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Book Review: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Posted by jaystile on June 22, 2009

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a non-fiction book by Joseph Campbell ©1949. The premise of the book is that there is only one hero story, the monomyth. All stories share similar seeds of the idea of the hero. Joseph Campbell uses hero stories from varied traditions like Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Native American, Australian, African, Irish, Nordic, and the far east to use as examples of the universal condition of man. The concepts in the book are exhilarating, however Campbell’s literary style has him flowing from topic/example to another and then back again. And other than his over zealous support for Freudian psychoanalysis and dream analysis (which was very popular at the time of writing) it was worth a read. I enjoyed Part I which focused on the exploits of the hero more than Part II which revolved around the cyclical nature of the universe and the hero’s role in it.

Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Muller); as a repository of allegorical instruction, to shape the individual to his group (Durkheim); as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung); as the traditional vehicle of man’s profoundest metaphysical insights (Coomaraswamy); and as God’ Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all of these. The various judgments are determined by the viewpoints of the judges. For when scrutinized in terms not of what it is but of how it functions, of how it has served mankind in the past, of how it may serve today, mythology shows itself to be as amenable as life itself to the obsessions and requirements of the individual, the race, the age.

This book had a profound influence on George Lucas and the Star Wars story. The Hero with a Thousand Faces had me thinking of the many parallels of the hero stories I’ve enjoyed which I would like to align with the chapter titles in the book to add to his examples. So, let’s see how our modern tales fit in the monomyth (paraphrased for entertainment value by myself).

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien

  1. The Call to Adventure – Take the ring to Elrond.
  2. Refusal of the Call – I can’t go I’m in love with the Shire. What’s that? Bad things are coming to kill me? F@#$ this place.
  3. Supernatural Aid – Tom Bombadil, enough said. Old Man Willow should have ate their sorry hobbit behinds. Not too mention that Gandalf gets resurrected, talk about Deus Ex Machina. (Not that I am criticizing J.R.R. Tolkien my personal literary god.)
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold – Let’s run to the Prancing Pony!
  5. The Belly of the Whale – You’re holding The One Ring to Rule them all. *uh oh*

The Matrix by Larry and Andy Wachowski

  1. The Call to Adventure – Follow the White Rabbit.
  2. Refusal of the Call – Climb out the window?! GTFO. <<Insert mechanical insect>> On second thought, where is that red pill?
  3. Supernatural Aid – I’m going to learn kung-fu? Yes dumbass, why else would we stab you in the brain?
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold – Free your mind.
  5. The Belly of the Whale – Your whole life was a fabrication called The Matrix

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

  1. The Call to Adventure – You’re a wizard and didn’t know it. Congratulations
  2. Supernatural Aid – Hi, I’m Hagrid here to bust your ass out and be your BFF even though you’ll never appreciate me.
  3. The Crossing of the First Threshold – To Diagon Alley!
  4. The Belly of the Whale – Welcome to Hogwarts! Time to meet your mortal enemy!

Star Wars by George Lucas

  1. The Call to Adventure – Come with me to Alderaan.
  2. Refusal of the Call – I can’t I’m in enough trouble as it is! Oh, it turns out my foster parents are dead. I think I’ll go with you instead.
  3. Supernatural Aid – “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side”. Actually, it turns out they are.
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold – That little droid is going to get me into a lot of trouble! … I see two banthas down there but no Sandpeople… *URRGHGG UR UR URRRGGGH*
  5. The Belly of the Whale – The Death Star. The metaphor doesn’t even have to stretch.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces – Table of Contents
Prologue: The Monomyth

  1. Myth and Ream
  2. Tragedy and Comedy
  3. The Hero and the God
  4. The World Navel

Part I: The Adventure of the Hero
Chapter I: Departure

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. Refusal of the Call
  3. Supernatural Aid
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
  5. The Belly of the Whale

Chapter II: Initiation

  1. The Road of Trials
  2. The Meeting with the Goddess
  3. Woman as the Temptress
  4. Atonement with the Father
  5. Apotheosis
  6. The Ultimate Boon

Chapter III: Return

  1. Refusal of the Return
  2. The Magic Flight
  3. Rescue from Without
  4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  5. Master of the Two Worlds
  6. Freedom to Live

Chapter IV: The Keys

Part II: The Cosmogonic Cycle
Chapter I: Emanations

  1. From Psychology to Metaphysics
  2. The Universal Round
  3. Out of the Void–Space
  4. Within Space–Life
  5. The Breaking of the One into the Manifold
  6. Fold Stories of Creation

Chapter II: The Virgin Birth

  1. Mother Universe
  2. Matrix of Destiny
  3. Womb of Redemption
  4. Fold Stories of Virgin Motherhood

Chapter III: Transformations of the Hero

  1. The Primordial Hero and the Human
  2. Childhood of the Human Hero
  3. The Hero as Warrior
  4. The Hero as Lover
  5. The Hero as Emperor and as Tyrant
  6. The Hero as World Redeemer
  7. The Hero as Saint
  8. Departure of the Hero

Chapter IV: Dissolutions

  1. End of the Microcosm
  2. End of the Macrocosm

Epilogue: Myth and Society

  1. The Shapeshifter
  2. The FUnction of Myth, Cult, and Meditation
  3. The Hero Today
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One Response to “Book Review: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell”

  1. Great book. Took awhile to read it through fully but that itself eemed like a rite of passage

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