Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and Epic Fantasy
The epic quest. The Adventure. The journey. This is what epic fantasy is all about. Our potential hero always embarks on a quest. And while we initially think that it is all about the external world we always discover that the most important part of the journey is how it changes our hero. This quest taking is a common template for fantasy ever since the dawn of story telling. And Joseph Campbell analyzed and defined it in his book "The hero with a thousand faces". He defined the common steps that are taken during this journey. For example it begins with the normal world. That would be something like Bilbo baggins in the Shire. And then something happens our hero is called to partake in an adventure. And soon thereafter he meets a wise mentor that will help him along the way.
All of this sound familar? It should because these are the steps in the Hero's Journey. It is a really fascinating thing and here are the steps that Joseph Campbell defined. If you are a writer you might want to take a really good look at these. They are a wonderful template for understanding how an epic adventure progresses. And don't give a second thought to it being done already. It has been done many times by many of the best including well Tolkien himself.
The Twelve steps of the Hero's Journey
- The Ordinary World
Our reader first meets our potential hero in his natural place in the world up to now. Typically it is a happy and harmonious place like a village or town.
- Call to Adventure
This is where everything begins to change. Something beckons our character into action or into adventure. Typically something terrible has happened or will happen if action isn't taken.
- Refusal of Call/Reluctant Hero
This isn't a mandatory step but it often happens and for a variety of reasons. Our character may be immature, too young, frightened, insecure, or simply happy with his life exactly the way it is. Why am I the one being summoned here? is a common response. I am no hero, surely there is a real hero out there that can handle this.
- Meeting Wise Mentor
After our hero has committed to doing the quest a mentor will appear and offer help. Sound like Gandalf?
- The First Threshold
The adventure actually begins. Our potential hero takes the steps and leaves the comfort of his current life and moves out into the adventure.
- Tests, Allies and Enemies
These are the challenges and trials that our hero faces along the way. Often time these trials come in threes.
- Supreme Ordeal
This is the big test, often time it is the lowest point or darkest time that our hero faces. It is often needed to break through and become the hero or new self.
- Revisiting the Mentor
The mentor or wise one returns and new lessons are taught that enable our hero to continue on with the journey.
- Return with New Knowledge
Wisdom that has been gained is brought back and used to benefit.
- Seizing the Sword (or Prize)
Here the hero confronts and defeats old enemies with the new power and knowledge gained. He is able to overthrow or defeat the opponent.
This can be a real resurrection or a metaphorical one where the hero is reborn into a new and more capable self, now a better and new person able to accomplish more.
- Return with Elixir
This is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It can be an actual object like an elixir, potion or medicine which typically grants immortality. Or it can mean an achievement of balance between the spiritual and material worlds. The hero feels the freedom to live without the fear of death.
Since its release in 1949, The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of modern psychology with Joseph Campbell's revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero's Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world's mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.
As part of the Joseph Campbell Foundation's Collected Works of Joseph Campbell, this third edition features expanded illustrations, a comprehensive bibliography, and more accessible sidebars.
As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences in fields ranging from religion and anthropology to literature and film studies. The book has also profoundly influenced creative artists-including authors, songwriters, game designers, and filmmakers-and continues to inspire all those interested in the inherent human need to tell stories.