The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Every story has a hero, a character that undergoes some sort of transformation or change as a result of the story’s plot. This is no accident, as Joseph Campbell proposes in his 1949 book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” The similarities between the various myths and other stories from around the world are based on a series of fundamental “steps” that are reflections of the human experience. Using various examples from a number of myths and religions, as well as the works of Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and James Joyce, Campbell illustrates that fiction and mythology serve a purpose far beyond that of mere entertainment, as they can be used to reveal the hidden meanings behind the various events that occur in one’s life by way of what he dubs “the hero’s journey.”

According to Campbell, every myth is composed of 17 distinct stages, which when grouped together make up three major segments: departure, initiation, and return. These basic steps are the backbone of the three-act structure seen in modern films and storytelling. Simply put, the hero is forced to remove themselves from their ordinary life in order to begin a quest that results in a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The book has been credited as having inspired numerous writers, directors, actors and other entertainers. It has also been the basis for a number of other books that further specify the steps of the heroic journey as it relates to film, television and written fiction. George Lucas, for example, openly considers the book to be one of the most influential sources for the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

I first learned about this book during my senior year of high school, and have since found it an invaluable tool as both a writer and a human being. Given the number of pitfalls that have occurred in my life, I found the book to be a sort of guideline that I could remind myself that everything happens for a reason.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” can be found in Penfield Library under the call number BL313 .C28 1972.