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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.

Course Breakdown

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

"BRB. Hero stuff."

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:

  1. Get to know the departure phase of the Hero's Journey to use later.
  2. 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.