The Hero’s Journey

I was having a mental conversation with myself this morning, contemplating how to teach Joseph Campbell’s writing style to my students. The trajectory of my thoughts led me to the almost-cliché Hero’s Journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell images the Journey thusly:

One key point of the Hero’s Journey is that it is a circle. The Hero leaves, the Hero must return. If the Hero fails to return, then someone needs to go in and bring him/her home. The Hero must return and share the boon. Sure, there are exceptions. But that’s a different conversation.

The Journey is also linked with Jung’s process of Individuation. In the process of becoming a whole in-divid-ual, Jung tells us that we need to descend into the unconscious, return, and repeat the process as often as necessary. Jung’s process is associated by “old school” Jungians as aimed for the second half of life, but I don’t buy that for one second.

Hero’s Journey, circular, continuous… Point made? Good. So, here’s where my thoughts were going.

In our current phase of epic literature [“literature” includes film, television, and any other “text” within myth/popular culture], our epics are episodic. Historic epics, such as The Odyssey and Moby-Dick (a nod to my Epic professor, Dennis Slattery), have episodes built into the larger Hero Journey of the character, but are themselves not episodic. By episodic, let’s consider Harry Potter.

Harry has a single journey that spans all seven volumes—to defeat Voldemort and rid the wizarding world of an evil. This single journey’s latent meaning involves breaking his bond with Voldemort, and individuating, moving beyond the Boy Who Lived and to become Harry.

Each volume of the series is itself a complete Hero Journey. In the first book, his Journey is to rescue the Sorcerer’s Stone, the second is to rescue Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets, etc. Each journey brings him ever closer to the ultimate boon battle with Voldemort.

The limitations of words on this blog make the image I’m trying to convey a little difficult, but work with me here. The Little Hero’s Journeys build upon each other and culminate in the Big Hero’s Journey. Kind of like a spiral, with the first story being at the top moving down:

Though I’d prefer to imagine it the other way around, moving from narrow bottom up, but I couldn’t find a suitable image.

This new kind of Epic Hero’s Journey is nicely situated for integrating Campbell’s Monomyth with Jung’s Individuation. It’s a process. With each level, we gain experience and magical helpers that give us the strength to ultimately face that Bad Guy at the end of the game. (A notable exception is Epic Mickey. Again, something for another day.) We can see this Epic Monomyth at play in many different myth outlets these days, of which Harry Potter is only one voice. Others that immediately come to mind include Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, and Star Wars.

And seeing the Hero’s Journey in this way makes it a better roadmap for our lives. Imagine what our world would look like if we imagined progress as a spiral and not as a linear evolution?

For your viewing pleasure, I pilfered this from (credit due where credit is due):