What is the Hero’s Journey?
The Hero’s Journey is a concept from comparative mythology discovered/developed by renowned literature professor and mythologist Joseph Campbell. As he examined the various founding myths of religions around the world and legendary stories like the Odyssey, Campbell discovered that all of these stories had the same basic structure. In his classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell lays out the seventeen stages of what he calls the monomyth, commonly referred to as the Hero’s Journey. These steps are:
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- Crossing of the First Threshold
- Belly of the Whale
- Road of Trials
- Meeting with the Goddess
- Woman as Temptress
- Atonement with the Father
- Ultimate Boon
- Refusal of Return
- Magic Flight
- Rescue from Without
- Crossing of the Return Threshold
- Master of the Two Worlds
- Freedom to Live
Campbell’s book has been unbelievably influential in many different ways. The most interesting for me, and probably many of you, is the book’s popularity in the world of storytelling.
The story structure template, both in TV/film and in novels, is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly modified version of Campbell’s Hero’ Journey. For example, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, has frequently credited Campbell’s theory with helping him craft the original Star Wars stories. The Hero’s Journey also is evident in the Harry Potter books and films as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Why Does it Matter?
You’re still probably wondering why I thought this mythological concept, albeit a very cool one, deserved its own blog post (it’s actually going to get three but more on that later). That’s because this story structure also applies to two key figures in the Bible: Moses and Jesus. It is important for me to point out that I’m not saying Moses and Jesus are mythical figures like the others that Campbell studied. That said, it is undeniable that their journeys, specifically Moses’, match Campbell’s theory well.
So, what does this mean? As I see it, cultures and religions all over the world, many of which had little to no contact with other cultures’ religious beliefs, used an almost universal structure for developing their founding myths. I think this shows a universal theme within us that deeply resonates with people. That this structure has now found its way into TV shows, movies, and books we love speaks to the reality that the importance of this journey for humanity still has plenty of relevance for today. Psychologists like Carl Jung and the controversial Jordan Peterson have written at length that human beings need to go on the Hero’s Journey for ourselves in our own lives in order to find true fulfillment.
In this, I think they are wrong. I don’t believe the Hero’s Journey is for you or me to take. That’s because none of us is the “hero” of this world. God is. As the hero in Campbell’s work changes the world through his struggle, Jesus entered into human history and suffered the punishment due to us. In taking this punishment on himself, Jesus opened the door for us to enter into eternal life with our Savior, the God who saves. God takes the Hero’s Journey for us.
Next time, I will take us through the story of Moses and the Exodus to see how his Hero’s Journey reflects and foreshadows Christ’s.