Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Part I, Chapter 3

By Joseph Campbell

Part I, Chapter 3


Refusal of the Return

  • With the hero attaining everything he desires, you might think it's time to roll the credits. But you'd be wrong.
  • The hero must return to the normal world and share his or her gifts with everyone.
  • Unfortunately, most heroes just say no to returning home.
  • Buddha, for instance, questioned whether his wisdom could be understood, while the Hindu leader Muchukunda slept in a hidden cavern rather than returning to the world.
  • In some cases, the hero is justified in this belief and is left in his bliss without having to return to the world.

The Magic Flight

  • Assuming the hero chooses to return to the world, he still has to get there.
  • If he's stolen his boon or treasure, he's going to be chased by all those cranky demons and gods he stole it from, resulting in a comic chase.
  • As an example, Campbell cites the Welsh story of Gwion Bach, who flees from angry giants by turning into various animals like rabbits and fish.
  • More examples follow: the first shaman, Morgon-Kara from Siberia, and a Maori folk tale about a fisherman who had a (literally) monstrous wife he had to flee from.
  • In some cases, obstacles are tossed in the hero's way as he flies back, and the danger levels may still be high.
  • Campbell's example in this case is the story of Jason, who must overcome a number of tasks once he seizes the Golden Fleece.
  • It's followed by tales of the Japanese god-hero Izanagi and the Greek hero Orpheus, both of whom had to flee the underworld.
  • Orpheus is particularly important, since he looks back when he is told not to and loses his love, who he'd ventured into the underworld to find.
  • Human failure, not divine failure, is what causes troubles at this stage in the Hero's Journey.
  • And yet the Hero's Journey isn't about failure but fulfillment. Better get some rescuing in there.

Rescue from Without

  • Sometimes the hero can't return to the world on his own; he needs some help from someone else to do it.
  • The examples used include Raven, the helpful trickster of Native American legends, and Amaterasu, Japanese Goddess of the Sun.
  • The wisdom in this comes from the fact that we realize that all things are part of the divine…so that outside help is actually just another manifestation of the hero's own immortality and power.
  • All of that eventually leads the hero back to his or her former home, armed with the gifts and wisdom won by all of his or her adventures.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold

  • There's a division between the normal world the hero left and the supernatural world where he or she had his or her adventures.
  • Yet they're actually all part of the same universe, and by exploring the unknown side, the hero unifies them in his or her own being.
  • The hero now has to express what he or she has learned to the normal world, a world that may not be ready to hear it.
  • This is a tough task, but it's necessary because it advances the world and moves everyone forward spiritually, not just the hero.
  • Our example du jour is Rip Van Winkle, who lies in an enchanted sleep and then is mocked and persecuted when he returns home.
  • The Irish hero Oisin suffers a similar fate when he returns to the world.
  • Campbell points out that time is often dilated when the hero goes on his or her adventure: that one year in the supernatural world may equal a hundred in the normal world.
  • What the gods see as an eternal, unchanging world, mortals experience as swirling chaos.
  • The problem for the hero involves conveying that sense of eternal bliss to a world that cannot or will not see it.
  • In some stories, that can be achieved by an "insulating horse" which allows the hero to speak to the world without actually touching it.
  • Before that can happen, however, the hero has to survive the stress of returning to the world.
  • Examples include Arabian tales of the clashing jinns Dahnash and Maymunah.
  • Though the transition is difficult, it's also inevitable: destiny will make sure it happens.

Master of the Two Worlds

  • The hero's ultimate goal is to bridge the mortal and the divine; since he can move back and forth between them, he's the one who can bring them together.
  • Campbell cites maybe the most obvious example in the entire book: Jesus Christ, who represents both the human and the divine in a single being.
  • The facts of a mythic story aren't relevant: it doesn't matter if it actually happened or not.
  • The truths these stories hold are the important thing: the way they can show us how to respond to conflicts and trials in our own lives.
  • Therefore, it's not a single event, but something that resonates throughout all of time.
  • Campbell cites the Hindu "Song of the Lord" as an example.
  • Symbols, such as the kind found in the Hero's Journey, are simply the means by which the message is communicated, not the message itself.
  • Symbols, therefore, can be fluid, and change to fit new times and new cultures, rather than staying bound in one place.
  • Individuals who surrender their fears, limitations, and failings – their individual needs – become vessels for spiritual and religious fulfillment.

Freedom to Live

  • The purpose of the Hero's Journey, as a story, is to reconcile our individual needs with the "universal will" – in other words, to help us, as individuals, function more harmoniously with the universe.
  • We're back to Gwion Bach for an example.
  • The hero represents the universe in a constant process of becoming: eternal yet ever-changing.