Prof. Eileen Joy
IS-399: Lord of the Rings and Medieval Heroic Poetry
Spring 2008

COURSE NOTES #2: The Heroic Journey

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
[Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949]

“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separationinitiationreturn: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” [p. 30]

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Basic Structure of the Hero’s Journey

PART ONE: The Adventure of the Hero


    * 1. The Call to Adventure

    The adventure begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of the community, or the hero simply falls into or blunders into it. The call is often announced to the hero by another character who acts as a "herald." The herald, often represented as dark or terrifying and judged evil by the world, may call the character to adventure simply by the crisis of his appearance.

    * 2. Refusal of the Call

    In some stories, the hero initially refuses the call to adventure. When this happens, the hero may suffer somehow, and may eventually choose to answer, or may continue to decline the call.

    * 3. Supernatural Aid

    After the hero has accepted the call, he encounters a protective figure (often elderly) who provides special tools and advice for the adventure ahead, such as an amulet or a weapon.

    * 4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

    The hero must cross the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. Often this involves facing a "threshold guardian", an entity that works to keep all within the protective confines of the world but must be encountered in order to enter the new zone of experience.

    * 5. The Belly of the Whale

    The hero, rather than passing a threshold, passes into the new zone by means of rebirth. Appearing to have died by being swallowed or having their flesh scattered, the hero is transformed and becomes ready for the adventure ahead.


    * 1. The Road of Trials

    Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms. The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. The hero is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.

    * 2. The Meeting with the Goddess

    The ultimate trial is often represented as a marriage between the hero and a queenlike, or mother-like figure. This represents the hero's mastery of life (represented by the feminine) as well as the totality of what can be known. When the hero is female, this becomes a male figure.

    * 3. Woman as the Temptress

    His awareness expanded, the hero may fixate on the disunity between truth and his subjective outlook, inherently tainted by the flesh. This is often represented with revulsion or rejection of a female figure.

    * 4. Atonement with the Father

    The hero reconciles the tyrant and merciful aspects of the father-like authority figure to understand himself as well as this figure.

    * 5. Apotheosis

    The hero's ego is disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness. Quite frequently the hero's idea of reality is changed; the hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view, allowing the hero to sacrifice himself.

    * 6. The Ultimate Boon

    The hero is now ready to obtain that which he has set out, an item or new awareness that, once he returns, will benefit the society that he has left.


    * 1. Refusal of the Return

    Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.

    * 2. The Magic Flight

    When the boon's acquirement (or the hero's return to the world) comes against opposition, a chase or pursuit may ensue before the hero returns.

    * 3. Rescue from Without

    The hero may need to be rescued by forces from the ordinary world. This may be because the hero has refused to return or because he is successfully blocked from returning with the boon. The hero loses his ego.

    * 4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

    The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.

    * 5. Master of the Two Worlds

    Because of the boon or due to his experience, the hero may now perceive both the divine and human worlds.

    * 6. Freedom to Live

    The hero bestows the boon to his fellow man.

* * *

“As a man discards worn-out clothes to put on new and different ones, so the embodied self discards its worn-out bodies to take on other new ones. Weapons do not cut it, fire does not burn it, waters do not wet it, wind does not wither it. . . . it is enduring, all-pervasive, fixed, immovable, and timeless.”

[Krishna to Arjuna prior to the great battle between the Pandava brothers and their cousins the Kauravas, on the field of Kuru, after Arjuna, a Pandava, exclaims to Krishna, “I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle”; from the Bhagavad Gita: The Second Teaching, in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, Book I, pp. 1497 and 1500-01]

* * *

“In his life-form the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as a male or as a female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore, in his life-role he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant, or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence, the totality—the fullness of man—is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can only be an organ. From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives; through the past of that society descended the genes that built his body. If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.” [Campbell, pp. 382-83]

“From the standpoint of the way of duty, anyone in exile from the community is a nothing. From the other point of view, however, this exile is the first step of the quest. Each carries within himself the all; therefore it may be sought and discovered within. The differentiations of sex, age, and occupation are not essential to our character, but mere costumes which we wear for a time on the stage of the world. . . . We think of ourselves as Americans, children of the twentieth century, Occidentals, civilized Christians. We are virtuous or sinful. Yet such designations do not tell what it is to be a man, they denote only the accidents of geography, birth-date, and income. What is the core of us? What is the basic character of our being?” [Campbell, p. 385]