The Monomyth

From Joseph Campbell’s
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
 Joseph Campbell mapped the archetypal heroic journey in
three major phases: departure, initiation, and return. Within
this three stages there are several sub-stages.
 Not all epic tales must include all of the stages or feature these
phases in exact order for the story to outline a true epic quest.
Remember that archetypes are not an exact literary science,
but instead conform to something akin to dream logic.
 “The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that
it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women…Therefore it is
formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to
discover his own position with reference to this general human
formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who
and where are his ogres?” (Campbell 101).
In order to unleash the unknown within himself, the hero
must leave behind his familiar beginnings…
At the beginning
of the quest, the
hero is drawn
forward onto a
new and terrifying
 “Whether dream or myth, in these adventures there is
an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the
figure that appears suddenly as guide, marking a new
period, a new stage, in the biography” (Campbell 46).
 But some heroes seek to shirk
their epic responsibilities…
 “Refusal of the summons
converts the adventure into its
negative. Walled in boredom,
hard work, or ‘culture,’ the
subject loses the power of
significant affirmative
action…All he can do is create
new problems for himself and
await the gradual approach of
his disintegration” (Campbell
 The mythic protagonist
frequently receives help
from some
supernatural source to
help them start their
 “The first encounter of the hero-journey is with a
protective figure (often a little old crone or old man)
who provides the adventurer with amulets against the
dragon forces he is about to pass”(Campbell 57).
 After accepting the quest and being
armed for its dangers, the hero is
ready to step forward toward his first
 “The hero goes forward in his
adventure until he comes to the
‘threshold guardian’ at the entrance
to the zone of magnified
power…The folk mythologies
populate with deceitful and
dangerous presences every desert
place outside the normal traffic of
the village” (Campbell 64).
 The hero descends into
the realm of the
unknown, braving either
the approximation of
death or death itself…
 “Passage of the threshold is a form of self-
annihilation…instead of passing outward, beyond the
confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to
be born again” (Campbell 77).
On the testing ground, the hero is tried on every level…
 After surviving his first
major test, the hero is
presented with a series
of challenges
comprising the major
weight of his journey…
 “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves
in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous
forms, where he must survive a succession of trials”
(Campbell 81).
 At this point in his quest, the
hero manages to experience
a transformative and
transcendent love…
 “The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres
have been overcome, is commonly represented as a
mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the
Queen Goddess of the World…at the utter most edge of the
earth…or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of
the heart” (Campbell 91).
 During this epic stage,
the hero must spurn
temptations that
threaten to force him
from his chosen path
(which may or may not
be represented by a
feminine figure) …
 “The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond
her, surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the
immaculate ether beyond” (Campbell 102).
 This portion of the
monomyth is concerned
with the confrontation
with the ultimate male
force of the tale…
 “The magic of the sacraments…the protective power of
primitive amulets and charms… are mankind’s
assurances that the arrow, the flames, and the flood
are not as brutal as they seem…One must have faith
that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that
mercy” (Campbell 107, 110).
 After confronting and
becoming the Father
within himself, the
hero can then rise to
the status of godhood…
 “A pattern of the divine
state to which the human
hero attains who has gone
beyond the last terrors of
ignorance” (Campbell
 Having risen to the status of
godhood, the hero can now
access the gifts of the gods…
 “The gods and goddesses then are to
be understood as the embodiments
and custodians of the elixir of
Imperishable Being…What the hero
seeks…[is] their grace…the power of
their sustaining substance…Its
guardians dare release it only to the
duly proven. But the gods may be
oversevere, overcautious, in which
case the hero must trick them of
their treasure” (Campbell 155).
Even after succeeding in his primary task, the hero’s
journey is far from over…
 The hero’s burden does not end
when he has achieved his goal
until he returns full circle to
cast his stolen fire into the
darkness of others…
 “When the hero-quest has been accomplished…the
adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting
trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth,
requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of
bringing the runes of wisdom…back into the kingdom of
community…But the responsibility has been frequently
refused”(Campbell 167).
 Often the hero is given assistance,
some gentle hand guiding him
back to his beginning point…
 “If the hero in his triumph wins the
blessing of the goddess or the god
and is then explicitly
commissioned to return to the
world with some elixir for the
restoration of society, the final
stage of his adventure is supported
by all the powers of his
supernatural patron…This flight
may be complicated by marvels of
magical obstruction and evasion”
(Campbell 170).
 If the hero has been so
marked by his journey
that he is incapable of
self-extraction, other
agents of the story can
come to his rescue…
 “The hero may have to be brought back from his
supernatural adventure by assistance from without.
That is to say, the world may have to come and get him.
For the bliss of the deep abode is not lightly
abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the
wakened state” (Campbell 178).
 Though the hero returns, the man
that left can never cross back over
– marked by his knowledge, the
hero is forever a different figure…
 “The two worlds, the divine and the human, can be
pictured only as distinct from each other – different as life
and death, as day and night. The hero adventures out of
the land we know into darkness; there accomplishes his
adventures…and his return is described as a coming back
out of that yonder zone. Nevertheless…the two kingdoms
are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten
dimension of the world we know” (Campbell 188).
 One
of the hero’s final tasks is
to assimilate this new knowledge
with his old understandings of
the world within the land of his
 “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world
division…not contaminating the principles of the one with
those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one
by virtue of the other – is the result of the master. The
Cosmic Dancer…does not rest heavily in one spot,
but…lightly turns and leaps from one position to
another”(Campbell 196).
 Through fire and back
again unscathed, the
hero burns with a holy
fire within the present
and future…
 “Those listening are oriented to the Imperishable in themselves,
and then supplied incidentally with an item of information.
Though he had feared the terrible hag, he had been swallowed and
reborn. Having died to his personal ego, he arose again established
in the Self. The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of
things become, because he is…nor is he fearful of the next
moment…Thus the next moment is permitted to come to pass”
(Campbell 209).
 Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
3rd ed. Novato, California: New World Library,
1949. Print.
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