Have you ever noticed how lots of adventure stories seem similar? You may think that’s because authors keep stealing from each other, and maybe that’s true. But legendary historian of mythology Joseph Campbell argued in his 1949 classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces that there’s something else going on. In fact, Campbell claimed that all myths share the same basic structure.
Campbell was focused on religion, and his book looks at religious myths from around the world. He finds that they all follow something he called the “hero’s journey,” in which the hero experiences the same basic stages throughout her adventure. Campbell’s work became highly influential. Even George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, cited Campbell as one of his major influences in writing the story of Luke Skywalker! The hero’s journey has since been analyzed in everything from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to, yes, superheroes. Campbell even argued that the hero’s journey is part of our ordinary lives as well, and that it helps us understand the challenges we face as we grow up.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a very advanced book, and so may be challenging to read. But Campbell also discussed many of the same ideas in his beloved PBS show with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth. You can read transcripts from the show at Bill Moyers’s website.
Do you see any similarities between the hero’s journey and your favorite superhero story? Tell us about them! Submit your ideas through our submission page and we may publish them next month. You can also review any other books you’ve read recently.