The Hero's Journey
A monomyth for the ages.
Remember when you realized that Avatar was a little too much like Pocahontas? Or that The Matrix was eerily similar to Star Wars? Well, you weren't the first person to think so.
In the late 1940s, folklorist Joseph Campbell drove a gravy train right through the American Consciousness, introducing a concept that people couldn't wait to drop at parties. His idea? The Monomyth.
Introduced in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the idea suggests that all myths, folktales, legends, and bizarre gossip about Kanye's baby bringing about the salvation of mankind share the same general pattern and structure. This pattern, a.k.a. the Hero's Journey, has been found in everything from 3,000-year-old Polynesian myths to Harry Potter.
This course will walk you through the fundamentals: the three main stages of the monomyth, the 17 substages, how they function in great works of literature and pop culture, and how accurately the monomyth applies to...well, everything.
Unit 1. One Myth to Rule Them All
These fifteen lessons will walk you through the stages of the Hero's Journey, using a boatload of different texts (literature, TV shows, movies...the list goes on) to analyze the function and validity of the monomyth.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: I Could Be Your Hero, Baby
Last time on a very special lesson... Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung held hands and rode off into the sunset as soul mates. Jung's Collective Unconscious was the missing piece needed to explain why all these shared, passed-down stories were so similar. Answer: because our brains are designed take human experiences, like love or the embarrassment of farting in public, and use them to frame stories teaching future generations.
(Yeah, it's a lot of heady stuff. Don't worry: it's almost over—you can go watch a movie in a bit. Just bear with us for a bit longer.)
Next on the docket, Campbell flexed his inner Bill Nye and applied some science to his monomyth framework. Why? Well, he had to see if there were data to support his conclusions.
What he found was that all myths have the same steps in common. They may not look the same on the surface, but they have more or less the same plot elements.
First step? The hero has to enter the picture.
No one exits the womb with revenge and dragon-slaying on their mind; heroes are made. But first they have go to leave the 'burbs and go to Hogwarts, get unjacked from the Matrix, or leave the moisture farm on Tatooine and hang out with convicted space-felons.
This phase—the one where the hero starts the journey and accepts his heroic destiny—is what Campbell calls the departure phase.
Your goal for this lesson is two-fold:
- Get to know the departure phase of the Hero's Journey to use later.
- Be able to explain the mad science Campbell subjected all those poor myths to in order to create the departure phase in the first place.
Put on both your science and literature thinking caps because you're about to pull a double.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Here's where it all comes together, like the Megazord from Power Rangers. All the talk around the water cooler and on the street has been about how dope the Hero's Journey is and how your brain works—without ever actually seeing the Hero's J.
For your first savory, succulent taste, read the section called Departure from The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It includes the following sections:
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- Crossing of the First Threshold
- Belly of the Whale
In these sections, Campbell lays down all the steps in the departure phase after the Call to Adventure (which you already read), where the hero more or less "wakes up" to his destiny.
As you know, Campbell's writing isn't the easiest thing in the world. Don't feel bad if you need to reread or—gasp!—skip a few paragraphs here and there.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3a: Science and Literature: BFFs?
Campbell has a pretty bonkers way of writing, doesn't he?
But The Hero with a Thousand Faces wouldn't have achieved its importance if it weren't seriously well-researched. We mean, how many of you can name twelve Siberian myths?
Campbell's writing might be scattered, but his process is methodical.
We want you to tell us how methodical.
Step 1: Read our introduction to the scientific method.
Step 2: Describe Campbell's scientific process—by writing a lab report. (Or "lab report," since it's not quite what you'll see in science class.)
Your field report should include the following sections:
- Purpose. An open-ended question or statement of what Campbell was trying to find out.
- Hypothesis. A 1-2 sentence statement that describes what Campbell expected to happen.
- Procedures. What did Campbell do specifically? What were the exact steps of the process he completed to test his theory?
- Results. What did Campbell find?
- Analysis. Explain the results. Detail Campbell's theory, as he sees it, in about one paragraph.
- Conclusion. Answer the question from the Purpose section and pose 3-4 additional questions that you feel Campbell's theory didn't answer.
We're looking for about 300-500 words here; the most important thing is that you complete each step with specific answers—toss vagueness out the window. And yes, this activity requires you to read between the lines: Campbell doesn't tell you his process; he shows you. Read carefully.
Step 3: When you're done, upload your shiny new report below.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 1.3b: The Hero With A Thousand Faces
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 11, 12, College
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1