Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Part I, Chapter 1

By Joseph Campbell

Part I, Chapter 1

The Call to Adventure

  • The chapter opens with a retelling of the famous fairy tale "The Princess and the Frog."
  • A princess drops her golden ball in the water, where it sinks deep down to the bottom.
  • A frog asks if he can help and the princess promises him anything if he can get the ball back.
  • The frog returns the ball, and asks to be her companion in exchange.
  • She's grossed out by him, but what's a girl gonna do? (Don't worry. As you may suspect, he turns into a handsome prince when she finally decides to kiss him.)
  • The frog returning the princess's golden ball to her is an example of the call to adventure.
  • The call is a crisis: something that spurs the hero or heroine into action.
  • The call involves danger, peril and dark places like a forest (or the bottom of a pond, to follow the princess and the frog).
  • A herald is involved, announcing the danger or the task to be undertaken.
  • More examples follow, including King Arthur and the story of an Indian woman from North America.
  • The hero belongs to an ordinary community when the call arrives, and his or her energy is realigned from inside the community to outside of it.

Refusal of the Call

  • Sometimes the hero doesn't answer the call or want to take up the task.
  • The story makes it very clear: refusing the call is a bad idea.
  • Why? Because it leads to stagnation and a refusal to advance forward in life.
  • The divine being linked to the hero harasses him or her constantly, trapping him or her in a symbolic labyrinth.
  • Example? We got one! How about the story of Daphne, who flees from the loving arms of the god Apollo and gets turned into a laurel tree as a result? Check out the full story here.
  • Campbell notes that the philosopher Carl Jung believes that psychoanalysis finds patterns and fixations very similar to the story of Daphne.
  • Campbell relates the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Kamar al-Zaman from Arabian Nights to demonstrate what happens when the hero refuses the call.

Supernatural Aid

  • For heroes who don't refuse the call, their first encounter with the outside world and the challenges they need to face is with a mentor.
  • This is a wizard, dwarf or some similar figure who provides protection for the hero on the first stage of the journey.
  • This could be the Blessed Virgin in Christian stories, the Spider-Woman in African stories, a wizard, a god like Hermes, or others.
  • The mentor represents destiny and serves as a comfort and a reassurance for the hero on his or her adventures.
  • In some cases, the mentor is also the herald who starts the whole thing rolling with the call to adventure.

The Crossing of the First Threshold

  • With destiny having taken a friendly (and usually bearded) form, the hero moves forward until meeting a "threshold guardian."
  • Beyond this guardian lies the unknown: darkness, danger, the general "Here Be Dragons" thing.
  • The guardian is usually tricky and deceitful, not what he or she first appears….but s/he holds wisdom about the darkness too: two key aspects in the figure.
  • Another avalanche of examples from all over the world follows: Pan in Greek mythology, the Russian "Water Grandfather," and others.
  • The guardian can be protective, warning the hero from venturing past the known world; yet, only by passing the guardian can the hero gain the knowledge and the power that he or she needs.
  • By passing or defeating the guardian, the hero enters a new stage of existence, leaving his or her old life behind.

The Belly of the Whale

  • Having passed the first threshold, the hero enters a womblike state called "the belly of the whale."
  • We know what you're picturing—this always makes us think of Pinocchio, too.
  • He or she is swallowed up by the power of the threshold – symbolized by a sea monster or something similar – and seems to have died.
  • Crossing the threshold can be seen as a kind of self-annihilation, or – less gruesomely – a transformation into another state of being.
  • And, as usual, Campbell wraps up with some more examples.
  • So many examples.