The Hero with a Thousand Faces

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The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Cover of the first edition
Author Joseph Campbell
Country United States
Language English
Subject Mythology
Published <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/>
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-57731-593-3
OCLC 224442464
201/.3 22
LC Class BL313 .C28 2008

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (first published in 1949) is a work of comparative mythology by American mythologist Joseph Campbell. In this book, 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 Campbell's influence on the Star Wars films.[1]

The Joseph Campbell Foundation and New World Library issued a new edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces in July 2008 as part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series of books, audio and video recordings. In 2011, Time placed the book in its list of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since the magazine was founded in 1923.[2]


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:

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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.[3]

In laying out 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 the discovery of 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.[citation needed]

The classic examples of the monomyth relied upon by Campbell and other scholars include the stories of Osiris, Prometheus, the Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus, although Campbell cites many other classic myths from many cultures which rely upon this basic structure. The alleged similarities between these shared hero legends is one of the basic arguments of the Christ myth theory.

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.[4] 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.


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 (archetypal figures and the collective unconscious), and Arnold Van Gennep (the three stages of The Rites of Passage, translated by Campbell into Separation, Initiation and Return). Campbell also looked to the work of ethnographers James George Frazer and Franz Boas and psychologist Otto Rank.

Campbell called this journey of the hero the monomyth.[5] 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.

Publishing history

reprint book cover with the image of Hamill as Luke Skywalker near the bottom right corner
Cover of reprints of the book, featuring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

The book was originally published by the Bollingen Foundation through Pantheon Press as the seventeenth title in the Bollingen Series. This series was taken over by Princeton University Press, who published The Hero 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 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 with an added foreword by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

A third edition, compiled by the Joseph Campbell Foundation and published by New World Library, was released as the twelfth title in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series in July 2008.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces has been translated into over twenty languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Turkish, Dutch, Greek, Danish, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Czech, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Hebrew, and has sold well over a million copies worldwide.[6]

The hero's journey and women

One of the criticisms 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' "The Frog Prince" tale and the saga of the hero-goddess Inanna's descent into the underworld feature prominently in Campbell's schema—it was, nonetheless, a criticism that has been raised about the book since its publication.

Late in his life, Campbell had this to say:

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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.[7]

Artists influenced by the 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:

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Artists are magical elfs. 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.
— Joseph Campbell, [8]

Influences on artists

The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced a number of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and poets, such as Bob Dylan, George Lucas, and Jim Morrison. Additionally, 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".[9]

In film

Stanley Kubrick introduced Arthur C. Clarke to the book during the writing of 2001: A Space Odyssey.[10]

George Lucas' deliberate use of Campbell's theory of the monomyth in the making of the Star Wars movies is well documented. On the DVD release of the famous colloquy between Campbell and Bill Moyers, filmed at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and broadcast in 1988 on PBS as The Power of Myth, Campbell and Moyers discussed Lucas's use of The Hero with a Thousand Faces in making his films.[11] Lucas himself discussed how Campbell's work affected his approach to storytelling and film-making.[12]

In games

Jenova Chen, lead designer at thatgamecompany, also cites "The Hero's Journey" as the primary inspiration for the PlayStation 3 game Journey (2012).[13]

Mark Rosewater, head designer of the Magic: The Gathering trading card game, cites "The Hero's Journey" as a major inspiration for "The Weatherlight Saga", an epic storyarc that went from 1997 to 2001, and spanned multiple cardsets, comic books, and novels.[citation needed]

In literature

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 (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Beauty and the Beast (1991). 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.

Novelist Richard Adams acknowledges a debt to Campbell's work, and specifically to the concept of the monomyth.[14] In his best known work, Watership Down, Adams uses extracts from The Hero with a Thousand Faces as chapter epigrams.[15]

Author Neil Gaiman, whose work is frequently seen as exemplifying the monomyth structure,[16] says that he started The Hero with a Thousand Faces but refused to finish it: "I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true—I don't want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it's true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is."[17]

Many scholars and reviewers have noted how closely J. K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter books hewed to the monomyth schema.[18] To date, however, Rowling has neither confirmed that she used Campbell's work as an inspiration, nor denied that she ever read The Hero with a Thousand Faces.[citation needed]

In music

Singer Janelle Monáe, in the liner notes of her album, The ArchAndroid (2010), cites Hero as one of her inspirations for the track "57821".[citation needed]

The Atlanta-based metal band Mastodon draw from The Hero With a Thousand Faces on their 2006 album Blood Mountain.[citation needed]

In television

Dan Harmon, the creator of the TV show Community, has stated that he has used the monomyth as inspiration for his work.[19]

The sixth and final season of Lost recognizes Campbell's theories on the hero. During one of the bonus features, the makers of the series discuss the journey of the main characters and how each is a hero in their own way. Before each little segment of this particular feature, they quote Campbell and then expound on that particular quote by discussing the various characters.

See also


  1. Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, 3rd edition, Phil Cousineau, editor. Novato, California: New World Library, 2003, pp. 186-187.
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  3. Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30 / Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, p. 23.
  4. Since the late 1960s, with the introduction of post-structuralism, theories such as the monomyth (to the extent they are based in structuralism) have lost ground in the academic world. Nonetheless, the resonance of this theory and of Campbell's schema remains; every year, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is used as a text-book in thousands of university courses worldwide. Source: Joseph Campbell Foundation website.
  5. Source of term monomyth.
  6. The Complete Works of Joseph Campbell data base on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, accessed July 2, 2010.
  7. --Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, Edited by David Kudler. Novato, California: New World Library, 2004, pp. 145, 159.
  8. Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, Edited by David Kudler. Novato, California: New World Library, 2004, pp. 132, 133.
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  12. Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey, loc. cit.
  14. Bridgman, Joan (August 2000). "Richard Adams at Eighty". The Contemporary Review (The Contemporary Review Company Limited) 277.1615: 108. ISSN 0010-7565.
  15. Richard Adams, Watership Down. Scribner, 2005, p. 225. ISBN 978-0-7432-7770-9
  16. See Stephen Rauch, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and Joseph Campbell: In Search of the Modern Myth, Wildside Press, 2003
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  18. Sharon Black, "The Magic of Harry Potter: Symbols and Heroes of Fantasy," Children‘s Literature in Education, Springer Netherlands, Volume 34, Number 3 / September, 2003, pp. 237–247, ISSN 0045-6713; Patrick Shannon, "Harry Potter as Classic Myth"; Deborah De Rosa, "Wizardly Challenges to, and Affirmations of the Initiation Paradigm in Harry Potter," Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter, Elizabeth Heileman, ed. Routledge, 2002, pp 163–183—there are numerous similar references.
  19. A Sense of Community: Essays on the Television Series and Its Fandom. (McFarland, 2014) p. 24. ISBN 1476615713


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