Joseph Campbell’s book „The Hero with the Thousand Faces“ was published 72 years ago. No work has influenced journalism, the film industry and marketing since then. The Hero’s journey to Campbell explains for the first time how storytelling really works. It is the mirror of our inner journeys.
New York in 1914: A boy stands in front of totem poles and masks, in the Museum of National History. The ten-year-old is electrified. From now on, Joseph Campbell intensively deals with the Native Americans and their myths. Later he compares them with the legends and fairy tales of other peoples around the world. In the process, he discovers the same patterns in the journey of the heroes again and again.
The hero in a thousand guises
His book „The Hero with a Thousand Faces“ was published in 1949, and initially the work was known only to a small audience. In the 1960s it became the bible of the „New Journalists“. Apparently the content meets the needs of many authors. They want to get away from pale news journalism and prefer to tell stories that get under your skin.
News magazines like Time and Der Spiegel are hardly imaginable without storytelling according to Campbell. Even for filmmakers like George Lucas, Campbell’s Hero in a Thousand Faces is a blueprint. The producer, screenwriter and director owes his Star Wars story to the researcher and feels gratitude for the creator of the hero’s journey.
Joseph Campbell searched the myths of the world. He revealed the commonalities of the heroes of all cultures and periods. Despite their infinite variety, these myths show us remarkably similar heroes. The Frog King, Buddha and Jesus follow the same patterns. Their heroic journeys are a mirror of our inner journeys. Joseph Campbell: The hero in a thousand guises
No hero – no story
Stories need heroes. They can be positive, but also negative. The hero goes through certain stages on his journey. If a story feels too easy, it is probably missing one or two stages.
Campbell has a total of 17 stages. Hollywood material developer and publicist Christopher Vogler refers to this in his twelve stages. In the 1998 book The Writers Journey, he deals in particular with the archetype theory of Carl Gustav Jung.
Will Smith and Roland Emmerich are among his clients. Christopher Vogler headed the script development department at 20th Century Fox: „In major international film productions, the structuring of the script is the cornerstone of creation.“
The 12 stages of the hero’s journey
- The familiar world of the hero: The protagonist lives in his narrow world and does not yet suspect anything of his forthcoming journey. He carries within him a conflict that can manifest itself in an external conflict. To compensate for this, the protagonist has developed psychological defense mechanisms.
- Call of the adventure: The hero is challenged, perhaps directly asked to embark on his journey.
- Fear and refusal: The hero refuses to follow the call. He is afraid. Here it becomes clear how breathtaking the drop height is.
- The mentor: Someone encourages him, prepares the hero. The mentor himself may have traveled a similar journey himself and therefore has experience.
- The first threshold: A threshold guardian can try to prevent the journey from beginning. But then the journey begins. Now there is no turning back, the point of no return is passed.
- Trials, allies and enemies: The hero is challenged and must grow. He is confronted with the suppressed parts of his personality. His ego changes. The traveler gains allies and makes enemies.
- Low point of the journey: The main character descends into the deepest cave. There the worst enemy awaits them. Here, however, the story is heading for its climax.
- The decisive test: The ultimate battle ensues. The newly acquired knowledge must now be applied. If the battle is not won, all that has been achieved so far is lost. With victory, the old self dies as well. The hero is reborn.
- The reward: The hero wins the treasure – the king’s daughter in a fairy tale, the power as president or self-knowledge. The new meaning of life is the real treasure.
- Return with a new self: The journey is not yet over. Is the new ego stable? The opposing force is not yet finally defeated.
- Resurrection: The hero has to prove himself in everyday life. It comes to the very last test. The hero should also use the newly acquired knowledge to help his community.
- Return with the elixir: The main character is whole again with the elixir, the old wounds are healed. The hero lives and serves others in his original home.
Storytelling is as old as mankind. But why do old myths and fairy tales imprint themselves so deeply in our memory? Because they work to a large extent through the subconscious. This is how they reach different centers of the brain, not only the rational level.
Creatively implementing archetypes
The stages of the hero’s journey and the roles are archetypal. Not all of them have to occur all the time, their shape can change. The hero can even be an object whose journey is told. The creativity consists in adapting the roles and stages accordingly.
This raises the following questions: Who can be a protagonist? What is the hero’s problem? How can the target group identify with it? Which feelings of the hero captivate the target group? What does the elixir look like and how does it make the hero whole again? The story always tells a crucial journey from a starting point to an end. This is what makes the message so comprehensible and exciting.
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