Reposted: Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is Bunk

A good thought from John C. Wright, readers!


Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is Bunk

We were discussing Campbell’s conception that a wheel-shaped pattern called the Hero’s Journey underpins folk tale and myth for all foundational heroic stories, across all cultures and generations.

I admit to be deeply unimpressed with Joseph Campbell’s writing, after reading three or four of his books. Allow me to say why.

His conceit is that “The Hero’s Journey” begins when some difficulty, a curse or pollution, arises within the safe walls of the home or ordered community where the young hero resides. He is reluctant to quest for a solution at first; then goes along the road to adventure; along the way, he receives wise advise from a mentor, a wizard or supernatural animal; he enters the perilous realm of the unknown as if entering a cave; he encounters allies and enemies; he suffers a supreme challenge, or death; he is reborn anew; he walks the road of return to find again the known world, now armed with the magic sword, special wisdom, or elixir of life needed to cure the curse; he benefits the community, restores order, and becomes king.

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4 thoughts on “Reposted: Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is Bunk

  1. Had an English Lit professor in college who taught this as part of a survey course in “the Humanities.” Superficially it makes a loose kind of sense, as Wright points out in several examples, but it fails as the universal pattern Campbell posits. To her credit, our professor never made Campbell’s sort of claim. It was just one way of looking at some, but by no means all, heroic tales.
    Great post! I don’t often get reminded of college courses reading blogs such as this one! And a most pleasant memory it is, in this case. (We shall not go into why it’s a pleasant memory, except to note that the professor in question was the subject of a youthful crush. 😎)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yep, he nails it; on the one hand, you can apply it to almost any story if you squint hard enough, on the other it doesn’t actually provide any kind of significant meaning or insight to story structure in general or to that of any given story.

    The ‘hero’s journey’ is one of those things that sounds just superficially plausible and is presented authoritatively enough to be believed, but doesn’t hold up once you actually examine it.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I agree that it is something useful to an extent, but doesn’t go as far Campbell may have thought or other believe. Or as one might say: “it’s a good hammer, but not every story is a nail.”

    Though given how badly written much modern stuff is, I would force some authors to hew to it closely until they get more experience and wisdom.

    Liked by 3 people

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