Darn You Joseph Campbell!


By Raymond M. Coulombe

In his landmark book, Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell explored the hero’s journey. It’s about the archetypal story pattern of the hero. It’s a story arch across various ancient myth and modern day adventures.

I’m not going to spell it out here. Wikipedia does a pretty decent job of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey

Once you’ve seen it, you’ll recognize the pattern from just about every hero story and myth you’ve ever read. It’s pretty freaking common. There’s some debate that maybe Campbell’s hero’s journey is too general and broad. That may be true. Heck, it probably is, but it is a useful tool to understand a vast number of myth and stories.

After Campbell’s book came out, a lot of writers used the hero’s journey as a sort of a plug and play template. Writers, being the lazy drunks they are, used the pattern as a ready made story outline. That’s actually not the worse thing they could have done from a publishing perspective. By using the pattern, their story had a familiar feel to it. It went where it was supposed to go and ended where it was supposed to end. The names and places were different, but the story was the same.

Unfortunately, Campbell’s hero’s journey isn’t the only hero story out there. The biggest glaring omission: the hero was overwhelmingly male. In real life, hero’s may live the basic pattern, but they are just as likely to have a different pattern. Life is not a neat story arch. Heck, sometimes the hero becomes the villain.

In my opinion, too many English Majors latched onto Campbell’s book. It became the literary equivalent of a paint-by-numbers painting. We can do better. I happen to feel the need for heroes, but they don’t have to have to be stamped out in cookie cutter fashion. Surprise me for goodness sakes!

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