on the theme of teaching pre-modern history through literature. Using a comparative model based on Joseph Campbell's monomyth (Hero With A Thousand Faces, 1949), middle school teachers, university scholars and performers explored ways to bring pre-modern history to life through the introduction of national heroic traditions. The process generated rigorous content to help teachers integrate challenging literature and critical thinking skills into their courses. Most important though, the stories, with their diverse cultural roots, were exciting and fun to read and teach. The Hero's Journey Project was born out of the enthusiasm and partnerships developed during this series of meetings.
The primary Hero's Journey Internet Project team members were:
- Michele Delattre, Program Coordinator (email@example.com)
- Erik Sahlin, Technology Coordinator and graduate student in history at U. C. Berkeley
- Stephania Burke, a graduate student in East Asian Languages at U. C. Berkeley during this project.
- Edan Dekel, a graduate student in Classics at U. C. Berkeley and ORIAS lecturer during this project.
- Robert Goldman, Professor of South and Southeast Asian Studies, U. C. Berkeley
- Ousmane Macalou, Lecturer in Department of Special Languages, Stanford University
- Nick Bartel, Horace Mann Middle School, San Francisco
- Sheryl Corke, Corte Madera Middle School, Portola Valley
- Donna Kasprowicz, Corte Madera Middle School, Portola Valley
- Dede Tisone-Bartels, co-director of the Bay Area California Arts Project (BayCAP)
- Brigid Corboy, Corte Madera Middle School, Portola Valley
- Yacine Kouyate, jali (oral historian), Mali and Berkeley, CA (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yacine can also be contacted for classroom performances.
- Jyoti Rout, Odissi dancer, Fremont, CA
- Donna Kasprowicz's 6th grade class at Corte Madera Middle School, Portola Valley, 2000
Funding and assistance for the History Through Literature Internet Project was provided by Interactive University at U. C. Berkeley, Oakland Unified School District, U. C. Berkeley Multimedia Research Project and ORIAS.