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The hero’s journey contains four vital steps. The steps in this intriguing journey are departure, followed by a transformation, then an understanding of their wisdom and finally, returning home and sharing what they did. There were also videos based off his work available. Thus the sheer impact of his theory is noticeable in the large body of work that was produced around his theory of the ‘monomyth’.
That striking similarity is known as the hero’s journey. First observed and documented by Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey is a concept in which heroes, or people who commit actions for the greater good, follow a three-step cycle known as departure, fulfillment, and return. At the first stage of the hero’s journey, the hero receives a call to an adventure that takes him from the comforts of his home. Next, at the most important stage of the hero’s journey, the hero begins to experience life in foreign territory, where he faces trials and tribulations which later changes his moral outlook and results in a physical or psychological rebirth. At the last stage of the cycle, the hero returns to the ordinary world as a changed person who has regained something he had lost for a moment in time.
The “Star Wars” franchise is familiar to most, and may be the easiest in which to discover the hero’s journey. In “Star Wars,” we find young Luke Skywalker, a rebellious youth, living on a farm on the isolated planet of Tatooine, taken in by his aunt and uncle following the death of his mother and father. Luke grows up with dreams of flying through the stars, only dreams until his chance meeting with Ben Kenobi. Kenobi informs Luke of his real past: that his father was a Jedi knight and that Luke was destined to become great.
Though Kenobi’s guidance and Luke own adventurous spirit, he finds himself pushed into an intergalactic quest to become a valiant Jedi in a galaxy controlled by the evil Empire. seven-page memorandum written by Christopher Vogler, that then immediately did the rounds of the studios in the industry. Titled, A Practical Guide to ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, the note became a part of Hollywood lore (Voytilla, viii). Stuart Voytilla was introduced to the theory via this memorandum, and it appealed to him so greatly, that he approached Vogler and they began to compile of a list of screenplays that followed this pattern. The theory thus not only impacted the plotlines of the movies being produced but also generated research on them.
There are of course, numerous examples of the monomyth in Hollywood, that range across different genres. Examples across the ages include, The Maltese Falcon, My Fair Lady, Shanghai Knights, The Lizzie Mcguire Movie, Shrek, A Toy Story, the works of Disney and Pixar, the Marvel Universe movies etc. This supports the continued impact of the hero myth on the stories that are produced in cinema, as only the outer narrative details change as per the genre and time in which it is set, but the basic motive remains the same.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell delineates the stages of the hero’s journey that the monomyth comprises of. His seventeen stage framework is broadly divided into three stages- separation, initiation and return (2004, 28). The stage of separation includes:
The Call to Adventure: This stage is when the adventure begins. It may do so in many ways- be it a blunder as Campbell suggests, or the rising of the curtain on the journey of the hero to suggest a moment of rite of passage, etc. It is essentially the first step in the mythological journey that begins the process of transcendence from the hero’s own pale society to that of the unknown (Campbell, 2004).
The Refusal of the Call: Here the hero may not respond to the call, as a result of other interests. This is seen, across folklore as a refusal to ‘follow your bliss’ (Campbell, Cousineau, Brown, 46). It indicates a lack of readiness to undertake this journey, thereby changing the adventure into that of a person requiring saving.
Supernatural Aid: This aid is usually observed in the form of an archetypal figure, such as the Mentor, or Wise Old Man in most stories. Campbell states that most fairy folklore introduces figures such as the hermit, wizard, shepherd, or other wood inhabitants as well (2004, 66). Interestingly, in higher cultures, this figure develops further and is represented by more symbolic characters such as the guide, teacher, ferryman, or conductor of souls in the afterlife (2004, 66). These characters may be viewed as the personification of the hero’s destiny.
Crossing the First Threshold: The hero then continues his adventure until he reaches the point that divides the world he knows and the unknown. The threshold guardians are symbolic of the limits of the ordinary individual, and the hero’s current life. If they are dealt with courageously then the danger they pose fades. Beyond them, the unknown that is symbolized by a different terrain or world, becomes symbolic of the unconscious and its content that may be projected here (72).
In The Belly of the Whale: Here Campbell clearly states that “the idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale” (2004,83). It is also viewed as a period of isolation and self-annihilation after crossing the first threshold, as the hero must now journey not only outwards to a new world, but also inwards to be reborn. The belly is then likened to the temple, heaven beyond, or the World Navel or Womb as it is where the ‘modern man’ dies (87).
Road of Trials: In the stories or myths, a hero’s skills are put to the test. Here, in the new land, he has to survive a number of trials. While these are depicted in the stories as battles with monsters and crossing of various barriers and obstacles, this sub-stage becomes symbolic of an individual’s journey into the labyrinth of their own psyche. Here one must battle their own demons, in order to gain moments of clarity and allow the spirit to grow and shift from its infantile stage to a higher form of functioning. Each victory thus allows an individual to draw nearer their transformed state.
Meeting with the Goddess: This stage proposes “the bliss of infancy regained” (Campbell, 34). Usually symbolized by marriage in the myth, the goddess is the epitome of perfection. From a psychoanalytical perspective, she is a symbol of the bliss that was known at infancy and will once again be known at adulthood when this journey is undertaken. She represents the “good mother” which is reminiscent of the unconscious Oedipal desires. She is also represented as the “bad” mother, who draws out a recollection of the Oedipal complex and observance of desire (Campbell, p.102).
Woman as Temptress: In the previous stage, the marriage represents the hero’s mastery over life, as the woman herself is characterized as life who is known and mastered by the hero (Campbell, 111). However, this stage of the journey occurs when the hero realises that mastery of life alone does not allow his complete transformation or transcendence. Thus it symbolizes that achievement of this aspect of a lifestyle does not grant an individual a full transformation of the psyche or of victory over their labyrinth. When the realization occurs, that we cannot be content with only mastery of the flesh, that is the sign of the “pure, pure soul.” (Campbell, 112).
Atonement with the Father: This stage represents a change in the ego state of an individual. Campbell proposes a psychoanalytic perspective to this aspect of the hero’s journey. Myths and stories depict this as the reconciliation with the Gods, or other higher figures. From a symbolic perspective, the prior hatred towards the father is a reflex of the victim’s own infantile ego state that views the patriarchal figure as the enemy, the hero moves towards a more balanced and realistic notion of the father and the world (Campbell, 120). Thus ‘atonement’ implies letting go of this monster that is fashioned out of the father and attachment itself.
Apotheosis: Here the hero has undergone the transformation and his highest self is uncovered. Campbell (2004) states that the hero has now journeyed from his earlier self-concerned ego state to a state of compassion and being egoless. At the same time the ego is not completely destroyed, but enlarged to allow the hero to think outside of himself (144) and extend his protection to his society.
This stage symbolises the completion of the hero’s transformation. In doing so he achieves the purpose of his original journey, and this is often symbolised through intercourse with the gods and goddesses who are embodiments of the elixir of the Imperishable being (Campbell, 168). However this act is supposed to symbolise the hero gaining not the possession or association with the god, but their characteristics. The boon that is granted to the hero is always in accordance with the individual’s needs and thus adds a personal element to the myth as well.
The hero may often be unwilling or unable to return to his former life, and wishes to continue the paradise he has found. However, the monomyth cycle states that the hero must return to society in his transformed state to bring back with him the wisdom or the boon that has been obtained (178). This ties in with the stage of Apotheosis which suggests that the hero extends his ‘protection’ to his society or world. It is also a stage which may prove to be the most difficult for the hero himself as the pleasure of the journey and experience itself may remove any interest in the matters of the world. Another reason for refusal could be that perhaps the message or boon may not be communicable, or even received by the world he returns to (34).
The eventual return to the world with the trophy is characterized by the manner in which it is obtained. He may be supported or chased but the symbolism of the return to his former world remains. The difficulty in letting go of the world of bliss or paradise may mean that the return of the hero need be facilitated through supernatural help. It is indicative of a society that may be jealous of an individual who has managed to achieve this higher state. Thus whether depicted as rescue or summoning, the stage assists the return of the hero.
Campbell describes this stage as the culmination of the paradox that is the hero’s journey, which is but a precursor to the return from the mystical land of adventure to once again, that of the common world. However, he also describes the journey as a revealing of the common world itself existing in the same kingdom as the realm of gods. This knowledge is merely lost from our memory and this merging may be symbolic of the hero’s experiences before and after his transformation.
Thus this stage symbolizes that coming together of the experience of the hero, both outwardly and inwardly. He returns to the old land, transformed, and must now learn to exist as a master of both. The individual, now transcended, is thus able to move between the worlds or aspects of his or her psyche that they have mastered. Campbell (2004) describes this stage as,
“The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment.” (220)
Now that the bliss has been achieved, the hero is able to live in this world once again without disintegrating as the society around him may be. As mentioned earlier, the hero is the individual who have been reborn and no longer represent the shortcomings of the world around them. Freedom to Live: This refers to the freedom the hero now has to live in a world without the fear of returning to his previous ego-centric state. The goal of the end of the myth and the hero’s journey is to have eliminated a life of egoistical ignorance through a journey that aligns the body and mind in harmony, with one another as well as the universe.
Vogler’s memo became a touchstone at Disney and other firms, forming the basis for films such as 1994’s The Lion King, one of the top-grossing movies of all time. Vogler subsequently left Disney to become a freelance screenwriting teacher and consultant, and turned his memo into The Writer’s Journey, a step-by-step how-to for applying Campbell’s ideas to screenplays.